New York, a metropolis that ranks in the bottom 20 per cent of major US cities in tennis courts per person, turns into the game’s capital each August when the US Open begins.The best-attended grand slam tournament, which started on Monday, generates an estimated $US450 million ($535 million) boost to the city’s economy and makes fans even out of residents who don’t know love from a foot-fault. The Big Apple, in turn, puts its mark on what once was a country club sport.”If you try to describe Wimbledon, they’re all supposed to be gentlemen and ladies,” says Marshall Happer, former executive director of the United States Tennis Association. ”In New York, it’s been like a street fight, which New Yorkers really do like.”Players battling the traffic from Manhattan to the National Tennis Centre in Queens arrive to find a hardcourt surface that enhances ball speed and creates higher temperatures, and night matches that produce a different personality than Wimbledon and the French Open, played in daylight, says Stephen DeVoe, the tournament’s director in 1992 and 1993. ”It’s just the whole New York, in-your-face, fast-paced lifestyle,” DeVoe says.”You start out fighting your way out there just to get there to play, and then you take the New York crowds, particularly the evening crowd when they’ve had a good dinner with wine and some adult beverages, and it’s a tough crowd.”The worst recession since the Great Depression hasn’t diminished interest. The USTA said it sold all 84 of its luxury suites and forecast ticket sales to exceed 700,000, probably falling short of last year’s 720,227 record.”People here absolutely get excited for the Open because we’ve had some pretty exciting tennis played here,” says former New York City mayor David Dinkins. ”Tennis is such a wonderful sport that if it were played on the street like stickball among kids, it would draw a crowd.”Kenneth Podziba, the city’s sports commissioner, said the tournament draws more people from outside the city than the four sports teams, the Yankees, Mets, Knicks and Rangers.”The USTA has done wonders for us and they’re a money- making machine for themselves,” Podziba says. ”I wish we could have two or three more US Opens each year for our economy and we especially now could use it.”Jerry Elman, the club manager of Yorkville Tennis Club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, says his courts are always fully booked during the Open, with 50 per cent more calls than a normal week. New York ranked 67th out of 77 of the nation’s largest cities in tennis courts per 10,000 residents, according to a 2008 study. Revenue at Grand Central Racquet, a tennis retailer, doubles in the four weeks surrounding the tournament, says owner Woody Schneider.”To us, the US Open is Christmas,” Schneider says. ”I see a lot of people coming back to the game. I have more and more people coming in and saying, ‘I haven’t played in 10 years but I’m thinking of restringing my racket or buying a new racket’.”The tournament started in 1881 and has been in New York continuously since 1924, moving to the National Tennis Centre from the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills in 1978. By the early 1990s, the USTA considered moving the event to the suburbs or other cities, including Atlanta and San Diego. The biggest problem was planes taking off from LaGuardia Airport often passed over the courts at low altitude, interrupting the matches with the roar of jet engines.”You couldn’t play tennis, you couldn’t talk to the person next to you,” Happer says.Dinkins, an avid tennis fan, and other city leaders convinced the Federal Aviation Administration to change the take-off routes during the tournament and helped the USTA secure financing for a new stadium.”People now think of New York as a tennis town because of the US Open,” Podziba said. Bloomberg
Roger Federer and Serena Williams began their US Open title defences with easy wins in matches that will probably stick only in the memories of the players they beat.Federer defeated 18-year-old American college champion Devin Britton 6-1 6-3 7-5, and Williams rolled over wild card Alexa Glatch 6-4 6-1 to fashion a predictable start to the last major championship of 2009.”My goal was to not get crushed,” Britton conceded, “and make it interesting for a little while.”He did, even breaking Federer’s serve in the second and third sets, though he was unable to follow either by winning his own serve in the next game. With his coach from Ole Miss in the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Britton lost three straight games at love after going up 3-1 in the second.”I was thinking, ‘I’m up a break. This is awesome,”‘ Britton said. “Then it only lasted about 30 seconds.”Glatch was in the same boat, pushing the second-seeded Williams in the first set before losing quickly in the second. One of America’s top juniors earlier in the decade, Glatch received a wild card for the US Open, only to find she was playing one of the best Grand Slam players in history.Williams, who has won the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year, is going for her second straight and fourth U.S. Open title.”You just try not to think about the occasion,” Glatch said. “You try to pretend it’s any other court and you’re playing against any other opponent. But it’s very hard to do, especially when it’s your first time out there in the biggest stadium there is.”Other winners in the first round included eighth-seeded Victoria Azarenka, 12th-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, 17th-seeded Amelie Mauresmo and 26th-seeded Francesca Schiavone. Paul-Henri Mathieu, No. 26 on the men’s side, was the first seeded player to lose, beaten by Mikhail Youzhny 2-6 7-5 6-0 6-2.American John Isner won a 16-14 second-set tiebreaker, the highlight of a 6-1 7-6 (14-12) 7-6 (7-5) upset over 28th-seeded Victor Hanescu. Isner has missed a good part of the year with mononucleosis.”It might have been a blessing in disguise,” Isner said. “I’ve felt fresh ever since I started playing in the States.”Opening the day in Ashe Stadium was 2005 champion Kim Clijsters, who returned to competitive tennis this summer after taking two years off to start a family. She had a baby girl in May 2008.Clijsters defeated Viktoriya Kutuzova 6-1 6-1 and didn’t show much rust.”Now it’s a matter of trying to keep this going,” the Belgian said.She won the first seven and last 11 points of the match and grinded through her few hiccups, including three double-faults in the third game of the opening set, which extended to seven deuces before she pulled it out.The win guaranteed she’ll be ranked at least 148th after the Open, when she’ll have played the three required tournaments she needs to return to the list.”I still feel like I can improve,” she said. “But I’m definitely comfortable where I am right now.”As is Federer, who overcame a “slump” last year when he lost to Rafael Nadal in the French and Wimbledon finals, and has returned back to the top of his game. He won both those titles this year, holds the record with 15 Grand Slam championships and isn’t showing signs of tiring.He is looking for his sixth straight U.S. Open title. Win or lose, the pay cheque guaranteed by the opening-round victory made him the first player in tennis history to reach $US50 million ($A59.36 million) in prize money.”I know tennis is not everything, so it’s not a problem,” said Federer, the father of 5-week-old twin girls. “But if I enjoy playing tennis, why should I stop just because I’ve beaten the all-time Grand Slam record? That’s not what tennis is all about.”Easy for him to say.While he moves on, Britton plans to hang around and see if he can pull one of the wild-card invites for the mixed doubles. He’s signed up with the women’s NCAA champion, Mallory Cecil, and is hoping the pairing of two college champions will interest the tournament organisers.Either way, he’s had about as good a U.S. Open experience as a young player can get.”It was so exciting to be out there,” Britton said. “Hopefully I get the chance to be out there again.” AP
JAPAN’S people woke to a transformed political landscape yesterday with the certainties of the past half-century swept aside and an inexperienced election winner facing up to a daunting power struggle with vested interests over the domestic reform agenda.
Foreign countries such as Australia will find Yukio Hatoyama’s incoming government more diffident on its defence ties with the United States, intent on mending fences with its East Asian neighbours and more willing to join global initiatives to combat climate change.
Although his Democratic Party of Japan wants the country’s economy to be driven more by domestic demand than its long-standing export bias, so far the party has given no clues whether it will alter the low-yen exchange rate policies.
In the heat of the election campaign it backed away from an earlier proposal to include agriculture in free-trade deals with foreign countries. Gerald Curtis, America’s doyen of Japanese political studies, said yesterday the DPJ would maintain a tight ”protectionist” wall around Japanese farms.
The centre-left opposition party stole this rural constituency, whose vote was once delivered to the conservative Liberal Democratic Party by power cliques of local politicians, doctors and dentists, and representatives of agricultural co-operatives, Professor Curtis said.
”The LDP vote-gathering machine has collapsed,” he said. ”The further you go from Tokyo and the big cities, the angrier people are … They don’t want roads and dams and expensive community centres. The major community centre in rural Japan has been taken from them – that is the post office. They want doctors, nursing care. They want an economy that will encourage young people not to move to the big cities. And the LDP was not offering these things.”
This had become the ”Achilles heel” of the conservatives, which the DPJ’s most powerful organiser, Ichiro Ozawa, had been clever to exploit with the party’s election promises of income support for farming households. But, obviously, that has brought a political debt.
A record turnout of 69 per cent saw a strong majority in the Diet’s lower house transferred from the LDP to the DPJ. The LDP went from 300 seats to just 119 in the 480-seat House of Representatives, while the DPJ went from 112 to 308 seats.
But delivering on its policies of boosting incomes and reversing Japan’s population decline has placed a ”huge burden” on Mr Hatoyama and his party, despite the massive endorsement.
The huge swings to the LDP in 2005, and then to the DPJ this year, pointed to the fluidity of party support in Japan’s homogenous society. ”Four years from now if the public is not happy with the DPJ they’re going to swing right back again,” Professor Curtis said.
The new government will take office in mid-month in a special Diet sitting. Meanwhile, the defeated prime minister, Taro Aso, said he would resign the LDP leadership. ”I must bear the responsibility,” he said.
Mr Hatoyama’s party line-up includes 143 newcomers to parliament and only a handful of senior politicians who have served as ministers in previous governments before joining the DJP, including Katsuya Okada, Naoto Kan and Hirohisa Fujii.
This inexperience made the DPJ’s promise to break down bureaucratic collusion with industrial lobbies fraught with danger. ”Can they pull it off?” Professor Curtis said. ”Not if they just decide to bash the bureaucrats and demoralise them and create a situation where all the bureaucrats want to do is sabotage what the DPJ government is about.”
Enlisting ministries behind DPJ goals was critical to avoiding paralysis. ”There isn’t a think-tank worth its name in this country if you compare them to what we have in the United States. You don’t have a tradition of people going into government and out again to the private sector,” he said. ”If you don’t use the bureaucrats, who are you going to use?”
Mr Hatoyama’s government plans to build up its promised ¥16 trillion-a-year ($200 billion) spending on extra welfare slowly over the first four years. The first year will see half the promised ¥260,000-a-month child allowance brought in, abolition of fees at public high schools and some increases for medical fees and unemployment benefits.
Professor Curtis said the DPJ knew the public was opposed to pushing up the government’s debt, already approaching 200 per cent of gross domestic product. ”They will lose more votes by increasing the deficit than they will by delaying the implementation of some of their programs,” he said.
To push through reforms, Mr Hatoyama plans to set up a powerful national strategy council attached to his office. ”But what is missing is concrete ideas for deregulation,” Professor Curtis said, raising the example of elderly Japanese retiring abroad because of local planning restrictions. ”Instead of old people going off to Australia or southern Spain, why don’t they go to Kyushu?” he said. ”Why don’t localities try to become the Florida or Arizona of Japan?”
On foreign policy, Professor Curtis said instead of looking negatively on the US alliance, the DJP should be offering more on non-military security, such as environmental clean-ups … Mr Hatoyama’s talk of a ”more equal” relationship with the US risked Americans saying: ”You want to be more equal? Do more.”
What’s in it for us?
The incoming Japanese leader, Yukio Hatoyama, is unlikely to deliver any immediate breakthroughs for Australia, but will be simpatico with Kevin Rudd on many fronts.
* East Asian Community: both leaders want new architecture to reduce tensions and increase economic links in the region.
* Security co-operation: the trilateral dialogue with the United States is expected to continue, but Japan will avoid being seen to automatically agree with the US.
* Nuclear non-proliferation: Hatoyama is likely to be even more enthusiastic about the joint commission set up by Rudd.
* Climate change: Hatoyama’s DPJ has big goals on reducing Japan’s greenhouse emissions.
* Agriculture: the new government is beholden to a strong rural vote and is unlikely to move on farm reform or import access, at least before upper house elections in July.
* Whaling: Hatoyama is generally opposed to the sort of bureaucratic industrial promotion embodied in the whale hunt. The election has decimated the LDP’s whaling caucus.
IT HAS a quintessential Sydney postcard view across Campbells Cove but the $10 million-plus penthouse in a prized position could be snapped up by an overseas buyer.It is the focus of an international marketing campaign and the agent thinks slow local buyers will miss out.On two floors, the 332 square metre three-bedroom penthouse has a point-blank Harbour Bridge and Opera House panorama from its Hickson Road setting.”We are advertising in The Financial Times of London, as it’s that sort of property,” its Sotheby’s International agent, Jaime Upton, said.”Local people look for longer and take longer to commit. Overseas buyers tend to be more decisive despite where the dollar might be at the time.”It has been listed by Duncan Hardie, the land subdivision developer with a penchant for premium harbourside penthouse properties.Upton, who has sold prestige apartments to buyers from Monte Carlo and the United States, said there had been several offers when the penthouse was first marketed in February.”But the market was much tougher given the global financial crisis was uppermost in buyers’ minds,” she said. ”There are already more local people looking at it this time than last time.”But local developers are still lumbered by mothballed development sites. At Potts Point, Ashington’s $70 million Wylde Street project remains dormant, with just the one announced sale since June last year.In July last year the development group anticipated construction to start in the third quarter with completion late this year. By February, Ashington anticipated an imminent start on the six-floor 10-unit complex designed by Tzannes Associates.The scaffolding for the intended demolition of the neglected serviced apartment complex has been removed from the site.It is understood that the block’s only buyer – Duncan Hardie – was willing to continue with his intended $20 million purchase of the top 1½ floors.In the central business district, the collapse of the $20.1 million off the plan penthouse sale to the bankrupted businessman Rodney Price has triggered the listing of a 281 square metre Elizabeth Street development site. Developer Andrew Richardson had accepted a $100 deposit for the proposed three-storey penthouse in The Elizabeth, overlooking Hyde Park.The penthouse atop Macquarie Apartments, a prestige building designed by Renzo Piano opposite the Royal Botanic Gardens, also remains listed for sale.On three vast levels, the penthouse with interior decor by designer Philip Silver, has had $9 million hopes since August last year. It has a private rooftop terrace with plunge pool and last traded for $6.75 million in 2003.
THE Federal Government’s plan to immunise the population against swine flu is in chaos because insurers may not cover doctors who administer the jab.Inadequate testing and the possibility of spreading other infections means there is too high a risk patients will sue, the insurers say.Despite weeks of crisis talks, the Government has refused to underwrite doctors’ liability for the vaccinations and medical groups say the program – due to start as early as mid-September – cannot proceed unless doctors are insured.The president of the Australian Medical Association, Andrew Pesce, said: ”The indemnity issue needs to be sorted out or else the vaccination program won’t go ahead â¦ In the environment we’re in, someone has to be held accountable for rare vaccine reactions that may occur â¦”If the Government decides there is a priority need to roll out the vaccine, then it has a duty to indemnify the doctors who provide it.”A spokesman for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Ronald McCoy, said the wrangling could undermine community confidence in the vaccine’s safety. ”It’s the public’s health that’s at risk here,” he said.The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, announced in May an order with vaccine supplier CSL for 21 million doses – enough to protect at least half the population from the flu strain. Analysts’ estimates suggest that contract may be worth up to $120 million.But the insurers believe the distribution of the vaccine in multiple-dose vials exposes people to unnecessary risk of blood-borne infection from other recipients. As well, they believe the possibility of rare side-effects has been inadequately explored. These issues, they say, will make it hard for doctors to advise people whether or not to have the injection, exposing them to patient complaints that they were not properly informed.The chief executive of the Medical Indemnity Industry Association of Australia, Ellen Edmonds-Wilson, said it was up to individual insurers ”to make an assessment of the risk [from] the drug”, which she noted had not yet been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.Medical defence organisations MDA National Insurance and Avant Mutual Group said they were still considering whether to indemnify members who gave patients the vaccinations. Avant’s general manager of claims, Lisa Clarke, said the entire industry was ”in ongoing discussions with the [health department] on the proposed roll-out.”A spokeswoman for the Medical Indemnity Protection Society, Elda Rebechi, said the company would cover doctors, but warned them to ”appropriately advise patients that the vaccine is untested and may have [currently] unknown consequences â¦ We do not know the risk [or] benefit of the vaccine versus contracting the disease.”Other companies told the Herald they would insist on a federally funded doctors’ insurance scheme.But the head of clinical research at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance at the University of Sydney, Robert Booy, said the insurers’ arguments were superficial and ”unnecessarily inflammatory”, and proper training of clinicians would virtually eliminate infection risk.Other doctors questioned the Government’s commitment to multi-dose vials, saying they were ordered when experts feared a severe epidemic.NSW emergency departments last week saw 203 patients with flu symptoms – down from 338 a week earlier, and a low number compared to regular flu seasons, NSW Health said yesterday.CSL’s director of public affairs, Rachel David, said the company’s clinical trials were designed to test how much vaccine would be needed to provoke an immune response, not its fundamental safety – which was the same as seasonal flu vaccine.A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Ageing said the Government would take delivery of 2 million vaccine doses by the end of August. ”These can be predeployed and stored in states and territories in preparation for an initial vaccine program”, when further CSL trial data was received, she said.Ms Roxon has said immunisations could start by mid-September, but the spokeswoman emphasised the start date was not set. The program would focus first on health workers, pregnant women and people with chronic disease. Children would receive the shots later.The department was ”discussing medical indemnity issues for immunisation providers with relevant stakeholders”.
THE baton change between first-home buyers and investors in Sydney’s residential market place is starting to take place, but not with the timeliness the State Government had budgeted for.First-home buyers continue to dominate the market, with new figures showing just 221 investors took up a 50 per cent reduction in state stamp duty in the first six weeks of the scheme.The figures do show an increase on the 167 investors who bought in the first five weeks of the rebate being introduced on July 1 for newly constructed homes under $600,000.New houses and units worth $94 million have been purchased by investors at a cost of $1.6 million to state revenue.The Government set aside $64 million to fund the six-month scheme.First-home buyers seeking to take advantage of the handouts continue to purchase at a rate of about 1750 a week, compared with 36 investors a week.Last weekend at Mortdale deposits were taken from five first-home buyers and two investors when 16 townhouses developed by Mondell went on sale.Another developer, Meriton, reports that investor inquiry has picked up considerably in recent months at its Victoria Square, Zetland, development.”This is due to the strong market fundamentals investors crave – low vacancy, rising rents, excellent yields and a lack of supply,” the sales and marketing manager, James Sialepis, said. ”The percentage of investors purchasing our apartments has risen from 10 per cent earlier this year to 40 per cent in recent months.”Analysts say a return to the market by nervous investors will be crucial to supporting house prices as the current surge of interest from first-home buyers is expected to peter out.Many property investors have been anticipating a fall in prices when the government support for first-home buyers is partially reduced next month.”The main reason that investors have been on the sideline was that they were concerned about the price side,” an economist at Westpac, Matthew Hassan, said. ”Having a good yield is all very well, but to make the proposition stack up you’ve got to have capital gain.”But other signs of life in the property investment market are emerging. A Westpac survey of consumer sentiment last month showed a big jump in house price expectations among people aged between 35 and 55 – the age of most property investors.
A BILL of rights would erode Australia’s democracy, diminish the reputation and accountability of Parliament, politicise the judiciary and represent the ”final triumph of elitism in Australian politics”, the former prime minister John Howard said last night.Delivering the annual Menzies Lecture at the University of Western Australia, Mr Howard campaigned against ceding power from elected individuals to the non-elected judiciary.The Rudd Government is exploring whether to introduce a bill of rights. In December, it commissioned a committee chaired by Father Frank Brennan to gauge public opinion on how best to achieve greater protection of rights. It is due to report to the Government on September 30.Mr Howard has long opposed a bill of rights. He said ministers and parliamentarians should make all the controversial decisions transparently and be accountable for them.”A bill of rights would further diminish the prestige of Parliament, it would politicise the appointment of judges, it would increase the volume of litigation and it would not increase the rights and protections now available to Australian citizens,” Mr Howard said.”A charter or bill of rights would represent the final triumph of elitism in Australian politics – the notion that typical citizens, elected by ordinary Australians, cannot be trusted to resolve great issues of public policy.”Mr Howard said the Northern Territory intervention, the banning of gay marriage and the conscience vote to lift the ban on the abortion pill RU486 could have been handballed to judges had there been a bill of rights.He warned ”political activisits of the left” to consider that one day a cause they may support ”might be better served by the votes of contemporary Parliament, rather than a court dominated by men and women holding views you might not share”.
It might not be a bad time to be a serious crook in this country,” says John Broome. “It’s probably less dangerous now than it was 10 years ago.”Broome is a former chairman of the National Crime Authority, the closest thing Australia ever had to the FBI. In 2003 the controversial NCA was replaced by the Australian Crime Commission. Several informed observers now say the ACC is a pale reflection of its predecessor. As a result, the nation’s capacity to fight organised crime has been seriously diminished.The experts say there are almost 100 organised crime groups of national significance in Australia, and the sector’s annual turnover is more than $10 billion, most of it from sales of illegal drugs. In his book Smack Australia, the former NSW police assistant commissioner Clive Small notes that apparently big drug busts in recent years have made little or no difference to the availability or price of illegal drugs. This, he writes, indicates the scale of the problem and “throws into serious question the strategies now employed by government and law enforcement agencies for combating organised crime”.Another critic pointing to the ACC as part of the problem is respected crime fighter Bob Bottom. In the 1970s and 1980s he played a major role through his bestselling books and his briefing of journalists and politicians, in alerting us to the presence of organised crime in our midst. This helped produce several royal commissions, which led to the formation of the NCA in 1984.By that point it had become widely acknowledged that organised crime was regularly breaking states’ laws, as well as the Commonwealth’s. Australia had no agency capable of tackling this. The Australian Federal Police was concerned largely with crimes against federal and territory laws. To fight national crime effectively, the AFP and the state police forces needed to co-operate, and this had proved almost impossible due to jealousy and mistrust, the latter often based, quite rightly, on the suspicion that one’s counterparts elsewhere were corrupt.The NCA took police from different forces and put them together in taskforces where their parochial loyalties were temporarily set aside while they pursued major criminals. Not perfect, but better, and the NCA had many successes. One of those seconded to the agency was Geoff Schuberg, who later became a NSW assistant police commissioner.”I found it a very effective organisation,” he says. “We achieved results the states couldn’t achieve, for various reasons. It got results with investigations previously conducted by the states and which we found to be flawed.”But the NCA had its failures, most notoriously its unsuccessful pursuit of Liberal powerbroker John Elliott. These were exaggerated by other police jealous of the NCA, which had royal commission powers, including the power to coerce people to give evidence. In 2002 the Federal Government decided to amalgamate the NCA with the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence and a small section of the Attorney-General’s Department, and call the new agency the Australian Crime Commission.Police forces were happy because the new agency’s board – chaired by the AFP chief Mick Keelty – was to have their commissioners in a majority. But various observers, including some state police ministers, worried the ACC would be neutered, losing its investigative functions and reduced to intelligence gathering.The federal attorney-general Daryl Williams told them they were wrong, assuring Parliament the investigation of criminal activity of national significance would be a key function of the ACC, which would be “Australia’s premier organised crimefighting body”. The proposal went ahead.Bob Bottom says the record of the past six years vindicates those early concerns. The reported number of seconded police has dropped from 150 to 43. The NCA averaged 463 arrests in each of its past four years – about double the ACC’s annual average in the four years to 2007, despite the ACC budget nearly doubling the NCA’s.Moreover, two of the major investigations the ACC has done have been Operation Wickenby (the pursuit of alleged tax cheats) and the Northern Territory Intervention (investigating the allegation of a pedophile ring), which have nothing to do with what Bottom says should be its core function: locking up organised criminals largely involved in the drug trade.Bottom has made his criticisms in several submissions to federal parliamentary committee overseeing the ACC. He believes many within the AFP and state police forces were jealous of the NCA, which despite its problems “turned the tide” against organised crime in the 1980s. He suggests there has been a deliberate move by some commissioners on the ACC board to downgrade its investigative function. “The ACC,” he wrote in a submission last October, “has been relegated to a glorified version of the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence that it absorbed – without the all-important law enforcement component of the superseded NCA.”ACC chief John Lawler rejects these criticisms and says “intelligence and investigation are not mutually exclusive” and the ACC works just as closely with the AFP and state police as the NCA did. The difference is that the co-operation no longer occurs so much between individuals brought from around Australia to work in a room together, but between individuals who continue to work in their own agencies around the country. This arrangement is made easier because of advances in technology, and because the old competition between agencies has largely disappeared.Lawler says there are various reasons for this important cultural shift. September 11, the Bali bombings and counter-terrorism investigations have encouraged agencies to work more closely together. By handing over the role of making arrests and advancing prosecutions to federal and state police forces, he says, the ACC has removed a major cause of competition that existed in the days of the NCA, because every cop involved in an investigation wants to make the arrest. This also restricted intelligence-sharing.”Bob Bottom is a fine person,” says Lawler. “He’s to be commended for his interest in fighting organised crime and in the ACC. But we’re living in a different period of history to the time when the NCA was formed, and this requires a different approach.”To determine which side of the argument is right, one would need statistics showing that the sort of arrests previously made by the NCA are now being made by state police forces. As Lawler himself admits, these figures don’t exist.Performance indicators favoured by the ACC are largely meaningless to an outsider. The 2007-08 annual report shows that the agency – its current staffing is 590, its budget about $100 million – produced 205 “intelligence products” or reports and 4085 “disseminations of material to law enforcement agencies” – that is, responses to ad hoc queries. There is no indication of how time-consuming or useful these were, although the report notes the nation’s police agencies were happy with its performance.The more tangible performance indicators in the annual report show results that seem modest for an agency of the ACC’s size: 760 “examinations” or interviews conducted and 16 criminal entities and 14 significant criminal individuals “disrupted”. It is difficult for an outsider to learn much more about any of this, because the operations of the ACC are shrouded in secrecy that, while understandable to a point, does little to help allay the concerns raised by people such as Bottom and Broome.Some critics argue that intelligence might not even be as important as the ACC and its board suggest. Says Geoff Schuberg: “We’ve gone back 28 years to when the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence was created. I was very much involved in the investigation of major crime, and I didn’t see it as an effective organisation. I can’t see how the ACC can employ so many people to collect information. It’s often information other agencies already have, and most of it is after the event.” He wants “some sort of an independent review of the ACC, to look at what information they’re collecting and what’s being done with it”.Another retired senior NSW policeman with extensive experience in fighting organised crime agrees with these criticisms, and is sceptical of the claim the ACC’s intelligence is being put to good use. “The police aren’t arresting serious criminals,” says this person, who wants to stay anonymous. “They are not disrupting major crime networks.”Reflecting on the national approach to crime in general, John Broome points to the boom in the AFP’s budget and status in the past eight years, accompanied by a dramatic drop in the number of prosecutions resulting from its activities. He says we need to ask if “we might have reduced our capacity to conduct serious criminal investigations because we’ve put too much effort into anti-terrorist activities”.”Is that the trade-off that has occurred, and if so, was it a necessary one? There needs to be a public discussion of whether this shift in emphasis is what we want. We need a conversation in Parliament and in public.”Jason Wood was a Victorian detective before he became a Liberal federal MP. He’s now the shadow parliamentary secretary for justice and public security and a member of the ACC oversight committee. He says the recent idea that you can fight crime by having one agency collecting information and others conducting the investigation is wrong.”I know from my own experience, it’s very hard if you haven’t been involved from the beginning,” he says. “The changes in the ACC are just about budget cuts. This [reduction in investigations by a national agency] is a devastating blow to law enforcement in this country, and a huge win to those involved in national organised crime.”For some time, Bob Bottom has urged the joint committee to conduct a review of the ACC. The committee does not want to do this and its chairman, Steve Hutchins, refused to talk to the Herald about Bottom’s criticisms. In his most recent submission to the committee, Bottom noted that it is 25 years since the NCA was founded as a standing royal commission, a concept that “evolved from an Australian-wide citizen campaign, a series of royal commissions, and an historic national crime summit”.”Whichever way you look at it, and whoever pulled the strings, the downgrading of the ACC represents a victory for Canberra’s white shirt brigade, in contempt of state and territory governments, and a betrayal of the Australian people.”
TRUMAN, Vegas and Ban-Ki-Moon-Shine are a new breed of working dog – they join their owner at the office every day.Adam Zammit, chief executive officer of Peer Group Media, brings Truman, a lanky Gordon setter; Vegas, a handsome Staffordshire terrier; and Ban-Ki-Moon-Shine, a tiny Brussels griffon, to the Glebe office he shares with 46 staff.His mother’s dog Barney, a cavoodle, and Millie, a Maltese terrier, are regular visitors. The overall effect is rather like a Disney film.”It needs a special set of circumstances,” Mr Zammit said. “For the most part it’s tolerance because dogs are not perfect creatures.”Mr Zammit’s office is part of a trend. The benefits of the canine-friendly office – stress reduction, employee goodwill, a healthy walk to the park replacing smoko – far outweigh problems such as the occasional accident, proponents say.”The trend is increasing, and quite rapidly,” said Dr Joanne Sillince, CEO of the Pet Industry Association. “There aren’t any problems if there’s a reasonable degree of discipline. But having said that, this system works best in places that have high levels of employee consultation.”About a quarter of Peer Group’s staff own dogs, and they can bring them to work. They don’t do it every day – at most, there will be eight dogs on the job. Staff were recently surveyed anonymously, and 84 per cent were in favour of the dogs. The other 16 per cent, Mr Zammit said, were fired. He’s kidding.The dogs tend to liberate food scraps from the bins, and there have been accidents, including one under the boardroom table during a meeting. When clients come in who don’t like dogs, they are barricaded into a room. The dogs, not the clients.”Etiquette and protocol we’ve learnt along the way,” Mr Zammit said. ”But it’s a really good vibe for everyone.”Dr Sillince says sensitivity to employees with allergies and banning dogs that don’t suit the office are some rules that dog-friendly workplaces employ.Some owners need to bring their dogs to work. Rocky is a Maltese-shih tzu cross with a show-stopping underbite, known around the Frontier Touring office as “Fluff-Butt”.He comes to the music promoters’ office daily with owner Oana Gilbert, an executive assistant. Ms Gilbert brings Rocky to work because she has become a full-time carer for her mother, who was injured in a fall while walking the dog. “When everyone here realised that my mum wasn’t well, they said, ‘Just bring Rocky in with you, it’s totally cool.'”
A ”PATIENT choice” health scheme in which consumers would join government-financed health funds of their choosing has drawn support from the Government-owned fund, Medibank Private.Medicare Select, proposed by the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, would require the most radical shake-up of the system yet undertaken.The change would replace state government domination of public hospitals with a federally financed scheme in which competing super health funds would contract with hospitals, doctors and other health services to provide care for their members.Medibank chairman Paul McClintock said the fund was ”very interested” in Medicare Select, which he said would let consumers pick a fund that would ”buy all your health services”.George Savvides, the managing director of Medibank, has told the Herald his fund was ”seriously investigating” the concept of a consumer-driven system, which offered patients more choice and was likely to rein in soaring costs.Mr Savvides has visited the Netherlands to check a social insurance health scheme established there three years ago, which has won widespread consumer acceptance and been credited with cutting rises in costs to about 4 per cent a year, about half Australia’s rate.To maintain an affordable system, Australia should consider a scheme that provided choice and was more focused on patient outcomes, Mr Savvides said. This was particularly so ”in light of the ageing population and the dramatic increases in chronic disease”.The commission’s final report said Medicare Select would give people choice in a health and hospital plan. The Federal Government would finance the funds on a risk-adjusted basis for each member, taking account of the individual’s age and health status, so those suffering or at risk of chronic disease would be allocated higher subsidies than the young and healthy.A health insurance expert, Just Stoelwinder, who spent five months studying the Dutch scheme, said while Medicare Select represented a huge change, he believed it could work in Australia.The change would mean ”shifting from a government-run system to a consumer choice system”, said Professor Stoelwinder, the head of health services management studies at Monash University and also a director of Medibank.