For sale: absolute waterfront … on a king tide

DEPENDING on which bit of the city you were in, the arrival of biannual king tides yesterday brought either a mood of great buoyancy, or a sinking feeling.
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For Brad Mooney, a member of the Cooks River Motorboat Club it was a chance to take to Bay Street, Tempe, in a boat and have “a bit of a laugh and a galah about” in view of the club founded in 1917 opposite the spot where Captain James Cook’s anchor was found. Mr Mooney was pretending “to set out a new course in the back street” for the racing season.

He said he attracted a bit of attention from a “couple of old guys looking over the fence”.

But while it was all plain sailing in Tempe, the king tides arrived at Kurraba Point, Neutral Bay, with a crash when residents were given only minutes to flee two blocks of units on Saturday after high tides and a strong chop driven by southerly winds demolished a seawall.

“They said you’ve got two minutes,” said Brian Walton. “I asked when can I come back. They said you might not be coming back. And when I tried to get in a bit later, they wouldn’t let me in.”

Overnight the 2.1 metre king tides, abetted by strong winds, made small work of the waterfront soil and grass, and between 7am and 11am yesterday a further 1.5 metres of foreshore subsided into the harbour, leaving a tangle of rubble and exposing one of the building’s cracked concrete foundations.

“It was all soil and rock this morning but now it’s been washed away,” said Dan Begley, 29, whose unit is directly above the subsidence. “I can fish directly into the harbour from my balcony.”

The seawall had been in danger of collapse for up to two years, but residents said some owners had been slow to act. “If there’s anything good at all that can came out of this, it’s that the strata groups have to learn to be more proactive and less reactive,” Mr Walton said.

Seawall falls in ‘perfect storm’

THE COLLAPSE of a harbourside seawall in Neutral Bay has put all owners of Sydney waterfront units on alert that they must be prepared to dip into their pockets to maintain the whole property, or risk those properties dipping in value, if not dipping into the harbour itself.
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The seawall, at Kurraba Point, collapsed on Saturday, and police ordered an immediate evacuation of adjoining blocks of units at No. 21 and No. 23 Baden Road.

Yesterday a further metre and a half of waterfront slid into the harbour in front of No. 23, exposing that building’s cracked concrete foundations, and threatening the integrity of the shared waterfront.

"What we have here is a lesson for strata groups all around the harbour," said Mark Bryant, who owns a unit next door.

"Just as it takes five or six things to go wrong for a plane to crash, a few different things had to go wrong for this to happen. We had the king tides, the wind and all the rain. But there’s drainage issues here, and leaky pipes, which gives you a potential for subsidence. And there’s concrete spoilage, which you get all around the harbour [and] affects a building’s structural integrity."

The seawall, which crumbled before 2.1 metre king tides and a strong southerly chop, had been in a serious state of neglect for a long time. "It was at an angle leaning out toward the water for at least the past eight months," said Dan Begley, 29, who rents a unit in No. 23.

"Last week I heard one tenant say it was only a matter of time before it went in. And then it did."

"We’d been trying to do something about the seawall for two years," said Mark Foley, 44, who owns a unit in No. 23.

"One of the owners had said that fixing it was too dear. He owns 10 units and the levies are a lot to pay, so it got held up. But two months ago we exchanged contracts and I’d been at them to get started. And the agreement was they were going to start on Monday."

Mr Bryant said strata owners needed to act for general good rather than procrastinating out of self-interest.

"The lesson here is [that] executives of a body corporate need to accept responsibility and act on issues in a timely fashion.

"Waterfront property is expensive, and it costs money to maintain it and to maintain its value. But sometimes you get people who are just investors and don’t want to spend. And sometimes you get a complacent executive. It was a perfect storm of things for a perfect mess."

Mr Begley’s unit in No. 23, the worst affected of the two blocks, is situated right above the subsidence. "I can fish directly into the harbour from my balcony. The water has gone under the concrete, under the flooring of the building, so it’s all hollowed underneath … the concrete block is cracked and it looks like it’s going to fall into the harbour."

Two separate structural assessments were made on Saturday, one by a North Sydney council engineer and another by an engineer contracted by Body Corporate Services, the company that manages strata for the adjoining blocks. Both engineers declared the buildings safe.

The king tides, an annual feature of Sydney summers, were expected to peak even higher last night at 2.2 metres. With more strong winds in the offing, residents were anxious.

Despite assurances that the knowledge the buildings are founded on secure bedrock, there was still room for anxiety, and a little humour, too.

Mr Foley said he phoned the engineer contracted by Body Corporate Services yesterday morning after he saw how much more land had slid into the harbour. "They told me that if the engineer had said it was safe, then there’s no need for him to come out again. But he should see it … I wish I hadn’t sold my surf ski now."

Dad’s the word on discrimination

MEN have been prevented from taking on greater responsibilities at home by the Sex Discrimination Act, the legislation designed to break down gender inequality.
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A review of the legislation has found it should be overhauled to reflect the changing workplace and people’s needs for greater flexibility to allow them to meet caring responsibilities for children and aged or sick relatives.

The Federal Government is considering a three-stage overhaul of the Sex Discrimination Act as recommended by the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee. Its chairwoman, the Labor senator Trish Crossin, said that although there was widespread support for the act, now nearly 25 years old, the suggested changes would ensure it remained "modern and relevant".

The committee heard evidence that men had found it difficult to get flexible working hours. Amending the act would make it easier for men to take action against recalcitrant employers and help speed up the process of achieving equality between men and women, the committee heard. The Productivity Commission has recommended to the Federal Government a system of paid maternity leave with some paid time off for new fathers.

But there is doubt that such a scheme will be adopted because of the Government’s concern about the slowing of the economy.

The existing legislation assumes the person seeking flexible hours is a woman.

Also among the committee’s recommendations is specifically outlawing discrimination against breastfeeding. This is now covered by the more general area of sexual discrimination. Sexual harassment and sex discrimination should also be generally outlawed, the committee recommends, because the current legislation does not cover all circumstances. For example, customers of businesses, volunteer workers and independent contractors cannot be prosecuted for sexual harassment.

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, was shocked to hear numerous stories of overt sexual harassment while on a recent tour of the country.

At one workshop she attended, Ms Broderick told the Herald , half the women told of being harassed in their first or second jobs. This included supermarket checkout operators being told to wear see-through blouses or women being asked for sex by their bosses.

Labor members endorsed a suggestion by the Australian Human Rights Commission that there no longer be separate pieces of legislation covering discrimination in such different areas as sex, race and disability.

Instead, they see merit in the possibility of a National Equality Act encompassing all areas.

Greater powers for the Sex Discrimination Commissioner are also recommended. These include giving the office the power to investigate complaints and initiate legal proceedings. Parents are under constant strain to balance their work and family commitments, a struggle likely to get worse as the economy slows and workers fear for their jobs.

The Federal Government promised to introduce "right to request" laws that would allow parents to have one year of unpaid leave after the birth of a child.

Parents would also then be able to request flexible work arrangements with the onus on the employer to demonstrate why such conditions would then not be possible.

Boom to bust: Rudd’s strip club hits bottom

FOR evidence that nothing is recession-proof, look no further than the imminent demise of that Manhattan landmark and one-time host to the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, the Scores strip club on Upper East Side.
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Scores will not see out the year, its owners have declared, attributing its closure at least partly to the failing economy.

The economy is not entirely at fault. The Scores chain took a big hit this year when its West Side club lost its liquor licence after a police raid resulted in prostitution charges. Undercover police were offered oral sex and "more exotic acts" for $300 to $1100. Authorities are believed to be preparing to revoke the liquor licence of the more prominent East Side location as well.

Scores’s menu of nudity and sex has not always guaranteed its financial success, at least not accounting for the under-the-table cost of forking out for mafia "protection". Scores, which opened on East 60th Street in 1991, sought to trade out of bankruptcy a decade ago after making pay-offs to the Gambino crime family of $1.6 million.

An FBI probe into the extortion resulted in a prison term for John "Junior" Gotti, and the club’s original owners being admitted to a witness protection program until they, too, were jailed on fraud charges.

But until this week Scores had survived the police raids, rezoning attempts to curtail adult entertainment and the killings of a waiter and a bouncer during an early morning party in 1996, when the club was widely regarded as a Mafia hangout.

The club is still promoting its "diamond dollars", which are used in-house to buy lap dances, but the end is near, a

co-owner, Elliot Osher, has told US media.

Even if it was always on the periphery of prostitution and touched by violence, Scores managed to glamorise and even normalise tabletop dancing with a publicity campaign of gossip column sightings of celebrities.

The actors Russell Crowe, Colin Farrell and Lindsay Lohan were reported as regulars in the self-proclaimed "man’s paradise" of juicy steaks, fat cigars and naked women. George Clooney had a birthday party there. Madonna was a regular in its early days.

Rudd was introduced to this masculine fantasy by the Australian editor of the New York Post , Col Allan, in 2003. Rudd was the opposition spokesman on foreign affairs at the time. News of the visit briefly threw Labor’s election campaign last year, although Osher said Rudd left soon after realising the sort of club he was visiting.

Explaining his attendance, Rudd said he had had too much to drink when Allan suggested visiting the club. "With the benefit of hindsight, I should not have gone on for a further drink," he said.

While Rudd escaped unscathed from his brush with Scores, others who stayed longer were not so lucky.

The club has been hit with writs from customers who woke the morning after with six-figure credit card bills.

A Missouri businessman, Robert McCormick, ran up a bill of $370,000 on his corporate charge card in one drunken splurge at Scores. While he did have the help of three friends, McCormick claimed he spent a mere $30,000 and his company claimed he was a victim of fraud. American Express, which paid out on the bill, then sued McCormick for the money.

A Bangladeshi diplomat to the United Nations was recalled home after her husband, Tauhidul Chaudhury, ran up a bill of almost $200,000 at Scores East. For his money, Chaudhury bought bottles of Dom Perignon and Krug and lap dances from a harem of more than a dozen strippers. And he tipped lavishly.

That, supposedly, is an every night occurrence, according to a club spokesman who justified such hefty bills with the claim that high rollers tipped up to $15,000 for dances.

But Chaudhury regretted his generosity and sued the club over the bill, claiming it had taken advantage of his drunkenness.

Still another customer sued Scores over a bill of almost $40,000. Dozens of staff, including a barman and strippers, have also sued the club because management was allegedly raking off a percentage of their tips.

Maybe it is something about Scores’s somewhat seedy location, under the grimy steel stanchions of the Queensboro Bridge, but new owners, without the liquor licence problems confronting Scores management, are already in place to take over the site.

Australian steps down as Britain’s exams chief

RESIGNED: Ken BostonONE of Britain’s most highly paid and powerful public servants, the former NSW education chief Ken Boston, has resigned his £328,000 ($873,000)-a-year post after a chaotic round of national curriculum tests.
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Dr Boston, who began his career as a teacher in Victoria and was in his sixth year at the helm of the British schools testing watchdog, announced that he believed in public officials "taking responsibility when things go wrong".

Thousands of British children aged 11 and 14 received late – or incorrect – Standard Assessment Test results this year after the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority outsourced their administration to an American company, ETS, which signed a £156 million contract for the job. The British Government sacked the company in August.

Known as SATs, the tests are given at the end of years 2, 6 and 9 and are designed to measure children’s progress in comparison with peers born in the same month. The mess led the Government to drop the tests for 14-year-olds and there has been debate about scrapping the tests for 11-year-olds.

An inquiry by Lord Sutherland was launched into the disastrous round of SATs three months ago and is widely predicted to contain serious criticisms of the authority. The report is due to be handed down in London tomorrow.

Dr Boston, 65, was instrumental in delivering many reforms to the NSW education system during the early 1990s under Dr Terry Metherell. He has headed the British authority since 2002.

He said at the weekend that the performance of ETS had been "quite unacceptable" and repeated an apology issued to the 1.2 million students who took the tests and their teachers at the end of the summer term in Britain.

Criticism of Dr Boston has been tough since the disastrous results and he has come under pressure about his salary package, which includes the use of a £1 million apartment in London’s fashionable Chelsea district as well as six business-class flights a year back to Australia. London newspapers have also made an issue of his ownership of a yacht in Sydney.

Dr Boston said in his statement: "I have reflected since the summer on the delivery failure and on the difficulties associated with key stage testing.

"I have always believed in public bodies and public officials taking responsibility when things go wrong. In the light of that reflection and that belief, and in view of the challenges facing the QCA in the coming year, I believe it would be in the authority’s interests to find new leadership."

It is not known whether Dr Boston’s resignation has been considered or accepted by the authority’s board. His contract is due to expire early next year.

Dr John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, described Dr Boston’s resignation as a "tragedy" and praised the work he had done at the authority.

Clark talks down Proteas

FAST bowler Stuart Clark has skittled suggestions the world No.2-ranked South Africans represent the greatest threat to Australia’s impressive home record.
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The last time Australia lost a series here was in 1992-93 when the West Indies triumphed 2-1. However, with no Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne in Ricky Ponting’s attack, there is a popular view South Africa mightn’t succumb to the same pressures that have sunk them on previous tours.

Clark, who is zeroing on 100 Test wickets, confessed last year’s siege of a series against India was the toughest time he’d endured since making his Test debut in 2006.

"They’re a strong team, but they’re not unbeatable," he told The Sun-Herald , speaking of the Proteas. "There are quite a few familiar faces [in the squad]; ones we’ve beaten and played against. Some of them have a lot more confidence than the last time we met because they’ve had a little bit of success.

"But I think India last summer was a tough series. It was the toughest I’ve played here. South Africa are No.2 in the world so they’ve obviously done very well. On the previous occasions they’ve been here they haven’t been so successful … but they’ll be tough if they can play as well as India did."

Clark, whose wife, Michelle, gave birth to the couple’s second child, a girl named Sophie, on Wednesday, starts the Test series on Wednesday 10 victims shy of the 100 wickets milestone. While McGrath sweated on his personal wicket tally, Clark shrugged his shoulders when asked about the impending achievement.

"I don’t really think much of it," he said. "There’s been talk of the 100 wickets but at the end of the day it is just a number to me. It’s a personal achievement and it’s not something that’ll affect the team in terms of winning."

Since taking match figures of 9-89 on debut against South Africa, Clark has established himself as a vital member of the Australian attack. After taking 20 South Africa wickets at an average of 15.85 during his debut Test series, he has maintained his consistency and his 90 wickets have come at a skinny average of 22.97, putting him on par with McGrath (21.64).

Yet, the 33-year-old was reluctant to celebrate the type of statistic that sends cricket tragics into a headspin.

"It’s something I don’t think much about," said Clark who has been studying his Masters of Commerce degree at Sydney University. "It’s something I don’t talk about … but I’m as surprised [by it] as anyone."

While Clark might have dismissed any suggestions South Africa were the most serious threat to Australia’s home record, he didn’t follow McGrath’s psychological ploy of predicting a series whitewash. Though, he didn’t need to; the old master was up to his tricks at the SCG during a promotion for the McGrath Foundation.

"South Africa has some quality batsmen and bowlers but I still back our boys," McGrath said before predicting a 3-0 shellacking.

Cricket Australia announced during the week that the third day of the Sydney Test, traditionally known as Ladies Day, will now be called Jane McGrath Day in honour of his late wife who lost her battle with breast cancer earlier this year.

Just what the doctor ordered

A BOX of chocolates and a bottle of wine could be the healthiest Christmas present you get this year, with an increasing amount of evidence that a diet rich in antioxidants can help prevent heart disease.
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Sydney GP and wine historian Phil Norrie has developed his own range of plonk specially formulated with very high doses of resveratrol, a polyphenol antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes.

Laboratory and animal studies have reported anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar-lowering and other beneficial cardiovascular effects of resveratrol.

Dr Norrie, who has a PhD in "Wine and health through the ages" from the University of Western Sydney, has produced a chardonnay and a shiraz under his Wine Doctor label.

The 2006 vintage has more than 100 times the concentration of resveratrol per bottle than a standard white or red wine.

Dr Norrie, of Elanora Heights, said the wine acts as a "vascular pipe-cleaner" by keeping arteries free of fatty deposits that cause heart attack and stroke.

"Wine has been used as medicine for the last 5000 years and we’ve made it healthier by enriching the antioxidants," he said.

After almost 30 years in general practice, Dr Norrie said moderate consumption of resveratrol-enhanced wine could help the incidence of lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and dementia.

"Getting people to stop smoking, exercise and lose weight, is a nice idea but in reality it doesn’t happen. Drinking two glasses of wine is realistic, enjoyable and also good for you and I’ve made it even healthier," he said.

At RMIT University in Melbourne, PhD student Indu Singh studied several antioxidants, including cocoa, olive leaf extract and vitamin E – and found they could potentially reduce the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

She found antioxidant supplementation improved glucose uptake in healthy people and had a positive effect on blood lipid profile (cholesterol and triglyceride levels) and combated oxidative stress-induced cardiovascular disease.

"A diet that includes a good amount of olive oil, nuts and green leafy vegetables – and some high-quality dark chocolate – will help you lower your risk of developing heart disease," Dr Singh said.

However she said the right doses for both healthy people and those with chronic disease were still unknown.

So close: ocean rower misses epic goal and wife

ITALIAN adventurer Alexandro Bellini just wanted to hold his wife, Francesca Urso, in his arms again after spending nearly 10 months alone at sea rowing almost 18,000 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean.
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Mr Bellini, 30, came agonisingly close to completing his epic goal of rowing from Peru to Australia.

Having left Lima in February, he called for help after hitting stormy weather on Friday, about 130 nautical miles north-east of Newcastle.

He had planned to reach Sydney this week.

“I’ve been on the verge of giving up many times but this was one of the lowest I’ve reached,” Mr Bellini said yesterday after being reunited with his wife in Newcastle. “Being away from my wife was one of the biggest challenges. I missed her so much; seeing her again was one of the best moments of my life.”

Mr Bellini docked in Newcastle Harbour aboard a New Zealand-registered tugboat, Katea, at 9.30am.

Ms Urso could not wait for the tugboat to berth and stretched out to hug her dishevelled, thin, bearded husband as the vessel was mooring.

He had been surviving on dried food and desalinated water before his voyage went awry. He had spoken to his wife regularly via satellite phone until last month, when his four-metre rowboat capsized.

Ms Urso, 29, said her husband of just over a year had a “love for the extreme” and would not let his thwarted passage to Australia stop another attempt in the future.

“This is his first time here [in Australia] and, even though not everything went to plan, I’m glad to have him back again,” she said. “We were following his position hour by hour and our meteorologists warned of bad weather, including 30-knot winds. There was no reason to battle the weather.”

Mr Bellini ate pizza, steak, a box of biscuits and peanut butter out of the jar when rescued on Friday night after 296 days at sea.

“Physically he seemed OK but he was very skinny,” Katea’s engineer, John Coulson, said. “He had a huge appetite when we rescued him. We had no idea who he was. We thought he was just some rower from New Zealand who’d got lost.”

Mr Bellini crossed the Atlantic in 2005, rowing from Italy to Brazil, and has crossed Alaska twice on foot. He had planned to row through Sydney Heads and be greeted by a flotilla of spectators.

Australia blamed as progress on new deal fizzles

A CALL-TO-ARMS by former US vice-president Al Gore and a contentious European deal to cut its greenhouse emissions have overshadowed an anti-climactic finale to UN climate talks in Poland.
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Critics said the talks made only tentative steps to a new global treaty.

Promised as a stepping stone towards a post-Kyoto climate deal to be signed in Copenhagen next year, the Poznan talks edged towards conclusion yesterday amid accusations that developed nations, including Australia, had blocked progress on greenhouse targets.

As expected, there was no deal on how to share the responsibility of cutting emissions even though developed countries acknowledged that scientists recommended cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent.

But the go-ahead was given to a number of technical projects, including a fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change, further work on a joint plan between wealthy and poor countries to cut emissions from deforestation and a legal framework for a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, who left early for Canberra and the release of the Government’s 2020 greenhouse target and the final details of its emissions trading scheme tomorrow, said the Poznan summit had been a step forward.

"There have been encouraging signs of momentum," she said.

Much of the momentum came from a rousing appearance by Mr Gore, acting as an unofficial envoy during meetings with ministers and officials, including Senator Wong, after a lengthy briefing with the US president-elect Barack Obama last week.

A Nobel laureate for his work combating climate change, Mr Gore called on world leaders to hold several meetings next year to ensure a new treaty by the December deadline. He said Mr Obama had assured him that combating the "greatest challenge humankind has ever faced" would be a top priority of the new US administration.

Mr Gore acknowledged negotiations were "painfully slow" but noted such positive signs as pledges by Western nations to invest in green jobs and China investing $US600 million ($903 million) in green projects over the next two years.

"I believe that the causes for hope and optimism are greater than the causes for doubt and discouragement and I believe the road to Copenhagen is now clear," he said.

"We have to overcome the paralysis that has prevented us from acting and focus clearly and unblinkingly on this crisis rather than spending so much time on O.J. Simpson and Paris Hilton and Anna-Nicole Smith," he said.

His speech punctuated an otherwise pessimistic mood. Environmentalists were concerned the world had moved no closer to a new climate deal.

Greenpeace International climate campaigner Stephanie Tunmore said little had been done to set up a framework for a new deal. She blamed "the usual suspects" including Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand for not committing to ambitious targets.

The European Union was heavily criticised for watering down its ambitious climate and energy plan by accepting concessions demanded by Italy, Germany, Poland and Hungary to help their big polluting industries cope with the financial crisis.

Rich pickings as Pacific Islander trial bears fruit

SOUTH Pacific Islanders will be brought to Australia to pick fruit in the Riverina because farmers cannot get enough local workers.
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The unskilled workers will come from Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea and will be allowed to stay for seven months under a Federal Government trial seasonal worker scheme.

Farmers will pay half the cost of the air fares and the workers will be paid award wages.

After the initial trial with 100 workers, which organisers hope will begin before Christmas, 2400 seasonal worker visas will be available for Pacific Islanders from July.

The National Farmers’ Federation said there is a nationwide shortage of 22,000 seasonal workers in horticulture alone and bringing in the Pacific Islanders was important to enable farmers to continue producing food.

Federation president David Crombie said the Pacific Islands had a ready, willing and able workforce, happy to make the trek into regional Australia to fill the positions.

"Australian farmers are ready to welcome them with open arms," he said. "They are loath to see another season of fruit rotting on trees."

Australian Workers Union assistant national secretary Ben Swan said there was a recognised shortage of labour in the horticultural industry.

"We are 100percent behind the [Pacific] Islander scheme," Mr Swan said.

He said the workers would get the same pay, terms and conditions as Australians with rates beginning at $14.30 an hour for full-timers.

Mr Crombie said he encouraged Australians to take up any of the 22,000 vacancies.

"This scheme is not a replacement for local jobs; it supplements local labour shortfalls."

Farms at Griffith and Leeton are urgently in need of pickers for valencia oranges and other produce such as melons, pumpkins and onions.

Anna Berry of Summit Personnel said the Pacific Islander scheme had been in the pipeline for some time but the previous federal government had rejected it.

Ms Berry, who was born in Vanuatu, said the problem was that a lot of Australians didn’t want to go to places such as Griffith to work in what they thought was a barren land.