Key conservatives vow to amend bill to protect objectors

At least two conservative Senators say they will try to amend Dean Smith’s bill to allow conscientious objections to gay marriage if the results of the nationwide postal survey return a ‘yes’ result on Wednesday, despite Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saying the idea would never get through parliament.

Government sources confirmed it was unlikely a rival bill put forward by Senator James Paterson would see the light of day in parliament, given Senator Smith had struck a deal with Labor, the Greens and enough crossbenchers to have his bill to legalise same-sex marriage, which enjoys cross-party support, debated all day on Thursday.

The Bureau of Statistics will announce at 10am the result of the postal survey, in which nearly 80 per cent of the population, or 12.6 million ns, took part.

If the result is yes, Western n Senator Dean Smith will introduce his bill on Thursday. It will change the definition of marriage under the Marriage Act from “a man and a woman” to “two people”.

The Smith bill would allow religious celebrants to refuse marrying gay couples and allow religious organisations to refuse gay couples permission to wed in their buildings and function halls.

Senator Paterson’s rival bill, which has the backing of Coalition conservatives, goes much further.

It would allow parents to pull their children out of class if they are being taught about relationships “not consistent with a relevant marriage belief”.

It also seeks to protect charities who campaign for traditional marriage and would extend the right to refuse service to gay couples not just to religious organisations and clergy but to all religious believers on the grounds of “conscientious objection” and the right to religious expression. This means florists, photographers and bakers would all be allowed to refuse services to gay couples and not face anti-discrimination action.

Conservatives argue that, because it is not discriminatory to support marriage as existing between a man and a woman, it should not be discrimination to express that view.

The bill, published on Sunday night, was swiftly condemned by same sex marriage advocates, the Law Council and was shot down by Malcolm Turnbull on Monday who said the government “would not countenance making legal, discrimination that is illegal, that is unlawful today”.

“I think it would have virtually no prospect of getting through the Parliament,” the prime minister said.

Senator Paterson’s bill was the result of the Senate Select Committee on an exposure draft marriage bill on which he sat. Its report recommended that “the right to religious freedom should be positively protected”.

The committee was chaired by the South n Liberal Senator David Fawcett, who told Fairfax Media it was the better piece of legislation compared to the Smith bill.

“In the event of a yes vote I’d prefer the Paterson bill, which more completely reflects evidence presented to the Senate Select Committee,” he said.

“I’m disappointed that people are focussing on the three per cent of Senator Paterson’s bill that deals with bakers and are ignoring the 97 per cent which focuses on protecting parents rights, charities and protecting the freedoms of belief, speech and association.”

“These are the critical areas we need to protect,” he said.

“If the Smith bill ends up being the one debated, I will be supporting amendments, whether they’re mine or put forward by someone else, because religious freedoms belong to all ns, not just clergy” he said.

Senator Fawcett was joined by the Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, who told Fairfax Media he would definitely move amendments to Senator Smith’s bill if the result is ‘yes’.

“While I’m still hopeful of a ‘no’ vote, if the ‘yes’ vote is successful it will be important to protect freedom of speech, parental rights, freedom of religion and freedom of conscientious objection,” he said.

“If Senator Patterson’s bill is not allowed to be debated then amendments should be moved to the legislation to ensure the same protections espoused in Senator Paterson’s bill.

“Senator Paterson’s bill goes a long, long way to addressing and alleviating a lot of those concerns and in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, I think his is a blueprint to try and bring as much of the community together in circumstances where this is a difficult issue.”

Western n Senator Linda Reynolds is one of the government senators who signed Senator Smith’s motion for his bill to be introduced on Thursday. She said she reserved her right to vote for further religious protections.

“I support Senator Smith’s Bill, but I also reserve my position to support amendments that seek to further increase religious protections,” she said.

Any amendments to provide greater protections for religious people will only likely be moved in the Senate because there same-sex marriage supporters would have the majority in the lower house following the disqualification of Barnaby Joyce, who did not support change.

But government sources said it was likely the issue would end up being debated in the Coalition party room when parliament is scheduled to sit for its final fortnight of the year from November 27.

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Liverpool Council chambers fire sparked by a fine

FIRE destroyed the Liverpool City Council chambers in Sydney s southwest, police investigators suspect an arson attack may have been the cause.Photography Brendan Espositosmh,news,180810 SPECIAL 00133000 Liverpool Fire 100815 August 15 2010 SMH News Sydney Police and Fire Investigators access the damage of the Liverpool City Council Chambers which were substantially damaged due to a fire last night that is being treated with suspicion. Photograph By James Alcock. SPECIAL 00003638

Police have made a breakthrough in the investigation into a fire that caused $27 million in damage to the Liverpool Council chambers seven years ago, revealing it may have been triggered by someone angry about a parking fine worth just a few hundred dollars.

The Hoxton Park Road building was destroyed just after midnight on August 15, 2010, with detectives believing more than one person broke into the building and set it alight using accelerant.

Historic items were lost, including mayoral robes and a picture of former Labor party leader Mark Latham as mayor, and more than 3000 files were damaged including 600 hard copy files that had not been backed up and were completely lost.

Conspiracy theories swirled about who might have been responsible and that it may have been deliberately lit because of contentious local issues.

An inquiry failed to discover any suspects in the arson attack.

However, police revealed on Wednesday that they had “resurrected” the investigation following new information about a possible motive.

“Detectives have been told the fire may have been lit following a dispute over a council-issued fine,” property crime squad commander, Detective Superintendent Murray Chapman, said.

“We are continuing to analyse relevant records and data from around that time, but investigators believe there are people who have knowledge of the dispute but might not realise the connection to the fire.

“Given the extensive damage caused by the fire, we also believe there was more than one person inside the chambers that night, and likely there are others who know more than they’ve told police.”

Strike Force Gideon was established by detectives from the Property Crime Squad’s Arson Unit to reinvestigate the blaze following the fresh information.

Detective Superintendent Chapman said part of that investigation was to analyse council-issued fines in the time leading up to the fire.

And he believed there were people who were aware of who started the blaze.

“The destruction of this public facility was an act of stupidity and the public and local community should be outraged,” Detective Superintendent Chapman told reporters.

“The persons responsible should not be protected from the act and the damage that they have caused to this public facility.”

He later added: “I think there [are] people out there [who] know the offenders and not only do they know the offenders but they know that they are responsible for lighting this fire and they know the reason why they did it.

“And [they are] the people we want to come forward.

“Don’t protect these people, it is an absolute overreaction if this is the real reason for why this fire was caused. It is an absolute outrageous act of stupidity and these people should be punished.”

He has urged people with information to come forward before police come knocking on their door. No one has been arrested.

The breakthrough suggests that something seemingly far more minor was behind the catastrophic fire. At the time, politicians speculated that any one of several contentious local issues could be the catalyst.

The council was in the midst of a heated fight against a residents’ action group in the Land and Environment Court over a decision to approve plans for an Islamic school at Hoxton Park.

The council had also organised a public rally to protest against the federal government’s proposal for an intermodal freight hub in Moorebank, which threatened to add hundreds of trucks to the area’s congested roads.

There was bitter internal fighting between Labor and non-Labor councillors and the general manager had resigned following a dispute with three councillors over long service leave entitlements.

Legislating for good design a ‘no-brainer’: NSW government architect

In a rare intervention into the political sphere, the NSW government architect has called on Parliament to approve legislative changes which will elevate good design to the forefront of the state’s planning system for the first time.

NSW government architect Peter Poulet said the move to insert good design as a key objective of the state’s core piece of planning legislation was a “clear culture change for NSW” and a “no-brainer”.

“It sends the right message to the community that we value what their environment is like, ” Mr Poulet said. “It’s common sense. Good design serves everyone.”

The good design objectives are among a suite of proposed changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment (EPA) Act, which will be debated by the Legislative Council on Tuesday as part of late-night sitting before heading to the lower house for approval.

Mr Poulet said his office had worked closely with the state government and councils to draft the three new objectives which, in addition to good design, include the promotion of “built and cultural heritage, including Aboriginal cultural heritage” and the “proper construction and maintenance of buildings”.

“It’s the first time [these measures] have been codified in legislation,” he said. “It’s amazing that it has taken this long to be honest.”

The government’s emphasis on design excellence dovetails with its recent restructuring of the Government Architects Office. For 200 years, the agency designed and constructed some of the state’s most iconic public buildings – such as the GPO in Martin Place, Central Station, and the Powerhouse Museum – before its transition into a strategic advisory and advocacy role last year.

Mr Poulet, the 23rd government architect, said the office now acted as “the arbiters of the [design] process” and published NSW’s first statewide design policy earlier this year.

Inserting these objectives into legislation was significant, he said, because “it means every government agency, every local council, needs to strive for good design in the built environment.”

The new objectives are expected to be among the least controversial changes proposed by the amendment bill, which is seeking to restructure the Act into 10 parts.

More contentious is the proposal to give the planning secretary a new “step-in” power to give development approvals, concurrence or advice on behalf of another NSW agency, where the agency has met statutory time frames or where two agencies hold conflicting views.

The proposed reform attracted the attention of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which expressed concern during the public submission process earlier this year that the change would hand the Secretary “significant discretion” over development approvals, leaving the office holder vulnerable to undue influence.

???Introducing the bill into the upper house last month, government leader Don Harwin said the measures were designed to “cut red tape, and provide a faster and more flexible planning system for government and the communities we represent”.

For example, the bill proposes streamlining the application of council planning guidelines, called Development Control Plans, by providing a model template in a bid to simplify the 400 DCPs currently in operation across NSW councils.

The EPA Act is one of the most amended pieces of NSW legislation, and has been altered more than 150 times since it was first passed in 1979.

Sydney set for ‘world’s great museums’, landmark links

The final designs for the Sydney Modern project are a blueprint for turning a flagging Art Gallery of NSW into one of the world’s great museums and connecting Sydney’s icons, the state government will announce on Wednesday.

Arts Minister Don Harwin will unveil the final design for the $344 million Sydney Modern project that will add a new standalone building to a 145-year-old gallery whose visitation has been declining.

“An expanded Art Gallery of NSW will deliver significant benefits to all of NSW by injecting more than $1 billion into the NSW economy over 25 years,” Mr Harwin said. “The [project] also creates an enhanced connection between two of our state’s treasures – the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Royal Botanic Garden.”

The project also includes a new outdoor public art garden linking Woolloomooloo and the CBD.

The expansion will nearly double the gallery’s exhibition space, a spokeswoman said.

The new project largely occupies space that is already under-used or disturbed, such as the land bridge overhanging the Eastern Distributor and disused WWII-era fuel tanks, the state government said.

It has been designed by renowned Japanese architects from SANAA, a firm previously awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, widely regarded as the world’s most prestigious.

The expansion means currently declining visitor numbers will grow from about 1.2 million annual visitors to 2 million, the state government said.

The addition to the gallery will address a lack of space that past presidents said was limiting its ability to host major global exhibitions and had left NSW’s top art gallery much smaller than other states.

In recent years forced the gallery to remove displays of 19th- and 20th-century n art to accommodate blockbuster exhibitions.

But the announcement of the renovation sparked concerns from the Friends of the Botanic Gardens that the project amounted to a “land grab” of green space.

An environmental impact statement to accompany the development application for the design, to go on public exhibition for one month from Wednesday, warns the extension will have a “moderate adverse heritage impact” on the gardens due to tree removal and the “interruption of sensitive views”.

But about 80 per cent of the new 7830-square-metre building will take up space over existing structures, according to the impact statement.

The addition of more than 500 square metres of rooftop gardens, improved landscaping, public art and better pedestrian access would compensate for use of unbuilt land and offset negative heritage impacts, the assessment concludes.

Heritage Minister Gabrielle Upton said features such as rainwater harvesting, minimal car-parking, solar panels and the use of seawater airconditioning would make the gallery the first in the nation to be awarded a five-star rating by the Green Building Council of .

The use of “sensitive design” such as maintaining the gallery’s existing entrance and keeping the new wing’s below the existing building’s facade would also minimise disruption, the state government said.

Construction on the new wing will begin in 2019 and is scheduled to be completed in 2021, for the gallery’s 150th anniversary. The existing building will remain open.

Excess baggage: Keneally candidacy weighed down by past

As another former NSW premier, Bob Carr, learnt when he made the leap into federal politics, you cannot run the largest n state without collecting some political baggage.

If Carr’s baggage was weighty after a decade at the helm in NSW, Kristina Keneally’s is fairly described as truly excess.

Within minutes of the announcement that she will contest the Bennelong byelection, Health Minister Greg Hunt described her as a protege of the jailed, corrupt former Labor minister Eddie Obeid.

Hunt’s shot was unsurprising and he is right: Keneally, like many other Labor MPs at the time, was taken under Obeid’s wing when he and Joe Tripodi were kingmakers in the ALP caucus.

Obeid and Tripodi’s control of the dominant “Terrigals” sub-faction – named after the location of Obeid’s beach house – delivered Keneally the numbers in the caucus ballot that saw her elected party leader and premier, toppling Nathan Rees in December 2009.

So obvious was the method of her elevation, it elicited the famous Rees line before the ballot that whoever succeeded him would be a “puppet” of the pair.

Once premier, she reinstated to cabinet Ian Macdonald, another minister who would, after leaving office, be jailed, having been found to have acted corruptly in office.

Keneally led Labor into battle at the March 2011 state election, losing spectacularly to Barry O’Farrell in a historic defeat.

She was never a chance, given the Labor government’s deep unpopularity after 16 years in power.

And despite the thrashing, she won the admiration of many because, if there’s one thing it proved, it is that Keneally is a capable and determined campaigner with enormous self-belief.

If she is to succeed in Bennelong, she’ll need all of that. Unlike Carr, who was parachuted into the Senate by the ALP, Keneally will face the people.

On Tuesday Malcolm Turnbull set the tone. “Don’t let Kristina Keneally do to Bennelong what she did to NSW,” he said.

Given the length of her stewardship, it was hardly fair, but as she was also a minister for several years the mud can be made to stick.

In his political memoirThe Fog on the Hill, former NSW planning minister Frank Sartor – a leadership rival – offered his take.

“Although almost obscenely ambitious, Keneally is a personable and intelligent woman who can deliver a brief,” he wrote. “But she was very inexperienced and weak on policy and suffered the same problem as Rees – an enhanced view of her own abilities.”

Keneally spent all of her nine years in the NSW Parliament representing the eastern Sydney seat of Heffron, and only moved to Hunters Hill in recent years. Nonetheless, she insists she has strong ties to the area.

Somewhat ironically given her “star candidate” status, Keneally’s challenge will be convincing the electorate to forget the past and accept that she has a newfound burning desire to represent their best interests.