Housing crisis not just about supply, says Liberal MP who wants his inquiry back

John Alexander: “If you were to play Roger Federer you would lose every time; that’s what it’s like for the homebuyer against the investor.” Photo: supplied Investors have an enormous advantage over would-be homebuyers, John Alexander says. Photo: Arsineh Houspian
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The Coalition backbencher who chaired the stalled inquiry into home ownership has appealed to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to restart it, and says it will address the role of investors sitting on properties that should be going to owner-occupiers.

John Alexander is now chairing an inquiry into the potential for value-capture to fund large infrastructure projects such as high-speed rail.

He said the lapsed housing affordability inquiry – which considered 30 hours of evidence from organisations including the Treasury and Reserve Bank without reporting –  should be taken over and finalised by his committee, because there was no point in using infrastructure such as fast trains to create new affordable housing if it was snapped up by investors.

“We have been told time and time again that supply is the answer,” he said. “But it’s no good creating cities in the southern highlands and outside of Goulburn and outside of Shepparton if the same game is played … where the investor will have an enormous advantage over the homebuyer and then dominate that market.

“If we can build a city near Goulburn using the increase in the value of the land to fund a very fast train that could get homeowners to Sydney in half an hour, we could create affordable housing, so long as we knew it wouldn’t be snapped up by investors.

“If you are going to have a complete suite of policies regarding home ownership, you’ve got to address your supply and you’ve got to address the opportunity of homebuyers.

“I feel owner-occupiers ought to be put in front of investors, but at the moment there is no restraint on how many [properties] investors can buy, which means they are dominating the market.”

Mr Alexander, a former professional tennis player, said would-be owner-occupiers competing against negative-gearers were like ordinary tennis players coming up against Roger Federer.

“If you were to play Roger Federer you would lose,” he said. “If you were to play him 1000 times, I promise you you would lose 1000 times, and that’s what it’s like for the homebuyer against the investor – it’s stacked against them.

“The current level of supply is being completely consumed by speculative opportunistic investors who are driving the volatility of the market.”

On Monday, Treasurer Scott Morrison told the Urban Development Institute the reason people were being locked out of the housing market was that supply couldn’t keep pace with demand.

“The government will therefore also be discussing with the states the potential to remove residential land use planning regulations that unnecessarily impede housing supply,” he said.

In evidence to Mr Alexander’s inquiry, Reserve Bank official Luci Ellis said investors were constraining supply, noting that “it is a truism that if an investor is buying a property an owner-occupier is not”.

Mr Alexander said he had made a formal request for his committee to take over and complete the home-ownership inquiry and that the Prime Minister was supportive.

The decision would have to be signed off by Mr Turnbull. There would be no need to take any further evidence and both reports could be completed by Christmas.

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Calls for investigation into claims of ‘vetting’ for submissions to hospital chemotherapy inquiry

The report could not find a compelling reason to explain Dr John Grygiel’s decision to flat dose his patents. Photo: SuppliedThe clerk of the NSW parliament has been asked to investigate claims health department employees were required to get approval from senior bureaucrats before making submissions to an inquiry into under-dosing of chemotherapy patients at Sydney hospitals.
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MPs have asked the clerk to investigate whether the inquiry into the widening under-dosing affair has been stymied after a claim was made that employees in eight south-eastern Sydney hospitals were told to secure approval from the health district’s CEO and the department before submitting statements.

One Greens MP has accused the health minister Jillian Skinner of “vetting” witnesses to the inquiry into the widening scandal that has dogged the Baird government since news first broke in February.

A spokeswoman for the health ministry said that employees were allowed to make statements on their “own behalf” but the health department’s code of conduct meant they could only provide official comment on health matters when authorised.

Ms Skinner declined to comment on the matter, referring questions to local authorities and the department.

“Minister Skinner should say why she is trying to cover up this massive scandal at every turn,” Greens health spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said. “First the minister intervened to stop a special commission of inquiry and now it seems she is vetting witnesses”.

Fairfax understands the inquiry has heard evidence from a range of witnesses who have questioned how allegations of under-dosing could have been unnoticed by hospital staff.

Allegations of under-dosing of chemotherapy patients of Dr John Grygiel at St Vincents Hospital were the subject of a scathing report from the head of the Cancer Institute, Dr David Currow.

News initially broke that treatment of up to 70 of Dr Grygiel’s St Vincents patients was being questioned.

But MPs have said that number could hit 300 when Dr Grygiel’s patients across central-western NSW hospitals over past decades were accounted for.

Patients were found to have been given “flat” or “reduced” doses of carboplatin, or the oral chemo drug capecitabine, according to the Currow Report.

At a press conference given by the minister in August, she updated the media on allegations of under-dosing at another hospital, said to have been revealed by a nurse.

Ms Skinner then said there was no reason to believe that hospital employees would be discouraged from, or punished, for speaking out about problems in the health system.

“I have a great deal of admiration for the nurses who spoke out. I think we have a greater deal of transparency and openness now than ever before,” she said. “If it can improve patient care then they should speak out […] I believe that they have an obligation so to do”.

It was alleged by the health department that another doctor, Dr Kiran Phadke, of Sutherland Hospital, part of the south-eastern local health district, had dispensed “off protocol” treatments to three patients.

Dr Phadke recently spoke out about the allegations, claiming he had been “publicly vilified” and “cast adrift” by the health ministry without being given a chance to defend himself.

Submissions to the inquiry closed in the last week and have been sent to members of the committee today.

The inquiry is due to report its findings by March.

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Fanning receives hot civic reception

RELAXED: Bernard Fanning appeared at ease with his audience and even enjoyed a cheeky State of Origin barb. “I love you Bernard.” It seemed to be called out incessantly, almost to the point of annoyance, when the former Powderfinger frontman returned to the ornate surrounds of Newcastle’s Civic Theatre.
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There was certainly a lot of love in the room for Bernard Fanning. After all, he is the voice behindthe biggest Australianbandof the last 20 years.

Fanning live is an entirely different beast to Powderfinger. Less grunt and more tenderness. More country-infused balladry and less rock theatrics.

Perhaps it’s his 47 years, perhaps its fatherhood, but Fanning appearedcomfortable in his own skin on stage. Where he was once slightly awkward while delivering stage banter, at the Civic Theatre he was chatty, relaxed and extremely amusing.

Before even playing a note he began a conversation with “Newie” and it continued throughout the evening. At one point hisrant about the lack of political vision in Australia when introducing the trackBelly Of The Beastmight have becometoo long-winded for some, but the exchange was rescued by Fanning’s wit.

“How does it feel Newcastle knowing youhave the fifth best rugby league player of all time?” he asked cheekily.“There’s Wally Lewis, Johnathan Thurston, Darren Lockyer, Alfie [Allan] Langer and then Andrew Johns.” It attractedthe only boos of the night.

The 19-song set drew heavily from Fanning’s latest and third solo albumCivil Dusk. On the record some songs veer intomiddle-of-the road territory, but live they breathed with life.

The openingUnpicking A Puzzleshowed off the beautiful fragility of Fanning’s voice,Sooner Or Laterbounced along with country charm and lead singleWasting Timehad added punch.

Fanning introduced his backing band the Black Fins as the “greatest” in the world. That suggestion was a stretch, but there was no doubting their quality.

Keyboardist Sally Campbell performed one of the night’s highlights with her blazing violin solo onThrill Is Gone.

The Black Fins also included the Wilson Pickers’Andrew Morris and John Bedgood, and the former took lead vocals onthe cover onthe Steve Miller Band’sJet Airliner.

Fanning’s 2013 albumDepartureswas mostly avoided, bar the folksy title track, with the remainder of the set focused on his wildly-popular 2005 debutTea & Sympathy.

We heardSongbird,Not Finished Just Yet, Fanning solo on piano forWatch Over Meand his biggest hitWish You Well, which had people up and dancing for the only time throughout the show.

Fanning has always been keen to separate with solo work from Powderfinger, and that continued.

Sail The Wildest Stretchwas an interesting choice given it’s one of Powderfinger’slesser-known singles from their last albumGolden Rule, but Fanning did it justice alone on acoustic guitar “like Ifirst presented it to the band.”

Arguably Powderfinger’s most popular song, the ultimate mid-life crisis anthemThese Days, closed the show, before segueing in the Prince classicPurple Rain.

Fanning’s enduring appeal may be based on past glories, but he proved on Friday night he remains one of the greatest performers and voices in Australian music. Bernie’s here to stay.

Melbourne Victory fan group North Terrace withdraw support

Passionate Melbourne Victory fans in December last year. Photo: Quinn Rooney Victory fans have previously walked out during a match in protest of the league’s treatment of fans.
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Fan group North Terrace will stop actively supporting Melbourne Victory, but has not made a clear statement as to what has prompted its latest protest.

Victory will play Melbourne City at AAMI Park on Tuesday night, but as North Terrace organisers posted on their Facebook page, the group will not have a presence in the stands.

The club’s administrators said they were incredibly disappointed by the decision.

A post on the North Terrace Facebook page said that it would stop operating due to the “unworkable circumstances” present at Melbourne Victory matches in Victoria.

“All fans wishing to continue to support within the designated active areas will not be aligned with the North Terrace identity. All materials and leadership will not be present at future matches. OUR WAY.”

It is thought that the Terrace’s grievances were not with Victory, rather with policing and security at and around matches.

It is not the first time North Terrace has attempted to make a statement about the problems it sees with the treatment of A-League fans.

Last last year, about 1000 supporters left Docklands Stadium half an hour into Victory’s match against Adelaide United, a protest against what they saw as the FFA’s overly harsh treatment of supporters banned from matches.

In a statement, Melbourne Victory administrators said the club was not notified of North Terrace’s decision to cease operations, despite both parties having agreed to keep communicating throughout the season.

“The club is incredibly disappointed to be advised that those currently representing the North Terrace are proposing to cease coordinated support at the North End in future matches,” it read.

“The timing is also alarming on the eve of a derby. To be clear, we will not change our stance of zero tolerance on anti-social behaviour. There is no place for it at our club or in our game.

“As a club, we are fully committed to ensuring our active areas will always be vibrant, safe and enjoyable, creating a unique and inclusive atmosphere.”

Fairfax Media has attempted to contact North Terrace.

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Census debacle laid bare: Malcolm Turnbull to decide which heads will roll

Malcolm Turnbull has the report on the collapse of the census website. Photo: Andrew Meares ABS chief David Kalisch appears before the economics references committee. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Cyber security adviser Alastair MacGibbon: “They were indeed small attacks.” Photo: Andrew Meares

The Prime Minister’s special adviser on cyber security has told the Senate the denial of service attacks on the census website were small and predictable and should not have brought it down on census night.

Malcolm Turnbull now has the report Alastair MacGibbon conducted on behalf of the Prime Minister to determine “which heads will roll and when” as a result of the debacle.

“They were indeed small attacks,” Mr MacGibbon told a Senate committee on Tuesday. “The attacks were around three gigabits per second. To have some comparison, it’s not uncommon now to see attacks of 100 gigabits per second, and some of the attacks against some of the internet infrastructure such as domain name servers are up to 1000 gigabits per second.

“There was a massive difference between the size of the attacks on the Bureau of Statistics’ census website and the ones that are encountered routinely by corporations and governments.”

While the bureau had contracted IBM to defend its sites against attacks, its behaviour after awarding the contract was similar to that of a homeowner who employed a builder but then rarely went on site to check how work was progressing, he said.

The bureau’s back-up plan to protect the site if denial of service attacks couldn’t be overcome was logically flawed.

Labelled “Island Australia”, it was to ask IBM to block traffic from overseas. But the password reset facility IBM used was hosted offshore and relied on traffic coming in from overseas to give Australians that password, suggesting it hadn’t been properly thought through.

Larger failures were that IBM was unable to implement Island Australia in any event and that ABS staff misread a report they thought suggested census data could have been leaving the system as a result of hacking and decided to shut the system down.

IBM was for many hours unable to restart it because it had incorrectly coded a router connecting to Telstra, so that when it was turned off the coding “fell out”, turning it into a “dumb unit” that had to be recoded.

Had the router been turned off and then turned on again as a test, the error would have been discovered.

“Had the router been properly configured, and had the router when it had been turned off fired back up again, then we wouldn’t have a problem,” Mr MacGibbon said. “But the most significant problem was really the misinterpretation of the traffic on the load monitoring system. We wouldn’t have had the problem if the people monitoring the system had properly monitored the system, which was functioning oddly.”

Millions of Australians were unable to complete the census on census night as a result of the shutdown and were locked out of the site for two days.

Mr MacGibbon delivered his report to Mr Turnbull on October 14.

IBM Australia managing director Kerry Purcell told the hearing no IBM staff had been dismissed as a result of the failure of the census website and none had been disciplined.

IBM had offered to pay the extra costs the ABS incurred as a result of the outage, estimated by the ABS to be $30 million. It is in “commercial negotiations” with Secretary of the Treasury John Fraser.

Mr MacGibbon also criticised the closeness of the bureau to IBM, saying there was a degree of “vendor lock-in”, where the ABS saw IBM as a natural partner because it had worked with it in the past.

A representative of Capability Driven Acquisition, the company that advised the ABS on hiring IBM, said several other potential bidders had told it there was little point in competing against IBM because it would win the contract.

The bureau’s chief, David Kalisch, told the committee he would have considered an open tender had “IBM not been able to satisfy the ABS that it could deliver”.

One of many “learnings” the bureau had taken from the experience was that it might be worthwhile running the next census in-house and that the slogan “Get Online on August 9” may have contributed to the problem.

Mr Kalisch defended the bureau’s decision to retain the names submitted with this year’s census and revealed that in the past no one who declined to submit their name had ever been prosecuted.

A former head of the bureau, Bill McLennan, told the the hearing that in his time the bureau had received legal advice telling it that it lacked the power to compel people to provide names.

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