A Canberra postmaster has described the moment a gunman dressed in industrial coveralls pointed the weapon towards his head, punched him in the face and fired a bullet into the air in the latest of a number of armed robberies.
Security footage shows Manni Singh discussing the day’s newspapers with a customer at the Rivett Post Office in Woden on Saturday, when the offender burst through the front door before calmly walking around to the back of the counter.
“I really thought it was a prank. I thought ‘are you kidding me?’ and he said ‘nah tell me where your till is,” Mr Singh recounted.
Mr Singh said the man “held the gun to [his] head” before demanding cash.
“I said ‘you’re joking right?’ and then suddenly he moved his gun from his right hand to his left hand and he punched me in the head,” he said.
Concerned for the welfare of the customer in his store, Mr Singh opened the cash register and the gunman stuffed about $1,500 into a green plastic bag he was carrying.
“On the way out he said ‘thank you’,” Mr Singh said.
Mr Singh and a few other witnesses followed the offender out of the shop and watched as he crossed the road and ran up a grass path.
“He fired a shot into the air,” Mr Singh said.
The ABC understands a car may have been waiting for the offender, suggesting at least one other person was involved in the crime.
Police said they were searching for a young Caucasian man with brown eyes, a slim build and between 165 and 175 centimetres in height.
“An aggravated robbery is always a concern and something the police take very seriously. Particularly when a firearm is used the potential for serious injury or worse is escalated,” Detective Leading Constable Daniel Shaw said.
Here lies the state of ACT politics a year after the 2016 election: an entrenched minority government coasting on victory, an opposition yet to find its feet and more local politicians than ever before.
The big Labor pledges – and the crux of Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s agenda – of light-rail stage one, health investments and “city renewal” are under way. There is no clearer indicator than the trees lost on Northbourne Avenue.
And yet, one year in, the community awaits a wider agenda beyond those promises. Incumbency can breed complacency. Even among the promises made, some will not be completed this term, and others are an experiment in grinding incrementalism.
People want their leaders to inspire them but it seems inspiration – that most intangible of political attributes – is lacking in the ACT.
Put aside the (now nixed) pill-testing trial at the Spilt Milk music festival, which is an obvious exception. The needle-exchange program at the prison is all but cremated, and several other fresh policy ideas are off the agenda for the time being.
From the state of youth detention at Bimberi, throughthe Canberra Hospital’s mental-health ward, the rising number of children in-out-of home care to increased bikie-related shootings – this year has been marked by what Winston Churchill once called “events”, and the government, on each occasion, seems to have been reactive rather than proactive.
Rattled by last year’s tough election campaign and vocal criticism during the last term in office, the Barr government embarked on an unusual year of lengthy consultation. But many business and community leaders worry that such talks are not not genuine and that the government may be using “consultation” as an excuse to kick the can down the road.
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In talking to the community – citizen juries and deliberative democracy are the current buzzwords – there seems to be a mismatch between the time given to substantial issues and those some consider of lesser import. Take the three-week public consultation on the substantive election promise of a drug court for the ACT, compared with seven weeks accepting submissions on parks and playground equipment.
While the government maintains it will meet its election pledges, as well those made in Labor’s parliamentary agreement with the Greens, housing policy epitomises how ACT politics has changed.
The 11 separate items under the agreement’s “social housing and housing affordability” measures have morphed into a seven-week consultation, and a lacklustre summit, after which no deadlines seem to apply for when the rubber will hit the road. Indeed,the original promise for a “homelessness summit” morphed from a focussed discussion about people living on Canberra’s streets into one taking in the views of powerful property developers.
Asked repeatedly for an interview for this story, Barr referred the requests to Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris.
Fitzharris says Housing Minister Yvette Berry is passionate and determined to make an impact, including by delivering a second “common ground” housing development before 2020. Berry, for her part, pledged this week a $1 million “innovation fund” for new housing ideas and about 240 extra public housing dwellings, ideas that ignore repeated calls for a substantive $100 million public housing fund.
There is ever-present speculation about Barr’s future.
While the community sector and developers publicly welcome the “engagement”, many privately question the seriousness of the government’s commitment to housing affordability for those who don’t take home a politician’s salary. Some businesspeople also ask whether Barr’s plan to return a budget surplus next year – and controversies surrounding the unsolicited bid to redevelop Manuka, the Land Development Agency and the tax waiver for the Brumbies – have led to an overly cautious approach beyond the prism of specific election commitments.
It remains unclear whether “the chief” – who has been Treasurer since July 2011 – will actually deliver that surplus before the likely handover of the economics portfolio within the year following the 2018 budget. There is ever-present speculation about Barr’s future, though he quickly rejected the idea of nominating for Canberra’s new third federal seat. Yet federal politics must remain an attractive option, even if it challenges his desire to leave a “legacy” of a redeveloped city and and a balanced budget.
Fitzharris says Labor’s 2016 election wins was one of the most “comprehensive” seen in the ACT, but says that, given Barr’s budget agenda, all ministers needed “a pretty sharp focus on prudently managing the budget”. Despite rising concerns about a lack of energy or new ideas emerging from cabinet, she says each minister has “strong ideas” but, one year in, they are still “setting the groundwork” for them.
Fitzharris says the government has built a “strong footing” in the past 12 months to execute its agenda, though it will take time to deliver outcomes. Indeed, in her own portfolio, the $500 million SPIRE health centre is unlikely to be completed until 2022, though she rejects any suggestion it will not be delivered, saying the lengthy time frame is simply a function of budgeting.
Across government, she says the community can expect continued work on “the clear vision the chief and Labor set out for the city as it grows”, and that the government believes “achieving everything would be hugely significant for the city”.
For the opposition, a leadership change and a period of navel-gazing are always expected after an election loss, but some of the Canberra Liberals’ closest stakeholders are waiting for a sign of a genuine vision for the city.
Leader Alistair Coe, for his part, acknowledges the “light-rail debate has been had”. The opposition’s questions now centre on the detail of implementing and integrating it with other transport. But he points to the opposition’s success on “revenge porn”, anti-consorting law proposals and government integrity, with constant concerns that the ACT’s two new land agencies could suffer similar ailments to the now-defunct Land Development Agency.
While Coe notes the opposition does not have a “full suite of policies”, he is focussed on “fighting battles we can win” and promising more on an “economic vision” in coming months. The expectation remains that, next year, his opposition will give the community a better idea of what the party may look like in government.
One indicator, perhaps, of a renewed opposition, and possibly of the enlarged Legislative Assembly, is the 770 questions on notice – many of which are detailed, multi-part questions – posed in the past 12 months. While in the sixth and seventh assemblies, 2441 and 2216 such questions were posed respectively, just 791 such queries were filed in the entirety of the eighth Assembly, when Zed Seselja and then Jeremy Hanson were opposition leaders.
A steady hand has brought some stability to the opposition, though not enough to dispel continued talk of a less-conservative leader returning.
Coe’s focus for the next 12 months will be on three key issues: cost of living, government integrity and “fairness”. He says he is “concentrating on the real issues rather than trying to position ourselves on some philosophical spectrum”.
For the Greens, leader Shane Rattenbury is keen to talk up his party’s power. While he sits in cabinet, the other Greens member, Caroline Le Couteur, has the freedom to loudly voice the party’s wider agenda.
There have been few Greens amendments to government legislation rejected in the Assembly, indicating that agreements are reached well before public debate begins. Indeed, the minor party has backed the government on almost all substantive motions – not just those required under the official agreement to maintain stable government.
It shows either the political reality of the two coalition partners’ interdependence, a lack of independence from the minor party, or perhaps a measure of both.
Both Fitzharris and Rattenbury speak of “a partnership”, though Rattenbury says it is a “two-party government”, despite Labor’s cabinet dominance, that the Greens “bring a different flavour to”. He says there were times when both parties persuaded each other of “a different course of action” but the public doesn’t get to see that happens “in cabinet or informal discussions”.
Rattenbury says many ideas the Greens took to the last election have “come to fruition or are under way”, such as light rail and renewable energy, and that the party’s principles of “sustainability and social justice” are now also felt in the government’s agenda.
Others question whether, now in a third successive term of minority government and given its numbers, the minor party is flexing its muscle or is merely content to continue to ride on Labor’s coat-tails.
Daniel Burdon reports on ACT politics for The Canberra Times.
Women who believe themselves to be wealthy could be more likely to have boys, and that is a significant factor behind Australia’s bucking of global declining male birth rates, new research suggests.
Women who ‘feel rich’ may be more likely to have boys
ACT’s high male birth rate bucking trend
Theory has evolutionary links
Across the world the male birth rate is declining, and the trend would also hold true in Australia if not for the ACT, where boys are born at a much higher rate.
Over a period of 12 years, researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) analysed birth rates across Australia, and found that in most states boys were being born at a rate of 105 per 100 girls, but in the ACT that number was closer to 110.
Lead researcher Alison Behie said the findings seemed to bear out the Trivers-Willard theory, which suggests mothers’ circumstances can play a role in determining a baby’s sex.
She found women who perceived themselves as well off were more likely to have boys, linking the phenomenon to the higher-than-average socio-economic status of ACT residents.
“It seems to be that, certainly up until 2015, the ACT had a very divergent pattern where there were many more boys being born, just in this territory compared to the rest of the country,” she said.
“When you include them in the entire of Australia, there’s actually more boys being born, but if you take all the ACT babies out, there’s a very slight decline, which is similar to global pattern.
“So it seems to be something about the ACT, and an increase in boys being born in our territory in particular.”
Dr Behie linked the findings to a theory that the mother’s conditions at the time of conception can influence a baby’s sex.
Mums’ circumstances could influence sex
The ACT has some of the highest average education and income levels in the country among its concentrated population of 400,000, and researchers found giving birth to a boy seemed linked to the mother’s perception of her own wealth.
“We tested against a variety of things; education, income, and what we actually found to be significant was perception of wealth, so women that felt they were wealthy,” Dr Behie said.
“Mothers that felt themselves to be very wealthy or prosperous were more likely to have boys, and that was true across all of Australia.
“That could include a variety of things including their support network, their education, how much debt they have, things that don’t show up in just numerical, quantitative data.
“Obviously they’re not unique, women across Australia, lots of women have these same characteristics, so why it’s concentrated in the ACT, outside of that we don’t necessarily know.”
Dr Behie said the theory made sense, as males were “more fragile”, and able to spawn more children than females.
“The thought behind it in primates is because females are limited in their reproduction because we’re responsible for gestating and lactation, it’s more costly for us to have children,” Dr Behie said.
“If you are in really good condition and you have access to lots of resources, and your body’s really strong, then that would biologically predispose you to want to have boys.
“Then you would have some of these boys that were themselves of high quality, and they themselves would have lots of children.”
But before mums hoping for a boy started focusing on their bank accounts, Dr Behie said they should keep in mind the findings were only one potential factor.
“It’s a bit intangible,” she said.
“Previous research has shown women that have a higher calorie diet are more likely to have sons, and women that are exposed to less environmental pollutants are more likely to have sons.
“So it’s all about having that sort of best quality or condition of your body as possible tends to favour male offspring.”
A city in Queensland has been judged to have the best-tasting drinking water in Australia, with Toowoomba receiving the top gong by popular vote in today’s third annual Best Tap Water in Australia competition.
The winning sample was taken from Toowoomba Regional Council’s Mt Kynoch Scheme.
Water Industry Operators Association of Australia chief operation officer Craig Mathisen said competition this year had been stiff.
Water providers in each state blind tasted samples at their annual conferences to choose finalists for the national competition, where 150 tasters made the final decision.
Finalists included Icon Water in the ACT, SA Water, Goulburn Valley Water in Victoria, and Fenton in Tasmania.
“All the samples were at the high end. Australia is very fortunate to have high-quality drinking water across all of our communities,” Mr Mathisen said.
“It’s an interesting competition and for us it’s a real celebration of what the businesses and operators do 24/7.”
What does water taste like?
“It surprises a lot of people that water has different tastes depending on where it comes from,” Mr Mathisen said.
It’s not until you actually taste samples from various parts of the state or the country that you start to notice some discernible differences.
“A lot of the time it can be dependent on the source of the water.”
Professor Peter Scales, from Melbourne University’s Department of Chemical Engineering, said most of Australia’s drinking water was surface water, sourced from reservoirs.
Aquifer water was used in Perth, Adelaide and various inland sites.
Professor Scales said all drinking water was put through a purifying process to remove particulates and organic compounds, and to adjust the salt component, which contributed to differences in taste and aesthetics.
“A lot of people don’t like water from Adelaide or Perth because it’s quite salty water,” he said.
“Typically waters from mountain streams that don’t have very much salt, organics or toxins tend to be the best-tasting waters.
“But there is quite a subjective nature to what is a good water. People have different tastes.”
Clear and transparent competition
Samples in the final competition were judged on a variety of features including colour, clarity and odour.
Mr Mathisen said the best water had to be clear and transparent, but the true test was taste.
He said 150 tasters from Launceston, the town that took home last year’s title, had been surprised by the variation of the water samples taken from around Australia.
“Some [samples] had a bit more of a murkiness to them, but they were all of a very high quality,” Mr Mathisen said.
“[Tasters] were interested that water doesn’t just taste the same — that was probably the main message we received.”
Toowoomba will now represent Australia at the International Water Tasting Competition in America in February.
“The community of Toowoomba will be rapt with the news,” Mr Mathisen said.
“There’s no cash prize but there’s a lot of bragging rights.
“Obviously it helps those communities celebrate the water and have the communities think about their water supplies, which is really the result we’re trying to achieve.”
Australia’s states and territories are extremely unlikely to sign-up to the Turnbull government’s “weak” new energy policy until more detail is provided, the ACT’s energy minister says.
State and territory governments were briefed on the proposal during a heated phone call with federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday night.
ACT Energy Minister Shane Rattenbury said there was an immense sense of frustration from COAG members during the call.
“We got a six page letter outlining this strategy with no economic modelling, and they are telling us this is the model we have to adopt,” he said.
“The conference call was palpably angry, both at the weak nature of the proposal, and the poor process the federal government has gone through.”
Although there were suggestions the federal government wanted the new plan agreed ahead of a COAG energy ministers meeting in November, Mr Rattenbury said was unlikely to happen.
“The states and territorys are saying, ‘Hang on, how can you expect us to sign up to this’.
“We would be very reluctant to sign it off. We would need to see more detail and make sure there is sufficient ambition in this program.”
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Mr Rattenbury said the lack of detail in the proposal made it hard for governments to take it seriously.
“What we are seeing is a proposal that is business as usual, it locks in a role for coal and gas,” he said.
“It feels more like a wish and prayer than a serious proposal.”
The ACT government remained committed to moving to 100 per cent renewable energy and continuing to reduce the territory’s emissions, Mr Rattenbury added.
Despite pitching the policy as a salve to price-weary power consumers, the federal government also conceded the predicted savings had been based on preliminary analysis, with detailed modelling yet to be carried out.
The Turnbull government has sought to reset the national energy debate by announcing energy companies will be forced to meet mandated standards of reliability and emissions reduction, which would reduce the risk of blackouts and drive prices down.
The government will need all the national electricity market states – NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT – to agree to its national energy guarantee to implement it.
Labour governments from South Australia, Victoria and now the ACT have spoken against the proposal.
“There is frustration among the states and territories at a number of things,” said Mr Rattenbury.
“The way the commonwealth has put this package together without our consultation and presented it as a fait accompli.”
The conservative NSW government has been more receptive to the plan, saying it was a strong supporter of electricity market reform.
Australian Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren endorsed the policy but said COAG agreement would be critical.
“Without that we won’t achieve policy stability and we will continue to see the investment uncertainty that has occurred over the past decade in the energy sector,” he warned.