Saturday, November 28, 2009

‘Incompetence the final straw’

Departing venue owner lashes out at govts

News

One of the leading lights in the Valley entertainment scene for the past two decades has called last drinks as a venue owner with a swipe at the “incompetent” legislators largely behind his decision to quit the industry.
Stephen Fitzgerald, long-time owner of iconic Ric’s in the Valley and the adjoining popular Fat Boys Cafe, told The Independent: “I’ve been a licensee in Australia in all states over three decades, and I’ve learnt there’s something worse than corruption and that’s incompetence. And right now we have some of the most incompetent legislators in control.
“The Hill Song Brigade and (Queensland Premier) Bligh scare the shit out of me more than a guy with a broken glass or a knife.”
Asked whether red tape and government regulations were making it harder for licensees to conform and make a living, Mr Fitzgerald said: “It’s impossible to conform because the governments change the legislation before you’ve had time to comply or before that legislation has been in place long enough to see if it works. And those changes are now media driven [and are] not good government policy.”
Mr Fitzgerald, whose beer trade at Ric’s was stubbie based, said the prospects of licensed venues such as Ric’s having to put beer or wine into plastic cups had also helped hasten his decision to move on.
“The threat of compulsory use of plastic cups was the last straw,” Mr Fitzgerald said. “A vibrant cafe society has an aesthetic and there’s no aesthetic in drinking your favourite wine or beer out of a plastic tumbler like a toddler. Maybe we could all abstain and become tea toddlers.”
Asked to detail his most costly run-in with authorities over his time in hospitality in the Valley, Mr Fitzgerald said: “Just over four years ago a malicious complaint caused QFRS (Queensland Fire and Rescue Service) to inspect the building Ric’s occupies. They deemed the building classification was wrong and gave us a notice to install sprinklers and alarms at a cost of more than $120,000, with 60 days to comply.
“We disagreed but tried to get a contractor to do the work. The construction boom was on and we couldn't get the work done within six months. QFRS and OLGR (the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing) closed us down before we could resolve this. I was stunned; we had been operating for over 11 years prior. We lost $500,000 in revenue and five staff by the time we found the right avenue of appeal which was the High Court.
“We won, on the provision we supplied the QFRS with the certificate of classification (COC). Until then we were allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity. We waited 12 months for a coherent reply from the Brisbane City Council as to the COC which it eventuated had been lost in the system around 1992. The only resolution was a new COC . “The legals, the certifier, the architect, the builder were heading for $250,000. The only way we could get the certifier to write the COC was to install alarms, more toilets and a ramp, totalling $150,000. So we had to placate the certifier to get his COC out before we could satisfy the QFRS.
“We got the COC in our hands in January this year about the same time OLGR hit us up for $20,000 for trading after midnight. It was shortly after this I started waking up at 4am and thinking: “Hey I think it’s time to move on."
Below are other questions put to Mr Fitzgerald and his answers:
Q: There’s been an explosion in the number of licensed premises in the Valley since your first foray into hospitality here in May 1991 with the cafe Red Hot & Blue. Does your departure, from Ric’s especially, suggest it’s perhaps becoming too hard to make a decent living with all that competition?
A: The competition is good and the diversity is great. Look at the accolades Gourmet traveller, in-flight magazines, Vogue, rolling stone, etc, have given to all of us at various times – something the trash media don’t mention when they’re focused on violence and alcohol abuse. The danger is entertainment precincts become tourist destinations rather than liveable communities so the hoards come in on the weekend and the rest of the week is a ghost town. With urban renewal comes property price rises the rents go up the kids cant live in the area so you get a theme park or a retirement gated community rather than an arts precinct.
Q: The local chamber of commerce has endorsed the push for small boutique bars catering to a very small number of patrons. A welcome addition, or will it just make life harder for established venues such as Ric's?
A: This is a great idea and what Ric’s should have been classified as years ago.
Q: You’ve been a solid supporter of local, live music for all the time you’ve had Ric’s. How do you rate that scene now with, say 15 years ago, and are there enough outlets for emerging bands to strut their stuff before a live audience.
A: There are more venues than ever in every capital city. The problem is the bands are not pulling the crowds and that has nothing to do with their talent, but again that’s a cycle. In 10 years the scene will be very exciting when the current baby boom hits their teens.
Q: The VEP is Australia’s first designated entertainment precinct. Is it here to stay, or will those who now question the wisdom of concentrating licensed premises in one small area win the day and we’ll see the VEP wound back?
A: They’ll renege on it for sure.
Q: You’re walking out of here after a lifetime in hospitality. Will you be back with a new venue some day?
A: I’m turning 52 next week. We’ve put on a gig 365 days a year for 15 years which must be up there with some record. I’d like to find another circus for a couple of more shows after I’ve written the memoir expose of the last one.



Last drinks:
Stephen Fitzgerald pours a farewell drink at Ric's, while a friend checks to make sure he comforms with the venue's dress code.

Mall nightworks resume in earnest


News

UPDATED DEC 3

Brisbane City Council’s promise to have the new $8 million Chinatown Mall open by Christmas may be back on track, with nightworks resuming after being halted for a night for lacking proper council approval.
Local councillor David Hinchliffe (Central Ward) told The Independent : "They've (the contractors) been working most nights ever since. They now have all their council approvals in place and they've been pulled into line."
It's a development that has not pleased Green Tea restaurant owner Tom Tran. His crucial weekend trade, where he has been hoping to recover some of the losses incurred by the much-delayed project, was badly affected last weekend, with nightworks starting early on Friday and Saturday nights and continuing well past his closing time.
Cr Hinchliffe said the stopwork order came after council officers were called by residents who had been kept up every night for a week with rock-breaking, pile-driving and concrete-sawing noise throughout the night.
"Some residents are on medication, it's got so bad", Cr Hinchliffe said. "Last week residents contacted the call centre and when compliance officers discovered the operation did not have the appropriate permits, they were shut down."
Resident Ian Mursell from Fortuneland apartments on the mall, is among a number of residents who have sent emails and made numerous calls to council to complain about the night work.
"All we're wanting," said Mr Mursell, "is justice and some commonsense. This is unfair and unreasonable for both residents and local restaurants to have to put up with all this."
Cr Hinchliffe said that relations between the council and the contractor ADCO were "strained".
“Everyone's pointing fingers at everyone else. I just think they should have consulted with the community right at the outset and sat down to work out the best way to construct this mall. They could have avoided all these problems."
The council promise to have the new mall opened by Christmas was made to this paper as our November 25 issue went to press. In that issue, Cr Hinchliffe expressed concerns that the mall may not be fully reopened until Chinese New Year in February.
The statement from the Lord Mayor’s Office said: “We expect the mall to be open in December, with a few finishing touches like artwork to be completed in January.
“The major cause of delays has come from utility companies taking this opportunity to get in under the mall and upgrade and future proof their services too. The lack of knowledge about the location of these utilities and the hardness of the rock under the mall has made this a very lengthy and slow process.
“The need to keep access to the shops and the car park open has also restricted us to doing much of the work one section at a time.
“We have also done a lot to support the traders during the mall upgrade, which we are spending $8 million on without requiring them to chip in like we have with other upgrades of shopping strips.
“This includes a $300,000 promotional campaign letting people know that Chinatown Mall is still open for business and waiving outdoor dining fees during construction.”
Economic Development chairman Cr Jane Prentice said that she expected most of the mall to be open by Christmas.
“In fact I think the Christmas opening time will work in the traders’ favour as curious shoppers come for a look at the new China Town Mall,” Cr Prentice said.
In one missive to Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, Ian Mursell wrote: “We are in desperate need to have the ongoing night works which are most definitely not essential to be done at night stopped immediately.
"Once again we are repeatedly not considered when 'essential' night works are carried out in front of our homes.
“Every night except Friday and Saturday nights we are assaulted with heavy machinery, rock breaking, backhoes, concrete cutting and earthmoving trucks working between 8.30pm through until 6am if stopping at all.
“The work that is carried out at night is not necessary to be done in the evenings. It isn't gas, water or power disruptions for residential or commercial tenants it is rock breaking, earthmoving, concrete cutting and heavy machinery.
“We have been advised on several occasions that residents would be considered and that night work would only be undertaken with considerable notice to residents and only when necessary. This is not what is happening on a daily basis.
“We 80 plus residents have been exceedingly patient with the lack of progress, continual disruption and no notification of the every night night works but enough is enough as to look at the site one would have to expect that given work done to date there is still several months more work to be done.”

Valley police boost gets thumbs up

News

The Valley Liquor Accord has praised Premier Anna Bligh for finally listening to the calls of more police in entertainment hot spots to curb alcohol-fuelled violence.
VLA chairman Danny Blair said this week the VLA had been championing this type of government action for months and “finally they’ve listened”.
“We had very few problems during Valley Fiesta weekend when we have the biggest saturation of people in the Valley and it's purely because there are more police on the beat,” Mr Blair said.
“It’s been this rationale that we have been using to plead for more police on the streets in the Valley entertainment precinct. “The police are always welcome in the Valley and the more visible presence of blue uniforms, the better.
“What we need after this blitz is to increase police numbers that work in the Valley on Friday and Saturday night on a full-time basis.”
News of the ongoing police crackdown have come as the VLA joins forces with key stakeholders in the Valley Entertainment Precinct to make Queensland’s music scene a safer and a more enjoyable place to socialise. The Your Playground. Play Nice, Play Safe campaign incorporates several new initiatives that will be extensively advertised and promoted with the backing of DRUG ARM, the Brisbane City Council, Valley Chamber of Commerce, Valley Malls Advisory Committee, Queensland Health and Black and White Taxis.
The campaign includes a drug awareness and prevention trial by DRUG ARM in early 2010 and all 29 (5am) VLA licensees have committed to participate in Queensland Health’s Safer Venues campaign which will enter its fourth year in 2010.
The VLA has also provided additional assistance to ChaplainWatch and is encouraging the roll-out of ID scanners in VEP venues in late 2009 and early 2010 as well as banning people convicted of alcohol-related violence.
Mr Blair said licensees are committed to making the VEP a more enjoyable environment and expected the drug awareness and prevention trial to be as successful as the initial Safer Venues campaign which is now cemented in the constitution.

Newstead project in demand


Property news


A new project under construction in Newstead is leading the charge with the developers reporting a marked resurgence in buyer confidence for inner-city apartment dwellings.
Aris Newstead, developed by the Brisbane Housing Company (BHC), is scheduled to be one of the first developments completed in the Newstead Urban Renewal precinct. The $30 million project will launch next week and will feature 95 studio, one and two bedroom apartments, of which 39 will be sold to the market.
BHC CEO David Cant said the company expected demand to be strong with Aris Newstead offering investors the added security of knowing that the building will be completed by spring next year.
“Our development is already under construction with completion scheduled for mid 2010, this is a great positive for buyers who will be able to receive a return on their investment sooner,” he said. Mr Cant said the location, coupled with the price point would prove a major selling point.
“Ninety per cent of the top three floors are under $500,000 and one-bedroom apartments with city views and a secure carpark start from $384,000. “Aris Newstead is located in close proximity to the master-planned multimillion dollar Newstead Riverpark, metres away from a major public transport upgrade and only a short distance to various riverside bike and walking paths.”
Mr Cant said the body corporate fees would be among the lowest in Brisbane.
“We expect body corporate fees to be around $3000 to $4000 per year. “This is a great point of difference when you take into account the building will have a lift and two top floor terraces with barbecue facilities,” Mr Cant said.
For sales inquires contact PRDnationwide at Newstead, Yolanda Van Diggelen 0404 476 894 or Adam Gray 0418 708 661.
Go to www.arisnewstead.com.au for more information on the project.

It’s their river but we all pay!

OUR SAY



The owners of these expensive Pier South apartments now fast taking shape at Mirvac’s Waterfront project at Teneriffe will have exclusive views to the Brisbane River - at a very high cost.
While they are paying tens and tens of thousands of dollars more for that privacy, the cost to Brisbane citizens is also high. A year or so from now, they’ll be diverted away from their river, forced to go inland behind Pier South through parkland before rejoining the riverfront.
Buyers of apartments at the not-so-exclusive Pier North (bottom photo ) will have to put up with the sights and sounds of fellow humans having fun. For that terrible, terrible burden, their units are much, much cheaper.
We have no beef with Mirvac who it would appear has deliberately privatised a key section of the waterfront to maximise its income from unit buyers.
You can’t blame them for trying that on. But we’d like to blame someone for the fact that they got away with it. The trouble is no-one seems to want to put up their hand and take the blame for it happening in the first place.
And certainly no-one seems to want to ensure it never happens again.
The Independent can reveal that unnamed council officials gave the Mirvac plan their tick of approval, with our expert source telling us that the project was presented to them in such a way that those officials accepted the argument that RiverWalk simply could not be constructed in front of Pier South.
We repeat what we’ve said on this issue in the past: we congratulate Mirvac on the amount of parkland it has incorporated into the project. But we can’t help but feel that the fancy jetty to the left of the project, and the generous parkland and lake feature behind the Pier buildings, was all part of a master plan to get riverfront exclusivity for many of its buyers.
In fact, Mirvac appears to have engineered a win-win situation as the parkland is to be operated and maintained by the city council.
We repeat our point that there are plenty of lovely pathways in other parks near the river, but there is only one riverfront and the citizens of Brisbane have lost it.
We remain annoyed that Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, who has made so much political capital around election times in the past by promising to complete a nearby “missing link” in RiverWalk, has so glibly washed his hands of the issue by blaming former Deputy Mayor and local councillor David Hinchliffe for letting this decision pass when he was planning chair. Cr Hinchliffe for his part told us last year that he thought the final design would almost certainly come back to a full council meeting for final ratification and that he would vote for a change in design then. That did not happen.
All we know is that the project go-ahead was given by nameless and unaccountable council officials. We can’t vote them out of office for their decision. But we also know that a great opportunity had been lost forever to have a continuous walkway right alongside this fantastic river of ours from beautiful Newstead House right through to the city’s heart.
Or need it be forever? Mirvac got what it wanted, but can the people of Brisbane still have their right of way? What if the city council in future simply built RiverWalk in front of these exclusive apartments, regardless of the cost, to serve as the ultimate warning to developers that they can try anything on, but people will win out in the end?
Maybe in future when the residents of those apartments have to “put up” with the sounds of Brisbane families enjoying their riverfront and having fun, on foot or on bike, then maybe it’ll be known as the Mirvac principle.
So starting right now, maybe it’s time for all the local residents of the area – indeed all residents of Brisbane who love our city’s greatest natural feature – to put their local councillor on notice, indeed put future Lord Mayoralty candidates on notice: commit yourselves to rectifying this matter over the years ahead, or we simply won’t be voting for you!
Don’t tell us it can’t be done. Don’t snow us by saying it will cost too much. Just do it! Put future developers on notice that there’s a bloody good chance that if they try to be to too clever by half, they’re going to get “mirvaced”!

• Over coming issues, The Independent will examine what went wrong with this project’s approval process, and if there is any elected official out there who wants to say sorry for the fact that it did.

Heritage ruling a blow to Regent campaigners


By a staff reporter

The group trying to save the Regent Theatre in Queen Street City has been dealt a blow with the Queensland Heritage Council rejecting their application that the Regent’s Cinema One and associated bar area should be included in the Queensland heritage register.
But the group has not given up the fight, with a spokesperson saying there was still a good chance the two areas could be preserved.
The Queensland Heritage Council recently announced there would be no extension to the heritage listing boundary for the theatre. QHC chair David Eades said an application had been received to enter the Regent’s Cinema One and associated bar area in the Queensland heritage register.
“Unlike the Regent’s entrance foyer and grand staircase which was entered in the register in 1992, the cinema and bar do not meet the criteria for heritage listing,” he said.
“The cinema and bar were built in 1978-80 and decorated with replicas and some parts salvaged from the Regent’s demolition. “Although the cinema conjures up some of the style of the original Regent, it doesn’t come close to the scale, atmosphere and flamboyance of what Brisbane lost nearly 30 years ago.”
Mr Eades said the Heritage Council met with the applicants who submitted the nomination, the developer’s representatives and others and closely considered all aspects of the proposal.
“This was not a decision that the Heritage Council took lightly,” he said. “But the Heritage Council must weigh nominations against specific criteria and consider the significance to the state as a whole.”
Mr Eades said the latest QHC decision would not alter the heritage-listing of the Regent’s entrance foyer and grand staircase. “We can all be assured that any development applications for the Regent site will conserve the state heritage-listed sections of the building.
“There is a great opportunity for new life to be breathed into this heritage place for the enjoyment of all Queenslanders now and into the future.”
The Queensland Heritage Council is the state’s independent peak body and advisor on heritage matters and determines what places are entered in the Queensland heritage register.
The Save the Regent Group was deeply disappointed by the decision, a spokesperson said. “However, our lawyers are currently pursuing an appeal against the original council decision to allow the redevelopment of the Regent. We are hopeful of a good outcome from this for the sake of Brisbane’s heritage.”

Wrestling life to its fullest


Review by Toby Oakes

Anyone with even a remote interest in public affairs would have seen, heard, or read about Hughie Williams at some time over the past 30 years on our TV screens, radios, and in newspapers.
Williams has been a long-serving official of the Transport Workers’ Union, and has for more than a decade held the position of its Queensland branch secretary. As an outside observer, he has always come across in the media as a tough union boss, ready to stand up for his members.
What most of us would not know is how tough Williams’ own life has been. Williams begins his autobiography by detailing his dirt poor upbringing, the death of his father, and how his mother one day just walked out on her children. Some of the stories he tells are heartbreaking.
Intriguingly he relates his deep feelings of inferiority as a boy and young man, and the role his chosen sport of wrestling helped overcome them. The book is full of anecdotes of his involvement in the Police Citizen Youth Clubs and the good and bad cops that went with it.
There are also plenty of tales of the fights he endured as a TWU organiser. Some of the most intense battles were with officials within his own union. Then there were the fights with the Bjelke-Petersen government and its anti-union laws and attitude.
Williams also covers the woeful state of the Labor Party in Queensland in the 1970s and 1980s, along with his own role as a member of the reform group that eventually put the party in a good enough shape for Wayne Goss to be elected premier in 1989.
This is not self-serving book. It is a frank account of a colourful and intriguing life. The book has been published by Williams himself and is available from the TWU by ringing 3890 3066.

Manor mayhem where mirth abounds


Review by Phillip Bate

At the start it was just the set falling apart. By the end of the night most of the audience attending Murder at Checkmate Manor were also falling apart with laughter (myself included).
Mayhem abounds when an amateur drama group – in this case the Centenary Theatre Group at the Chelmer Community Centre – morphs into another amateur theatre group, the Farndale Avenue Housing Estate’s Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society, staging a murder mystery. In addition to the play, the cast also finds time to run a quiz session and host a fashion parade.
As well as the mystery of “whodunit” there’s also the mystery of spotting the undeliberate mistake as the cast of five take on 14 roles of characters with chess piece names such as Clarissa Rook, Regine (queen), Colonel King, Lady Doreen Bishop, Gladys Knight and Pawn the butler. N
o wonder director Eric Scott calls his cast “The Magnificent Five” and it’s easy to agree. Assuming the task of being self-appointed “martyr to the cause” of the guild’s dramatic society is English lady Phoebe Reece, convincingly played by Jill Brocklebank. Phoebe Reece seems to be a law unto herself – not only playing four roles but even prepared to rewrite the script (originally written by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jnr) as she sees fit.
Another to play four roles is long standing CTG member Honey Butz who plays Audrey Smythe who in turn plays Lady Doreen Bishop, mistress of Checkmate Manor. Her insincerity as her sister, aunts and cousins are all “bumped off” is delightful to behold. For those seeking a love angle in the plot, there’s the situation of Lady’s Doreen teenage daughter Daphne Bishop in pigtails and tennis skirt making a play for Inspector O’Reilly.
I was sitting the front row and when Selina Kadell who plays Thelma Greenwood playing Daphne fluttered her eyelashes at Inspector O’Reilly I forced myself to stay seated and jealously cursed Nathan Cammerman who was playing the inspector. It’s hard to tell who was the vamp – the flirting teenager or the inspector who wears fishnet stockings to work – either way it made for great comedy.
In every murder-mystery set in a stately home or manor there has to be a butler. This play was no exception with Kathleen Crome demonstrating deft comedic touches as she buttlered her way through dead bodies – although whether she murdered them you’ll have to watch the play yourself.
Special congratulations also go to stage manager Margaret Bell and her backstage lights and sound personnel Fiona Watson and Peter Hughes who cope with falling walls and associated props whizzing across the stage.
There are five more opportunities to attend the play: this Friday, Saturday and Sunday November 27 to 29 and then Friday, December 4 and Saturday, December 5. Bookings at www.centenarytheatre.com.au

Above: Selina Kadell as Thelma, Nathan Cammerman as Gordon, Jill Brocklebank as Mrs. Reece, Honey Butz as Audrey and Kathleen Crome as Felicity)

Friday, November 27, 2009

What plonk goes best with Peking duck

WINE .... with David Bray


It is often hard to find a decent wine match for the food in Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, restaurants in our part of the world. This is partly because the wine lists are usually not very good, offering about as much choice as the dessert menu, and partly because we don’t really know what goes best with so many of the dishes.
So there is some advice to be gleaned from the recent inaugural Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition, said to be the world’s first authentically Asian, and Asia’s largest, wine competition.
Some 1300 wines from around the world were judged by a pan-Asian panel of wine professionals from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Thailand and India.
The organisers say the top wines for the Asian palate were revealed in the trophy winners. Among them: Best wine with Chinese dishes: With Abalone – Jacob's Creek sparkling rosé (Australia); with Kung Pao chicken – Martin & Weyrich moscato allegro 2007 (California); with Dim Sum – Wairau River pinot gris 2009 (NZ); with Peking Duck – Judas malbec 2006 (Argentina).
Debra Meiburg, Master of Wine, director of the competition said: “Out of the four Chinese food and wine pairing categories, it was interesting to note that three trophies were awarded to white wines and rosés. Despite many wine lovers in Asia reaching for a bottle of red to pair with Chinese cuisine or not drinking wine at all, our results highlight that these styles are particularly compatible with a range of classic Chinese dishes.
“Significantly, the trophy winning wines in the Chinese food and wine pairing awards, particularly the trophy for the best wine with braised abalone awarded to the Jacob’s Creek sparkling rosé, show that pairing the perfect wine with fine food doesn’t have to be expensive.
“We hope these awards will give people the tools and confidence to order wine when eating Chinese food.” Less significant for the purposes of matching with food, and introducing some less well-known Australians (another way of saying big surprises), were: Best Pinot noir and best New World pinot – Wooing Tree pinot noir 2007 (NZ); Cabernet sauvignon/ cabernet blend – Quarisa Treasures cabernet sauvignon 2006 ( Coonawarra); Shiraz and best Australian shiraz Eden Springs High Eden Shiraz 2007 (Eden Valley); Tempranillo & blends – Mr. Riggs Yacca Paddock tempranillo 2007 (Adelaide Hills); Sauvignon blanc and best New Zealand sauvignon blanc Saint Clair Pioneer Block 3 43 Degrees sauvignon blanc 2009; Chardonnay and New World chardonnay Stella Bella chardonnay (Margaret River) 2007; Riesling and New World riesling Petaluma Hanlin Hill riesling 2009 (Clare Valley). Best value wines for HK market included Eden Springs High Eden riesling2009 and Barossa Valley shiraz 2007.
Competition director Simon Tam said: “The Asian consumer wine market is a valuable segment of the international wine industry, growing at more than seven times the rate of any other region. So it’s about time the millions of Asian wine lovers had an authoritative guide to the best wines, suited to their unique taste and consumption patterns.
“Because of our pan-Asian panel of judges, there were some surprises among the results. Contrary to popular belief in the international wine industry that Asia is a sponge for hugely concentrated wines, the panel awarded the majority of medals and trophies to those wines displaying subtlety and delicate structure.”

braylin@bigpond.net.au

Ease the squeeze, Anna!








How many more times are we to hear politicians promise a light-rail system for inner-Brisbane? Premier Anna Bligh has raised the issue again. This time it is a suggestion for an underground light-rail (whatever happened to the word “tram”?) linking the CBD and Toowong, West End, Newstead, Bowen Hills, Bulimba and the North Shore precinct at Hamilton.
Apparently we need the new system to help alleviate the problem of cars clogging our city streets driven by the many people moving here each day. For the past 40 years, ever since trams were last seen on our CBD and suburban streets, there has been talk of bringing them back.
Those of us old enough to remember the non-air conditioned beasts lumbering along our thoroughfares would support their return. For me, Ms Bligh’s comments brought back memories of sitting adjacent to an open door on a tram as it rattled along with the wind blowing up my football shorts. Successive governments have undertaken studies that went nowhere. Maybe if they had not had so many studies, they may have had enough funds to actually build a new tram system.
Ms Bligh has ruled out trams on our streets, preferring to have them run in tunnels. Heaven forbid if they hold up cars. Forty-plus years ago it was trams and their passengers who ruled our roads.
Just as they once did in Brisbane, vehicles in Melbourne must come to a halt when a tram does likewise at most stops to ensure the safety of alighting or boarding passengers. Now we apparently need to foot the extra cost of tunnelling just so we don’t hold up the cars that are to blame for clogging our streets in the first place.



***

Part of Ms Bligh's rationale for the new tunnel trams was that twice as many people will be working in the CBD in 25 years’ time. “Employment in the same area will double from 200,000 to 400,000 – double the number of people trying to get into the CBD just to get to work,” the premier told us.
Well to my mind Ms Bligh herself could alleviate some of that expected pressure by starting to shift her own public servants out of the CBD.
Surely there are enough people on her payroll living in outer areas such as Caboolture, Logan City, Ipswich, or on the Sunshine and Gold Coasts who would love to work closer to home.
Or, taking a harder line, she should set out a 20-year plan for the bulk move of government departments to those areas, or even further afield. Given the advances in communications technology, such as email, vide-conferencing and the like, why couldn’t the Education Department be located in Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Townsville, or Cairns.

***
Also in the past week or so there has been some discussion of the latest attempts to “brand” Brisbane. Yes, yet again our money is being given in big wads to those highly talented original thinkers in the public relations and advertising industries to come up with a slogan for the city.
The latest, apparently is something about Brisbane being “a new world city”. Almost as catchy as that mangy ferret that a few years ago was billed as our city’s image-making saviour. Here’s a simple thought.
Given the problems caused by a population influx as identified by Anna Bligh why not adopt the slogan: “Go away.”
That would surely help stem the flow of people here and the need for costly new infrastructure. Or could it be that something ruder may be needed.

Is Malcolm in a complete muddle?

By Mungo MacCallum

This week’s long-promised vote on the emissions trading scheme is crunch time for Malcolm Turnbull, certainly; but whole Liberal Party, and indeed the coalition, have a lot riding on it too.
Unless they can come up with a formula that gives at least the impression of some kind of common purpose, they can forget not only the next election, but probably any future as a meaningful political force.
If they simply splinter screaming abuse at each other and defiance at their leaders, the prospects are not bright.
The Nationals are already decided: when the Senate vote comes up, they will just say no. This not a problem for their senate leader, Barnaby Joyce, who has declined to serve in the shadow ministry. However. his deputy, Nigel Scullion, is shadow Minister for Human Resources, and would thus traditionally be bound by any decision of the shadow cabinet, where Turnbull is believed to have the numbers.

he same, of course, would apply to the Liberals Eric Abetz, George Brandis, Helen Conan, Michael Ronaldson, David Johnston and, most significantly, their leader Nick Minchin, the high priest and thunderer of the climate change denialists.
Minchin has said he will abide by any decision of the party room; he has not said where he stands on the principle of the solidarity of shadow cabinet. Clearly he believes that while Turnbull might push a recommendation for a yes vote through the latter, he has little hope in the former.
So will Turnbull be humiliated by his party as a whole? If Minchin is right about the numbers, it could happen. But the most likely result is a compromise: a decision to offer all members, including shadow ministers, the right to a free vote. This highly unusual procedure is also referred to as a conscience vote.
It is usually only applied to what are called “moral” issues, such as abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia. Decisions on matters of less concern to the Roman Catholic Church, such as war, poverty, and especially the environment, are deemed to have no moral component at all. To turn an emissions trading scheme into a conscience issue would be, to say the least, unprecedented.
But it gives the coalition parties their best hope of getting through the week without blood on the sawdust. The government only needs seven Liberals to vote with it to pass the scheme; it should get them comfortably. There are still that many rational beings left on the senate opposition benches. Turnbull will be desperately hoping so. The alternative, not only from his own point of view but that of the whole conservative movement in Australia, is almost too terrible to contemplate.
***

For a man condemned by his opponents as a master of spin, an iron fisted controller of th media and an Olympic-class manipulator of public opinion, Kevin Rudd sure made a meal of the Oceanic Viking affair.
By the end of last week his repeated assertions that the 78 Tamils aboard were receiving no special treatment looked not just dishonest, but very silly and even a touch insane. Yet our beloved Prime Minister continued to seek his own refuge behind desperate weasel words like “non-extraordinary,” claiming in Bart Simpson vein that he had not be at the meetings, he did not know the details, but he stood by everything that had been done, and whatever it was it was completely normal procedure.
Among his colleagues dropping jaws quickly gave way to sweating brows and even rising gorges as they realised that they were seeing their great hope of re-election piss his most valuable public asset up against the wall, and that there was absolutely nothing that they could do about it. Their glorious leader, the man of integrity, the politician you could trust, suddenly gave the impression that he was, in Winston Churchill’s immortal phrase, either labouring under a misapprehension or he was guilty of a terminological inexactitude – in other words, he was either a fool or a liar.
This would be bad enough even if the crisis was now over, with the Tamils, deal done, safely ensconced in Tanjung Pinang detention centre and the Oceanic Viking finally out of Indonesian waters. But it doesn’t end there.
Rudd’s insistence that in this case everything was done according to the book means that those not following the same script, which includes fast processing and resettlement, English lessons, family search and daily consular access are presumably doing it wrong In particular, the implication is that the treatment of those already in Tanjung Pinang, which includes none of the above, is cruel and inhumane.
This will not amuse the Indonesians who administer the camp, which, as they point out, was built at Australia’s suggestion and largely with Australian money. Now apparently they are running some kind of hellhole, so the Australian government can shift the problem out of its own jurisdiction. Like Nauru, they have become Australia’s dumping ground, and So much for the much-vaunted equal partnership between two proud and sovereign nations.
As a result Prime Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has deferred his planned visit to Australia for a few weeks, but that may not be enough. Now he plans to arrive just about the time the Tamils are due to finish their processing and begin their resettlement, presumably in Australia – that is if the deal actually works out. But whether it does or not, the issue will be well and truly back in the headlines then.
The meal has turned into a dog’s breakfast.
he key diplomatic element in the agreement with Indonesia was that it had to be done in a way that allowed Indonesia to save face. But Rudd decided that saving his own face in front of the Australian media was more important. It is perhaps his first serious political misjudgement since becoming Prime Minister. But now that it’s finally come, it’s a real ripsnorter.

Despair and desperation on debut



FILMS .... with Tim Milfull

Cold Souls (M)
Director: Sophie Barthes
Stars: Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Emily Watson Rating: 3.5/5
101-minutes, now screening


Paul Giamatti has a problem. The star of films like Sideways and John Adams, and one of the busiest character actors on stage or screen, cannot come to grips with his latest role as the lead in Chekov’s Vanya. And the resulting angst is tearing him apart. That’s when he stumbles upon an advertisement espousing the benefits of “soul storage”.
It seems that for a nominal fee, the company run by Dr Flintstein (David Strathairn) can extract your soul and store it until you feel ready to deal with it again. As an added bonus, clients can have their soul warehoused in Jersey to avoid tax. For the conflicted Giamatti, soul storage seems like a godsend.
But with any process, there is the chance of side-effects – notwithstanding Giamatti’s rather ordinary soul, which resembles a chickpea – and the actor’s performance actually suffers in the absence of his soul. When Dr Flintstein suggests an alternative, Giamatti’s life takes a number of dramatic turns.
It’s inevitable that Sophie Barthes’s debut film will be compared to certain other films – the kind of films that tend to polarise people – so let’s get it out of the road: Cold Souls sits very comfortably on the shelf beside films like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. There.
It’s said. So if you didn’t like either of these films, it’s probably a good idea to avoid this one.
If you did like getting into Malkovich’s head or fantasised about a spotless mind, I’m confident you’ll get a kick out of Cold Souls. This despite the fact that Barthes is on record as avoiding the comparison to Charlie Kaufman: “He’s much more cynical, sarcastic, and twisted”. And there is less of a cynical edge in her first film, although it’s hard to argue that there is any less despair and desperation.



Frustrating, flawed ... and fantastic

A Serious Man (M)
Director: Ethan & Joel Coen
Stars: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick
Rating: 5/5
105-minutes, now screening


Sometimes things go wrong in the world of Ethan and Joel Coen – think Tom Hanks in The Ladykillers – but more often than not, things go really, really right.
In the case of their latest film A Serious Man, the planets have aligned, and in a very Jewish way.
For this is a Jewish film made by two Jewish men, and set within the kind of Jewish community the brothers were raised in the 60s After an opening that Roald Dahl would have been proud of – a period piece featuring a weather-beaten couple about to be cursed by God – we meet Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a college professor in a mid-Western town waiting on tenterhooks for news of his tenure, and panicking about a meeting with a disgruntled international student who may or may not have left a bribe on his desk.
If matters at work are complicated, Larry’s home life is quickly unravelling. His wife Judith (Sari Lennick) is having an affair with the execrable proto-SNAG Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed); son Danny (Aaron Wolff) is being bullied at school, and cannot cope with poor TV reception at home – F-Troop is constantly fuzzy; daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) is obsessed with her hair; and Larry’s brother Arthur is an emotionally and socially crippled mess plagued by a seeping sebaceous cyst. Like all of their films, A Serious Man is a fascinating, intricately layered character study, with Stuhlbarg’s long-suffering Larry only the tip of a richly-veined iceberg.
All of these characters are alternately frustrating, gorgeous, flawed, and tragic, and thanks to long-time collaborators, cinematographer Roger Deakin, and composer Carter Burwell, each astonishing frame is perfectly complemented with a pitch-perfect score.
This may just be their best work yet, and that’s at the peak of an already amazing oeuvre.




The hype is right … which is pretty scary

Paranormal Activity (M)
Director: Orin Peli
Stars: Michah Sloat, Katie Featherstone
Rating: 3.5/587-minutes, screening from December 3


There’s been a lot of hype about this little horror film – comparisons with The Blair Witch Project; rumours about Steven Spielberg’s involvement; astonishment at the miniscule budget; and much hoopla about Paranormal Activity being the scariest film ever made. So when I sat down with a large preview audience, I was a little sceptical.
More than halfway through this tale of a woman haunted by a mysterious presence, I had my doubts: just how was Oren Peli going to scare the pants off us? Well, by adopting a policy of ‘less is more’, that’s how…
Michah Sloat and Katie Featherston are a young couple living somewhere in California. He’s some sort of broker – successful enough to work from home and to be able to lash out on very expensive video cameras – and she’s a student who contributes to the household income with her beading work.
As the film opens, Michah is bubbling with enthusiasm over his camera purchase, especially since it might lead to the end of Katie’s paranormal woes. Dragging the camera around the house, setting it up in the bedroom, and engaging in all manner of tomfoolery, Micah is a picture of bravado. Katie – who has been living with this annoying and sometimes malevolent presence since late childhood is a little more circumspect.
Like Blair Witch, all we see is courtesy of Micah’s camera; unlike Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity slowly builds an incredible tension, and does so without cheating. There are plenty of loud noises and bumps in the night, but everything here is unnervingly believable, and the audience I sat with appreciated every terrifying moment. This is one instance where you can believe the hype.

Star Signs with Horace Cope



SAGITTARIUS (Nov 23 to Dec 22)
Just when you thought things could not possibly get any worse for federal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull, you hear on the news that he has the full and unequivocal backing of Phillip Ruddock.

CAPRICORN (Dec 23 to Jan 20)
You're saddened by the news that Rove McManus has decided to quit TV, because for more than a decade he had clearly stood head and shoulders below anyone else in the medium.

AQUARIUS (Jan 21 to Feb 19)
Still, you suppose it gives a chance for the next little thing to make their mark on TV.

PISCES (Feb 20 to Mar 20)
You truly believe that Rove McManus will be missed, though, because he was simply tailor-made for the small screen.

ARIES (Mar 21 to Apr 20)
It also has you thinking..... okay, already. Enough with the small-man jokes!

TAURUS (Apr 21 to May 20)
As the sun streams through your bedroom window curtains at 5am, making any further sleep impossible, you are at least thankful that those curtains are not being faded by daylight saving.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 21)
You close your account with the Commonwealth Bank, figuring you can no longer support any business than wastes time and money listening to a couple of fools coming up over and over again with totally moronic marketing ideas.

CANCER (June 22 to July 23)

As someone who is always goin’ through life droppin’ their g’s in every-day speech, you regret your decision to walk into a McDonalds and order one of their new Angus beef burgers.

LEO (July 24 to Aug 23)
You really enjoyed the opening day of the West Indies test at the Gabba, although the other spectator said he wasn’t that fussed.

VIRGO (Aug 24 to Sept 23)
You wake up in a cold sweat with the sudden realisation of what the federal Liberal Party meltdown really means - another three years of Kevin Rudd.

LIBRA (Sept 24 to Oct 23)
You finally find that one machine in your local pokie parlour that always puts something back in your hands ... the free coffee machine.

SCORPIO (Oct 24 to Nov 22)
You wonder if you’re the only person in Australia who doesn’t have the foggiest of notions about how an emissions trading scheme actually works.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Can one boatload sink St Kevin?

By Mungo MacCallum



So Saint Kevin's halo has finally slipped. According to last week's Newspoll the major parties are now running level on their primary votes and Labor will need Green preferences to retain government.
It's a big swing, perhaps too big to be entirely credible; even with a gut issue like the asylum seekers going full blast, it's hard to believe that well over a million voters deserted Labor for the coalition in a fortnight while still retaining an undiminished preference for Kevin Rudd over Malcolm Turnbull.
But let's assume it's true, and that the next election is not the sure thing it has appeared for nearly two years. Exactly what has pissed these punters off and will others follow? Perhaps more importantly, what does Labor (read Rudd) have to do to get them back?
The first thing to note is that if the switch is really a result of the boat people kerfuffle, Rudd won't be able to bluster and twitter his way out of it. The fact that the defectors went straight to the coalition rather than to the Greens or to independents suggests that they are coming from the right of the spectrum: that they want a policy that is less humane and more hard-line.
The coalition does not actually have a policy of any kind, but its more vociferous members have certainly been talking tough, and the memory of the heartless Howard years is not all that distant.
Clearly the perception is that Malcolm Turnbull, whatever his personal views, could be persuaded to be more brutal than Kevin Rudd.
In fact Rudd, even if he were inclined towards brutality (which he isn't, except perhaps on people smugglers) would not be allowed to go down that path. Even if caucus could be convinced that it was the only option, the party rank and file wouldn't wear it and crucially the trades unions have come out strongly on the side of compassion.
It was Paul Howes of the AWU who came out of the blue with a rational and moving plea for a common sense and decency, and he was quickly followed by the ACTU as a body; interestingly one of the strongest advocates for the boat people was the CMFEU, whose members are usually seen as unbending rednecks.
These, it might have been thought, would have been precisely the kind of voters who might have deserted Labor over the issue. Instead they appear to have moved the other way, and clearly this increases the pressure on Rudd to do the same.
By the end of last week something close to a consensus was emerging from the broad left: Rudd's mantra of "hard-line on people smugglers but humane to asylum seekers" was at worst self-contradictory and at best meaningless, and no amount of radio barnstorming by Rudd was going to convince the punters otherwise. It was time to cut the political losses and go back to basics and the best way to do that would be to allow the Oceanic Viking to deliver its load of recalcitrant Tamils to Christmas Island and hope that future arrivals would be more straightforward.
The plan had the merit of simplicity, but it also contained serious risks.
The most obvious was that such a move could easily be portrayed as weakness, and might encourage further voter defections from the right. But perhaps more importantly it would involve asking Rudd himself to eat a very large shit sandwich, which would be not only totally against the man's nature, but perhaps highly counter-productive politically.
Undoubtedly the most striking aspect of the Newspoll was that while it showed a dramatic drop in support for the party, almost none of the odium seems to have attached itself to the leader.
Rudd's personal approval rating was marginally down but his lead in the preferred prime minister question was as commanding as ever. Unquestionably he remains by far the party's greatest electoral asset, and the party cannot afford to be seen to be slighting him.
This, of course, is the great dilemma facing all his internal critics, but particularly those from the left. Some of his stances regularly outrage them: the attack on photographer Bill Henson, the sellout of the Emissions Trading Scheme to the polluters, the appointment of Peter Costello … the list goes on, and the refusal to admit the Tamils has now been added to it.
Many can't wait for the glorious day when he will make way for their own saviour, Julia Gillard. But they know - or at least the serious ones do - that they can't afford to push him.
The halo might be slightly awry, but out there in Voterland he's still Saint Kevin. He is after all, the prophet who led them through the wilderness of the Global Financial Crisis and at least gave them a glimpse of the lucky country on the other side.
Happily for the government the magnitude of this achievement should be most apparent in the forthcoming Christmas holidays, with booming retail sales, a resumption of domestic tourism and a general feeling of economic bonhomie.
Compared with the horrific forecasts of a year ago, it will seem like some kind of miracle. The season to be jolly indeed, and definitely not a time for carping and niggling about whether, with hindsight, the stimulus package should have been handled a little differently.
And in any case, the big news is going to be Copenhagen and climate change, and Rudd has already started ramping up the rhetoric on that. Of course the Rudd-haters in the commentariat are already saying that he's only doing it to divert attention from the asylum seekers and Newspoll, but they would say that, wouldn't they?
Rudd (well, the ALP, actually) might have lost some of its lead, but he doesn't have to panic about a blip in the polls -- at least not yet.

Star Signs with Horace Cope


SCORPIO (Oct 24 to Nov 22)

You're not surprised to read that crossing the new King George Square in the city without bottled water has been rated by a leading X-treme Sports magazine as one of the top 10 really daring things to attempt.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov 23 to Dec 22)

And when you finally attempt your first crossing of King George Square you seek shelter under a tree only to find the message "dig" has been scratched into it.

CAPRICORN (Dec 23 to Jan 20)


You wonder how Premier Anna Bligh is going to be able to shamelessly and cravenly appeal to the lowest common denominator next election now that her chief of staff and state election campaign director Mike Kaiser has abandoned ship.

AQUARIUS (Jan 21 to Feb 19)

After reading the obit that said that The Lanky Yank Don Lane had "honed his entertaining skills in New York", you figure you must check a dictionary seeing the definition of "honed" has obviously changed over the years.

PISCES (Feb 20 to Mar 20)

You wonder what happened to the adage that you should never speak ill of the dead.

ARIES (Mar 21 to Apr 20)

It's not as if he didn't die enough times on stage as it was, especially with his opening standup routines on his TV show.

TAURUS (Apr 21 to May 20)

After hearing that federal environment minister Peter Garrett knocked back plans for the Traveston Crossing dam you wonder if there are any more of Peter Beattie's bright ideas left in the cupboard to haunt Anna Bligh.

GEMINI (May 21 to June 21)

After years of complaining about having to watch tired old repeats on Channel 7 and Channel 9 you are ecstatic that you are now able to watch them on their digital channels Seven2 and Go.

CANCER (June 22 to July 23)

Walking through the Valley Metro centre the other day you realise it must by now be the fifth anniversary of former premier Peter Beattie's promised completion of the new Valley railway station that opened a little more than a year ago.

LEO (July 24 to Aug 23)

Prior to embarking on your Christmas shopping, you and your partner sit down and come to the sobering realisation that all of your household's seven credit cards are totally maxed out, so you make the obvious decision to apply for another one... each.

VIRGO (Aug 24 to Sept 23)

You can't believe your luck when, walking down a deserted laneway late at night while carrying a 3lb cricket bat, you encounter the person who keeps coming up with fresh 20 to 1 ideas for Channel 9.

LIBRA (Sept 24 to Oct 23)

You read that Translink is planning to build on its new system of pre-paid buses designed to speed up the city's public transport network by implementing no-passenger buses on key routes.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rate rise ‘won’t deter investors’

A leading property figure says the Reserve Bank’s decision to lift the cash rate by 25 basis points spells tough times for those battling mortgage stress but could be a boon for property investors.
PRDnationwide managing director Jim Midgley said the interest rate rise would boost investors’ confidence who had retreated during the downturn.
“Property investors who have been waiting for the first home buyer activity to drop are now looking to pounce since interest rates started to go up,” he said.
Mr Midgley said investor activity was up across the board according to feedback from 130 PRDnationwide offices across the country. The relatively small interest rate rise would have minimal impact on house prices.
“The real estate market has come through the downturn quite well because of an under supply of real estate in Australia,” he said.
“This rise will most likely affect those who have already bought and did not factor in increases and are suffering mortgage stress,” he said.
“I expect it will be the last rise for 2009 – we can expect further increases in January.”
PRDnationwide said Queensland house and unit sales for June totalled $3.2 billion, which was bettered by the $6.3 billion achieved in NSW.
Sales volumes held relatively steady compared to 12 months ago, when Queensland house and sales for June 2007 totalled $3.5 billion, and $5.2 billion in NSW.

Sip it forward to a worthy cause


WINE .. with David Bray


Sarah and Sparky Marquis are among this country's outstanding wine producers. They make the splendid Mollydooker wines, sell 90 percent of them in the United States and have for just over a year been doing something wonderful in Cambodia. They didn't come to your reporter looking for publicity.
I discovered the story on the internet. Here is some of it, as Sarah tells it: “We have been able to build a business which not only brings us huge enjoyment, fun and friendship, but allows us to give our two children what they need to develop their talents and abilities. Living in a free and beautiful country that has never experienced war, we feel we have been incredibly blessed.
“So in 2008 we set aside 1000 cases of the 2007 Two Left Feet, to be bottled under a different label, with all of the proceeds going to charity. We asked our Mollydooker Mates to suggest a name for the wine and Ian and Katie Muncy from Ohio came up with ‘Sip it Forward’.
“I was introduced to an organisation in Australia, Transform Cambodia which provides schooling and food for children and their families in Cambodia, and decided to visit. Our world changed from that trip.
“We visited the Transform Cambodia centres and the children were so excited to see us. Their love and friendliness was special. To them, we care about them and are giving them a new life. They are extremely grateful. We got mugged with hugs by the children. They are given a chance to go to school. Their school bag, their pride and joy, goes with them everywhere. They sang and performed for us many times; it was a beautiful way to experience their culture and gentle spirit.
“So many good things are happening, and families are being cared for. They were extremely grateful as they felt like they have been incredibly blessed for their child to be part of the program. The day of our visit was the day when once a month each child’s family is given 25kg of rice. To them this is equivalent to about $500. This is done to supplement their income because the children in the program are no longer earning money from working on the street.
“We are planning to fund three houses for use as centres, and to pay all the costs involved in running the programme in each of them. Mollydooker One has just been opened and will provide food and education for 100 children. Transform Cambodia will send the children to carefully selected local schools for six half days a week, and pay all fees and costs. For the other half of the day the children will come to Mollydooker One, where they are given meals and nutritional supplements, tutored in their schoolwork, coached to read and speak English, and are trained in life skills.”
Sip it Forward is a blend of McLaren Vale shiraz, cabernet and merlot. Cost is $300 a case, from mollydookerwines.com.au

Bana’s career travelling well ... at this point in time

FILMS ... with TIM MILFULL

The Time Traveler’s Wife (M)
Director: Robert Schwentke
Stars: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams Rating: 3.5/5
107-minutes, now screening


Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife was always going to be one of those popular novels that would have fans worrying about film adaptations, and I must admit I was a little concerned when I heard the news that it was coming to the screen.
But after last week’s preview, my fears for Niffenegger’s weepy spec-fic novel were ultimately unfounded. What seemed to be an odd choice in Eric Bana to play the unfortunate Henry DeTamble turns out to be an inspiration on the part of director Robert Schwentke, as is the casting of Rachel McAdams as Henry’s long-suffering lover Clare.
For the uninitiated, Bana’s Henry is afflicted with an extremely rare genetic disorder that sees him fading out of one time-zone and reappearing in others. He has no control over his ‘chrono-displacement’, and as a consequence drops in and out of the lives of those he loves, and in and out of his own life – the latter jumps feature in some intriguingly mind-bending sequences.
My memories of the novel are predominantly poignant and touching, and I had to be reminded by a friend that Niffenegger’s work was also very quirky and amusing, and Bruce Joel Rubin’s screenplay very cleverly evokes the funny and whimsical side of Henry’s condition in the first two acts, while the third offers a quite satisfying impression of the downsides of knowing the circumstances behind your death and the implications it might have for those left behind.
I wasn’t quite sobbing into tissues kike the half-dozen women in front of me, but I think there was at least one bit of dust in my eye at the end of this film.


***

Are the days numbered ... for disaster flicks?

2012 (M)
Director: Roland Emmerich
Stars: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Woody Harrelson
Rating: 3/5
151-minutes, screening from November 19

There are certain films that require you to switch off all needs for credibility and reality as you walk into the cinema, and I’m not talking about pure science fiction or fantasy films.
These big-budget blockbuster movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact, see really dodgy science take the front seat and steer us into weirdly familiar and sometimes unnerving territory, and subsequently scare the pants off those who are unable or unwilling to think critically about what they’re watching.
And writer-director Roland Emmerich is the King of the Un-credible, consistently buying into the unfounded fears of our Western zeitgeist with films like The Day After Tomorrow – with its ridiculous climate change fear-mongering – and rewriting history in 10,000 B.C., his unconscionable compression of humanity.
Emmerich’s latest CGI extravaganza, 2012, is no exception, drawing on a mish-mash of Mayan mythology and mutant science to destroy the world.
According to conspiracy theorists, the meso-Americans allegedly predicted the end of the world in 2012, and in Emmerich’s universe, an unfortunate Indian physicist has discovered that solar flares have sent ‘mutant’ neutrinos hurtling into the Earth’s core to trigger a reaction that is essentially microwaving our planet’s centre.
Right… that’s the dodgy science out of the road – let’s get down to destroying civilisation, and California is first on the Doomsday list. Thankfully, the stubborn Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) convinces the US government to prepare a contingency plan to save some of us, and Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) just happens to be in all the right places, and equipped with the requisite skills to bring his loved ones to safety just by the skin of their teeth.
At an unreasonable 151-minutes, and crammed with some very dodgy CGI and action sequences, this is the kind of obscenely bloated blockbuster that’ll rake the box office dollars in.
Imagine what would happen if Emmerich and Michael Bay could do if they got together!

THE BINGE
La Luna (R) now available through Madman Entertainment The Young One (MA15+) now available through Madman Entertainment Life’s a Zoo (M) now available through Madman Entertainment


Tackling one of life’s taboos
Two classics from Madman’s Directors Suite to start off this week’s Binge, and Bernardo Bertolucci’s La Luna is a very interesting choice.
Jill Clayburgh plays renowned opera diva, Caterina Silveri, recently widowed and facing the reality of raising her teenage son Joe (Matthew Barry) herself. When mother and son relocate from New York to Italy for an opera performance, the boy falls in with the wrong crowd and begins using heroin.
This controversial film features disturbing performances from both Clayburgh and Barry acting out one of society’s less-discussed taboos.
In The Young One, Spanish director Luis Buñuel makes a departure from his surrealist roots and courts controversy on US soil, investigating a separate set of taboos involving child molestation and racism, as a young, black jazz musician (Bernie Hamilton) flees accusations of rape to hide on a remote island in the Deep South.
There, he meets the naïve and recently orphaned teenager Evalyn (Key Meersman) and her bigoted, self-appointed guardian, Miller (Zachary Scott), whose intentions towards Evalyn are less than honourable.

If incest, racism, and kiddie-fiddling seem like too much to contend with, perhaps you should check out Life’s a Zoo, which has its own taboos to deal with, but in a much less serious light – think SBS’s cartoon series Drawn Together or Peter Jackson’s early queerness, Meet the Feebles. In this TV series, a version of the Big Brother house is filled with messed-up clay-mation animals, each with a set of perverted peccadilloes, and as expected, the sparks begin to fly.

Historical memories must be maintained: top architect




By Atsushi Wadamine
Queensland’s Chief Architect Philip Follent says the preservation of older buildings is crucial to retain a city’s historical memories. “They still provide us with the stories about architectures of the days gone by,” he says.
“Keeping old buildings and places of significance is a very physical and a very accessible way to actually chart history.” Mr Follent cited the Treasury Building in the CBD and the McWhirters Building in the Valley (pictured), as among the preserved historic buildings that “definitely enhance Brisbane’s attractiveness”.
Mr Follent said historic buildings served as a powerful reminder of histories they have had, as well. “It is wonderful to see the physical remnants of history in front of you describing how people may have lived or worked even though the buildings very often changed their use. They often provide a wonderful shelter for human activity,” Mr Follent said. The old buildings also help to develop their a clear and broad understanding of their designs, techniques, materials and other architectural historical materials.
“If we photograph the building and demolish it and we look at it in the [a] book, it is far less tangible and it is far less real to us. History disappears more easily if we don't keep some physical pieces of it."
But, according to Mr Follent, the architectural conservation was not part of original Australian culture.
“We have come to realise historic buildings are quite precious,” he said. “When we travel to the other cities throughout the world, we see a range of buildings from very old time, sometimes the buildings built in 14th, 15th or 16th centuries right through to today.”
As far as residential architectures is concerned, Brisbane also retains some almost 100-year old residential buildings as well as commercial or public structures.
By contrast, except for historical architectures under the government management, Japan has downplayed the durability of houses especially since the last war, despite its longer history than Australian. Kyoto Tachibana University Professor Kiyoaki Takeyama, a first-class certified architect, pointed out the negative effects of Japanese "scrap and build" architectural culture, compared with British architectural custom.
“The lifetime of ordinary Japanese residential buildings is generally 25 years while that of British homes is 100 to 200 years,” he said.
“Most Japanese have responsibility to pay the total amount of construction cost because modern Japanese houses lack their strong durability and they need to build a new house from scratch.
“But British house owners just spend a small budget on the refurbishment of their houses their ancestors built in the past.” As for the modern Japanese residences, he said Japanese constructors still built new houses which lasted only for 30 or 40 years.
“The most important issue on the 'scrap and build' policy in Japan is it prevents the financial and social value accumulation of the houses and their surroundings as well as the waste of natural resources and the neglect of high-quality residence construction,” Mr Takeyama said.
The movement in Japan to respect architectural sustainability would gradually become mainstream due to, while inadequate, enactment of Landscape Act. And government and forward-thinking developers' efforts to promote and construct residences in harmony with cityscapes.
Mr Follent suggested the importance of historic building preservation played another important role refreshing citizens’ fond memories.
“The ancient architectures remind you of your old and favourite experiences in your childhood.
“Physical buildings are a little bit of a link to our memories. The main interest of the treatment is most people remember about the outside of that building and the marks of the place where people have the memories,” he said.
Mr Follent added governments and citizens are tackling structure preservation efforts although they have some problematic issues on conservation projects and are in trouble with the owners of the properties they want to preserve.
“Every city tries to deal with preserving enough places and buildings to allow people to remember where the city came from,” he said.

New name gives laneway vibrancy


Brisbane’s two-dozen unnamed laneways have lost one of their number – with one in the CBD being officially named by Brisbane City Council after 1900s ironmonger and coach builder Leonard Spencer.
A recent council CBD audit under the Vibrant Laneway and Small Spaces program and City Centre Master Plan identified about 25 lanes without names. Spencer Lane, located between Edward and Felix streets off Margaret Street, now has a brand new blue street sign, although it will not be recognised on UBDs until August 2010.
Neighbourhood Planning Chair Amanda Cooper said council wanted to name the remaining lanes with the help of a committee, including heritage experts, reflecting the history and character of the area. Cr Cooper said naming the lanes gave BCC a chance to promote Brisbane’s history.
“Mr Spencer was a trader and owner with a long history in and around the laneway as a tenant from 1903 and owner of a number of buildings abutting the lane, which in the 1920s and 30s were occupied by leather and metal merchants,” she said.
"The vicinity of Spencer Lane contains three heritage-listed buildings and will now be revitalised as part of council’s broader City Centre Master Plan,” Cr Cooper said.
The first venue to boast Brisbane's newest address would be the trendy Urbane Restaurant when it opened next week
“Businesses like Urbane Restaurant will play a key role in the Vibrant Laneways program and it's great to see Urbane taking the lead in activating one of the city’s small spaces with the opening of a laneway bar and restaurant,” she said.
Other Council Vibrant Laneways projects, which aim to revitalise tired and neglected CBD locations, include the revitalisation of Market Street, the Jacob’s Ladder and King Edward Park Project, Burnett Lane and the Inhabit creative art and events program.

Top: Cr Amanda Cooper inspects the Spencer Lane sign off Margaret Street in the CBD.

Art auction aids homeless


Brisbane homeless refuge, 139 Club, is staging its first ever fund-raising art auction this Friday, November 13, featuring art works from around 60 homeless artists participating in the centre’s new art program along with donated paintings from renowned local artist Robert Teoh.
Auction goers will be bidding via silent auction on more than 100 artworks including 52 paintings by Robert Teoh and 50 art works including paintings, clay sculpture, drawings and mosaic pieces from homeless artists.
139 Club’s general manager Rod Kelly says the art program has been providing a creative window of hope for its participants.
“Many of the artworks up for sale are visually very clever and artistically express some of the challenges of street life, the whys of homelessness and even depict the strengths of human character,” Mr Kelly said.
The homeless artists have participated in a program taught by local Samford based artist Louise Laurence who has educated the group in different artistic mediums and included excursions to Brisbane galleries and museums.
The program was funded thanks to Channel Nine’s Secret Millionaire, Naomi Simpson of Red Balloon who has personal interest in art. Naomi funded the project because of its long-term outcomes for the homeless community.
Naomi will be attending the auction and will be donating some of her own personal artworks.
Each of the 139 Club art participants has built up their own individual portfolios and the works going up for auction represent some of the standout pieces produced by the group.

Mr Kelly says 30 per cent of all sales will go to the artists. “It has been incredible to see the sense of worth of each these homeless artists improve exponentially just by being involved with the program. Not to mention, their art works are beautifully inspiring,” he said.
“We are also incredibly grateful for the very generous donation of paintings from Robert Teoh. Robert Teoh, 68, is a Malaysian born industrial engineer whose art hobby has seen him donate hundreds of art works, mostly landscape scenes, to good causes including Karuna Hospice, Global Mission and Rotary Club to name a few.
Teoh’s paintings going up for sale are acrylic on canvas works and many depict renowned Brisbane scenery and buildings including the Brisbane River, CityCats and theKookaburra River Queens.
To attend the auction, call the 139 Club on 3254 1144. Entry is by donation.
• 139 Club is a homeless refuge that provides a range of day and visiting services, welfare and family support, community development initiatives to 300 or more individuals each day.

Confusing signs of the times


Newstead residents Robert and Rosemary Vawdrey thought their woes over illegal parking in a laneway near their home were over when council responded to their concerns and painted “no parking” yellow lines in the Midvale Lane trouble spot earlier this year.
Council also took away the “No Standing” signs at the time, and that was okay with them too because the yellow lines said it all. Or so they thought.
Certainly the move had made their lives much easier over recent months. But that was until last week.
What happened then is best summed up in an email the Vawdreys sent to local councillor David Hinchliffe, who had helped them with their original complaints.
“It was with some consternation that we realised that last week two angle parking signs have been installed at the end of the lane, alongside the yellow lines,” they wrote.
“Does this mean you can park because the signage says so, or you can’t park because there are yellow lines, and if the former does that mean yellow lines are meaningless (which is exactly what the average illegal parker will think).
“We enclose a photo.(reproduced at left) I hope the situation will not return to the previous madness.”
Cr Hinchliffe told this paper: “Talk about mixed messages. I wonder whether this is some clever plot to confuse people and lull them into a false sense of parking security and then come along and fine them.
"Who knows what the Lord Mayor will do to get his hands on a bit more cash.”

More parking pain predicted


Many inner city residents stand to lose their resident parking permits as thousands of currently free parking spaces in the inner city become metered, the local councillor has warned.
Central Ward councillor David Hinchliffe said the new meters, which have already been installed in Newstead, Bowen Hills, the Valley, Kelvin Grove and Herston, would net the council more than $16 million extra a year from motorists and residents.
“For residents to be eligible for parking permits they have to prove to council that they have no space off street to park their cars,” Cr Hinchliffe said.
“If residents are eligible, only some of the metered spaces will be available for permit holders for free. If the spaces are taken, residents will have to pay.
“Council endorsed the Lord Mayor’s new Regulated Parking Permit Local Law that states ‘residents will need to demonstrate that they do not have any provision for off-street parking or the vehicle cannot be physically accommodated off street’.
“Currently, residents can apply for two parking permits annually for free. One permit is for the property owner and one for visitors and/or the second car.
“The Lord Mayor has said he has no intention of introducing fees for parking permits.”
Councillor Hinchliffe said the Lord Mayor should have supported his amendment to the changes making it official council policy not to charge for permits. “The Lord Mayor and LNP councillors voted against making that a policy.
"So you have to wonder about their long-term plans.”
• Comment on the issue was sought from the Lord Mayor’s office, but no response had been received as this issue went to press.

Heritage body ‘not branch of government’

LETTERS


Dear Editor
On 30 September 2009, The Independent reported the concerns of the Queensland Heritage Council (QHC) about the draft Fortitude Valley Neighbourhood Plan. It also reported a statement by Cr Amanda Cooper that the QHC and the Department of Infrastructure and Planning were “two branches of the State government”.
This is an unfortunate misconception since the QHC is an independent statutory authority. It provides independent advice to the community and the Queensland Government on heritage. It is not a branch of government.
As an independent body, the QHC has asked the Brisbane City Council to quickly enter into a dialogue about the best way of protecting the very considerable heritage significance of the Valley.
Howard Guille Queensland Heritage Council Policy Committee Chair
Via email October 27.

Not happy on the avenue

Dear Editor,
Newstead Avenue residents are unimpressed by the “parking changes”, especially press adverts which claim that they were developed with “community feedback”. What a laugh! With indecent haste were the machines installed, signs erected and new line markings painted on, just a matter of days before the starter's whistle on October 26.
It was a waste of time trying to contact the local councillor for Hamilton. He hasn't yet responded to several messages. Of course, this is no surprise. As the local representative of the Brisbane City Council, he's not exactly the flavour of the month among the unconsulted residents of Newstead north.
Just a grab for cash? Must be!
Bemused (name and addressed supplied)
Newstead Avenue
Via email October 30

Safety is a black-and-white issue



Remember the good old days when, if you were a pedestrian trying to cross a street drivers would slow down or stop to let you do so. Nowadays they aim at you.
A few days at the beach can be so relaxing. Your columnist recently spent some time at Coolangatta, swimming between the flags and tanning on the beach in my original Paula Stafford bikini first worn while I was just a boarder at The Southport School many decades ago.
Coolangatta is still one of the more laidback parts of the glitter strip. But definitely what puts the entire Gold Coast ahead of Brisbane is the fact the city council of our southern beachside metropolis still believes in zebra crossings. The number of zebra crossings in Brisbane has dwindled in the past few years.
The cause has been an overeagerness of council administrations of both political persuasions to bend over backwards to accommodate the interest of vehicle drivers at the expense of pedestrians.
The result has been the removal of many zebra crossings and their replacement with “pedestrian refuges” in the middle of busy thoroughfares. Heaven forbid if pedestrians wanting to cross a road cause cars to stop.
But on the Gold Coast, pedestrians still get a fair go. I have not seen so many zebra crossings since the last David Attenborough documentary on ABC TV.
And guess what, motorists – locals and tourists – all knew that zebras mean pedestrians have right of way. Now that makes a pleasant change from out own metropolis.
***

Last week my meanderings in my trust Land Rover took me through our city’s inner-northern suburbs. Naturally, as with any car trip around Brisbane, my route soon took me towards roadworks.
At the particular site two traffic lanes were required to merge into one. Being a polite sort of gal I allowed a small red sedan in the left lane to cross into my lane, the only lane open through the roadworks site.
As the red car moved into my lane it became obvious the driver was a young woman. Not only a young woman, but one who was driving with her left hand and texting on her mobile phone with her right one.
Did someone mention our road toll is the highest it has been for some years?

More woes for mall traders


Struggling traders fronting and near the Chinatown Mall makeover may have to wait much longer to start recouping losses from the much-delayed project – with local councillor David Hinchliffe declaring it may not be fully reopened until Chinese New Year next February.
“All this council tells me is that it will definitely be ready to be opened in time for Chinese New Year next year, which is the middle of February,” the Central Ward councillor told The Independent this week.
“I expect that at least part of it should be opened by Christmas but in fact the Lord Mayor had promised it would be open in time for the Ekka, three months ago.”
The Lord Mayor’s Office has told this newspaper in the past that the reopening date remained early December, but requests for this to be reconfirmed had not been answered by the time this issue went to press.
Traders were unhappy when work ceased several weeks ago for the mall to be used as a theatre stage for Valley Fiesta, with several telling The Independent that the event would not bring them any business anyway.
Traders have also complained that pre-Christmas bookings have already been affected by uncertainty over the finishing date.
Cr Hinchliffe renewed his call for council to reconsider some form of compensation for traders, at the very least for the three months the project has been delayed.
“The work is already three months overdue. There is noise, dust and smell from the development, so how any of these traders can do is business is beyond me,” Cr Hinchliffe said.
“I know for a fact that Chinatown Carpark has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I still think the council should compensating businesses for at least the period they have gone over-schedule.”

STOP PRESS

The Lord Mayor's Office provided the following statment after the 11 November 2009 print edition of The Independent had gone to press.
We expect the Mall to be open in December, with a few finishing touches like artwork to be completed in January.
The major cause of delays has come from utility companies taking this opportunity to get in under the Mall and upgrade and future proof their services too. The lack of knowledge about the location of these utilities and the hardness of the rock under the mall has made this a very lengthy and slow process.
The need to keep access to the shops and the car park open has also restricted us to doing much of the work one section at a time.
We have also done a lot to support the traders during the Mall upgrade, which we are spening $8 million on without requiring them to chip in like we have with other upgrades of shopping strips.
This includes a $300,000 promotional campaign letting people know that China Town Mall is still open for business and waiving outdoor dining fees during construction.
Economic Development Chairman Cr Jane Prentice said that she expected most of the Mall to be open by Christmas.
"In fact I think the Christmas opening time will work in the traders' favour as curious shoppers come for a look at the new China Town Mall," Cr Prentice said.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Shrinking media coverage of world news a concern: expert

The declining coverage of world news as cash-strapped media organisations cut costs is one of the big challenges facing the fourth estate today, a media leader says.
John Walllace, program director with the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre in Melbourne, was addressing the 2009 graduation ceremony for Jschool based in Brisbane.
College founder Professor John Henningham presented him with the college’s honorary degree of doctor of journalism for his contribution over many years to journalism education and his role at the APJC in fostering professional development programs in overseas countries, especially south-east Asia.
Dr Wallace told the graduating students: “You will know from your study this year that journalism, to be successful, needs to take account of the needs and interests of readers, listeners and viewers in the communities it serves.
“This push for local relevance can be seen as a natural phenomenon; it makes sense that we are interested most in the things closest to us. However, the danger is that the local perspective will drown out important news from the outside world."
This concern had been raised 10 years ago by a group of senior American journalists who looked at the state of the American newspaper industry and found that the space devoted to international news in US print media had declined over the years. A similar, less extreme, trend was observed here in Australia.
“Since then, the trend seems to be continuing. The big ‘high drama’ global news stories are covered – September 11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the global financial crisis, tsunamis and climate change – but, overall, foreign news coverage is being squeezed as news organisations fight to contain costs as they deal with competition from new media platforms.
“One creative response to this concern has been the development of courses for journalists promoting the idea of "building up the connection between the local and the global".
"The Poynter Institute in Florida is one organisation that runs such programs. Part of the idea is to recognise that many international stories have a local angle, and so can be made into local stories. For example, if there's a story about poisonous toys being manufactured overseas, a reporter can see if they are being sold here; if a new version of flu breaks out overseas, a reporter can investigate what precautions are being taken here to reduce the threat."
Dr Wallace told the graduates that one of the biggest challenges ahead for journalism - whatever media platform it operates on - would be to work out ways to build up informed coverage of international news and current affairs.
“The need for this has become more urgent as people throughout the world need better information on international matters to enable them to cope with living in an increasingly global society.
“It's partly a matter of citizens needing to know what is reasonable internationally in terms of advancing their national interests. And it's also about being better able to carry out our increasing global responsibilities, such as playing our part in responding to the challenge of climate change.
“To report this more global world, journalists of the future will, I am quite sure, be required to develop a more global perspective, while not forgetting, of course, the need to understand the interests of local communities."
Dr Wallace said that options for professional journalism study were quite limited in many parts of the world, with many young people finding their way into journalism without preparation, and with opportunities for in-house training also quite limited.
“This is one of the things the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre tries to do something about - by providing professional development programs for working journalists in the Asia Pacific region, particularly in those countries closest to Australia, such as East Timor, Indonesia, PNG and other southwest Pacific countries."



Right: Professor John Henningham, right, presents John Wallace with his honorary doctorate in journalism; Above: the Jschool class of 2009 celebrate their graduation.