London Olympics going for green


The Lea is London’s second largest river, though people living nearby would not have known that until recently because it was buried under millions of tonnes of rubbish. Now, it has been dug out and revived; fish are back in its water and ducks paddle on its surface.LONDON: The Lea is London’s second largest river, though people living nearby would not have known that until recently because it was buried under millions of tonnes of rubbish. Now, it has been dug out and revived; fish are back in its water and ducks paddle on its surface.

For this, Londoners can thank the 2012 Olympics – and the promise that they will be the greenest Games the world has ever seen.

London won the Games partly because it said it would reduce, re-use and recycle in ways that would minimise the Olympics’ effect on the planet.

It started with the greening of the site that was to be the home of the Olympic Park. An abandoned industrial estate in the East End suburb of Stratford, it was a scar on the face of the city, full of rubble from the Blitz, abandoned cars, tins of paint and industrial solvents. The mounds of garbage were as high as 15 metres above sea level, burying the original landscape.

The head of design and regeneration for London’s Olympic Delivery Authority, Jerome Frost, says: “for many years, the river Lea was lost. Many people who lived here couldn’t tell you where it was because the land around it was so built up with waste.” The river runs north-south and flows down into the Thames, which flows east-west.

The work began with the demolition of 200 buildings and the removal of 1.3 million tonnes of waste. In most large building projects, the result would have been a million tonnes of garbage dumped somewhere else. Not this time.

Ninety-five per cent of the demolished material was re-used in new buildings. Two “soil-hospitals” on site used high-pressure steam to clean and recycle 80 per cent of 1.4 million tonnes of contaminated earth. Buying and cleaning up the site cost £1 billion ($1.5 billion).

The land around the new Olympic buildings – including a stadium, velodrome and aquatic centre – has been transformed into a park. So that it would be ecologically stable, it was repopulated with native animals: 4000 newts, 300 lizards and 100 toads were released.

Gardeners took clippings from native trees and grew them offsite. They reseeded the landscape with grass and wildflowers.

The architects and engineers designing the buildings had the same brief to focus on sustainability. “The idea was excellence without extravagance,” says Chris Jopson, of the architectural design firm Populous.

The stadium uses only one-third the amount of steel that went into Beijing’s bird’s-nest. That came at a price: the stadium was cut down partly by removing facilities including toilets from the main building and siting them on a concourse outside – a strategy that risks another kind of pollution problem.

This Games will have many more temporary structures than there have been in earlier ones. Two-thirds of bridges in the park will be removed when the Games are over, for example, because they will no longer be required to carry up to 500,000 people in a day.

For the temporary buildings, “73 per cent of materials disappeared when we applied rational strategies”, says Julian Sutherland, director for sustainable development at Atkins, the design firm overseeing the temporary structures.

Much of the woodwork will not be painted, saving time and chemicals and allowing the wood to be recycled afterwards. Venues were designed for natural cooling so only 14 per cent will be air-conditioned. Much of the seating will be rented. The stadium and the aquatic centre will be cut down by thousands of seats after the Games to make them a comfortable size for community use.

The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games has estimated the carbon footprint at 400,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, using a new tool that estimates the embodied carbon for materials looking at where they came from, how they would be transported and whether they could be re-used.

“We wanted to re-set the benchmark for [green] performance for the construction industry for any future massive urban redevelopment projects,” Mr Sutherland says.

There has been a side benefit: the budget for the whole Olympics was £8.2 billion ($12.6 billion) and it might now be done for as little as £7 billion, depending on the final cost of security measures. The green Games are also the frugal Games.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Media inquiry told of one paper’s ‘obsession’ with Madeleine


THE editor of Britain’s Daily Express newspaper had been obsessed with the abduction of four-year-old Madeleine McCann in 2007 and had routinely run her story on the front page to try to boost sales, the Leveson inquiry into the media has heard.
Three Express reporters who had filed on the story from Portugal told the hearing on Wednesday that they knew their stories relied on hearsay and would be difficult to “stand up” but left it to editors to assess whether to run them.
Some of the stories had claimed, wrongly, that Madeleine’s parents had been involved in her death and the disappearance of her body, and also suggested that the “Tapas Seven” — the people with whom the parents were dining when the child disappeared — could have had a hand in it.
In 2008, Express Newspapers paid out £500,000 for libel to the McCanns and another sum to their dining companions and ran front-page apologies withdrawing the claims.
Nick Fagge, who filed on the case for the paper, said reporters were stymied because Portuguese police would not verify anything, forcing them to rely on less credible sources such as “somebody who had talked to somebody else”.
He said the editor at the time, Peter Hill, “decided it was the only story he was interested in and put it on the front page almost despite how strong the story was. Madeleine’s story was on the front page of the Daily Express more than any other newspaper because he decided it would sell newspapers. It became an obsession of his.”
From August to November 2007, at least part of 100 Express front pages covered the story.
David Pilditch wrote a story claiming that Madeleine’s mother’s “tormented priest insisted he would stand by his vow to take the secrets of the confession to the grave”. This was based only on Mr Pilditch having heard that police had interviewed the priest and learned nothing. Madeleine’s mother, Kate McCann, had not even made her confession to him. Mr Pilditch said the story was accurate because “that is how confession works”.
Meanwhile, the former wife of Sir Paul McCartney announced on her website that she had never disclosed private voicemail messages from her former husband to former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan.
“I can categorically state that I have never, ever played Piers Morgan a tape of any kind, never mind a voice message from my ex-husband . . . As stated in a press release by my ex-husband, he has never insinuated that I have leaked tapes of him to the media.”
In other developments, a former editor of News of the World, Andy Coulson, lost a court case in which he had tried to force News Group Newspapers to pay his potential legal costs over the phone-hacking affair. The High Court ruled that his contract with his former employer does not oblige the company to pay his legal bills over any allegations of criminal activity. However, private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who carried out much of the hacking, won his bid to have News Group pay his legal fees in hacking-related civil cases.
The Leveson inquiry will resume on January 9.First published in The Age.

Hopes for an East End on the mend

FUTURE LONDON – Life has imitated art. The postcode for the new area is E20, the same one scriptwriters created for the TV soap EastEnders.’

ON A sunny Saturday afternoon in an east London high street, a voice wafts over the shoppers’ bustle. A pleasant cockney tenor is singing, at the top of his lungs, “It won’t be a stylish marriage, we can’t afford a carriage . . .”
The serenade is coming from a young man on a bicycle. He is dressed in a grey suit with a red carnation in his buttonhole, and his legs are pedalling furiously. In front of him, in a brown box on wheels propelled by his bike, sits his Daisy. She is fully frocked: white bustier wedding dress, bouquet, wisps of baby’s breath in her hair. She holds her hand to her face, blushing and laughing, torn between embarrassment and delight.
The moment is an ode to cockney joy — albeit in gentrifying Islington, where the middle-class has encroached upon an old working-class suburb. Even so, the flashing vignette captures what are seen as the traditional strengths of the inhabitants of the East End, London’s struggle-town: resilience, inventiveness and good-humoured cheek in the face of hardship.
That airbrushed view of the East End — the good hearts and grittiness of the battlers in the 1967 film To Sir with Love, or the strong group loyalties in the long-running soap EastEnders — represents the subculture of a predominantly white cockney enclave existing now only in pockets. Today the people of the East End are among Britain’s most diverse, with 70 per cent of its residents coming from non-English backgrounds. Traces of the cockney sing-song are mostly merged with lilting Caribbean rhythms or clipped Bengali vowels — or, more recently, the accents of migrants from the Horn of Africa. But while different groups have come and gone, over hundreds of years one thing about the East End has never changed: it has always been a sinkhole of poverty.
Many times philanthropists and governments have tried to tackle its disadvantage but it has proved stubbornly hard to “fix”, lagging behind even when the rest of the city was booming. Around Britain, at least 21 per cent of children live in poverty. “The highest classification of over 40 per cent exists in a swath across the East End,” says Donald Hirsch, head of income studies at the centre for research in social policy at Loughborough University. “It’s not just a pocket. It’s whole boroughs [municipalities] with four out of 10 children in families where there are either no jobs or very low incomes. It’s the biggest concentration of poverty in the country, which is interesting because it’s in such a rich city.”
In some East End suburbs, the rate is more than 70 per cent. Children in the East End have a smaller chance of reaching university. Health is poorer, and death, on average, comes sooner than for other Londoners. The physical fabric is run down. Buildings are scarred by traffic fumes and marred by peeling woodwork; open doorways often reveal tired paint and shabby carpet. Grim council towers rear, the legacy of slum clearance and the need to rebuild after the Blitz. There is little open space for play; one of the few small parks is dedicated to Altab Ali, who was murdered there in 1978 in a racially motivated attack.
As Britain’s economy has flattened and tens of thousands of jobs have disappeared, many in the East End believe the fight has been lost before they have even entered the ring. “Youth employment opportunities have absolutely shrivelled over the last few years,” says Professor Anne Power of the London School of Economics, who conducted a 10-year study of East End families. “Young people see the people around them losing jobs, they hear the job market is competitive and if they’re not doing well at school, they lose hope.”
Now East Enders are being offered a sliver of light. London won the bid for the 2012 Olympics based on three promises: that this would be the greenest Olympics; that the Games would spearhead efforts to encourage Britons to exercise more; and that Olympic construction would focus on urban regeneration.
The result has been an accelerated transformation of the most dismal and polluted East End suburb, Stratford. The site chosen for the Olympic Park was home to great mounds of rubble from the Blitz, contaminated soil and dumped garbage. Stratford had few transport links and was almost isolated from the rest of London, says Dan Hawthorn, head of the London 2012 team for the Greater London Authority. “It was virtually cut off from the rest of the city.” Now it is getting new train lines, an Olympic Park and athlete’s village, and the largest shopping mall in western Europe (16 hectares on a 72-hectare development, at a cost of £1.5 billion ($A2.3 billion). Australian company Westfield is behind the gleaming glass-and-granite shopping mall and hotel complex, known as Stratford City, which opened in September.
Life has imitated art. The postcode for the new area is E20, the same one scriptwriters created for TV soap EastEnders.
The Olympic Park is not yet finished, with workmen and jackhammers still vying with the newly established grass and wildflowers, but it will be stunning. Award-winning architecture is set in vast, graceful gardens planted with 4000 trees and criss-crossed by newly revived rivers and streams. “It’s very English,” says Julian Sutherland, director for sustainable development at Atkins, the engineering firm for the Games. “The park here is like other parks in London, a very relaxed, landscape feel. We wanted to create the atmosphere of a summer festival.”
It is as foreign to the concrete and cramming of the old East End as a spaceship from Mars. It is hoped the attractions that will stay when the Games are over — the velodrome, the BMX track, the aquatic centre and the ball games centre — will pull people into the area, along with the twisty red tower of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, built purely as a quirky landmark that tourists will be able to climb. West Ham football team is one of the bidders to be a tenant of the stadium.
An Olympics-legacy company has been set up to oversee the conversion of the park into the core of a new community. The village for 15,000 athletes will be converted to private housing, and the huge media centre for 30,000 Games journalists and broadcasters will become retail and office space. The gardens, and the canals that have been dug out from under tonnes of foul landfill, will offer places to walk, cycle, play, fish and canoe.
“The Games will be just 72 days in a 40-year reconstruction of East London,” Sutherland says.
London has learnt from the refurbishment of the former docks area of Canary Wharf, where office towers and grand apartments did little to benefit the poor already living there. As part of the Stratford development, Westfield agreed to provide social benefits. Construction teams hired local unemployed and offered apprenticeships. In the shopping centre, 2000 out of 10,000 jobs were earmarked for local unemployed, and 35 per cent of 5000 homes built into the master plan must be affordable, says John Burton, director of Westfield Stratford City.
“The value of community benefit is £200 million across the whole of the master plan, not just Westfield,” Burton says. This includes an “academy” based in the shopping centre where people without skills are trained in retail, hospitality, security or other roles that would make them attractive to employers. “We train people who have never been in a job to make them fit for an interview,” Burton says. “It’s about trying to break the vicious cycle. In some families there are three or four generations on welfare.”
It is hoped the developments will bring new work, new homes and new wealth. If the plan succeeds, it could be a model for urban renewal in future Olympic cities. If it doesn’t, Stratford’s arenas will join the white elephants of Olympics past in cities such as Barcelona, where a diving pool is overgrown with shrubs, or Athens, where pigs snuffle through the 20,000-seat weightlifting stadium.
“There’s a history of Olympic villages having a hard time turning into anything else,” says Doug Saunders, a journalist and author of the book Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World, which has a chapter on the East End.
For those East Enders who have won a job after struggling for years on the dole, life has been transformed. Burton says he was staying in one of the development’s hotels where a young woman served him. He learned that she was a 27-year-old single mother and this was the first job she had ever held: “She said the proudest day of her life was when she [went to the dole office] to sign off and say: ‘I no longer need benefits.’ ”
For Hugh Preedy, 53, it has meant his first job in nearly two years. He sent off more than 300 applications in that time and won only eight interviews, despite having had a solid 17 years in the wine trade, and 10 years before that in toys and games. Now he works at Stratford City selling glass and china in the John Lewis department store (Britain’s equivalent of Myer). “I think the whole thing is incredibly positive,” he says. “I have lived all over London, and the East End has suffered from a catastrophic lack of investment for 30 or 40 years. Some people who have been here for a long time [think:] ‘Nobody loves us, they don’t care.’ ”
For every Preedy, there are many more who missed out. John Lewis at Stratford advertised 800 jobs and received 13,000 applications. The store normally has a 15 per cent dropout rate with new recruits; here, the rate has been zero. East Enders are desperate for work.
The mayor of Newham, the borough in which Stratford sits, is delighted by the twin developments of Olympic Park and Westfield but has no illusions about the oceanic need. Sir Robin Wales says there are six boroughs in the East End, and his own has to find jobs for 20,000 people just in order to lift itself to the same jobless rate as the rest of the country. “Eighteen thousand people here have never, ever worked, out of a population of 300,000,” he says. “Give me six Westfields and I will change East London.”
But even those East Enders who don’t win a job from the immediate transformation will be able to enjoy outdoor space in a way that has never before been possible. Professor Power’s study found East End families were worried mostly about money, but that second to that was the lack of activities for their children.
“Because of the shortage of money, [some families’] kids would take it in turn to go to the school football club,” she says. “They are living in a rich city, so everything is very expensive, which means they can’t access a lot of things.”
Parents’ fear of the streets — that their children would be attacked or pressured to join gangs — made them reluctant to let children outside, she says. “But it’s physically impossible to keep teenagers locked in a small flat. That’s why you get gangs in the street. They are just groups of young people with nowhere to go and nothing to do — with an adult population that’s afraid of them.”
So the open spaces of the new park are welcome, says Power, as is the possibility that locals might be trained for jobs maintaining the gardens and facilities.
She is concerned, however, about how the changes have already had “a knock-on effect” in terms of rising East End property prices. She said a small house in Hackney was recently offered for £600,000: “There’s no typical family that would come within miles and miles of that.” Prices were already going up for other reasons, including the demolition of council housing towers: “The councils are displacing large numbers of poor people, so in that sense, too, the East End will be transformed.”
It is the eternal dilemma of urban regeneration: make a rundown area more desirable and suddenly the poor can no longer afford it. But Power reserves her most scathing comments for the shopping mall. “I absolutely hate that kind of development,” she says. “They destroy dozens and dozens of small, ‘get-by’ businesses that everybody used. Each time you get a mega-development like that in a poor area you destroy so much.”
Power can see the big picture because she knows of the studies that lie behind this prognosis. For Preedy and other locals who have clambered aboard the new lifeboat, there is only the glow of the present — and the fear it might not last.
“The greatest local concern is what will be the post-Olympic legacy?” he says. “What will happen when the crowds and the spotlight of the world turn away and go somewhere else?”
But experts say the transport links that have been created to move hundreds of thousands of spectators to and from the Olympic Park will forever change the East End for the better. It now has 10 railway lines including an international one. “Stratford is now one of the best connected places in London, including a [rail] connection to Europe,” says the Greater London Authority’s Dan Hawthorn.
“That will bring benefits for decades to come,” says Paul Johnson, an economic historian who specialised in the East End before becoming vice-chancellor of Melbourne’s La Trobe University. He says the benefits will be localised to Stratford at first but will begin to seep through the other boroughs. The new area “will bring people in, there will be major sporting events, concerts, exhibitions. It will begin to change Londoners’ minds about the East End.”
Hawthorn hopes it will also change the mindset of East Enders themselves. “We want to bring the quality of life up to the London average, so that the East End can imagine itself as having as much chance to succeed as the rest of London.”

First published in The Age.

Melting pot is not to everybody’s taste


‘It’s a disgrace,” says Rose of the employment program at Westfield’s grand new shopping centre in Stratford.
“It was supposed to be jobs for the local people. I want to know who they class as local people. There’s a lot of foreigners here, but they don’t class as local people who have lived here forever.”
Rose, who asked that her real name not be used, was born and grew up in Stratford, a suburb she no longer recognises. She waves an arm at the multiracial crowd walking through the old, modest shopping centre of 99p shops and £5 clothing stalls like the one she runs: “You see what people are walking through here. There’s no one talking English. It’s loads of blacks and eastern Europeans. And all the money they get from the government.
“It’s very depressing when you have lived here all your life. I feel like a stranger in my own country.”
Rose is 62, an Anglo cockney of the kind traditionally associated with the East End. The people she grew up with are now in a minority. Only 34 per cent of people in the borough of Newham, where Stratford lies, are white. Like Rose, many of them are embittered by what they see as their entitlements to work and welfare being shared with newcomers who are seen as not having earned them.
Rose still works in Stratford but moved out a few years ago to live in the home county of Essex, where many East Enders relocated as the world changed around them, and she feels sorry for the ones who stayed behind. “A lot of the youngsters still here, they ain’t got a job, none of ’em,” she says, shaking her head. “They’re often down here helping pack up stalls for a few bob.”
The young people are the descendants of the dock and factory workers left bereft when their workplaces moved or closed. Not only has their work disappeared but so has the close-knit community described in a 1957 book, Family and Kinship in East London. That study found that “everybody knew each other there, everyone was related to each other”, says Professor Anne Power of the London School of Economics.
Power did a 10-year study of today’s East End families for the book Towards a More Equal Society and found locals who felt the heart had been ripped out of their community.
“The white community there used to be the elite of our [working class] workforce and they have not got over the loss of that tradition,” she says.
“Families that stayed in the East End do tell you that their community has gone and that they have lost all purpose and hope. The skills they had are no longer valued and the schools clearly haven’t been able to capture enough of the ones that are left.”
But Anglo cockneys themselves are only one small moment in time in the history of the East End, which has, for hundreds of years, been a magnet for migrants. It has taken in country folk from the farms of England and Ireland, French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution and eastern European Jews fleeing 19th-century anti-Semitism and then the Nazis.
The Institute of Social and Economic Research reports that Britain now has more than 2 million people of mixed race, outnumbering those who class themselves as black or as being of Indian origin. Earlier research by the Policy Studies Institute found that by 1997 half of black men and a third of black women in relationships had a white partner, as did a fifth of Asian men and one in 10 Asian women.
While there is unhappiness among some who feel displaced by ethnic change, it is clear that on that most intimate of levels, integration is going very well indeed.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Europe at risk from assaults on democracy

Tackling the euro crisis by reducing people power is a dangerous path.
Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.
— Benjamin Franklin
JUST before the G20 meeting in Cannes in November, Greece’s then prime minister, George Papandreou, abruptly announced a referendum on the economic bailout for Greece. The bailout was linked to austerity measures much hated by the Greeks, whose anger had erupted in months of street protests. Papandreou wanted the bailout but also wanted to settle the unrest by winning a mandate to pursue the bitter medicine.
The idea that the Greek people be allowed to vote on their future in this way appalled the rest of the European Union. Papandreou was summoned to Cannes and carpeted. France and Germany ordered him to ditch the idea. This modern-day representative of the nation that gave the West its first taste of democracy did just that. The lamb was disarmed.
European democracy has had more knocks in the months since then. Greece and Italy have had “technocratic” leaders foisted upon them, approved by MPs as a transitional measure but not elected by voters. In both nations, the new leaders are economists.
Now, in another wrenching away of power from the people, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have won in-principle agreement from governments of 26 EU nations that they will submit their budgets for scrutiny by central authorities and accept fines and other penalties if they break rules aimed at keeping economies stable. There has also been talk of taking the right of veto away from smaller EU countries so that they cannot stymie the plans of the majority, as when a parliamentary vote in Slovakia in October almost derailed the plan to expand the European bailout fund.
Europe is like an unhappy marriage in which the partners no longer get on but cannot bear to break up because the property settlement would cripple them. It is true that there is plenty of reason to be alarmed on the money front. If governments default on their debts, if banks fall like dominoes, depression looms. If the euro collapses, it will mean chaos and hardship for nations, households and businesses.
But the urgency over money has induced tunnel vision and distorted the dynamics of power. Greater unity over spending and taxes might be good for the currency but the long-term price of this “cure” might be social and political unrest. Resentful voters in individual nations may feel disenfranchised if they think their interests are being over-ridden by distant powers.
Already, there is widespread resentment of the size, wealth and power of “banksters” and their role in the crisis. Governments are blamed for not having reined in the excesses of banks and speculators — “wherever there was a reckless borrower, there was a reckless lender”, says one Irish economist — and for allowing them to have grown too big to fail.
A study published in New Scientist in October suggests there is some justification for this view. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich used mathematical models to examine ownership links between more than 43,000 transnational companies. They concluded that just 147 tightly knit companies, mostly financial institutions, control 40 per cent of the world’s revenue.
In Greece and Ireland, taxpayers resent having to suffer austerity so banks can be kept afloat. Greeks fulminate about the Greek “bailout” actually being loans to pay the interest on crippling debts to German banks. In Ireland taxpayers are angry that the government, partly because of pressure from the EU to avoid another “Lehman moment”, guaranteed failing Irish banks in order to help protect Europe’s banks. This doubled the size of Ireland’s national debt.
Now comes the dirty linen, never aired in politicians’ public utterances about European unity. What is good for the economic powerhouses of France and Germany is sometimes bad for smaller, poorer countries such as Greece and Ireland.
Greece needs a bigger write-down on its debt, which is unsustainable and is expected to rise to an eye-popping 186 per cent of GDP next year. But Germany is determined that bond holders should not suffer any further, because this would be bad for the euro — and Germany’s own banks.
Tiny, recession-struck Ireland, with its 4 million people, has been trying to ring-fence its low corporate tax rate of 12.5 per cent because it has attracted big companies such as Google and Facebook to set up shop there. But Sarkozy last week signalled that “tax harmonisation” across the zone was on the agenda, sending tremors through Irish officials.
If the EU is a family, it is becoming clear Merkel and Sarkozy are Mama and Papa, and the children are expected to fall obediently into line, even when it might hurt to do so.
But part of the reason for the crisis is that one size does not fit all. The European Central Bank kept interest rates low right across the euro zone because of fears of inflation for Germany and France. This gave the peripheral countries the cheap credit that has since ballooned into disastrous debt.
Whatever happens with the currency, Europeans seem headed for a long, dark tunnel of economic hardship. People who lose jobs and see their benefits slashed are more likely to feel aggrieved and voiceless. Reducing democratic accountability when times are tough is a high-risk game.

First published in The Age.

James Murdoch opts for a plea of ignorance on News hacking


GIVEN the choice of portraying himself as either ignorant or complicit, James Murdoch again took the lesser of two evils this week. He hadn’t properly read a crucial email about phone-hacking that was sent to him in 2008, he wrote to British MPs.
He read the top of the email but not the chain of exchanges below it, which talked of allegations that hacking was “rife” at the News of the World and of a “nightmare scenario” having developed. This was because he received the email at the weekend on his BlackBerry, he explained.
What’s more, according to his letter to the House of Commons select committee on media, in a meeting about the email three days later he again failed to grasp what the two senior executives claim they told him: that phone hacking at the News of the World was not limited to a single “rogue reporter”, and that Mr Murdoch needed to sign off on a huge compensation payout to a hacking victim who had evidence of this.
It seems Mr Murdoch, executive chairman of News International, was one of the last to know of widespread use of “the dark arts” in the newsroom that was then a central — and most profitable — part of his British fiefdom.
Light was shone on more of those dark arts this week as inquiries in different arenas, including two civil suits, a House of Lords committee and the Leveson inquiry on press standards, continued to dig into the former tabloid’s dung heap.
A front-page “kiss and tell” scoop was worth £20,000 ($A31,000) to the source, but this had risen to six figures for news of an alleged extramarital affair between soccer player David Beckham and his personal assistant — something that was deservedly exposed because he had traded on being a wholesome family man, former chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck told Lord Justice Leveson.
Mr Thurlbeck wrote to women involved in a sado-masochistic orgy with former formula one boss Max Mosley and threatened to name them if they did not give him firsthand accounts of the event (“pretty close” to blackmail, admitted the former legal manager for News International, Tom Crone, under questioning).
The inquiry also heard a private detective was ordered to camouflage himself as a journalist to disguise his association with the paper. This was because it did not want to be seen to be using investigators after the jailing in 2007 of a private detective and the paper’s royal reporter for hacking the royal family.
Private eye Derek Webb told the inquiry Mr Thurlbeck in 2009 asked him to give up his investigator’s licence, change his firm’s name from Shadow Watch to Derek Webb Media, and even join the National Union of Journalists, which he did by filling out a form. His duties in this new guise? “Surveillance,” he said.
But one important charge against the News of the World was undermined this week. In its expose of the scandal earlier this year, the Guardian newspaper had claimed reporters had deleted voicemail messages on the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, giving her family false hope that she was still alive. The allegation helped fuel a wave of public revulsion that led to the paper’s closure.
It has now been revealed that false hope came before the paper asked a private investigator to target Milly’s phone, with police suggesting the messages might have been deleted automatically.
The editor of The Sun, Richard Caseby, this week told the Lords communications committee the claim had been the “twist of the knife” that “turned what was natural condemnation into a wave of such public revulsion that the News of the World could not really function as a going concern any more and it had to be shut down”. The false allegation cost 200 journalists their jobs, he said.
At the time, however, News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks told staff the paper was closing because of problems that had not yet been revealed: “Worse revelations are yet to come, and you will understand in a year why we closed the News of the World.”
As in previous weeks, there were those who stood by the now-defunct masthead and others who looked back with at least some regret. Mr Thurlbeck told the inquiry he was proud of the paper’s “extremely fastidious journalists”.
But former editor Colin Myler, who was brought to the paper after previous editor Andy Coulson resigned following the hacking convictions, did express some remorse.
He said he felt “very bad” for publishing the private diaries of grieving mother Kate McCann following the disappearance of her daughter Madeleine in Portugal. Her diaries had been retained by Portuguese police and were leaked to the paper. Mr Myler said he had been told the McCanns had given permission for the story.
Mr Myler told the inquiry that when he took over the paper he feared there were “bombs under the newsroom floor, and I didn’t know where they were and I didn’t know He said the “For Neville” email, which was evidence that hacking involved more than one reporter, was one of those bombs.
Mr Myler and Mr Crone this week repeated that they had fully informed Mr Murdoch of the real situation at that meeting in 2008.
Mr Crone told the inquiry he showed Mr Murdoch the “For Neville” email: “What was relayed to Mr Murdoch was that this document clearly was direct and hard evidence.”
For James Murdoch, it is looking lonely at the top.First published in The Age.

Assange wins leave to appeal to Supreme Court


Wikileaks founder Julian Assange last night won leave to appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court in his battle to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual allegations.Wikileaks founder Julian Assange last night won leave to appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court in his battle to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual allegations.Seven justices  will listen to his case in a two-day hearing starting on 1 February. A panel of three Supreme Court Justices last night  said that seven  would sit because the legal issue he had raised in his appeal was of great public importance.

Assange’s lawyer had argued in a hearing before the High Court on 5 December that the European Arrest Warrant issued against him by Sweden was not valid because it had been issued by a prosecutor, and a prosecutor was not “a judicial authority”, as was required under European law.

Assange, 40, has spent almost a year on bail fighting extradition  over claims of rape and molestation by two Swedish women, relating to a visit to that country in August 2010. Sweden wants him to face questioning but has not issued any charges against him.

Assange denies the claims and says the sex was consensual. He has claimed the sex crimes investigation is politically motivated by opponents of his Wikileaks website. The allegations surfaced shortly after WikiLeaks released secret US files from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His lawyer Ben Summers, an expert in extradition and international law,  argued at the earlier hearing that  “the question of whether the prosecutor can be a judicial authority is debatable.”

He added that “A disproportionately high number of European arrest warrants found by this court to be unjust, oppressive, or abusive emanate from the prosecutors.”

Mr Summers said Assange could have been questioned at any time by the Swedish prosecutors: “It’s not right that a final decision to prosecute can only be taken after Mr Assange has surrendered.”

Mr Summers said it would be beneficial to the operation of the extradition scheme if there was a decisive judgment on the question by the Supreme Court.

If Assange loses this appeal, he might be extradited to Stockholm within 10 days. Alternatively, he might give notice that he wants to appeal  to the  European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and if he won that right could apply to stay in Britain until that case was heard.

Assange’s legal advisers are believed to be fighting the extradition partly because of fears that if he goes to Sweden, he could from there be extradited to the United States, where prosecutors are considering criminal charges against him and where he might become involved in the case of Bradley Manning, a US army analyst suspected of disclosing secret intelligence to Wikileaks.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Assange request for appeal granted


WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last night won leave to appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court in his battle to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual impropriety.

Seven justices will hear his case over two days from February 1. A panel of three Supreme Court Justices last night said that seven would sit because the legal issue he had raised in his appeal was of great public importance.

Mr Assange’s lawyer had argued in a hearing before the High Court on December 5 that the European Arrest Warrant issued against him by Sweden was not valid because it had been issued by a prosecutor, and a prosecutor was not “a judicial authority”, as required under European law.

Mr Assange, 40, has spent almost a year on bail, fighting extradition over claims of rape and molestation by two Swedish women, relating to a visit to that country in August 2010. Sweden wants him to face questioning but has not issued any charges against him.

Mr Assange denies the claims and says the sex was consensual. He has claimed the sex crimes investigation is politically motivated by opponents of the WikiLeaks website. The allegations surfaced shortly after WikiLeaks released secret US files from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His lawyer Ben Summers, an expert in extradition and international law, argued at the earlier hearing that “the question of whether the prosecutor can be a judicial authority is debatable”.

He added that “a disproportionately high number of European arrest warrants found by this court to be unjust, oppressive, or abusive emanate from the prosecutors.”

Mr Summers said Mr Assange could have been questioned at any time by the Swedish prosecutors: “It’s not right that a final decision to prosecute can only be taken after Mr Assange has surrendered.”

Mr Summers said it would be beneficial if there was a decisive judgment on the question by the Supreme Court.

If Mr Assange loses this appeal, he might be extradited to Stockholm within 10 days. Alternatively, he might give notice that he wants to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. If he won that right, he could apply to stay in Britain until that case was heard.

Mr Assange’s legal advisers are believed to be fighting the extradition partly because of fears that if he goes to Sweden, he could then be extradited to the United States, where prosecutors are considering criminal charges against him and where he might become involved in the case of Bradley Manning, a US army analyst suspected of disclosing secret intelligence to WikiLeaks.

First published on

Another generation of Irish forced to leave their homeland

Ireland was the Celtic Tiger of the ’90s but has been reduced to a mewing kitten. Like so often in the past for so many, the answer is emigration. Karen Kissane reports.


EVERY culture has its own spectre of hardship, says economist Alan Barrett. For Germans, it is the hyper-inflation of the Weimar Republic and its destruction of families’ hard-earned savings. For the English, it is the rationing during and after World War II, which left some in that generation still prone to hoarding every time headlines cause alarm. For the Irish, it is landlessness.
Their folk memory turns on the stories of the potato famine of the 1840s, when starving people were evicted from their homes by English landlords and died by the roadsides with grass stains around their mouths.
Even today, says Professor Barrett, of Trinity College, Dublin, “in the social collective consciousness, losing your property and eviction are the worst things that can possibly happen.”
This has led to a national preoccupation with property ownership, agrees Professor Piaras Mac Einri of Cork University, “We have an obsession with land. Owning your own land is the biggest thing you can do.”
Which partly explains what has happened with traditionally frugal, hard-working Ireland. In the 15 years to 2008 the country boomed, proclaimed as “the Celtic Tiger”. On a surge of prosperity and optimism, and turbo-charged by low interest rates, Ireland spent billions building roads, luxury hotels, golf courses, and a gleaming, futuristic, €600 million (A$783 million) international airport, T2. The Irish also borrowed heavily to buy into a feverish local property market.
Barrett, who is on secondment from Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute, says: “If you asked anybody what was the big benefit of the Celtic Tiger, I think a lot of people would have answered that for the first time ever, if you were born in Ireland you could assume that you could live and work in Ireland for the rest of your life.”
But the Celtic Tiger is now a mewing kitten. Last month marked the first anniversary of Ireland’s humiliating bailout by the troika of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund, without which it would be bankrupt. Ireland has also just suffered its fourth consecutive austerity budget, this time one that provides an “adjustment” of
€3.8 billion through increased taxes and slashed spending. It follows cuts of €4 billion last year.
The Irish are talking about unemployment tripling to 14.5 per cent with 450,000 now jobless, about the way houses have lost half their value and about the big cuts to salaries and social services that make life harder. But there is another painful Irish spectre that is not getting as much airplay — forced emigration.
Emma and Eoin Monaghan are typical of those hardest hit by the crash. They have regretfully decided that they must leave the country if they and their children are to have a future. He is 35 and works as a thermal insulator; she is 29 and works part-time as a make-up artist. They have two children, five-year-old Jamie and baby Maleah, nine months, and live in a Celtic Tiger-era housing estate at Donabate, on the edge of Dublin.
They did what they thought was the responsible thing and bought a house before they had children, at a time when prices were rising fast, because they feared they might not get into the market at all if they dithered.
“The day we actually bought, there was a big queue,” Emma says. “They said if you didn’t bring your deposit within 24 hours you would lose your place. We were so frightened that we wouldn’t even get on the property ladder.”
They were conservative, for the time; they took a mortgage of 100 per cent, when all around them people were borrowing even more than that to add on a car, or a renovation. Between 1998 and 2008, Irish banks borrowed €300 billion to fund loans for property speculation, which amounted to 2½ times the country’s gross domestic product.
In 2008, the Irish government offered to guarantee six banks, thinking they had a temporary liquidity problem. But the banks were close to insolvent, and the guarantee has cost the Irish people many billions more than expected.
Now that the property bubble has burst, with busted banks close to being nationalised and the nation crippled by a ruinous €144 billion debt, Emma and Eoin are left with a house that is valued at €150,000 less than they paid for it. About 100,000 Irish families are in trouble with their mortgages, and most of them are in negative equity too, which means they can’t sell and start again. One senior economist estimates that 25,000 families could lose their homes by 2013.
Construction employed 286,000 people at the height of the boom but that has shrunk to only 100,000 now. “I have never been out of work but now it’s looking likely,” Eoin says. “I was with this firm for nine years and it went bang.” He has contract work that will see him through to Christmas but after that, nothing.
The Monaghans know at least five families in their social circle who are emigrating; three are already gone. “People are panicking now; they are just jumping ship,” says Eoin. Emma adds: “We both have work at the moment, but we are saying we should go before it gets too bad.” Their preferred destination is Australia, which Eoin loved when he worked in Sydney several years ago.
It would be difficult to leave their families, Emma says, “But we have got to think of the kids and their future. There really is nothing, no kind of opportunity here.”
About 40,000 Irish nationals have left the country in the 12 months to last April, along with 36,000 people of other nationalities.
“Emigration” is a dirty word in Irish politics. Politicians prefer to paint it as young people spreading their wings. “It’s not really emigration if you want to go and experience Bondi beach,” Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan tells The Age.
It is true that because it is a small country (Ireland has only 4.5 million people), many voluntarily travel to see the world or improve their CVs. Karen McHugh migrated to Germany for several years when only three of her class of 250 engineering graduates found jobs in Ireland. “Irish people . . . know that we don’t have enough of a population to sustain ongoing growth, so people get used to travelling for work,” she says. “It’s part of our psyche.”
McHugh is now back in Dublin and managing director of technical recruiting firm JobContax. She finds engineers and other specialists for overseas projects, including several in Australia.
“I came back because there was work here again,” she says of her return. But now she sees even highly qualified, experienced people scrabbling for a job. When her website was mentioned on the national broadcaster, it received 4000 hits each day of the following weekend.
“People are sick of the government, they feel they are being screwed over taxes — a lot of people have had enough,” she says.
But they also feel anguish about family separation.
“People who have got elderly parents — that’s the biggest wrench.”
Emigration has long been the Irish escape at times of greatest hardship. More than 2 million people fled the country during the Great Famine of the 1840s; half a million in the 1950s; and 200,000 during a downturn in the late 1980s. The Irish diaspora — of emigrants and their descendants — now vastly outnumbers the Irish at home and is estimated at more than 70 million people.
Critics say this history has taught Ireland’s policymakers to rely, like Aesop’s lazy donkey, on a lightening of the load through emigration whenever times get tough. A study of 90 young unemployed people by the Youth Council of Ireland this year found that 70 per cent thought they would emigrate and many believed the government was relying on it.
“It’s a handy way for them to export the problem and to cut the costs [of welfare payments],” says one. Another says: “I am sure it is built into the economic projections for the next five years because there doesn’t seem to be any meaningful policies being developed to help young unemployed people.” Youth unemployment is running at 24 per cent.
Macdara Doyle, a spokesman for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, says: “The jobless figures have not risen to Spanish levels [where youth unemployment is 40 per cent] because people are leaving. We’ve had [whole] classes of newly trained teachers heading to the southern hemisphere, of newly graduated nurses being recruited en masse by [Britain’s] National Health Service. And thousands more are leaving quietly.”
Minister Noonan says three out of five of his children are abroad, “and none of them would regard themselves as emigrants . . . It’s certainly not a matter of policy for the Irish government [to rely on emigration]. It’s a consequence of the recession.”
Professor Mac Einri, director of the Centre for Irish Migration Studies at Cork University, says there is forced emigration and that it is a political safety valve, as well as “a declaration of the failure of the independent state. We haven’t managed to create an economy that works in a way that creates jobs for these people. There’s a huge sense of inchoate, subterranean bitterness here”.
Noonan says many who leave will be back, and Mac Einri confirms that about half of those who left in the 1980s later returned, bringing with them the skills to start Ireland’s own software industry. Google and Twitter have set up large bases in Ireland.
He points to the nation’s other strengths, which compare well with the turmoil of its bailout companion Greece: a young and well-educated workforce, excellent infrastructure, social and political stability and the ability to collect taxes effectively. Indeed Ireland has obediently swallowed the troika’s bitter medicine of austerity and is the poster child for bailout nations.
BUT, while exports of many kinds are doing well — Ireland produces the entire world supply of Botox — the domestic economy is flatlining because consumers are too frightened to spend.
It is a struggle for Ireland to get back on its feet given its huge interest bill. Even the tough-love Noonan, who has overseen the budget cuts, says Ireland needs a “haircut” to reduce its debt. Economists warn privately that the current figures would mean austerity for at least 10 years, strangling domestic growth.
And then there is what one senior official calls “the mood music” of the euro-zone crisis. “We are sitting here doing our best but if the whole eurozone collapses, Ireland is completely screwed,” says Alan Barrett.
A recent report from Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute warned that Europe faced another Great Depression if it did not resolve the crisis, and that Ireland’s forecast pick-up next year had now reversed, with a prediction of another 22,000 unemployed.
Emma and Eoin Monaghan don’t need that warning. They see emigration as the only way they can carve out choices for their family. “We are trying to take control of our future, rather than just existing,” Emma says.
If they can work their way through the bureaucratic tangle, they will soon be farewelled at Ireland’s gleaming new airport by tearful mothers like one featured recently on an Irish TV documentary. She hugged her daughter and her two grandchildren and watched them go through the gates to a new life in Canada.
“I just feel we are exporting our kids,” she said, wiping her eyes. “We are bringing them up, educating them and then giving them away. My grandchildren too — it’s two generations.”
For her and many like her, Ireland has again become, in the bitter words of writer James Joyce, “the old sow that eats her farrow”.

Karen Kissane travelled to Dublin as a guest of the Irish Government.First published in The Age.

From austerity to oblivion, Europe looks for the least worst option


After leaders failed to agree on strict financial rules for all 27 EU member nations, Karen Kissane explores the prospects for unity.
As the debt-ridden, fractious European family gathered in Brussels for what was billed as crunch time to rescue its shared currency, analysts coined a term for the potentially apocalyptic chaos predicted to ensue if the euro fails: “Eurogeddon”.
Moves to tighten fiscal bonds by changing the EU treaty by all 27 nations were abandoned yesterday after the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, failed to win concessions from the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. Talks will now focus on the 17 members of the single European currency – and six non-euro nations – with a deadline for an intergovernmental agreement set for March next year.
Even if Merkel and Sarkozy push through their proposed changes, which include imposing central oversight on national budgets and punishing countries that break strict budget rules, this will only set up structures they hope will prevent such a crisis happening again. It will not fix the urgent problem of a European debt mountain that is weighing heavily on the confidence of financial markets.
To be successful, rescue measures must convince markets debt will be repaid and not merely shifted from one part of the zone to another. There also needs to be a plan to recapitalise Europe’s banks. With so many complex factors in the mix, there are many possible outcomes for Europe.
The proposal from Berlin and Paris was for all 27 members to agree to treaty amendments that establish tough new rules to keep deficits down.
However, this approach has failed to win support across all 27 EU nations and any deal will now rest with the 17 nations in the single currency.
Berlin and Paris wanted all members to adopt a “golden rule” of balanced budgets: automatic sanctions if deficits exceed 3 per cent of gross domestic product and a tax on financial transactions. They also wanted more direct control of national budgets by bodies such as the European Commission, with the ability to force austerity measures on recalcitrant countries.
But changing treaties has become ever more difficult as the EU expanded to 27. The Lisbon Treaty that now governs the EU took eight years to negotiate. Reopening it would have required a convention of all national governments and the European Parliament. Any proposals leading to states ceding power to EU authorities would then have to be ratified by all 27 parliaments as well as the Irish people by referendum.
A split has now emerged between the 17 nations in the euro zone and the 10 that are members of the EU but do not use the common currency. That split is threatening the future of the European political project.
Merkel said the future of the euro was so important that, if agreement could not be reached among the 27, a new pact would be forged between the 17 euro countries. However, there are structural barriers to this idea: under the Lisbon Treaty governments agreed not to make separate agreements among themselves in areas already covered by the treaty, for one. The European Commission and the European Court of Justice cannot enforce sanctions related to non-EU treaties – a problem for the Germans, who want the Court of Justice to be able to fine countries that break budget stability rules.
The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, suggested one way around this would be to change not the treaty but the articles in the annex attached to it, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Sarkozy suggested last night that an intergovernmental agreement covering the 17 nations could be achieved without parliamentary ratification.
Greece might still be forced out of the common currency due to overwhelming debt, as its huge repayments are likely to cripple any prospect of economic growth.
This would mean great hardship for Greeks. Contracts, pensions and wages would be converted back into the drachma, a drama in itself as EU leaders encouraged nations to destroy their old currencies when they changed over. The drachma would then be heavily devalued almost overnight. This would cause sovereign debt, which was taken out in euros, to balloon. A run on banks would be likely as panicked depositors would seek to withdraw euros before the changeover; if bank accounts were not frozen, this would trigger bank collapses.
On numbers alone, Greece would not pull down the euro. A small country, it accounts for only 2.2 per cent of euro zone GDP and 4 per cent of the EU’s public debt.
But if investors then turned their worried gaze on Italy, the next weakest country and the euro zone’s third largest economy, refusing to lend it money, that contagion could shoot down the euro as Italy is believed to be too big to bail out.
The EU’s founders did not set up a legal mechanism for exiting the currency without leaving the union and it is not known how this would be managed.
If the euro went under, one possibility is that the former EU would split up into a rich northern zone and a struggling south. A greater “deutschmark zone” might be created to take in Germany and its more frugal neighbours, such as Austria and the Netherlands, possibly with France, leaving about 10 national currencies on the periphery. Those rich countries might also choose collectively to leave the euro if they get sick of bailing out their poorer neighbours.
Such a move, however, would cause these northern countries to suffer too, with their banks struggling with toxic debts lent to those poorer nations. This would require government help and ramp up their own sovereign debt. Their markets would also shrink as demand in poorer countries collapsed.
Any kind of euro bust-up would likely trigger financial chaos and the biggest mass default in history, followed by recession or even depression, certainly in Europe and possibly across the world.
Eurogeddon would not only be the end of a currency but the end of a long cycle of prosperity – as well as the death of a continental dream that was born out of the ashes of World War II.

First published in The Age.