Wendy Bacon http://www.wendybacon.com journalist and activist Fri, 18 Apr 2014 06:04:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 What did Sinodinos, Packer and O’Farrell chat about at Rockpools? Greens’ Kaye hits a nerve http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/what-did-sinodinos-packer-and-ofarrell-chat-about-at-rockpools/ http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/what-did-sinodinos-packer-and-ofarrell-chat-about-at-rockpools/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 22:33:00 +0000 http://www.wendybacon.com/?p=1258 SINCE I POSTED THIS STORY TODAY, NSW PREMIER BARRY O’FARRELL HAS RESIGNED AFTER ICAC RECEIVED A  NOTE HANDWRITTEN BY HIM THANKING NIC DI GIROLAMO FOR A $3000 BOTTLE OF WINE THAT HE DENIED RECEIVING YESTERDAY. QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CASINO DEAL ARE MORE … Continue reading

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For a party that was swept to power on a platform of anti corruption and transparency, the NSW Liberal Party is looking very  grubby today. If the people of NSW decide it’s business as usual, one could hardly blame them.

This post brings readers up to date with an earlier story about an interesting lunch at Rockpool’s between then NSW Party Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos and James Packer about two months before Packer launched his carefully prepared successful campaign for his controversial Barangaroo Crown casino in February 2012. NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and his then chief of staff Chris Eccles were reported to have bumped into the two men at the restaurant. The question is: what did they talk about? Did this relate to the casino or any other NSW business deal? Were donations or other favours mentioned?

When Senator Arthus Sinodinos stood aside as Federal Assistant Treasurer after he became embroiled in the current NSW Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) investigation into Australian Water Holdings ( AWH), a memory of the lunch niggled at me. It that had been briefly mentioned by the Daily Telegraph back in 2012.  This and other opportunities for conversations about the deal became even more relevant after information about political donations from Crown Entertainment and Ros Packer to the NSW Liberal Party later emerged. ( see my earlier story).

I was worried by how Premier O’Farrell avoided any detailed scrutiny of the government’s immediate support for the project and his own dealings with Packer. He sidestepped questions by saying in February 2012 that whenever he met Packer, they discussed the casino. I wrote about this in New Matilda in 2012 when O’Farrell refused to answer our questions. The casino that many opposed was made to seem like a fait accompli from the time it was announced.

Greens MLC John Kaye has since taken up this issue in the Legislative Council.  I will return to his questions soon but firstly, here is some current context.

Yesterday, O’Farrell gave evidence at the NSW Independent Commission against Corruption in the final session of its investigation into infrastructure company Australian Water Holdings (AWH), its attempts to secure NSW government contracts and links to notorious corrupt ex Labor government Minister Eddie Obeid. O’Farrell’s appearance at the Inquiry was not originally planned but evidence that emerged last week left ICAC with no choice.

Evidence was given that then chief executive of Obeid-linked infrastructure company Australian Water Holdings, Nick Di Girolamo, sent Mr O’Farrell the $2978 bottle of Penfolds Grange in mid April 2011. The wine gift and other entertainment expenses associated with the Premier were recorded in company records. Around the time of the alleged arrival gift arrived at his home, O’Farrell made a short phone call to Di Girolamo, who told the Commission that this was his thank you call. O’Farrell denies ever receiving the gift and did not record it on his pecuniary interest register as is required. He denies making the thank you call.

Ex Finance minister Greg Pearce gave evidence last week that in May 2011 he had been called up like a naughty “schoolboy” to O’Farrell’s office where Di Girolamo was meeting with O’Farrell. Pearce was surprised at how close a the meeting between the Premier and Di Girolamo appeared to be.  A text message from O’Farrell to Di Girolamo in August 2011 has been tendered saying that the Premier is “appalled” at the treatment of AWH and “we are on to it”. The two men texted each other often. .

At best, the picture that emerges of NSW a familiar one of favours, meetings, cosy talks in pursuit of government decisions that favour business mates.

O’Farrell’s approach up until now has been to fend off questions and stand indignantly on the high moral ground. As Andrew Clennel wrote in the Daily Telegraph today when O’Farrell’s meeting with Di Girolamo was revealed , O’Farrell announced:

“There is no problem having meetings with people, the problem is the actions that are taken after those meetings,” O’Farrell railed. “This state has scandal starvation. There is no story here and no splash here because the work has not been done.” Whatever his hopes that the scandal would go away, there is certainly a story now.

O’Farrell’s retort to uncomfortable questions is a classic tactic. Political opponents and journalists who think there is more to probe would not take them too seriously.

An artist's impression of Crown Sydney casino and hotel
An artist’s impression of Crown Sydney casino and hotel (far left), designed by the architecture firm Wilkinson Eyre. Via abc.net.au

This brings me back to the lunch I reported in this blog several weeks ago.

I drew attention to a Senator Arthur Sinodinos lunch with Jamie Packer at Rockpool restaurant in December 2011, not long before Packer was going to launch his long planned campaign for his Sydney Crown casino.

Greens  MLC John Kaye who has consistently campaigned against the casino deal followed up the issue in the NSW Legislative Council.  The question struck a nerve and the answer opened up more questions.

 JOHN KAYE: My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, representing the Premier.In December 2011, did the Premier and Mr Chris Eccles, while eating at the Rockpool restaurant, happen upon Mr James Packer, who was eating at the same venue with then Liberal Party Treasurer and Senator Arthur Sinodinos? If so, what matters were discussed and at any stage during the conversation were either of the following topics discussed: first, campaign donations and, secondly, Mr Packer’s proposal for a gambling facility or second casino?

The question caused a mild uproar.

After order had been restored, Gallagher’s  (representing O’Farrell) first approach was to attack the questioner. “What an absolutely stupid question. I am sorry, I should have said that it is a good question from a stupid member.” Kaye then objected that Gallagher should answer not debate the question.


I will not give that question any more attention, and I do not believe it actually deserves any. I do not know where the member who asked the question gets his information from.

Liberal MP Catherine Cusack then came to Gallagher’s defence suggesting that he should ask Kaye a question. Gallagher responded:

No-one is interested in what Dr John Kaye does—or where he eats, who he eats with or who he knows. He stands in this place and makes such an allegation as though it is gospel, and we are supposed to accept it. I do not know and he does not know.

Kaye: I asked you a question.

Gallacher: And I am answering it.

Kaye: So are you saying that he did not meet with him?

Gallagher: I do not know.

Kaye: Is that what you are saying? Are you denying that he met with him?

Gallagher: I rest my case on the last interjection. It is pretty clear that the member does not want an answer, because he does not seek one. He simply wants to make an allegation and put it on the record.

Kaye: I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister elucidate his answer by explaining whether Mr Eccles and the Premier, while eating at the Rockpool restaurant in December 2011, happened upon Mr Parker and Senator Arthur Sinodinos?

The supplementary question was ruled out of order.

About 30 minutes later, Gallagher changed his tune.


Earlier in question time I was asked a question by the Hon. John Kaye regarding the Premier’s dining arrangements. I refer the member to a letter in the Daily Telegraph Letters to the Editor column on 27 October 2012 entitled “Clearing the air”, which stated:

The Daily Telegraph reports correctly that my Director General and I ran into James Packer at a restaurant in December last year. As your journalist was told when he raised the encounter, James Packer did not mention anything to do with his current Barangaroo proposal.

That short letter was written by Barry O’Farrell, Premier of New South Wales. I had not known of O’Farrell’s reply when I made my earlier post. As I said, O’Farrell declined to answer any of our questions in 2012.

I asked Kaye how he responded to the reply. He answered: “Minister Gallacher’s responses open up more questions than they answer.

“The Minister neatly avoided the issue of any discussions of campaign donations and left the public hanging on what actually was discussed.

“Given the timing of the meeting and Mr Packer’s obsession with his casino proposal, it is quite extraordinary that the Baranagroo project was not discussed. It’s my guess that it would have been one of the only conversations Packer had with anyone in that entire year where he didn’t raise the casino issue. The level of abuse in the Minister’s first response is convincing evidence that we were getting very close to the bone.His second response and its failure to even mention campaign donations suggests that more questions should be asked,” Kaye said.

Back in February 2012, O’Farrell said that ”just about every time I see Mr Packer he expresses interest in running a casino in Sydney and offers other suggestions on boosting tourism.” So if this was an unusual occasion in which the casino was not discussed, what was discussed – donations? I wonder why Gallagher failed to respond to the part of the question about donations.

Another indirect connection with Packer has come up at this inquiry.  Eddie Obeid’s son Eddie Obeid Jnr who worked at Australian Water Holdings also arranged a breakfast.  meeting between Senator Sinodinos and Karl Bitar. Bitar like Sinodinos was a party apparatchik who resigned as ALP national secretary in March 2011, joininh a long line of Labor leaders men who went to work for the Packer Family. Sinodinos, Bitar and Obeid met in the Four Seasons Hotel on July 12, 2011. “It was a general discussion. Arthur and Karl always wanted to make acquaintance. It was a general sort of catch-up,” Obeid told the Inquiry said. I wonder what matters were canvassed in the “general sort of catch-up?”

Deal making in NSW crosses political party boundaries. Business mates use entertainment, donations, jobs and lobbying to tap into both major parties. Packer has amassed an impressive display of political contacts across both parties. ( See New Matilda’s 2012 report of Team Packer). This is partly why it’s not at all surprising that O’Farrell rather than offering a bright clean future for NSW ended up being the fourth NSW Premier to appear before ICAC. The Inquiry continues today.

I’d still like to know about the topics of conversation at that December 2011 lunch. It would also help transparency if NSW politicians could treat parliamentary and journalists’ questions with less arrogance.

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Top bureaucrat to review Crown land decision – and some very surprising answers http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/top-bureaucrat-to-review-crown-land-decision/ http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/top-bureaucrat-to-review-crown-land-decision/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 12:46:14 +0000 http://www.wendybacon.com/?p=1403 Part 4 This is the fourth part of my Paddington Bowling Club series. Soon I’ll complete my investigation into the Club (PBC) and the controversial land deal but in the meantime, there has been some good news. As I reported … Continue reading

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Part 4

This is the fourth part of my Paddington Bowling Club series. Soon I’ll complete my investigation into the Club (PBC) and the controversial land deal but in the meantime, there has been some good news.

As I reported in Part Three, following a meeting between Ministerial staff and two Councillors Andrew Petrie and Katherine O’Regan in March, Woollahra Council was told that NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Stoner would review the transfer of a Crown lease from PBC to developer CSKS Holdings.

This was welcome news for local residents’ group  Friends of Quarry Street who have campaigned for several months for an inquiry into the NSW government’s handling of the lease and to save the land for open space. But the nature of the review was not clear. The group had earlier asked for a judicial inquiry or a NSW Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry into the land dealings.

On Thursday, Stoner provided more clarity by issuing a statement referring to representations he received from the community and Woollahra Council “raising serious allegations of misconduct.” The statement continued:

“We take these allegations seriously and have listened to the community’s calls for a  review into this matter. I have therefore asked the Secretary of NSW Trade & Investment Mark Paterson AO  to conduct a review into the matter. This investigation will be independent from the Division of Crown Lands,”

So although this will just be an internal review, it seems that Stoner wants a thorough investigation that will look beyond formalities of the lease. Terms of reference are still being developed. It is not yet clear whether the review will accept submissions or publish its report. ( Since I first published this article, it has become clear that submissions will be accepted.)

Local MP Alex Greenwich who has been supporting local residents and Friends of Quarry Street in their campaign welcomed Stoner’s decision on Friday:

” The government has an obligation to protect Crown land as a community asset.Community members have been raising concerns over a number of years. I’ve asked for these allegations to be properly investigated – this is important for the club and the community. The concerns raised must be properly investigated and the Government must ensure that this lease is above board.”

Greenwich has also written to the Minister for Tourism, Major Events, Hospitality and Racing George Souris requesting an investigation into the PBC, which held a perpetual Crown lease on the club’s site until it was transferred into a 50 year commercial lease in 2010. The new lease was transferred to Christian Sanchez company CSKS Holdings in December 2011. (Greenwich’s representations  can be found on his website.)

The review of the land deal will involve an investigation of the actions of ex Labor Minister for Lands Tony Kelly and the ex Register General of Lands, Warwick Watkins both of whom were found to be corrupt by an ICAC Inquiry into the sale of ‘Currawong’ on Sydney’s Pittwater.Kelly gave evidence at an another ICAC inquiry this week when he was questioned about his role in altering a cabinet minute in a way that favoured Australian Water Holdings’ push for a major NSW public-private partnership.

The events involving the transfer of the PBC lease go back to 2009 when NSW Labor Ministers and Watkins appeared to support those lobbying for the transfer. Ex Mayor Andrew Petrie who consistently opposed the deal told me earlier this year, he was surprised by a meeting in which Warwick Watkins was “aggressive towards us … It particularly stuck in my mind. He had made up his mind and that is the way it was going to be.” I attempted to reach Watkins to interview him without success. The transfer finally happened in December 30, 2011, nine months after the Liberal government had come to power.

Stoner has now decided that Crown law officers will not be involved in the review and instead it will be conducted by the head of his department Mark Patterson. In the light of some of the answers he has been advised to provide to parliamentary questions, this is just as well.

Some surprising answers

Both MP Alex Greenwich and Greens David Shoebridge have received answers to their parliamentary questions about the transfer this week.

In response to Greenwich, Stoner states that he had held no meetings with representatives of CSKS Holdings; that some of those who dealt with Crown Lands were both ”representatives of both CSKS Holdings Pty Ltd and Paddington Bowling Club” but that “no conflicts of interest” were identified; that four meetings were held between the Paddington Bowling Club representatives and Crown Lands officers on the Paddington Bowling Club site. ( Crown’s law officers’ advice that they saw no conflicts of interest although at least one individual was representing both parties is surprising and will be explored in my next story.)

As I have previously reported, an inquiry was conducted in 2006 to investigate Minister Kelly’s earlier decision to sell the publicly owned PBC site to CSKS Holdings. Back then, CSKS Holdings was called the Paddington Bowling and Sporting Club Pty Ltd and before that it was called Woollahra Gardens Pty Ltd.  During the Inquiry, a Crown Land officer, developer Michael Sanchez and President of PBC and CSKS Planner Brian Kirk gave evidence about the negotiations that led to that sale decision. Confidential Evidence was given about ongoing negotiations between the developer and Crown Lands during the time of the Inquiry. Nevertheless, in response to this question:

Was the Government aware of the Registered Clubs Act section 41X “Inquiry in Relation To Paddington Bowling Club Limited” carried out by Commissioner Brian Guest when the decision to transfer the Paddington Bowling Club lease was made?

Stoner responded:

I am advised that Crown Lands was not aware of the Inquiry at the time that the decision to transfer the lease was made.


So weren’t these earlier events noted in the file? Did the Crown land officers dealing with the lease transfer read the file? Why not? (There had been prominent reports of the Inquiry in the Fairfax and suburban press in 2007.)

Answers to questions by Greens MLC David Shoebridge were also posted on the parliamentary website this week.

In answer to:

Were Crown Lands officers aware that CSKS Holdings P⁄L was the same company as Woollahra Gardens P⁄L which was the subject of the 2007 Inquiry in Relation To Paddington Bowling Club Limited conducted by Commissioner Brian Guest pursuant to section 41X of the Registered Clubs Act 1976?


Stoner answered “No”.

Those who have read my earlier reports and Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon’s recent speech will know, most of the companies in which Michael and Christian Sanchez were involved were in severe financial distress at the time of the lease transfer. Some of these are now being wound up. Shoebridge had also asked:

At the time the lease was transferred to CSKS Holdings P⁄L was due diligence undertaken to confirm they were financially stable? If so, what inquiries were undertaken?


The answer:

A search of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission register was undertaken. This search did not reveal any adverse findings in relation to the company. An incoming lessee must abide by all of the lease conditions or be at risk of forfeiture in the event of non-compliance.


In dealing with transfers of land under Section 34A of the NSW Crown Lands Act, the Minister must act in the public interest. For this he or she depends on Crown law advice. So is a basic company search the only check that Crown land officers do when they are advising the Minister on the potential alienation of our publicly owned lands? Given the amount of land that is currently potentially being sold or transferred by the NSW government, this is worrying. Companies searches do not reveal “adverse findings’ about companies. If on the other hand, Crown law officers had done a credit search, they would certainly had cause to pause.

But let’s assume that a single basic ASIC company search was done. To do the search, you visit the ASIC register and identify the company. As soon as you do the search, this is what comes up on the screen.

Basic free search of CSKS shows former names

Source : ASIC Website : Basic free search of CSKS shows former names

So if the Crown law officers had done the search, how could they not know that CSKS Holdings had used the two earlier company names? However you do the search, you can’t miss it. Did they do even the company search or not? Whatever the answer, the absence of due diligence is worrying.

If they had just gone a couple of steps further and done a director’s search for less than $100, they would have found that another company with which Christian Sanchez had been closely involved Crows Nest Retail Pty Ltd  had recently gone into receivership owing Bankwest a large amount of money. The whole exercise would take less than 15 minutes.

Having failed to carry out any serious due diligence, the Crown law division chose to advice Stoner that CSKS Holdings was the sort of company that could be described as a “private equity financier”.

In the light of these answers, it’s just as well that the officers who handled the transfer won’t be inquiring into the transfer of the lease.

Stoner also pointed out in his parliamentary answers that: “An incoming lessee must abide by all of the lease conditions or be at risk of forfeiture in the event of non-compliance.”

Friends of Quarry Street have already sent a detailed submission to the Crown Lands department arguing that several conditions of the lease have been broken. The company will have a chance to respond to their complaints.

Meanwhile the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing are continuing to investigate complaints against the PBC which now sublets the site from CSKS Holdings. The Club has been the subject of many complaints and, as I reported in Part 3, has not filed accounts with ASIC for three years.

Note: If you see any inaccuracies in my article, please let me know. If you have any more information, I would be glad to receive it at wendybacon1@gmail.com or by direct message to my twitter Wendy_Bacon. I apply the MEAA code of ethics and respect all confidences.







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How did valuable public land end up in developer’s hands? Minister Stoner reviews the deal http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/how-did-public-land-end-up-in-hands-of-developer-minister-stoner-reviews-deal/ http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/how-did-public-land-end-up-in-hands-of-developer-minister-stoner-reviews-deal/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 09:34:21 +0000 http://www.wendybacon.com/?p=1121 This is Part three in my series about the Paddington Bowling Club. Part one provided an overview of the story about how a valuable publicly owned club site ended up in the hands of Christian Sanchez’s CSKS Holdings. Part two focused on an … Continue reading

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This is Part three in my series about the Paddington Bowling Club. Part one provided an overview of the story about how a valuable publicly owned club site ended up in the hands of Christian Sanchez’s CSKS Holdings. Part two focused on an inquiry into the Club and its dealings with the Crown Lands department and members of the Sanchez family, who have a controversial history as developers and hoteliers.

Part three includes recent news about a review of the dealings between NSW Crown Lands and the Paddington Bowling Club by the NSW Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Stoner. The review was welcomed by residents’ group Friends of Quarry Street who are campaigning to stop development of the site at the edge of Trumper Park, Paddington. The site was leased to CSKS Holdings, now owned by Christian Sanchez at the end of 2011. In this part, I also discuss how Paddington Bowling Club was mismanaged in a way that disadvantaged its members and advantaged the developers.

In Part five, I will backtrack and pick up the story from the end of Part two. By 2008, a 34 day Inquiry ordered by the NSW Liquor and Gaming Authority into allegations of corruption in the club affairs had been completed. The Inquiry was ordered after Woollahra Council discovered that ex-Labor Minister Tony Kelly had secretly agreed to sell the Crown land on which the club is situated. While the local community waited in vain to hear what actions would be taken after the Inquiry, opponents of the sale breathed a sigh of relief hoping that one result of the Inquiry would be that the sale of the land to the Sanchez development company was off the agenda. Little did they know that a plan for a new long term lease was already being hatched behind closed government doors.


Minister Stoner to review developer CSKS Holdings lease

The NSW Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Stoner has agreed to review Crown Land’s dealings with the Paddington Bowling Club site.

Wentworth Courier 12/3/2014

Wentworth Courier 12/3/2014

This is a step forward for the Friends of Quarry Street who are campaigning to save the site as open space. Earlier in the year, a spokesperson for the Minister declined to answer my detailed questions on the basis that it would take too long to review the file. He also did not respond to a report and request for a judicial inquiry by the Friends of Quarry Street or to a recent letter from Local MP Alex Greenwich calling for an investigation into the matter. Minister Stoner is also yet to respond to parliamentary questions from Greenwich and Greens MLC David Shoebridge.

The review was the immediate result of a meeting three weeks ago between two of Stoner’s staff and Woollahra Councillors Katherine O’Regan and Andrew Petrie. Petrie as a previous Mayor, has been raising questions about the developer’s conduct and the Club’s affairs for 8 years.

The good news was delivered to the Council just as Greens Councillor Matthew Robertson was moving a motion for the Council to hold its own investigation into the affair. Robertson told the Council that there were questions about the validity of the lease with CSKS Holdings that should be dealt with before the company’s development application for the site is considered. Robertson argued that it would be a dereliction of duty for the Council not to pursue the matter as part of its representation of ratepayers, including the Friends of Quarry Street.

Robertson’s motion was defeated after O’Regan told the Council that Stoner’s staff had said that although they had previously been informed by Crown land staff that there were no probity issues, they would review the matter. The Councillors told the meeting they outlined concerns to Stoner’s staff and gave them more information. They also referred them to Parts One and Two in this series.

Petrie told the Council that the meeting was the first positive one with a Minister’s office that he had experienced in the entire history of the matter and that he had a “positive undertaking, a promise” that Stoner would look into the deal. He said Stoner’s staff understood the community’s concerns and were now “totally focused on this matter.”

Since the meeting, Woollahra Council Mayor Toni Zeltzer has written to the Minister about “widespread alarm by the Woollahra Community” about the lease arrangements with the NSW government. She asked the Minister to provide an explanation of the lease transfers and the nature of the liaison with Council.

So far the nature of Stoner’s review is unclear. Crown Lands staff have been asked to prepare a brief on the matter. Some of the staff involved in this are the same ones who were involved in the original dealings which suggests that the review is not at this stage an independent one. Department staff do not seem to have been made aware of the Minister’s review.

Friends of Quarry Street co-convenors Lesley Scott and Melinda Hayton met with Crown Lands staff this week. The group drew the attention of Department staff to a number of potential breaches of the CSKS lease and also explained concerns about the land dealings. Much of this information was provided to the Minister’s office earlier in a Friends of Quarry Street report and request for an inquiry to which the group received no response.

The need for transparency and independence of the review is a critical matter. In a speech in the Senate on March 25, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon welcomed the need for the review but emphasised that it must be a “thorough review involving independent people who were not part of the original decisions”. She noted that  Local MP Alex Greenwich, Greens Councillor Matthew Robertson and the Friends of Quarry Street have all been calling for an independent Inquiry.

Rhiannon summarised the issue behind the Paddington Bowling Club land deal issue:

Many issues of concern arise out of this matter. Some of these are: lack of consultation by Crown Lands with local stakeholders, including Woollahra council; secret negotiations to initially sell and, more recently, lease land to CSKS Holdings, a company whose past and present directors have a long history of controversial and failed land deals and developments; an apparent failure of due diligence by Crown Lands, which is supposed to protect the public interest; a failure of corporate regulation; the handling of the club’s receivership by well-known liquidator Andrew Wily; and, most recently, the use by the developers of a defamation threat to suppress public exposure of these matters.

She went into more detail about each of these matters in the speech, including how solicitor Tony Brooks, who witnessed the lease transfer document from Paddington Bowling Club to CSKS Holdings, issued a defamation threat against this reporter on behalf of his client Christian Sanchez. He demanded that I remove the story from the internet, apologise and pay Sanchez’s costs. I sent him a letter rejecting his claims and have not even received an acknowledgement. This is not the first time that defamation has been used to silence free speech in this matter. Defamation threats were also made against Councillor Petrie who was eventually advised by lawyers to apologise to the Directors of Paddington Bowling Club in 2009.

As Senator Rhiannon told the Senate:

It strikes me that, at a time when people are arguing in the name of free speech and the government are repealing 18C of the racial vilification act after a group of Indigenous Australians were found to have been vilified by Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt, we might do well to turn our attention to how small community groups and publications are denied their right to free speech on a regular basis by more powerful vested interests threatening use of the defamation laws.

Developer Christian Sanchez wants to replace open tennis courts with large childcare centre

Developer Christian Sanchez wants to replace open tennis courts with large childcare centre

Paddington Bowling Club AGM – better late than never

The Minister for Liquor Gaming and Racing George Souris, who sits under Stoner’s mega Trade and Investment portfolio has also requested a brief on the operations of the Paddington Bowling Club.

Today was a special day in the life of the Paddington Bowling Club. It held its first annual general meeting for three years.

According to the Registered Clubs Act, the Club is supposed to operate under the Corporations Act which for clubs of this kind means directors must file annual financial accounts. But the Paddington Club doesn’t operate that way. Meetings have been often missed.

Today’s meeting was scheduled last week but it was postponed because not enough members turned up. This time, the meeting was to go ahead quorum or not Owen Rogerson, Senior Compliance officer from the NSW Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing is expected to attend as an observer.

It will be interesting to find out how much the few members who do attend are told about their club. There’s certainly a lot to report. Will they be told that the OLG recently received a dossier of more than 70 noise complaints, adding to the long history of complaints about the club, some of which were upheld.

Will they be told that previously the club had a perpetual lease which it rented at discounted community rates from the state government. Now the club is a sub tenant paying market rates to developer Christian Sanchez’s CSKS Holdings. ( See Part One) The club also no longer has the income from two tennis courts. The club’s situation is also less secure because CSKS Holdings mortgaged the lease to the Commonwealth Bank on the very same day it signed the lease with the NSW government. As Senator Rhiannon told Parliament, Christian Sanchez was at the time in financial difficulties over other failed developments. ( More of this in Part Four).

Today’s Club meeting is the first since it came out of its decade long receivership. During this period, well known receiver Andrew Wily was in control of the club. He was responsible for a Company deed designed to facilitate the Sanchez family taking control of the land. Only after the land was transferred to Christian Sanchez did Wily take the Club out of receivership. He is now involved in winding up some of the Sanchez family businesses including Benchmark Hotels.

Today’s meeting was also the last for long term Club President Kirk who apart from being Club president works on Christian Sanchez’s developments, including as a planner on CSKS’s current child care development plan.

From 2004 until the land was finally transferred to Christian Sanchez at the end of 2011, Kirk and Wily were key players in negotiations with ex-Minister Tony Kelly, Registrar General Warwick Watkins and others about taking over more Crown land and transferring it to the Sanchez company.

When I first checked the Club’s Australian Securities and Investment Commission records, I noticed that financial reports were missing. So a month ago, I interviewed both the Club secretary Robert Ashton and President Brian Kirk. Ashton explained that to find out why meetings hadn’t been held, I would need to talk to Kirk. Kirk was defensive about the delayed meetings telling me, “I suppose we have been a bit tardy we’re finalising those now… I don’t see that as a major difficulty.” Asked why he wasn’t concerned, he said, ” I didn’t say I wasn’t concerned. That’s why we’re correcting it, making sure we get on top of it”. It’s hard to know if the Club would have had a meeting at all if ASIC hadn’t queried them about the missing reports earlier in the year.

Unfortunately the meeting won’t be open to the media so I won’t hear the President’s report or receive the 2011,12,13 accounts until they are filed with ASIC.

I have however read the 2009 and 2010 accounts. They show that despite an expensive Inquiry that highlighted a number of problems, little changed at the club. Hundreds of thousands of dollars continued to be spent on management fees, lawyers, receivers’ fees and other unnamed business activities. Without these expenses, the Club may well have managed to make a profit.

However, the crucial factor that kept the Club in receivership was a $1.2 million loan for which the Inquiry found no credible evidence. (See Part 2).

The Inquiry found that the validity of the loan was never investigated by Wily who admitted in evidence before the Inquiry that this could be considered ‘negligent’. After the Inquiry Wily continued to leave this task undone which meant that Club’s Auditor Michael Bulgin was unable to form an opinion about the Club’s financial affairs. Bulgin completed his reports for 2009 and 2010 in mid 2011. In these reports, Bulgin noted that no annual general meetings were held because of “complex and drawn out negotiations between the Directors concerning the Deed of Company Arrangement and the State government.” It is hard to see how this could possibly be an excuse for not holding meetings, which would have provided the perfect opportunity to tell the members what was going on.

Those 2009 and 2010 reports were filed with ASIC on August 17, 2011. Bulgin resigned the same day. I have been unable to contact Bulgin.

Over the years, Club members raised many complaints about the club but eventually most became frustrated and dropped away. A club that had boasted more than 10,000 members cannot now get a quorum at meetings.  Some older Directors and members have reported that they were actively prevented from going into the Club.

OLGR did refer the report to Crown lawyers who decided not to prosecute any matter. At least one Licensing compliance officer is recorded as being disappointed with that outcome. The Inquiry report should have been enough to prevent further poor management at the Club and to stop the game that kept a club in administration on the basis of a ‘phony’ loan. But in fact the opposite happened.

Although the Inquiry report had found that high salaries paid to Michael Sanchez’s daughter Vanessa and her husband  ex Club secretary Marcus Levy helped keep the club insolvent, Levy continued to be paid very high consultancy fees while he moved in the hotel trade. His replacement as Secretary, Robert Ashton told me that Marcus Levy remained involved in the club until the land deal was done and the company came out of administration in early 2012.

Negotiations between Wily, Kirk and Minister Kelly and Crown land officers including the Registrar General Warwick Watkins continued after 2008. With the sale plan off the agenda, they hatched a new plan. The Council and Local MP Clover Moore kept trying to protect the community’s interest in the land. But to get the rest of this story, you’ll need to read Part 4.

It will take a serious independent inquiry with powers of subpoena to get to the bottom of this matter. Kelly and Watkins have already been found to be corrupt by ICAC in another matter and Kelly is involved in two more ICAC inquiries. Residents and some Councillors believe another one is needed but in the meantime, they’re hoping Stoner’s review might throw some fresh light on the land dealings.

Update: Friday April 4. – No quorum but the meeting goes on

For the second week in a row, Paddington Bowling Club failed to get a quorum for an Annual General meeting, its first since 2011. So the meeting went head with approximately eight members present.

Outgoing President Brian Kirk did most of the talking at the meeting, his last in this role. Kirk, who is also the planning advisor on Christian Sanchez’s development on the PBC site, was critical of Local MP Alex Greenwich who has been writing letters to Minister Andrew Stoner asking for an investigation into the Club and the land deal.

Now that it has been allowed to come out of administration, the Club is planning renovations. This won’t be good news for elderly residents of Goodwin Village who live immediately above the site. There have been scores of complaints about evening noise from the club – bucks parties can be particularly hard to handle especially when men are still drunk in the street until early hours of the morning.

As readers of this series know, I am keen to read the Club’s financial accounts 2011, 2012 and 2013. These should have been filed with ASIC long ago. But according to my source, the long awaited accounts from 2011 onwards weren’t tabled at the meeting as the auditor has not approved them yet. So it’s 2014 and the Club is still finalising its 2011 accounts? Could this be true? So to find out I rang Alan Teale, the in coming President who should know the situation well because he has been on the Club Board for years. Teale is an ex real estate agent who lectures in property at the University of Technology Sydney where he is doing a doctorate in planning. I spoke to Teale but he wouldn’t confirm the information about the accounts. In fact, he was not pleased to hear from me at all. He told me that my stories have been a cause of disappointment. As a consequence, a letter of complaint has been written about me to UTS ( of which I am a honorary Professorial Fellow). I asked him to tell me what was inaccurate but he declined to do that. in fact, as he told me, he doesn’t bother to read my stories.

However, he also said that the whole matter was turning out well for the Club as it has shown most local people support the Club. He declined to answer any questions and said that the Club’s solicitors are meeting with a Queens Counsel ( the old name for Senior Counsel or senior barristers) and I would be hearing more from them soon. He said the Club is also acting on its concerns that local MP Alex Greenwich has been publishing defamatory statements.

I asked Teale to forward me the name of the Club’s solicitor which he did. I may try to find out more about the Club’s affairs through its lawyers. In the meantime, I have sent some questions to the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing.

This all goes to reinforce Lee Rhiannon’s point about freedom of speech. Unless you feel confident in the face of defamation threats, conversations like the one I had with Allan Teale can be unnerving. Not surprisingly, small publications and community groups often back down, while others are deterred from speaking publicly.

As a journalist, my first obligation is to the truth. So if you see anything inaccurate in my articles, please let me know so that I can correct it.

For a further update, go to Part 4 in this series.

Note: I use the MEAA code of ethics.This includes respecting the confidentiality of sources when requested. 

A current problem with our mainstream media is that many stories that should be pursued in the public interest are neglected due to lack of resources. So If you are a journalist and would like to follow this story, I’m happy to share my research with you.






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Packer and Sinodinos – an intriguing Rockpool lunch http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/packer-and-sinodinos-an-intriguing-rockpool-lunch/ http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/packer-and-sinodinos-an-intriguing-rockpool-lunch/#comments Sun, 23 Mar 2014 00:22:19 +0000 http://www.wendybacon.com/?p=1207 There’s a small issue that has been niggling at me all week. It’s about Sinodinos and Packer. It was December 2011 and the scene was Sydney’s high class Rockpool restaurant. Senator Arthur Sinodinos and casino tycoon James Packer were having … Continue reading

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There’s a small issue that has been niggling at me all week. It’s about Sinodinos and Packer.

It was December 2011 and the scene was Sydney’s high class Rockpool restaurant. Senator Arthur Sinodinos and casino tycoon James Packer were having lunch. Sinodinos had just become a Senator and was Treasurer of the NSW Liberal Party. James Packer was on a mission to achieve his lifetime goal – a Crown casino in Sydney to add to his Perth, Melbourne, and Macau gambling meccas.

Sinodinos was Assistant Treasurer in the Abbott government until he stood aside this week while the NSW Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) continues its inquires into Australian Water Holdings (AWH). Sinodinos was a director of AWH during a period when the company made a number of donations to the Liberal party.At the time AWH was seeking a lucrative deal with the NSW government. Sinodinos, who stood to make millions if the deal had been successful., has yet to give evidence at the ICAC inquiry. He has denied any wrongdoing.

But back to that pre Christmas 2011 lunch. Two other men were also in the restaurant, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell accompanied by his Chief of Staff Chris Eccles. The two lunching partners came across each other and not for the first time, Packer raised his new casino plan with O’Farrell.

I owe my information about this intriguing story to Daily Telegraph political reporter Andrew Clennell’s who mentioned the meeting of the heavy hitters in passing in his column nearly a year later in October 26, 2012. As far as I am aware it has not been raised since. By the time Clennell published his column, the casino had won the support of both the NSW Liberal and Labor parties and was all but a ‘done deal’. O’Farrell had given the deal his backing and Chris Eccles had signed off on it. The bipartisan support demanded by Packer fell into place when the NSW Shadow Minister for Infrastructure Luke Foley endorsed the proposal, on the condition that there should be no poker machines in the new casino. Only the Greens were in clear opposition.

But the really interesting questions now are:  What did Sinodinos and Packer talk about at the lunch ? The casino? – we already know that was a topic of conversation. When Packer raised the casino with O’Farrell – what did he, Eccles and Sinodinos say? Was Liberal party fundraising? It seems hard to believe that Packer and Sinodinos  wouldn’t have discussed Liberal Party fundraising. Who else did Sinodinos speak to about Packer’s casino deal? Did he have other conversations with Packer, O’Farrell, Eccles, Crown Board member and Sinodinos’s predecessor in the Senate  Helen Coonan, or anyone else about the casino? Had Sinodinos or Eccles told O’Farrell that Packer would be in the restaurant?  Were donations to the Liberal party discussed with Packer or his employees or lobbyists on this or other any other occasion?

Arthur Sinodinos – Background

Arthur Sinodinos has been regarded as a Liberal rising star. He was Prime Minister John Howard’s Chief of Staff from 1997 -2006 after which he worked for Goldman Sachs and the National Australia Bank.

There are few who can match his Liberal Party insider connections. Sinodinos got out of Canberra before the Liberal party was defeated in 2007 and in the dark years between 2009 and 2011. Sinodinos  became Finance Director of NSW Liberal Party. Later In 2009, while working for the National Australia Bank, he became vice president of the Federal Liberal Party, bringing what supporters hoped would be business support to the party.

Abbott and Sinodinos are close. They have been allies in the faction ridden NSW Liberal party. In 2010 and early 2011, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Abbott was involved in factional battles to support fellow right winger Sinodinos for the NSW Liberal Branch Presidency. In June 2010, Sinodinos was reported to be very regularly talking to Abbott.

Consider this short timeline and sequence of events, some of which were described by Lawrence Bull and myself in a series for New Matilda in 2012

May 2011: The ex-general secretary of the ALP and Giillard’s campaign director in the 2010 election, Karl Bitar joins Packer’s Crown Casino company. Crown announced that he would be ”responsible for managing Crown’s relationship with the Federal Government across a broad range of issues”

July 12,  2011: Arthur Sinondinos meets Karl Bitar at the Four Seasons Hotel in July 2011.  (This evidence is part of documents tended at ICAC. Eddie Obeid junior went along too. We’ll be hearing more from ICAC about the Bitar connection with Sinodinos and the AWH story).

August 2011:  Minister for Communications Helen Coonan resigns from the Senate and a few days later she joins the Board of Packer’s casino company Crown Ltd. For her duties she is  paid about $116,000 a year, as well as receiving complimentary access to Crown facilities in Melbourne and Perth. At the time of her appointment, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon told Fairfax reporters, “It’s sad to see that someone with such a distinguished career in public life will become part of an industry that causes so much misery in the community.” World Vision CEO Tim Costello commented on her “indecent haste”. Helen Coonan also becomes a political lobbyist.

October 2011: Arthur Sinodinos is selected by the Liberal Party to replace Helen Coonan in the Senate.

December 2011: Sinodinos and Packer have lunch.

24 February 2012: James Packer is ready to hatch his new casino plan. His chosen method was an exclusive interview with Australian Financial Review.When asked about his communications with Packer, O’Farrell said “just about every time I see Mr Packer he expresses interest in running a casino in Sydney and offers other suggestions on boosting tourism.”

2012-2013: The biggest donor to the Liberal Party in 2012/13 was James Packer’s mother Ros Packer. She gave $ 570,000, far more than the $11,000 she gave the NSW Liberal Party in 2007/8. Between 2011 and 2012, Crown Entertainment also gave $40,000 to the Federal Liberals.

February 26, 2012 : Two days after Packer announces his planPremier O’Farrell and Treasurer Mike Baird back Packer’s casino plan. Critics note how quickly they have announced their support.  

February 27, 2012: Labor right wing heavy, kingmaker and former treasurer Mark Arbib quits the Senate.

June 2012: Packer recruits Arbib to his private company Consolidated Press Holdings.

From 2011 onwards the most vocal public critic of Packer’s proposal was NSW Greens MP John Kaye, who voiced his concern about the government’s rapid embrace of Packer’s plan. “This is going to be a test for the state government,” he told The Australian. “Are they going to stand up to Packer, or will they do what they always do with multi-billionaires and let them have what they want?”. Kaye told New Matilda that he was appalled that normal legal and planning processes were being subverted by O’Farrell’s handling of the proposal.

The casino deal was highly unorthodox. By locking in media and political support, Packer made its approval seem inevitable. Aside from reporting by the SMH especially reporter Sean Nicholls, there was little rigorous examination of the means by which Packer achieved such favourable conditions for the processing of his so-called gift to Sydney. Crown placed 18 full page ads in News Ltd publications and the Australian Financial Review. The Age and SMH, some of whose journalists had been critical of the proposal, were not included. Packer told the Australian he regarded some SMH journalists as “pissants“.

In September 2012, New Matilda was trying to get Premier O’Farrell to answer our questions about his knowledge of and meetings about the Packer’s casino. We got no answers. The day we published our questions, Andrew Clennell published his intriguing mention of Arthur Sinodinos. I noted it at the time but I’m even more intrigued now.

Sinodinos too has managed his personal media relations well. He has had remarkably little critical coverage until the Australian Water Holdings story and his link to notoriously corrupt power broker Eddie Obeid becamr public. This was partly because he was not only a political insider but a media insider as well. He was on the News Ltd payroll as a regular columnist in 2010. In this role, he promoted Tony Abbott, on one occasion reassuring readers that the leader was now ‘comfortable in his skin’. (5/1/2010). Meanwhile in the same publication, fellow columnists promoted Sinodinos as a future parliamentary talent ( e.g. Peter Van Onselen 17/1/2010). Fairfax made him a judge of AFR’s 2009 List of the Powerful. He’s often been used as a commentator by Radio National.

Fellow Newscorp columnist Christopher Pearson who had since died described him as a ”remarkably selfless individual, loved or respected across not just the Coalition but the entire political class.” That now seems a little generous.

Now that Sinodinos is looking a little bit grubby as journalist Jack Waterford said on Radio National, I am hoping we may hear more of his dealings with Packer and how those were related to Liberal party donations and the casino deal.

 Note: In 2012, New Matilda developed its Team Packer list.

If you see anything here which is not accurate or if you have more information please contact me or leave a comment.

Since this article was first published in the morning of March 23. Minor corrections and editing changes were made on March 24 and small adjustments to the questions





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Thousands march against Abbott government in regional centres around Australia http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/thousans-march-protests-abbott-government-regional-centres-around-australia/ http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/thousans-march-protests-abbott-government-regional-centres-around-australia/#comments Sat, 15 Mar 2014 11:35:10 +0000 http://www.wendybacon.com/?p=1180 Nearly10,000 protestors gathered in regional city centres around Australia today for marches against Abbott government policies which organisers say lack ‘decency , transparency and accountability’. The largest crowd gathered in Lismore where somewhere between 5000 and 7000 people filled a … Continue reading

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Nearly10,000 protestors gathered in regional city centres around Australia today for marches against Abbott government policies which organisers say lack ‘decency , transparency and accountability’.

The largest crowd gathered in Lismore where somewhere between 5000 and 7000 people filled a city park.(This blog is still trying to find out if this is biggest or one of the biggest marches in Lismore’s history.) As protestor Terry Lawrence who documented the march with 350 photos said on Facebook: “Everybody who came through, near the Museum and the camera went for 26 minutes non stop”.

As Destroy the Joint convenor and journalist Jenna Price reported in the Canberra times in February, the protests are part of the March in March movement which is “what looks like an authentic public reaction to the Abbott government’s way of running Australia – which means it’s not only about asylum seekers; or climate change; or education funding; or union bashing; or attacks on universal healthcare coverage”.

From Fraser Coast in Queensland to Castlemaine and Bendigo in Central Victoria and Newcastle in NSW, more than 20 marches are planned tomorrow. A highlight of this campaign is an unprecedented array of marches in smaller cities. But the biggest marches are expected tomorrow in Australia’s biggest cities Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, where UK musician Billy Braggs will play. In Melbourne, which has a history of holding bigger marches than in other cities, protestors will be highlighting the threat to civil liberties represented by new anti-protest laws passed by the Napthine Liberal government last week.

Speaking in Gosford to more than 1000 protestors Anglican Minister Rod Bower said, ” We must seek to inform the people with the truth that is now being denied us by our government. The truth about Nauru, Manus and Christmas Island, the truth that it is not illegal to seek asylum, the truth about the Transpacific Partnership, the truth about Coal Seam Gas, the dumping of medicare and education, the truth, the truth.”

Some speakers suggested that it was important not to focus too heavily on Prime Minister’s Abbott’s personal qualities. People should look past Abbott to the people hiding behind his decisions, Larrakia woman Ali Mills stressed to about 500 protestors in Darwin carrying placards opposing power privatisation, CSG, environmental damage from mining, supporting refugees  and pro choice policies.

Hundreds also marched in Grafton and Armidale in NSW,

In Queensland, 800 marched in Cairns and hundreds in Gympie, Toowoomba and Caboolture, where as My Sunshine Coast reported speeches were made by “people who operate homeless shelters, that are now without resources and the find themselves providing food and shelter (sleeping bag) for people that they turn away…”

March in March supporters have expressed disappointment with mainstream media, which apart from SBS and regional outlets Sunshinecoast.com, Gympie Times and Expess Advocate appeared to have ignored the marches today. These regional reports were written in advance and based on media releases. Only mysunshinecoast.com.au published a news report. ( The Chronical covered the Toowoomba march – see note below.)

The movement has tried to compensate by building a facebook site with 46,000 followers and many supporters are using twitter to communicate news and ideas about the rallies. Many individual supporters have made their own videos and postings.

Citizen Journalism site No Fibs is providing the most comprehensive coverage and GreenLeft Weekly is live blogging.

While the organisers have consistently said there were no party affiliations, it is obvious that there are few current LNP supporters involved although some disillusioned LNP voters may be attending . As one poster in Caboolture declared “More trees, less LNPs”.

Additions : Late on Saturday night, ABC24 carried a report of the Darwin march. Somewhat oddly for a news report, it did not include reference to the other marches that had been held around Australia, even the more than 5000 strong march in Lismore.

The Chronicle in Toowoomba also covered the march quoting one of the orgnanisers Rebecca Manners who said “she had read about the concept months ago and watched keenly for any Toowoomba events. “I kept watching and watching but nothing happened here in Toowoomba,” she said.  ”The last straw for me was the dredging in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, so I put my hand up to organise an event.  All the organisers around the country are just ordinary people too.  It’s for anybody that feels they’re not being represented at the moment and there are so many people that feel that way.”



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Paddo Bowls Inquiry 2008 – First media report 2014 http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/padd-bowls-inquiry-first-media-report/ http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/padd-bowls-inquiry-first-media-report/#comments Mon, 10 Mar 2014 05:36:12 +0000 http://www.wendybacon.com/?p=1110 In Part One of this series, I gave readers an overview of my investigation into how the NSW government handed over Crown land to developer CSKS Holdings and updated readers on questions asked by Sydney MP Alex Greenwich and Greens … Continue reading

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In Part One of this series, I gave readers an overview of my investigation into how the NSW government handed over Crown land to developer CSKS Holdings and updated readers on questions asked by Sydney MP Alex Greenwich and Greens David Shoebridge in NSW Parliament last week.

In this story (Part 2), I explain the findings of a 2008 Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing ( OLGR) Inquiry into the Paddington Bowling Club (PBC). The report was published in 2008 but although readers may find it a little hard to believe, this seems to be the first account of its findings. ( If you find another one, let me know so that I can link to it.)

Part 3 will update readers on attempts by Friends of Quarry Street to prevent development of open space on the Paddington Bowling Club site and overturn the deal which gave CSKS Holdings a 50 year lease on the land.  It will also explain how the Paddington Bowling Club was mismanaged in a way to the advantage of the developers.

Part 4 will continue the investigation of events from 2008 until the present time.

Part 2

CSKS wants Woollahra Council to approve a development of a large for-profit child care centre on Paddington Bowling Club (PBC) land it leases from the government on the edge of Trumper Park, a small bushland in inner Sydney. The Centre would replace two tennis courts.

CSKS director Chris Sanchez whose interests have previously been in club catering, hotels and retail development has entered the field of child care by setting up a tiny company Picket Fence ELC Pty Ltd that would run the Centre. Sanchez told me that although he has no experience in child care, he would hire a very experienced director to run the Centre.

Friends of Quarry Street and other residents have lodged scores of objections to the development application, particularly around parking and pedestrian use of narrow Quarry Street which runs alongside the site. But Friends of Quarry Street, other residents and some Councillors say there are also broader issues at stake that affect the entire community.

Tonight Greens Woollahra Councillor Matthew Robertson will move a motion that Council officers should prepare a report on the current state of the CSKS Holdings lease, the rationale for why the NSW Liberal government allowed it to be transferred to the Sanchez company and whether or not the NSW government consulted with the Council.

While some may argue a narrow view that Council should only deal with the development application, Councillor Robertson will draw fellow Councillors attention to the Local Government Act that states that the role of Councillors should be to “protect the interests of residents and ratepayers” and “provide leadership to the community”.

How CSKS got control of valuable Crown land.

Much of the story about how CSKS got control of this land is found in the records of a NSW Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing Inquiry set up in 2007 after Woollahra Council blew the whistle on a decision by NSW Lands to sell the site to the Sanchez controlled company. The SMH and Wentworth Courier published several reports on the Inquiry but the report itself seems to have been missed.

The Inquiry was set up by the then Director of NSW Liquor and Gaming Albert Gardner to investigate the administration of the PBC and whether there had been any improper or corrupt dealings in relation to it. The Inquiry followed a four month police investigation into the club that recommended further investigation.

Barrister Brian Guest conducted the Inquiry that included more than 30 days of hearing. His Inquiry could only make factual findings, leaving it to law enforcement and regulatory agencies to decide what action should be taken on the basis of Guest’s findings.

The Inquiry transcripts trace the story back to the 1990s when the small Paddington Bowling Club ( PBC),like many similar ones, struggled to compete with bigger registered club venues. PBC was just holding its head above water with a bank balance of $200,000.

From St Trinians to Barefoot Bowls – the PBC directors lose control

Bruce Malouf, an ex-Wallaby rugby union player who was involved in the LJ Hooker real estate agency in nearby wealthy Sydney suburb of Double Bay, came up with a bright idea that he sold to the PBC: a new restaurant for the club called St Trinians with waitresses dressed as naughty schoolgirls. The PBC directors agreed on the basis that there would be no financial risk to the club. The restaurant was launched by TV host Kerri Anne Kennerley who described it as the “ new hot and happening pub.” but it failed after a couple of months.

As the Inquiry was told, Bruce Malouf’s renovation costs blew out from $35,000 to $624,000. Much of the money had been supplied by B52 a small superannuation company in name of Malouf’s mother Mavis. Without seeking Liquor and Gaming Administration Board approval, more than $350,000 was spent on poker machines  later disposed of for almost nothing.

The directors still talk today of how shocked they were when the pokies replaced the bowlers’ change room and the bowling club Honour Rolls came down off the walls.

Director Terrence Henville told the inquiry that during this period, “ I, for one, am not a businessman – everything just ran away from us, from the renovations to the bar and poker machines .. We really just lost it.” . The directors pressed the Malouf’s and their managers for financial reports but only occasionally got them.

Bruce also gave evidence that the law was ‘way out of his league’. He became unwell and was hospitalised after which his brother Philip Malouf played a role in managing the Club.

After Bruce recovered, he introduced barefoot bowling which was an immediate success. ‘Paddo Bowls – was no longer for the olds’ http://www.paddobowls.com.au/  As Bruce told the Inquiry: “ They flew in from everywhere…everyone was beering and cheering and playing bowls. “ As one director told the Inquiry, even the GPS (private school) crowd from the upmarket pubs made PBC their base, at least for a while.

While the PBC Directors could see the club was busy, they could not work out why it was still making a loss. They asked to see accounts but never received them.

Evidence was later given that more than $200,000 was missing against which no expenditure was recorded. The inquiry heard that other sponsorship funds which were owed to PBC ended up in other accounts. No income from bowling activities was recorded. When the accounts were later reconstructed, the Club was recording losses.

Although a Malouf company was now effectively running the club, the directors were still liable for its management. They soon got another fright. In August 2000, the Malouf company B52 sent the Club an account for nearly $1,200,000. The directors denied in evidence to the Inquiry, and have continued to insist to this day, that there was ever a loan. Philip Malouf gave evidence that there was a verbal agreement about the loan but the Inquiry found there no evidence for the loan. Guest found:

“There  is no loan document to support the contention and the directors of the club deny that they ever agreed to any financial liability. They are unanimous in view that it was always the case that the Maloufs did everything at their own cost and risk and if it didn’t work out they would walk away.”

This alleged loan for which the Inquiry could find no evidence is the single most important factor in PBC losing control of the Crown lease. It remained on the books of the club until at least 2010 when the club last filed accounts with ASIC. No accounts have been filed since then and there was no Annual General meeting last year.

This supposed unpaid Malouf load to the Club meant that PBC was always in debt however well it traded.

In 2002, the old Directors got another nasty fright. They had been signing cheques to pay group tax  but instead of it being paid, the Malouf appointed managers left the cheques stapled to the chequebook. The directors received letters from the tax department saying they would be personally liable for the tax debt.

Now the Club was in serious trouble. On the recommendation of Philip Malouf, the NSW Supreme Court appointed experienced Liquidator Andrew Wily as an external administrator. When an administrator is appointed, directors lose control of day to day management until a company becomes solvent again. The old directors were told that if they did not agree to the administrator, they would be liable for debts. Thus began one of the longest administrations in corporate history. It was only terminated by Wily when the Crown finally transferred the lease to CSKS in 2011.

At the Inquiry, Wily said that he accepted that the PBC owed the Maloufs more than a million dollars without asking the Directors if they accepted that the debt existed..

Having accepted without investigation that the loan existed, Wily decided that the only way to make enough money to pay the creditors was to “arrange for the Club to purchase the leasehold land on which it was located and then for the land to be sold to a property developer with the proceeds of the sale being used to pay the creditors.”

Wily introduces Sanchez to Paddington Bowling Club

This is when Wily called in his friend developer Michael Sanchez, who had also been a Double Bay real estate agent. Not surprisingly for a real estate agent and property developer Sanchez told the Inquiry: I was more focused on the property side of things.

Q. When you say “the property side of things”,are you talking of the potential for development of the site?

A. Well, the potential for development ….

Sanchez examined the underlying value of the lease that was supposed to be held in perpetuity for the benefit of the public and decided to become involved.

Who is Michael Sanchez? 

An early proponent of high rise in the Eastern suburbs, Michael Sanchez was a successful real estate agent, firstly in Maroubra and later in Double Bay. But over the last ten years, Sanchez, his son Christian and their companies including Benchmark have faced several major business challenges that will be covered in a third report.

Michael Sanchez first caused an uproar in 1989 when he formed a company with the then Mayor of Randwick Council Paul Bayutti and knocked down an old mansion Ostara that was about to get heritage protection in order to make way for a development. Bayutti later resigned from the company.

Sanchez successfully fought off bankruptcy in 1992 after he fell into financial difficulties when he employed Andrew Gibbons who was suspended by the Real Estate Services Council.

A few years later, Maroubra residents campaigned against Benchmark’s plan for high rise apartments. As the well known journalist Elisabeth Wynhausen who died last year reported in the Sun Herald at the time, Sanchez attracted attention when he sent a barrister along to a residents’ meeting who disrupted proceedings. A group of men dressed in Benchmark t shirts were also in attendance. When some of those opposing the development claimed they felt intimidated, Sanchez’s solicitor explained the men’s presence was intended to remind residents that jobs were at stake.

In 1998, Sanchez and his wife Lynette acquired a 50% share in a huge development in Port Melbourne on an old publicly owned site. When Macquarie Bank with whom he had already had a dispute became involved in financing the project , one of its senior officers Bill Moss objected to Sanchez being involved. Sanchez sued the Bank and so began a series of court actions that would eventually result in a humiliating loss for Sanchez. The Victorian Supreme Court found in 2002 that Sanchez’s evidence was unsatisfactory and it found that there was a consensus that Sanchez should be removed in the “sense that neither he or any interest associated with him should have ownership or a controlling interest.” This was a significant set back for Sanchez.

Wily, Sanchez and Kirk get together

Back in Paddington, Sanchez called in another long term business associate and planner Brian Kirk who according to Inquiry evidence was also a business associate of Wily. As meeting minutes referred to at the Inquiry showed, Kirk represented Sanchez in early discussions about an agreement with the club and in later negotiations with the government.

Kirk also became President of PBC and remains so today. He signed the document transferring the land to CSKS on behalf of the Club in December 2011 and has provided planning advice for the current development. He told me he could see no conflict in his roles. ( I will report more on Kirk’s role as President of the Club in a later story.)

After several meetings, It was agreed that Sanchez’s company Woollahra Gardens ( now CSKS Holdings) would pay the club $50,000 for an option to purchase the land if the government agreed to sell it to the Club. Sanchez also paid the Maloufs $200,000 and took over the so-called loan on their behalf. The Maloufs were now out of the picture.

Sanchez brings in daughter Vanessa Sanchez and husband Marcus Levy

But there was more to the deal. Sanchez required that PBC hire his daughter Vanessa Sanchez and her husband Marcus Levy to run the club. The jobs were not advertised and neither of them had any experience in clubs.  Levy was made Secretary of the Club but also formed a management company that ran the club. Vanessa also formed a company that was paid high fees for her work for the Club.

An agreement between Wily, PBC and Woollahra Gardens ( CSKS Holdings) was signed that allowed Sanchez’s preferred arrangements to proceed.

Wily suspended for four months

In 2004, Wily had to be replaced by another administrator from his company after he was fined and suspended as a liquidator for four months for failing to detect a fraud and to identify losses which should have closed a business. He was also found to have broken the Corporations Act in a number of company administrations and failed to lodge minutes of meetings and reports within required time.

Payments to Marcus Levy and Vanessa Sanchez

The Inquiry examined in detail payments to these Marcus Levy and Vanessa Sanchez companies. ML Management received $1,378,889 over 4 years and $245,183 worth of frequency points from purchasing goods for the Club.  Levy resigned as secretary manager after the Inquiry was announced but in 2007, Wily agreed to pay him even more money. As was pointed out to Levy at the Inquiry, under Section 41L of the Registered Clubs Act, a secretary of a club or his or her relatives cannot enter into contracts with that club. Levy resigned his Secretary role when the Inquiry was announced.

Vanessa Sanchez’s company VS Management Pty Ltd also received $686,737. Vanessa told the Inquiry that she did not actually receive these payments but instead was paid a wage out of other family accounts. She told the Inquiry that she did not really understand bigger business issues and that her father was in control.

Marcus Levy and Vanessa Sanchez did improve turnover at the club introducing more corporate bowling. In their opinion, their high fees were justified because they would not benefit from  ’goodwill’ they were building in the club.

Guest summarised it in his questions to Marcus Levy this way:

Q. ML Management? A. Yes.

45 Q. Really, to boil it down, as I see it, the club has to make a profit of $480,001 before the club gets $1 profit? A. Correct.

The report found that “looked at objectively the consequence of the arrangements with Mr Levy’s management company, ML Management (NSW) Pty Ltd is that the majority of the financial benefit of the turnaround has gone to Mr Levy via ML.”

The Quarry Bistro

The Inquiry also inquired into Quarry Bistro Pty Ltd which provided catering for the club.  The Inquiry found this company had no written agreement with the Club and paid no rent or commissions to the club. A large amount of money that was spent at the Club on food flowed into Quarry Bistro Pty Ltd.

Wily was asked whether he made any inquiries about the arrangements with Quarry Bistro and he responded that he hadn’t done so and had left such matters to Levy.

An ASIC search shows that Michael Sanchez’s son and daughter Christian and Vanessa Sanchez were directors of Quarry Bistro, which was fully owned by Christian Sanchez during this period.

In 2007, the Sanchez family set up Benchmark Hotels for the purpose of investing in hotels including the Allawah Hotel. ASIC records show that both Michael and Christian Sanchez were directors of Benchmark Hotels which at one stage was fully owned by CSKS Holdings. Andrew Wily is now the appointed liquidator of Benchmark Hotels.

Marcus Levy later bought the Lansdowne Hotel in Chippendale. He and Vanessa Sanchez also took up a contract to manage the Crest Hotel bar in Kings Cross. They were still involved there at the time of the murder of Sydney businessman McGurk who was reported to be interested in buying the hotel at the time of his death. At this time Michael Sanchez was reported to be also interested in buying the hotel but as his business interests unravelled, the sale never proceeded.

Land sale knocked back – Tony Kelly becomes the Minister for Lands

Sanchez had originally hoped that he could buy the PBC land reasonably quickly. The first knock back came in November 2003. Tony Kelly becomes Minister in 2004 and two months later application to buy the land was resubmitted.

Evidence at the Inquiry showed that negotiations to persuade the NSW government to sell the land were costly for the Club. Between 2004 and 2007. PBC paid $92,797 on trying to buy the land, This included bills for for lawyers, surveyors valuers and $10,000 for ‘consultants’. Sanchez told the Inquiry that Kirk was the person who conducted the negotiations along with other unnamed consultants. Part of this evidence was given in confidence after barristers representing Sanchez objected that the matter was commercially sensitive.

The sale was finally approved in 2006 and Sanchez told the Inquiry that as far as he was concerned it would have gone ahead if it had not been for Woollahra Council persuading the Labor government to back out of the deal and set up the Inquiry.

But Sanchez was not taking ‘no’ for an answer. He told that Inquiry that Kirk was continuing to hold negotiations directly with the “Minister’s office” and also approached the Leader of the Opposition Peter Debnam. Debnam had publicly opposed the sale.

The Guest Inquiry report was finalised in 2008. According to a Council document, some public servants in Liquor and Gaming recommended that it be tabled in parliament but the Minister declined. However, PBC was required to post it on its website.

In the following months, then MP for Sydney Clover Moore, Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon and Woollahra Council all asked the Labor government questions about what action would be taken.

In July 2008, the then Minister for Gaming Graham West replied to a question from Greens Lee Rhiannon: The “Director of Liquor and Gaming is currently reviewing the report and other information obtained in the course of the Inquiry to determine if there have been any breaches of State or Commonwealth Law, or grounds for taking complaint action against the Club.”

If you were to assume that the Inquiry would prevent the land transfer to CSKS or that the accounts would be adjusted to reflect the lack of evidence for the loan, you would be wrong. Although the MInister for Trade and Investment Andrew Stoner has not answered questions about what actions were taken, it would seem no prosecutions were laid.

Despite a healthy income, the Club could never make enough money to pay of the million dollar debt. So the PBC stayed insolvent and under Wily’s administration.

PBC is required to hold an Annual general meeting each and lodge financial reports with ASIC. No accounts have been filed since 2011 when the 2010 report explained that no annual general meeting had been held due to “complex and drawn out negotiations with the state government”.

Kirk who signed this report told me that the Club is now going ‘quite OK’. Asked about the failure to file accounts with ASIC and hold regular Annual General Meetings, he said “I suppose we have been a bit tardy, we are finalising them now.’ He said, “I don’t see that as a major difficulty…I am making sure we get on top of that’. He declined to tell me the identity of the accountant.

Then, on the last business day in 2011, the Lands Department with the approval of Minister Stoner allowed Brian Kirk and Christian Sanchez to transfer the prized site. Although Woollahra Council was not informed, PBC was now CSKS’s tenant. We do not know what officers of the Lands Department or the Minister knew about the state of Sanchez family business affairs at that time because the Minister has so far declined to answer any questions about that as well.

(The Shoebridge and Greenwich parliamentary questions and a Woollahra Council report would provide some answers.)

Michael Sanchez certainly knows what he thinks. He told me the Inquiry was an “utterly fruitless exercise. It was an expensive undertaking by OLGA ( office of Liquor and Gaming) which showed nothing other than the club was being run immaculately – in fact the template that was shown was the template that should be used in all clubs. That was the upshot of the Inquiry. It was a wasted exercise . You read it and tell me what you think…”

I have read it and in my third report, I will further explore the affairs of PBC, what the Council were told by the NSW government about the transfer of the PBC lease to CSKS Holdings and the business activities of Michael and Christian Sanchez during the period leading up to the transfer.

Note: Let me know if you know more or find  inaccuracies in this report. My blog applies the MEAA code of ethics. I strive for accuracy and will correct any errors. I can be contacted on wendybacon1@gmail.com or on Facebook or Twitter. I’m always interested in receiving more information. Some minor editing changes were made after this article was first published on March 10, 2014.

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How Developers took over Prime Crown Land in Paddington http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/how-developers-got-hold-of-prime-sydney-land/ http://www.wendybacon.com/2014/how-developers-got-hold-of-prime-sydney-land/#comments Sat, 08 Mar 2014 00:14:27 +0000 http://www.wendybacon.com/?p=1095 This story includes Part One of my Paddington Bowling Club series. It was first published in New Matilda, a non profit independent media outlet of the sort that is so badly needed in Australia. Tomorrow, I will publish Part two in this … Continue reading

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This story includes Part One of my Paddington Bowling Club series. It was first published in New Matilda, a non profit independent media outlet of the sort that is so badly needed in Australia. Tomorrow, I will publish Part two in this series about threats to publicly owned land in NSW.

Part one appears below but firstly, an update on recent events. Part Two and Three will follow.

Greenwich and Shoebridge ask Minister Stoner some questions

This week, Independent MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich and Greens MLC David Shoebridge asked questions in NSW Parliament about the NSW government’s role in the transfer and development of publicly owned land leased to CSKS Holdings. You can read more about these questions at the end of the post.

On Monday March 10, Greens Woollahra Councillor Matthew Robertson will put a motion calling on the Council to prepare a report on the circumstances surrounding the lease transfer to CSKS Holdings in 2011, the rationale for the transfer and whether or not the NSW government consulted with Woollahra Council.

Recently with Council permission, I have gone through its PCB file going back to the late 1990s. Although, as I report in Part One, Councillor Andrew Petrie and some Council officers successfully reversed the NSW government’s decision to sell the entire site and a section of Quarry Street to Woollahra Gardens ( now CSKS) in 2006, I could find no evidence that Council was informed. let alone consulted, between 2009 and 2011 when the lease transfer took place.  This period covered approvals by both Labor Minister Tony Kelly, who the NSW Independent Commission against Corruption found had acted corruptly in relation to the sale of land on Sydney’s Pittwater, and Liberal Minister Andrew Stoner. ( Kelly was not charged but is now being investigated in another ICAC inquiry involving Liberal Minister Chris Hartcher).

Stoner has declined to answer questions about the transfer.

I will be following the story on this blog and on twitter as it develops. As I investigate this issue, I am learning about other local communities concerned about the handling of Crown land including Friends of the Randwick Literary Institute.

Part One – this is the first article that was originally published on New Matilda. It was removed after an unwarranted defamation threat

Like most tussles over development this story is a long and complex one. But don’t be turned off. I have tried to summarise the issues in this first piece. Later on, I will publish some pieces about how I researched the story and issues relevant to publishing local journalism of this kind. These issues are relevant to many communities and often do not get sufficient attention in the mainstream media, mainly because  journalism resources in the traditional media have shrunk.

At one level, this is a community story about a development application for a childcare centre on Crown land in the inner-Sydney suburb of Paddington. On another, it’s a story about how state authorities and corporate regulators failed residents and local councillors who struggled to hold politicians, developers and public servants accountable for dealings with publicly owned open space.

It’s a tangled web of closed-door negotiations and business deals that disadvantaged a community club, leaving older members feeling overrun, some residents intimidated and the local council sidelined.

Over the course of more than a decade, locals lost control of a bowling club and the valuable public land on which it sits. Having effectively gained control of the site, the developers that once tried to purchase the land outright managed to persuade the NSW government to make a valuable addition to the land and transfer the lease to a company they control.

The club is Paddington Bowling Club (PBC) , which sits on publicly owned land leased from the NSW government. In 2011, the NSW Minister for Lands and Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner approved the transfer of the lease from the club to developer CSKS Holdings, which now wants to build a large childcare centre on some of the land currently occupied by tennis courts.

View overlooking Paddington Bowling Club and Sydney cityView overlooking the club and the city

Recently, local action group Friends of Quarry Street called on Stoner to suspend the Crown lease and hold a judicial inquiry into the handling of the lease and the club. This would put the developer’s application to Woollahra Council on hold.

Director of CSKS Holdings Christian Sanchez says the issue is only about childcare and anything else is a “crazy story”. But Friends of Quarry Street co-convenor Lesley Scott says the principle is one of “fair play”.

“Just because you are a developer … doesn’t mean you should be allowed to ride roughshod over the democratic process. This land should never have been allowed to fall into the hands of a developer … While we acknowledge that there is a great need for childcare, open space in the inner city is finite,” she says.

The group is also unhappy that a centre for more than 100 children is proposed next to licensed premises on a small dead-end street with very limited parking.

Ex-Mayor and current Woollahra Councillor Andrew Petrie described the issue as one in which private interests have been allowed to benefit from “underhand dealings with the government to the exclusion of the public”.

The story includes two players who were involved in a Crown land scandal over land at Currawong on Sydney’s Pittwater in the dying days of the Labor government in March 2011. In December 2011, Tony Kelly and Warwick Watkins, Minister for Lands and Planning under Labor and ex-Chief Executive of NSW Lands and Property respectively, were found by the NSW Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) to have acted corruptly in relation to the Currawong Land. Watkins later pleaded guilty to attempting to mislead the ICAC but was acquitted of two other charges. Kelly was not charged. He and other Labor and Liberal Party MPs are now under investigation in relation to another deal.

Both Kelly and Watkins were also involved in decisions in relation to this Paddington Crown land deal.

It also involves current Deputy Premier Stoner who provided other key approvals, and has rebuffed Friends of Quarry Street’s calls for an investigation.

He has also ignored appeals from local MP Alex Greenwich who told New Matilda: “… the NSW government must protect this community asset.” Greenwich says he has heard “very serious allegations” going back to 2000 that, “must be properly and independently investigated. In the light of recent ICAC investigations about misuse of government land and leases, the government must ensure that this lease is above board. I’ve repeatedly asked the responsible minister to do this”.

Firstly a summary of events.

For over half a century, PBC has leased open space Crown land that was permanently set aside for recreational and community purposes. The PBC site which now includes a clubhouse, two bowling greens and tennis courts adjoins publicly owned land Trumper Park.

Back in 2000, PBC got into financial difficulties and external administrator Andrew Wily was appointed to manage the club. He decided to call in Michael Sanchez, with whom he had been associated in business for more than 10 years.

A real estate agent, hotel owner and developer, Sanchez is well known in the eastern suburbs, partly because of his involvement in several controversial developments and court cases. Sanchez, who told New Matilda he no longer has anything to do with the PBC, became bankrupt last year. His son Christian is now sole director and shareholder of CSKS.

The Sanchez family are well known for their development company Benchmark Australia. Although Benchmark is still registered with the Australian and Securities Investment Commission (ASIC), it currently has no directors, a breach of the Companies Act which ASIC says will be picked up in a compliance audit this year. Michael Sanchez’s wife Lynette is now the sole owner. Christian Sanchez told New Matilda that he has never been a director of Benchmark Australia but an ASIC company search shows he was once director and secretary. Benchmark was described as the client in architects’ plans for the childcare development application, which New Matilda inspected at Woollahra Council.

After meetings with Wily, Michael Sanchez became heavily involved in the club. As he later told an inquiry, his objective was to buy the Crown land then leased by PBC for development. He and Wily agreed that his company Woollahra Gardens (now CSKS Holdings) would pay $50,000 to the club in return for an option to buy the land if PBC could persuade the NSW government to sell it to them. (There were other aspects to this deal which benefitted the Sanchez family as readers will learn in the next story in this series).

Sanchez then introduced another key player — planner Brian Kirk, who Sanchez and Wily had both known for years. Kirk, who had previously worked for the NSW Lands Department, became Sanchez’s key negotiator with the Minister for Lands and the Crown Lands department. Kirk also became president of the club in 2003 and is still president today. His small planning consultancy company has also provided a planning and environment expert report supporting the childcare application. Kirk told New Matilda that he saw no conflict between his various roles.

Benchmark, which is not usually a political donor, paid $4000 in two donations to the NSW and Queensland Labor parties between 2002 and 2005. Property developer donations are now banned in NSW.

After two years of negotiations with Kirk, the Crown agreed in 2006 to sell land to the PBC for what was reported by the Sydney Morning Herald to be a low Crown assessed price of $2.2 million. As soon as PBC bought the land, it would onsell it to the Sanchez company.

All of this had happened without any consultation with Woollahra Council, which controls adjoining Trumper Park. When a member of the Council’s open space staff was told about the sale, he was shocked. Not only was the Crown preparing to sell the club land but also the public access way that provided essential access for Woollahra Council managed facilities in Trumper Park. This would have greatly enhanced the development value of the PBC property and jeopardised the Council controlled activities. Staff prepared a detailed report opposing the sale.

View of the narrow entry and parking outside the bowling club. Residents fear the new development will overwhelm itView of the narrow entry and parking outside the bowling club. Residents fear the new development will overwhelm it.

Council called on the NSW government to halt the deal. Council minutes show Council staff reviewed NSW Independent Commission against Corruption guidelines on direct “no tender” negotiations between state and private parties and found direct private negotiations were not appropriate in this case.

Woollahra Council had effectively blown the whistle on the deal. The Minister Tony Kelly withdrew approval for the sale and the NSW Director of NSW Liquor and Gaming, Albert Gardner, set up an inquiry to investigate allegations of “corrupt and improper dealings” in the affairs of PBC. The terms of reference included an inquiry into payments to Sanchez’s extended family members by the club, club dealings with poker machines and the deal with the NSW Crown Lands department. The inquiry was limited to making findings of fact. Any decisions about whether corruption or legal breaches had occurred were to be left to the Liquor and Gaming Director. New Matilda has not being able to find out what, if any, decisions were made.

Despite several SMH reports and 38 days of public hearings, the inquiry report, which was completed in March 2008, flew under the public radar.

New Matilda’s next story will include the first media coverage of the report. Minister Stoner has declined to answer New Matilda’s questions about what actions were taken after the inquiry.

Michael Sanchez describes the 2007 inquiry as an expensive and “utterly fruitless exercise” that showed “the club as being run immaculately” and provided a template for how clubs should be run in NSW. He dismissed any further questioning of the club’s administration, including its failure to file annual reports, as simply “an attempt to stir up up mud”.

After the inquiry, the issue disappeared again from public view. Residents only became aware CSKS had gained control of the land when the development notice was posted on the club premises last year.

In fact, behind the scenes negotiations between the company negotiators, the Minister’s office and the department never stopped.

Woollahra Council also pursued the matter. Councillor Andrew Petrie, who attended meetings with ministers (including ex-Premier Kristina Keneally when she was Planning Minister) and the then head of the Crown Land department, Warwick Watkins, remembers the period this way:

“We were always defending. We had the land around it, we were the ones that were going to be impacted. It always really surprised me that however many ministers we visited …we were always saying but minister, but minister, but minister. [CSKS] always seem to be there before we got there. That’s why we had to fight it so hard… it seemed at one stage that they had been given carte blanche to deal with the site as they wanted.”

Petrie said then local MP, now Sydney City Council Mayor, Clover Moore, strongly supported the Council.

Petrie was surprised by a meeting in which Warwick Watkins was “aggressive towards us … It particularly stuck in my mind. He had made up his mind and that is the way it was going to be.” New Matilda has attempted to reach Watkins to interview him without success.

Woollahra Council did succeed in stopping the “carte blanche” sale of the land. But in 2009, not long before the government changed hands, a series of dealings with the land received ministerial approvals.

In 2009, Woollahra Council was told it could take control of the access way but crucially a strip of this small road was excised and granted to PBC considerably enhancing development possibilities for the site. The perpetual lease was changed to a 50 year lease.

Three days after the 2011 state election that brought the O’Farrell Liberal party to power on 27 March, changes were made to the title that provided for ministerial approval to be given for transfers, subleases and mortgages of the PBC land.

On 30 December 2012, with the approval of the Liberal Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Stoner, the Crown transferred the lease from PBC to CSKS for one dollar’s consideration. The PBC and tennis courts operator now pay about $100,000 rent a year to CSKS, which pays approximately $52,000 to the government.

The secretary manager of the club, Robert Ashton, told New Matilda that the club had “absolutely no say” over the transfer decision and that all decisions were made by the administrator Wily. The documents show that both Kirk and Ashton signed documents on behalf of the club.

On the same day Minister Stoner approved the transfer, he also approved a mortgage on the land allowing the company to enter into agreement with the Commonwealth Bank for more than $1 million finance. Last year, the Minister also provided necessary approval for the land to be developed. These events happened at a time when publicly available basic law and corporate checks would have revealed that PBC was failing to file reports required by the Corporations Act and both Michael and Christian Sanchez were in financial difficulty with other developments.

In two further reports, New Matilda will probe these events and raise questions about whether there has been a failure of public and corporate governance. Last week, New Matilda sent Stoner a list of questions about the handling of the land and responses to the 2008 Inquiry into the club. A spokesperson for Minister Stoner, John McClymont said that a response to questions about the land would require a “detailed review of the file going back” which is not going to happen. Another spokesperson for Minister Stoner, Mark Nolan told New Matilda that after the PBC 2008 report, the Labor government developed but did not pass reforms to the Registered Clubs Act to protect clubs from entering into private contracts which result in the takeover of club assets or property. These amendments were passed by the O’Farrell government late in 2011, well before the PBC handed over the lease to CSKS Holdings.

Follow the story and judge for yourself whether you agree with Deputy Premier Stoner’s and Crown Lawyers’ response to Friends of Quarry Street complaints that described CSKS Holdings as a “private equity financier who rescued the Club from insolvency”. Or is it, as Woollahra Councillor and ex-Mayor Andrew Petrie suggests, that private interests are benefitting from “underhand dealing with the government to the exclusion of the public”?

If you have any further information contact Wendy Bacon directly on wendybacon1@gmail.com or via twitter or facebook or through her twitter at Wendy_Bacon You can also comment on this blog.

An update

On March 6, MLC Greens David Shoebridge , an ex- Woollahra Councillor, asked the Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Stoner:

  • As per the requirements of the Crown Land Act, could the Minister advise the dates and newspaper/s that advertised :The proposed lease of Crown Land Torrens Title 3/1156846? The proposed reassignment of the lease to CSKS Holdings P/L?
  • Were Crown Lands officers aware that CSKS Holdings P/L was the same company as Woollahra Gardens P/L which was the subject of the 2007 Inquiry in Relation To Paddington Bowling Club Limited conducted by Commissioner Brian Guest pursuant to section 41X of the Registered Clubs Act 1976?
  • On what basis did the Department form the view that was communicated to the Minister and residents in a letter written on 28/8/13 on behalf of residents that CSKS Holdings P/L could be described as a “private equity financier”? At the time the lease was transferred to CSKS Holdings P/L was due diligence undertaken to confirm they were financially stable? If so what inquiries were undertaken?

Alex Greenwich , who has been persistently trying to get responses from the government to residents’ concerns, also asked the Minister questions including about the dealings between the government, the Paddington Bowling Club and the Sanchez company, and about what actions were taken after the Inquiry report?

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Voting Green because I’m a journalist – and all the other reasons http://www.wendybacon.com/2013/voting-green-because-im-a-journalist-and-all-the-other-reasons-2/ http://www.wendybacon.com/2013/voting-green-because-im-a-journalist-and-all-the-other-reasons-2/#comments Fri, 06 Sep 2013 13:14:20 +0000 http://www.wendybacon.com/?p=984 Today I published a piece, This Is Why We Need Truly Democratic Media, in New Matilda about media coverage in this election campaign and why it highlighted that whatever happens tomorrow, we have a big political problem in Austraia with … Continue reading

The post Voting Green because I’m a journalist – and all the other reasons appeared first on Wendy Bacon.

Today I published a piece, This Is Why We Need Truly Democratic Media, in New Matilda about media coverage in this election campaign and why it highlighted that whatever happens tomorrow, we have a big political problem in Austraia with our media. Most of it focussed on a Get Up ad that was politically censored and an interview with Fairfax Media Chairman Roger Corbett, an admirer of John Howard and a Liberal party donor and member. The interview was by Lateline’s Emma Alberici who is a an interviewer whom I admire. Her style is more inquiring and less based on assumptions than most others at the ABC. She often makes me think but this whole incident really troubled me.

After the interview, Corbett’s scathing assessment of PM Rudd was selected out as a major news story. Some said he shouldn’t have done the interview because he is head of Fairfax Media, a major media company. I think that’s a red herring as Corbett does not tell journalists what to write – the constraints on embattled print corporate journalism are much more subtle than that. (See the ref in the New Matilda article to my chapter in Left Turn published last year). My argument is that as a known Liberal party supporter and previous very active supporter of the Howard coalition government, he shouldn’t have been invited to do the key interview at all, or at least not without backgrounding the audience. It turned into a big free kick for Abbott. Read about his business and political background in my piece and make up your own mind.

At the end of the article I say I’m voting Green in this election because I’m a journalist.

This might seem an odd thing for a journalist to say but it’s true. I’m actually also voting Green because I’m a feminist and for a range other reasons.

Here’s a few more thoughts on the subject.

It’s quite simple really.

When I vote tomorrow, I’ll vote for a candidates whose policies I support.

This is why I’m voting Green.

After the last election, News Corp’s The Australian declared that The Greens are ‘bad for the nation’. (Abbott said that about the minor parties again tonight). News Corp’s aim since the Greens did well in 2010 has been to see them ‘destroyed at the ballot box’.

I’m voting Green because I disagree with News Corp. At this turning point in our history, we desperately need a voice for progressive policies.

You can’t have a democracy without media freedom and a ‘public right to know’ in a practical sense. The public won’t have a right to know if we don’t have strong journalism, whether it is done by citizens or professional journalists. Vast swathes of Australia have very little strong journalism in their local communities.

For decades I have watched both Labor and Liberal National parties allow Rupert Murdoch, talkback radio hosts and commercial television companies to become increasingly unaccountable and abuse their power.

The Greens have used their voice in parliament to speak out for media freedom and diversity and against these abuses of power. I don’t necessarily agree with all their solutions but they were courageous enough to pursue the issue.

It was ex Greens leader Bob Brown who first called the media and political sexism against Julie Gillard an UNacceptable form of political abuse. (There was a typo at this point in my original posting that said ‘acceptable’ not unacceptable’. Thanks to Colin Charlton for pointing this out.)

It was the Greens who extended the all important journalists’ protection for their confidential sources to bloggers and other non mainstream journalists. They did their best to strengthen whistleblower laws which were eventually passed by Labor in the dying days of Julia Gillard’s prime ministership.They have a suite of media policies, including a plan to strengthen community radio and support the tax deductibility for donations to independent and investigative journalism.

And then there are my other reasons. At the forefront is climate change. It is indeed ‘the moral challenge’ for our generation.

I grew up in the mid 20th century when sustainability was barely a word and the holocaust was the unbearable crime that caused the death of millions. Now millions of humans and entire species and ecosystems are threatened by changes to our climate which 97.2% of climate scientists say are caused by humans. Yet as an ACIJ report soon to be published will demonstrate, advocacy of climate skepticism forms the majority of climate change coverage in some of News Corp’s biggest publications and right wing talkback radio programs. You can call it propaganda – or you can call it the production of ignorance. It is very unlikely that this campaign against climate science has not had some political effect.

The Climate Institute has done an assessment of three parties according to how they rank on climate change . Greens score far more highly than Labor which scores far higher than the LNP. Labor supports large fossil fuel subsidies and massive expansion of coal. These funds could be used to transition more rapidly to renewables or to fund a Newstart rise or our universities.

Then there is gender. The Greens have a program of feminist action and support full reproductive rights which despite years of government, Labor has never put in place.

I didn’t support all Gillard’s policies but I was sickened by the unrelenting campaign of sexism that was aimed at destroying her. After the messy business of getting rid of her was over, Rudd and new Deputy Anthony Albanese went out of their way to step away from gender. If they’d ever had my vote, they would have lost me at that moment.

Greens along with my union the NTEU have campaigned strongly on uni cuts. For years, I’ve watched classes getting bigger, curricula constrained and rights of academics to play a part in decision making eroded as universities endlessly adapt to permanent underfunding. Students have to work in paid employment for so many hours that they barely experience what my generation took for granted – higher education as a time to reflect, grow and have fun.The least well off are penalised more.

I’m 66 and I’ve seen several people spend some rotten last days. I’m a strong believer in euthanasia. I would like to think that if I had the courage to exit a life that had become unbearable for myself and costly to others. The Greens candidate for NSW Cate Faehrman has an outstanding record on this issue as well as feminism and environmental protection.

My early political involvement was against the war in Vietnam. I thought we would learn our lesson not to follow the US into unjust and futile wars But since the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975, Labor and Liberal have been willing partners in turning us into a client state.. Hundreds of thousands of us demonstrated before we went to war based on lies in Iraq.

Since then, only the Greens have stood up for foreign policies which could remotely be called independent. Recently they have campaigned to stop the Labor and Liberal parties from being complicit in war crimes in Sri Lanka.

I cringed when Julia Gillard told the US Congress that we collectively admired US President Reagan. That’s not what I remember. When she branded Wikileaks’ Julian Assange a traiter, the Greens stood up to defend him.

I don’t believe all necessary social change will come through parliamentary voting – cooperatives, community grassroots organising and direct action are important.

I don’t know how Greens will go in this election. I’m not in the business of political prediction. But one thing I do know – whether LNP or as seems extremely unlikely, Labor win this election – we desperately need the loudest possible political voice in Canberra for human rights and progressive policies right now.

The Greens won’t govern in their own right in my lifetime but social justice certainly won’t be achieved if you don’t go for it. Elected Greens will sit on parliamentary committees, ask question in estimates, make parliamentary speeches on issues that the major parties ignore, move bills and get more opportunity to speak publicly than most of us. We need their voice and they need supporters holding them accountable when they make mistakes and llnking them with grassroots movements.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned asylum seekers so far. I’ll simply put it this way. There is no way I could cast a vote for a candidate that supports policies that punish innocent, vulnerable people by cruelly deporting them to countries that have been impoverished by Australia’s inadequate policies. We’re paying billions to two of the world’s most objectionable companies, Serco and G4S, to hide from our own social responsibilities. If it depended on that issue alone, I wouldn’t be voting Labor or Liberal.

I notice that Labor politicians, irritated by the chorus of condemnation from hundreds of human rights, advocacy and church groups have started talking about humanitarianism as being some sort of faux indulgence. The idea that we so easily slide past reports of human rights abuses makes me wonder whether we have moved into a new form of governance in which it’s fine to punish innocent people so long as it meets our short term goals

It frightens me that we journalists have allowed allegations about the treatment of asylumseekers on Four Corners and then Dateline to be swept aside without insisting on accountability. Which brings me back to the media itself which is, as I explained earlier, at the heart of democracy.

Don’t let anyone tell you not to vote for a minor party. We have a preferential system. Your preferences have to end up somewhere if your candidate doesn’t win. My preferences will end up with Labor. You make your own choices.

If you vote Greens you will be part of a signal that a significant proportion of Australians do support progressive policies.

I have hoped for radical change all my adult life. I’ve put up with Laborites suggesting that those who didn’t support the ALP were ‘tories’. That was always nonsense.

I’ll preference Labor because at end of day because it is better on education, NBN, healthcare, gender and work rights than the LNP. I’ll put right wing nationalist and anti-environment parties like the Shooters and Fishers Party down the bottom.

So now that I have got this off my chest, I had better get some rest so I can hand out for Dianne Hiles in Sydney. She founded ChilOut the organisation that advocates for children in detention. She is also a sustainable energy accountant as well. Then I’ll hand out for Hall Greenland. Like me, he’s a journalist with a huge record in campaigning for social justice. I’d love to see him in parliament with Adam Bandt. The first article I read by Hall was about NSW ALP corruption. Pity for us all, the ALP didn’t act back then.

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Woolworths supermarket – not welcome on my corner http://www.wendybacon.com/2013/an-unwanted-woolworths-supermarket-arrives-in-newtownerskinevilled/ http://www.wendybacon.com/2013/an-unwanted-woolworths-supermarket-arrives-in-newtownerskinevilled/#comments Wed, 19 Jun 2013 05:57:33 +0000 http://www.wendybacon.com/?p=909 Today’s a sad day for many in our neighbourhood because a Woolworths supermarket, which many in our community didn’t want, has opened its doors at the end of my street on the boundary of Newtown and Erskineville in inner Sydney. … Continue reading

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Today’s a sad day for many in our neighbourhood because a Woolworths supermarket, which many in our community didn’t want, has opened its doors at the end of my street on the boundary of Newtown and Erskineville in inner Sydney.

I speak as one of hundreds of residents who fought a five-year campaign against the supermarket. There were always a few others who supported it, arguing it would avoid a short walk to King Street to shop or that it might be cheaper than our local shops. And while I and others don’t plan to use Woolworths Erko, I doubt it will close through lack of business as newer residents may come to accept that the supermarket parked on the corner was always there. Auctioneers may even spruik it as a neighbourhood attraction. Aware of community resistance,store managers have already mounted a ‘community relations PR campaign. I’ll come back to the details later.

My purpose in writing this piece is to highlight the way that big business and developers can override a majority of residents who want to have a say in shaping their environment. It’s also to express my hope that nearby Erko village survives the competition to its ‘fruit and veg’ shop, florist, delicatessen, bakery and newsagent. We need more than real estate agents and pubs in our village. Up in King Street, local butchers and a fish shop gave way to clothes stores years ago.

If you’ve lived in Sydney for a while, you may know the building that I’m talking about because for many years, the old box factory called The Hive was headquarters for Sydney’s Mardi Gras. Each year, a few months before the festival, Mardi Gras groups would occupy the vacant building to build their floats. We used to look forward to the glimpses of colourful floats constructed during evening and weekend workshops and the final afternoon when everyone set off for the Oxford Street parade. Eventually, the Mardi Gras moved on and the building lay vacant again.

There’s a strong history of community action in our area. In the Depression, local residents organised unemployed movements and rent strikes from these streets. In the early 1980s, some residents remember when they blocked the streets to get road closures to lessen through traffic. Later we had a community campaign to save a small site for a park on busy Erskineville Road. After building unions placed a ban on the site, the campaign for what was eventually called Green Ban Park was successful. It’s ironic that Green Ban Park, a symbol of community victories stands opposite the new supermarket, which for some of us will always remind us of the campaign we nearly won.

Mardi Gras headquarters

Mardi Gras headquarters

After the Mardi Gras moved out, we understood that the site would eventually be redeveloped. No one wanted a permanently empty building. We successfully objected to an initial proposal for apartments because the building height seriously disturbed the low-rise streetscape in our part of Newtown/Erskineville.

In 2008, the developer came up with a new proposal – this time, a supermarket. A serious campaign led by the Friends of Erskineville group began. There were packed public meetings that passed unanimous motions, as well as sausage sizzles and trivia nights. 4000 people signed a petition and hundreds wrote letters.

For some residents, parking was the most serious issue. As visitors to our area know all too well, parking is a huge problem. Inevitably, there will now be more trucks and cars.

But many also saw it as an issue of social planning for community needs. We argued that we have no need for another supermarket in our area. We already have two medium sized and two small supermarkets, all within very easy walking distance. There are two huge shopping centres with supermarkets and other shops easily accessible by bus. Existing supermarkets have already driven away the butchers, fish shops and most of the fruit and vegetable shops in our area. There are markets not far away on Saturday and Sunday.

Eventually Sydney City Council rejected the supermarket application. The developer appealed to the NSW Land and Environment Court. In January 2009, the proposal was rejected.

Then Deputy Lord Mayor Marcelle Hoff welcomed the court’s decision saying it was a win for residents who fought hard against the inappropriate development:

“The planning controls at Erskineville are designed to encourage smaller scale retail to service the local area and hence retain a village quality. A large supermarket would have changed the area’s character and generated significant traffic on the village’s already congested streets.”

We breathed a sigh of relief. But there was a catch. Although it had rejected the proposal, the Court found that a supermarket was permissible on the site and could provide benefit to the area. The argument was that the ‘specific proposal’ did not overcome ‘fundamental concerns’ that there would be a ‘significant number of non-local customers who are highly likely to come to the supermarket by car’ which would ‘result in the erosion of the village character and result in a loss of amenity for residents’.

Some of us were still optimistic that the developer might fail to find a supermarket chain that would take on the site and hoped that housing with a few small shops might still be a possibility. But instead, the next proposal was for a smaller ‘up-market’ supermarket with apartments upstairs. The ‘up-market’ tag was meant to appeal to increasingly gentrified Newtown. Most residents were not impressed. Once more, we were back in old Erskineville Town Hall for a public meeting. As reported at the time:

The meeting was attended by 122 residents, and was unanimous in its condemnation of this proposed new supermarket plan. It is fair to say that our community is outraged that we have to go through the demanding process again, after Council took many months to assess and reject the original Development Application, this decision being upheld by an extensive Land & environment Court case.

Former City Councillor, Michael Mobbs who has led a group developing a sustainable plan for nearby Chippendale, argued at the time that the new Erskineville supermarket threatened local business owners because it would take between 13 and 50 per cent of local business, seeing local profits stagnate and shops shut.

“A drop in trade of 13 per cent would stop the organic growth of Erskineville and eventually cause the death of existing small businesses …. In my view, we can only have sustainable cities if we have sustainable villages. And now it looks as though Sydney won’t have a sustainable city because this small Erskineville project is the ultimate test of the city’s capacity to keep and restore villages; judging by the planners’ report this project will bring it to an end and prevent the vision being obtained.”

Many agreed but this time, the temper of the campaign was less optimistic. People were beginning to feel that whatever they did, the developer would win out. The proposed ‘niche’ supermarket seemed to be about the same size as other nearby medium-sized supermarkets.The developer also now organised a small group of local supporters. When the proposal was considered by Sydney City Council, speakers were limited and the meeting was constructed as if there were two equal sides. While nobody denied there was division, the majority were still strongly opposed. This time Clover Moore’s Independents and the single Liberal supported the supermarket. There were two votes against – one Green and one Labor.

A condition of the development was that trolleys, which would encourage shoppers wanting to use cars for big loads, were banned. This was used by Councillors to justify their support in the face of such fierce community opposition.

After the meeting, many agreed with one resident who was quoted in the South Sydney Herald:

“This decision has seriously disappointed me, not merely because we will get an unwanted up-market supermarket on our corner which is far more likely to lessen competition than increase it, but because it cynically manipulated the idea of democratic participation and made a mockery of the idea of independent advice on traffic and social economic impact.”

The Sydney City Council slogan of City of Villages suddenly seemed empty.

By Monday night this week, the once gaily graffitied walls of the supermarket were uniformly grey, smelling strongly of fumes of fresh paint. Inside, food was sitting on the shelves. The floorspace looks approximately the same size as the other local supermarkets, although not a mega one like down the road at Broadway. I could see the slightly wilted flowers that will compete with two different florists and other supermarkets selling flowers less than 400 metres away.

But Paul Howard, who was a key leader in the Friends of Erskineville campaign, has been quietly keeping an eye on the supermarket. He noticed shopping trolleys, already lined up just inside the door. He took a photo and sent it to the Council.

The disappearing trolleys

The disappearing trolleys

Yesterday, I was also taking photos when I was greeted by two store staff. I explained that, while not holding the staff in any way personally responsible, I strongly opposed Erko Woolworths. They were very understanding and said that they wanted to ‘work with the community’. They showed me a mural on the wall. When I wasn’t sure what it was, they explained it was a copy of the first Mardi Gras float. It’s part of making us feel comfortable with our new neighbour. Close to the door are three boxes where you can vote for one of Erko Public School, St Mary’s Catholic school or Erko community garden as your preferred charity. Three local causes will share $1000 a month. They also considering for paying people to paint a “really good” community mural.You can call it PR – or ‘just fitting in’.

But what about the trolleys that were supposed to be banned? They said they hadn’t been told they were banned and that they have been put out of the way ‘for now’. In any case, they explained that the offending metal frames on wheels are not actually ‘trolleys.

Paul Howard has written to the Council asking for answers about the trolleys and other traffic issues that have never been resolved. I guess, like me, he declined the invitation to join a store gathering this morning.

Grassroots campaigns continue. Since 2001, there has also been a campaign against serious over development on the Ashmore Estate, further into Erskineville. Coal Seam Gas (CSG) mining threatened nearby Tempe. After a statewide grassroots campaign, CSG company Dart Energy pulled out of not only inner Sydney, but the whole of Australia.

I won’t be shoppng at Woolworths and I hope our local businesses survive. To be honest I’m not a fan of our supermarket duopoly of Woolworths and Coles. And now, we have an even bigger fight on our hands as the NSW O’Farrell government is planning new laws which will wipe out our right to raise objections to projects like the one on the corner. Rights of objections are too messy and timewasting for developers who’ll be able to do what they like more quickly. Forget the Community.

So much for the Liberal Party’s election promise to restore power to communities, not that most of us round here had much faith in them at any stage.

400 groups have already joined the Better Planning Network,which
is campaigning against the O’Farrell government proposals. If you want to know more visit http://betterplanningnetwork.good.do/nsw/email-your-state-mp-3/

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The Australian and New Matilda’s ‘Where are the women in the media?’ http://www.wendybacon.com/2013/the-australian-responds-to-where-are-women-in-media-findings/ http://www.wendybacon.com/2013/the-australian-responds-to-where-are-women-in-media-findings/#comments Thu, 13 Jun 2013 02:25:31 +0000 http://www.wendybacon.com/?p=886 Today we published Part 4 of our New Matilda ‘Where are the women in the media?’ series. On Tuesday, we published Part 3 of our investigation which was a gender breakdown of by lines on a particular day. We called … Continue reading

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Today we published Part 4 of our New Matilda ‘Where are the women in the media?’ series. On Tuesday, we published Part 3 of our investigation which was a gender breakdown of by lines on a particular day. We called it a ‘snapshot’ and suggested more research is needed.

The Australian didn’t rate well in the by line breakdown which annoyed them.

While working on the series on Monday, I emailed (copying my co-author Elise Dalley) two questions to Editor in Chief Chris Mitchell. One of these requested a gender breakdown of staff at The Australian and the other was relevant to another piece. He emailed us back but did not answer our question about the gender breakdown. Instead he supplied a list of section and state bureau female editors.As these were not relevant to Part 3, Elise Dalley, my co-author,read his response and correctly assessed it was not relevant. I did not read my email as I was very busy. Once I did read Mitchell’s characteristically dismissive response, I agreed with Dalley. We had already acknowledged the work of some women reporters at The Australian.

Our failure to include the irrelevant information led to an piece attacking me in The Australian news pages yesterday – yes, I know they should have more important stories to cover but attacks on the reputation of women educators who dare to criticise News Ltd is nothing new. Julie Possetti and Margaret Simons and myself have all copped it before.

Elise Dalley and myself repond to The Australia in New Matilda today.

I was first aware of The Australian’s anger that we hadn’t published their list of women section editors late on Tuesday when Nicholas Leys wanted to interview me about the project. Despite the inconvenience of the time and extremely short notice, I responded in writing to six questions which are relevant to our research. When I first received his questions, I was inititally concerned that we might have missed something relevant. Once I checked with my co-author and also read the reply, I knew this was not the case.

So here are the questions and my answers:

1. Why have you not included the list of women editors supplied to you by The Australian in the research? Yesterday, I sent two questions to Chris Mitchell. I did not request the list he sent me of middle ranking editors, although I welcome it. I did not receive it before publishing this article. In any case, today’s story was about the breakdown of gender by lines across mastheads and rounds. In relation to Michelle Gunn(the editor of the Weekend Australian), we specifically mentioned her in our first report. We also mentioned other names of strong women reporters at The Australian in today’s report.

In part one, we noted the absence of a woman editor across Australian metropolitan and national papers. For those interested in gender equity, this is cause for concern. So far we have not studied senior editors below the top level. We hope to continue our research and we agree it would be good to get a fuller picture of the journalism labor force. If media companies cooperate, we would be interested to add this. In order to gain a greater understanding of our results, we asked the Editor in Chief for a gender breakdown of women and men at The Australian but he did not supply this.

2. Would you agree or disagree that this list does in fact indicate The Australian employs a significant number of women in very senior roles? I agree that this list shows there are a numer of women in senior roles at The Australian. This is heartening. However, this was not the issue at stake in today’s report which is part of a project with at least five parts.

3. Why did you choose to conduct a byline search on just one day?
This part of our study is somewhat similar to the Global Media Monitoring Project which has been done in many countries. at regular intervals. That project also uses the technique a snapshot on a single day. We have acknowledged limitations that flow from this sample in our report and specifically indicated the need for further research. However some of the patterns indicated are nevertheless quite stark and deserve more public attention from the media and community discussion. We did a week for Part 2 which was focussed on opinion pieces so was easier to do. Even one day involved detailed coding of hundreds of stories as you will see in Part Four on sources.
4. Does this meet normal and accepted standards of academic research as opposed to counting bylines over one week, for example? We have not claimed that our study has the rigor of a larger peer reviewed study however it is a useful example of how journalists can combine social science techniques with journalism to provide fresh insights and stimulate community research. In the changing world of journalism and universities,you could call it data journalism or practice based research. As you can read in our article, our findings are confirmed by other academic research. We specifically drew attention to that.You can also find more information about other research studies on the ACIJ investigate.org site.
5. Why did you choose a Monday (March 4) to count the bylines, a day when any newspaper is not working with a full roster of staff? We did not choose Monday because there were less staff. In any case, it was clear from a reading of the publications that many articles were not prepared on a Sunday. Take the media section of The Australian for instance. I imagine that much of that would be prepared in advance. A broader study would reveal whether there is a distinct variation across the days of the week. Our only aim in this study is to gain an understanding of women in the media.
6. What does your research show, other than a higher ratio of male to female reporters on the day in questions? I suggest that you read Parts One and two. We summarised these briefly in today article. Also today’s report showed a variation across mastheads and rounds which is worthy of greater study. The overwhelming male nature of sports reporting and the gendered nature of other rounds including the male dominance of politics and business and feminised nature of some others is an indication of lack of gender equity which most would agree is not desirable. I would be surprised if the women editors at The Australian and many male journalists do not agree with this. The causes for the inequity and how to change it needs much more discussion by journalists and others.

Having received these replies, Nicholas Leys decided that he had a story, not just for the media section but the front news section. He ignored those parts of my answer that he did not consider relevant to his story and accused me of suppressing the list of women editors. Fair enough. That’s how reporting works over at The Australian.

Yesterday, I wrote Leys this letter:

Dear Nicholas

The article about me published by you this morning is unfair, defamatory and misleading. It falsely accuses New Matilda of misrepresenting facts and me of suppressing relevant material. In fact, our report was an accurate and factual one.

The material sent to us by Chris Mitchell and Helen Trinca was not relevant to yesterday’s piece. Chris Mitchell did not answer my question about gender balance. If he had, my co-author Elise Dalley who read his response would have informed me. Once I had also read it, I completely agree with Elise Dalley that it was not relevant to yesterday’s article.

It is unprofessional of you to suggest that we should publish irrelevant material. As I explained in my responses yesterday, if the information becomes relevant for future articles, we will mention it.

The question about the Top 50 was asked with regard to a future article. As I made clear in my email, we are writing a series of articles on gender and the Australian media. As I said in my email to Chris Mitchell, we are doing a series.

This sort of attack journalism demeans you, your paper and our profession,


Wendy Bacon

To which Leys replied:

“Wendy, with all due respect counting bylines on one particular day – a Sunday no less – and condemning this newspaper and the fine journalists who work on it (men and women) as a result was flawed and insulting”.

Perhaps the ‘fine’ men and women over at The Australian could take a look at the results and the other academic studies on this subject and consider whether the issue of the under representation of women might yet be worthy of their attention. Could the under representation of women have anything to do with the deep misogynist streak in our culture which led to the menu which provided a joke for people involved in LNP fundraising and occupied some much of the nation’s attention yesterday. If in fact, women are playing a strong middle level editing role at The Australian why isn’t it reflected in the results for Part 1, 2, 3 and 4 of our study? As many feminists have pointed out, it takes more than a few women climbing up the ladder for deeper change to occur in gender inequality.

Compared to some many other stories, this interchange is a very minor matter. It only further goes to show that The Australian, rather than dealing with critiques of its reporting, whether it be climate change, international relations or gender representation attacks the critic rather than dealing with the issue.

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