Newcastle City Council must be reduced

I’ve heard mutterings from the usual suspects in recent times about Newcastle City Council being ‘‘anti-community’’.
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I don’t accept it. People build communities, not governments. The role of the government is to provide the basics and to not get in the way.

After eight years as a councillor, I believe Newcastle City Council has been in the way too often, and to the detriment of the ratepayers of Newcastle.

The idiom ‘‘Roads, Rates, Rubbish’’ is over-simplistic, but it does capture the essence of what local government should be about.

It is pointless providing wonderful, feel-good services if it diminishes the capacity to provide the fundamentals.

If elected lord mayor on September 8 I will immediately focus on a clear path to reduce the size of the council.

This will, necessarily, mean fewer services offered by council and it will predictably be unpopular with some. The fact is that we have a projected operating budget deficit of $8.5million. I wonder how many of my colleagues seeking re-election actually get that. You cannot eliminate a deficit of this size by tinkering at the edges.

Reduction in the size of the workforce can be a relatively simple process.

The Newcastle City Council workforce is of an age that will see more than one-third of the staff reach retirement age in the next five years. There is no need for retrenchments, and nobody need feel that their employment is not secure.

My vision here is to see a smaller, more efficient administration team and an expanded outdoors staff working to beautify our city, particularly with access to our natural features and facilities to enhance their use.

The budget deficit is a direct result of poor decision making and an unwillingness to make the necessary but unpopular decisions. We have done the reviews, we know what needs to be done, but when it comes time to make the call too few on the council have stood strong.

I don’t want to diminish the value of the services that need to cease, but this is budgeting 101. You do what you have to do first, then allocate any excess to the ‘‘nice to have’’ stuff. When assessing what is appropriate, we have to ask whether it can and should be offered by the private sector. Newcastle City Council should not be competing with local business, it should simply be providing the basics.

To improve our efficiency we must change the way we do business. I have been banging on about amalgamation ad nauseam, in the fervent hope that something, anything, will result from it. To date we have moved no closer to even genuine shared services with neighbouring councils. Last year Newcastle City Council launched the three-bin waste system, aimed primarily at reducing the volume of green waste directed to landfill, which in turn saves ratepayers millions in state government levies. Lake Macquarie City Council launched a similar system this year. It is so obviously something we could and should have collaborated on, but instead we each did it separately and at significantly higher cost as a result of the duplication.

Much has been said about the current state of Hunter Street. Fixing that is easy and I’m confident that no matter who is elected mayor this will be accomplished. The plan is done, the money is set aside, and we are just waiting for the state government to finalise the planning instrument that underpins it. Newcastle City Council actually owns very few properties on Hunter Street, so the focus will be on improving the public domain, parking, and landscaping/beautification works. There are more than 20 approved development applications for privately owned buildings on Hunter Street, and the delay in the development of those sites is more a result of the lack of availability of development finance in this economic climate than any council approval issues. One of my fellow mayoral aspirants owns two such buildings sitting idle despite having approved DAs.

I’ve been told that I do not have the statesman-like qualities expected in a mayor. I accept that, but I ask what the ‘‘statesmen’’ have delivered for Newcastle? We need more. I am never going to be a great orator, but I love this city, I work hard, and I get things done. That’s why I’ve been successful in my businesses. Newcastle needs to decide if it wants someone who’ll speak well at dinners or someone with a proven track record in running businesses who just gets things done. That’s what I offer the electorate, and am asking for you to support my team on September 8.

Aaron Buman is a Newcastle lord mayoral candidate and independent councillor.

Newcastle lord mayoral candidate Aaron Buman.

Nothing private in digital era

I had a Facebook page once. Young women who sat near me at work signed me up for a bit of fun – their fun, I think – and so as easily as that I was a man of the digital age.
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And to my amazement emails telling me that someone or other wanted to be friends with me on Facebook began arriving immediately. Some of these people were indeed friends, some were people I had not seen or heard from for years, some were people I had never known or couldn’t remember, and I’m never confident which.

Primarily my page came to be a way of communicating with my bike-riding friends, and it was rich with photographs of our rides and expeditions and with contributed material not fit for wide publication. While I serve as the moral compass for my bike-riding friends, they are younger and generally resistant to wise counsel and moderation.

Our comments were unguarded and often ill-considered, but, hey, we were and are friends. After all, my friends were there because I’d accepted their request to be friends. And their friends were surely of the same ilk and thus not a problem.

One day a year or two ago it became clear from a comment by a contributor to my blog that he had gained access to my Facebook page even though I had not accepted a friend request from him, and it emerged that he had navigated through the pages of linked friends to arrive there.

While I had no marked objection to his access, it was a shock that I was so exposed, and with help from one of the young women who’d signed me up I signed out, deleting my entry. Leaving was a good deal more difficult than joining.

I have rejoined specifically to gain access to a Facebook page I drew on for a column but mine is close to a blank page.

While I am not active on Facebook, I have many friends and workmates who are and it does seem that they see their Facebook presence as private and privileged.

Both are fallacies and both create a problem. It seems that a Facebook page is private with only the strictest privacy settings, which seems to defeat the social purpose of the site and which even at the strictest level may not be effective.

The main problem, though, is the sense that Facebook is privileged, that what goes on Facebook stays on Facebook. Both adults and young teenagers seem to believe that on Facebook they are immune, that they cannot be held responsible for their statements, that what happens on Facebook cannot be used against them in the real world.

I see or read of this immunity shattering among employees, adults who post derogative comments about fellow employees and bosses on their Facebook page. I’m not sure why an employee is not entitled to speak derogatively about a fellow worker or a boss, and we all have at some stage, but often these employees are disciplined and in some cases dismissed. It may be that the comments are deemed to be bullying or in breach of an agreement to not act in a way that could bring the employer into disrepute.

Perhaps the employers see it as a division between work time and private time.

The problem of accountability applies also to other digital media.

We seem to see a difference in accountability in sending comments on paper and digitally, and I suspect this is because we persist in seeing the comments on paper as a matter of record, as having a permanency comments sent into cyberspace do not. We know better, or we do by now, but the fallacy persists. Not only are the digitally issued comments likely to live longer, they can be multiplied seemingly infinitely, as many people have found to their great cost.

This may explain the informality and imprecision of emails, the imprudence of texts, the rash spontaneity of twitter, the aggression of blog comments, and I wonder if the sensation of the sent material blinking off the screen suggests to us subconsciously that it has disappeared and therefore doesn’t matter, or doesn’t matter so much.

Our world has changed and I suspect we’re yet to catch up.

Do you see your statements on paper and on a screen as different? Should you be less accountable for anything sent from a screen?

Short Takes

Can someone inform me whether the proliferation of tinnies and dinghies chained to trees at various places along Lake Macquarie’s foreshore is legal? Despite numerous representations to Lake Macquarie City Council, I have been informed that no action will be taken in the immediate future to better store these boats. If this intrusion into public space can be controlled by Port Stephens Council, surely our council should have the resources to follow suit.
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Eric Roach, Croudace Bay

Why would you deploy the riot squad – a highly trained unit for combating violence and public unrest – to break up a peaceful protest by mums and grandmothers (‘‘At 95, gran says it’s time to make a stand’’ Herald 29/8)? I suppose when you give a political party an overwhelming majority in Parliament, it can do as it pleases. Mr O’Farrell, we all are waiting with bated breath for the next decision. Are you going to send the riot squad up to Gloucester next?

Ray Davidson, Birmingham Gardens

Now that Medowie Christian School has banned Harry Potter, I hope it has also banned Christian history. It seems that Harry Potter’s good guys use evil means to dispose of the bad guys. But isn’t that what Christians did? They sent crusaders all over the place to slaughter those who did not agree with their teachings. They burnt people to death at the stake if they spoke against their religion. They used (and still use) myths to propagate their beliefs. And I bet a lot of these same teachers watch the garbage that passes for entertainment on TV.

John Ferris, Muswellbrook

Planning and Infrastructure minister Brad Hazzard and Newcastle MP Tim Owen talked to local business owners and the people on the street about the Newcastle rail line going, but did not talk to the people from the Central Coast, west lakes and Maitland who use the trains to get into Newcastle. Don’t blame the rail line for a deserted city. People don’t come because of the parking meters and the state of the CBD. If the business owners don’t do something about that, they will be the only ones to sit back to enjoy the view if the rail goes. They will have their own private area, like Sydney’s Double Bay and Vaucluse, with no outsiders allowed in.

Trevor Whitney, Wangi Wangi

It appears that the left hand of the Department of Education doesn’t know what the right hand wants. Recently there was talk that they were planning to bring in weighing and measuring of students in a effort to stamp out obesity. But then what? Now cartwheels and other forms of active exercise in the playground may be banned unless it is performed in the presence of a qualified gymnast. Children have been doing cartwheels without significant injury or supervision for generations. These policies are diametrically opposed. Removing children from harm is essential, but teaching risk avoidance is harmful.

Roz Ramplin, Adamstown

NSW public sector workers are discovering that no matter how bad things are under a Labor government, it will only get worse under the Libs (‘‘80,000 brace for award cuts’’ Herald 29/8).

Mac Maguire, Charlestown

Greenthief ready to rock Cambridge

After playing more than 20 shows across the country supporting The Butterfly Effect, you couldn’t blame Brisbane rockers Greenthief for taking a break.
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But instead the three-piece outfit is hitting the road on its own headlining tour in support of its single Mr Number 1.

LIVE caught up with vocalist Julian to talk about the band, whose sound has been labelled ‘‘a lovechild of Jeff Buckley and Trent Reznor’’.

You definitely punch above your weight, producing a big sound for a three-piece band.

I think the hard work comes from a compositional side of things. Making something sound ‘‘big’’ is all about the arrangement of what is going on. A lot of time is spent in the rehearsal room figuring out what would sound big live, which has to do with what the instruments are playing independently.

Do you think psychedelic rock is a fair way to describe Greenthief’s sound?

Greenthief have a fairly diverse sound. I definitely think a lot of our music could be classified as psychedelic as we do tend to jam within our song structures. A lot of our musical influences come from the ’70s, where this was the norm.

Your sound has been described as ‘‘akin to a lovechild of Jeff Buckley and Trent Reznor’’. Thoughts?

We definitely love what both artists have brought to music. Specifically, I would say our music would most be influenced by Buckley’s thick textured chords within his writing, whilst Reznor has always been an innovator in the way he blends industrial rock with pop sensibility. Both artists inspire us.

You’ve already had a busy year on the road. How was supporting The Butterfly Effect?

Supporting The Butterfly Effect on their national tour was incredible. We were very privileged to be taken along for the ride, which saw us get to perform at some of the country’s biggest venues.

Do you think you learnt any lessons from touring with such a successful band?

Definitely. It was amazing getting to watch such a professional band perform every night. Whether it was watching what [singer] Clint Boge did in preparation for each show or how they communicated with their fans, it was one huge learning experience.

Tell us about recording Retribution with Steve James (Airbourne, Screaming Jets).

Recording with Steve has been great. He has a great ear for song structure and pulling massive tones, which have benefited the tracks immensely.

What’s next for Greenthief after this tour?

We will be touring our third single for 2012 in November/December before bunkering down to finish our debut album.

Greenthief will play at the Cambridge Hotel on September 5.

BIG SOUND: Greenthief are touring in support of their single Mr Number 1.

Last supper came early for Ratten

Brett Ratten is set to coach Carlton for the final time on Sunday. Brett Ratten leaves Carlton yesterday.
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ROHAN CONNOLLY: Record means little against the rapidly advancing tideROBERT WALLS: Malthouse a big risk as Blues err in axing Ratten

BRETT Ratten had breakfast with Chris Judd and his leadership group early yesterday. For all intents and purposes it was the soon-to-be-sacked coach’s last supper with the senior players who had failed him at Carlton’s penultimate hurdle against the Gold Coast.

Late yesterday Ratten would not reveal whether he said his private goodbyes over toast, fruit and coffee, preferring to leave his public thoughts until this morning’s scheduled press conference, which will formalise his sad and bitter ending. It is known that the players wanted him to coach them one more time and that Ratten agreed.

It is also known that all of them will be going through the motions. In a sense the Gold Coast game was for those who have plotted Ratten’s departure for months a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whether or not the deal has been done – and Blues chiefs continue to vehemently deny it – the prospect of Mick Malthouse will now take centre stage, despite Malthouse having promised Ratten in June last year he would not take his job.

For Stephen Kernahan, the president who as football director re-signed and then sacked Ratten’s two predecessors, this next appointment will prove his last role of the dice.

Already there are powerbrokers who believe Kernahan’s time is up and have told him so, even though the Blues great seems determined to remain at the helm until 2014.

For both Kernahan and his chief Greg Swann, who were to join Ratten at today’s formal goodbye, Malthouse will make or break them. The Blues have worshipped for decades at the shrine of the messiah and in recent years that messiah has come in forms ranging from Denis Pagan to Richard Pratt to Chris Judd. Some have worked better than others.

Travis Cloke could prove another potential saviour in terms of the Blues’ brittle forward line, with Carlton players reportedly having met and endorsed a massive plunge on the AFL’s most famous free agent, who remains at contractual odds with Collingwood. Even if it means sacrificing their own pay packets.

You couldn’t script a more dramatic reigniting of football’s most famous traditional rivalry. The cold war that has existed between the Malthouse family and Eddie McGuire all season looks set to turn physical.

Paul Roos looms as the only potential spanner in what has seemed a done deal for months. The board is not united over Malthouse with several key directors, including Jeanne Pratt, determined to launch a bid for the Swans’ premiership coach.

Roos has declared he will not coach next year, but now there is a vacancy the view is this could change. Some Carlton directors believe money could change his mind and clearly the coming weeks will cost the club at least an extra $2 million.

But the spectre of Malthouse that has hovered over Carlton looks certain to materialise. In fact, the 59-year-old three-time premiership coach was almost over the line to cross to Carlton as long ago as May 2011. That was when behind-the-scenes negotiations even had key assistant coaches and football staffers in place. Then Malthouse, who appeared headed for a second straight flag at Collingwood, got cold feet and Ratten almost coached the Blues into the top four.

Collingwood now believes Malthouse will attempt to lure his close ally and respected high-performance boss David Buttifant to Visy Park as well, even though Buttifant has a contract. The Magpies have privately stated they would also welcome their former captain and Blues coaching assistant Gavin Brown back to the club.

Where all this leaves Ratten, 41, a Carlton premiership player, captain and three-time best and fairest is one of the game’s harshest realities. The criticisms of him have been that he could not instil enough of a hard edge into his players and that he allowed emotion to get in the way. Occasionally, his leadership was questioned. Ratten never won the PR battle with Carlton people and his termination was reportedly endorsed by some key sponsors.

There were strong suggestions last night extra sponsorship money has been promised should Malthouse or Roos sign.

Ratten coached superbly when his back was against the wall from mid-season. His Carlton teams improved each year until this year’s failure, and only at the end of 2010 after three full years as a first-time senior coach did he receive the off-field assistance commensurate with his rivals. Port Adelaide confirmed again yesterday that he is in the frame for that senior vacancy.

The reality is Malthouse was the architect of Ratten’s undoing after assuring him he would not take his job. Malthouse has spoken repeatedly about the cost of coaching on his family, despite the fact his children have grown up and he is a grandfather. He has insisted he will not coach again without their endorsement. In the same breath four days ago he said they would support him. Few take those protestations seriously.

This move will not say much for his sincerity or make him any more popular but Malthouse will not bother about that. He will thrive on it.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.