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School dumped, ship hotel mothballed, buses bull: News Bites – 30 Oct 2019

Manly Dam may be poisoned by toxic waste if a school is built on a former dump. Photo: Alec Smart

Bite-sized bulletins by ALEC SMART

School is a Dump
The Dept of Planning are working with NSW Dept Education and Northern Beaches Council to relocate French’s Forest High School on Sydney’s North Shore, in order to build a new town centre on the school site, with shops, bars, a sports oval and 3,000 apartments.
However, the site they have chosen for the school – Warringah Aquatic Centre – was once a dump. The former landfill waste site, used between 1970-78, contains dangerous concentrations of asbestos, heavy metals and other contaminants hazardous to human health.

An environmental assessment, obtained by community groups under Freedom of Information requests, was conducted in 2015 by Environmental Investigation Services during plans for expansion of the aquatic centre. The assessment found that, in addition to the aforementioned contaminants, volatile organic compounds and toxic ground gases were also present that posed a ‘medium to severe risk’ to human health. The pool expansion was cancelled.

Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Jess Abrahams was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald on Oct 27, warning “..we know there’s no educational need for a new school, it’s just an apartment frenzy… We’re talking about 800 students; the risks of building a school on a toxic waste dump are just huge.”
There are serious concerns that digging up the site will disturb the dangerous contaminants present in the soil, causing them to leach out into creeks that feed Manly Dam, a freshwater reservoir popular with swimmers and kayakers.


Floater faces flushing
The Barrier Reef Floating Resort, an enormous high-rise complex marketed as the world’s first floating hotel when it opened in Townsville, Queensland, in 1988, is facing an ignominious end. Now rotting and unloved in a dock in North Korea, on Oct 24 North Korean state media reported that leader Kim Jong-un ordered the removal of all ‘shabby’ facilities in the formerly splendid Mount Kumgang tourist resort, which he visited and likened to a ‘disaster-stricken area’. This includes the 7-storey hotel, which has nearly 200 bedrooms.
The South Korean-funded Mount Kumgang resort, opened in 1998, was once a sign of lessening tensions between viciously divided North and South Korea. However, after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier for wandering unknowingly into a militarised zone in 2008, all tourism was suspended.

The floating hotel was originally constructed in Singapore and towed to the Great Barrier Reef off Townsville, where it enjoyed exotic appeal with its tennis courts, swimming pools, nightclubs, bars, restaurants and helipad. However, it struggled financially and its tenure was cut short when it was sold to a Vietnamese company a year later and towed to the Saigon River in Ho Chi Minh City. There it operated as a successful nightclub under new name Saigon Floating Hotel – nicknamed The Floater – until its popularity waned in 1997 and it again ran into financial difficulties.

In 1998 a South Korean company purchased and renovated it – although they forgot to replace Australian power plugs throughout the vessel – and renamed it Hotel Haegumgang, docking it in the Mount Kumgang tourist region between North and South Korea. Its future is now uncertain and despite it being three times lucky, it’s not thought the 30-year-old Floater will face a fourth reincarnation, and will likely be broken up or perhaps sunk as a reef where fish can check in for the night.


Gladys Bus-ted
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was accused of lying by NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay during an interview on 2GB Radio. In a reaction to the NSW Government announcement to privatise the last remaining state-run buses, Ms McKay drew attention to Ms Berejiklian’s former promise not to sell public assets.
“She made a commitment and a promise, and I would go so far as to say she lied!” Ms McKay told 2GB Radio host Steve Price. “I know that’s a strong word to use, but that’s exactly what she did. She promised no further privatisations .. and now they’re privatising the remaining three region bus services.”
Ms Berejiklian made a promise during a debate at the last elections that her government would not sell off any public assets if she was re-elected, declaring, “if we were we would have told you upfront.”

On October 24 the NSW Government announced plans to privatise bus services in the last three regions serviced by the public-owned State Transit, covering routes in Sydney’s north-western suburbs, lower north shore, northern beaches and eastern suburbs. State Transit has eight bus depots that will be divided up between new contractors.
The contracts for those regions will be put out to competitive tender at the start of 2020, and are expected to be awarded by the end of the year. All 13 bus serviced regions across greater Sydney will then be run by private operators.
Although around 3000 drivers and 220 maintenance staff covered by award agreements will be given opportunities to transfer to the new private operators, the Berejiklian government is giving no guarantee that scores of salaried staff currently in support roles with the State Transit Authority will be transferable.


Raise the rate right up our street
Addison Road Community Organisation (Addi Rd) in Marrickville, which provides discounted food and social services for low income and disadvantaged people, in partnership with the Australian Council of Social Service, created a new street within their former army barracks’ grounds, called Raise The Rate Drive.
On October 22 they unveiled the new street sign to boost awareness of the low rate of the government’s Newstart and Youth Allowance welfare support payments to unemployed people.

In 2015, the federal government overhauled what was known as Job Services Australia to create Jobactive, the government’s main employment services program for those out of work. Since the late 1990s, Australia has paid private companies and non-profit agencies to run the 1,800 job centres around the country in what is now a lucrative industry known as ‘welfare-to-work’.
However, the number of providers was slashed from 79 to 44 and the share of for-profit operators increased to almost 50%. These operators pursue financial incentives to encourage welfare recipients back to work. Some companies have rorted the scheme, such as ORS Group, which was exposed on ABC TV’s Four Corners program for falsifying documents and claiming money from the government even when it wasn’t finding work for jobseekers nor booking them into training courses.

According to data provided to The Guardian newspaper by the Dept of Jobs and Small Business, about 1.9 million people participated in Jobactive between July 2015 and 31 January 2019. In that time only 350,000 – 18% – were recorded gaining employment and getting off income support for longer than 26 weeks.
Many welfare recipients have been in the system for years, and yet Newstart and Youth Allowance doesn’t keep pace with inflation, increases in rents and spiralling living costs.

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