‘They’re in denial’: MyGov users vent

Centrelink and Medicare clients from around Australia reacted with anger and disbelief after the giant Department of Human Services denied there were any problems with MyGov. Photo: Louie Douvis A screenshot of one user’s attempt to login to MyGov on a desktop.
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More public service newsDHS herding people on to an imperfect system in myGovMyGov lockout 143 years on hold to Centrelink

The Commonwealth government is “in denial” over the performance of its online service portals, with MyGov coming in for savage criticisms from frustrated users of the system.

Centrelink and Medicare clients from around Australia reacted with anger and disbelief after the giant Department of Human Services denied last week that there were any problems with MyGov.

The reactions come as a former DHS worker tells the inside story of their short stint working on the MyGov help desk before resigning in disgust at what they saw there.

The former staffer told of hopeless attempts to help people who had been locked out of the system and of various technical problems that dog the MyGov portal.

“I resigned as I felt I could not provide genuine service,” the former public servant wrote.

“In many cases I also felt I could not provide real solutions to callers’ problems.”

Users of the system reacted with disbelief to the department’s insistence last week that there were no systemic problems with MyGov.

“They are in denial,” one reader wrote.

“Once you login, throughout the system, there are messages saying some clients will not be able to access, some things cannot be done, full acknowledgement of massive problems….maybe the boss has not been onto the site.”

Others told of making their way to Centrelink offices after being locked out or denied access to MyGov, to find the shopfront full of other people saying they could not log on.

“I always seem to get a message that access is unavailable, try again later or words to that effect,” one user told The Canberra Times.

“Staff at my GP’s practice inform me that I am not alone in having trouble with MyGov.

“Why did they change things when the individual sites were working well?”

Difficulties logging on were widely reported with the MyGov helpdesk often telling users that it was their own technology, and not the portal that was to blame.

“Trying to log into MyGov sent me to drink,” one wrote.

“I spent two days fighting it.”

Another client wrote on August 7 that they had been locked out of their account for nine days.

“I’ve been locked out since at least July 29 if not before,” the user said.

“I raised the issue at a Centrelink Office that takes me an hour to get to – at least they let me speak to a real person – and was told it was not an issue with everyone else and it was due to my phone reception.

“This was despite showing them screen shots and that I was attempting logins on both wifi and 3 and 4G networks.

“There have been no emails providing any information on the problem or any possible solutions.”

Other clients were more blunt.

“The system is a joke,” one wrote.

“The MyGov web site has been nothing more than a complete shambles since 01 July 2015,” added another.

One frustrated pensioner questioned whether senior DHS public servants were aware of the extent of MyGov’s problems.

“One wonders how well they have met their customer service obligations for high availability of the portal,” the customer wrote.

“I suspect that it is not being reported or if it is, the truth is being kept from the senior staff in DHS and Centrelink.”

The Department of Human Services was contacted for comment on Monday but was unable to respond before deadline.

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Northern Hospital CEO Janet Compton resigns amid concerns about network’s performance

The CEO of one of Melbourne’s busiest public hospital networks has resigned amid concerns about the service’s performance.
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On Monday, the recently appointed chair of the Northern Health Board, Jennifer Williams, announced that the Northern Hospital’s Chief Executive Officer, Janet Compton, had resigned, effective immediately.

Ms Compton’s resignation comes after the Epping hospital consistently failed some of the state government’s key performance indicators during the year to March. It also follows investigations into bullying and concerns about patient care among plastic surgeons.

The state government’s most recent hospital performance report revealed the Northern Hospital in Melbourne’s booming northern suburbs has been struggling to meet targets for emergency and surgical care.

Between January and March, it treated just 43 per cent of category two elective surgery patients on time. This includes patients needing hip, knee and heart valve replacements. The government’s target is for 80 per cent to be done within 90 days.

It has also been failing target times for treating category two emergency patients such as those having strokes, or suffering from severe bleeding and major fractures.

The Age understands the government has been concerned about the network’s performance in recent times. This concern follows reports the previous Coalition government considered merging it with the Austin Hospital in Heidelberg to try to make the services more efficient.

On Monday, Ms Williams, a former CEO of Alfred Health and Austin Health, issued a statement to Northern Health staff, advising them of Ms Compton’s departure.

“Janet is on leave from today and an interim Chief Executive will be appointed while the Board carries out a search to appoint a new Chief Executive as soon as possible,” the statement said.

Ms Williams described Ms Compton as a “strong and courageous leader with a passion for delivering outstanding health care” who had been improving the hospital’s emergency department and maternity unit to reduce wait times and improve patient flow.

She said Ms Compton, who was appointed CEO in 2013, had also developed plans for Northern Health to partner with other health services and providers and strengthened ties with universities.

“We all congratulate and thank Janet for her leadership and contribution to outstanding health care for Northern Health and the Northern community,” the statement said.

Last year, The Age revealed Northern Health was being swamped with demand due to rapid population growth. Briefing documents seen by The Age said the area was attracting young families, increasing demand for maternity and paediatric services. It is also home to a population with higher rates of obesity and diabetes compared to the state average.

Demand for the hospital’s emergency department, already one of the state’s busiest, was expected to surge from an average of 1300 patients a week in 2014 to 1700 a week by 2018.

Patients receiving elective surgery would increase by more than 50 per cent within the next three years, from about 14,000 patients in 2014 to 21,370 patients in 2018.

Before the election, the Coalition promised a $98 million expansion of the hospital which was not matched by Labor. The expansion would have provided 12 extra intensive care beds, 64 new general ward beds and two new operating theatres as part of a “south tower” currently under construction.

The project’s $29 million first stage – a 32-bed ward above two “shell” floors – was funded in the 2013-14 state budget.

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Wyndham Vale lake crash: Akon Guode charged with murder of her three children

The mother of three children who drowned when their car plunged into a lake in April has been charged with their murder.
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Akon Guode​, 36, was charged with the murder of 16 month-old Bol and four-year-old twins Hanger and Madit​ at an out-of-sessions court hearing on Monday.

The three children died when the car she was driving crashed into Lake Gladman in Wyndham Vale on April 8.

She was also charged with the attempted murder of her six-year-old girl Aluel, who was in the car as well but survived the crash.

Guode looked downcast and avoided eye contact with bail justice Ken Coghlan as he read out the charges.

Speaking through an interpreter, she said she had been suffering from chest pains and made a point of mentioning to the bail justice that she had not been in any sort of trouble since arriving in Australia.

Guode has been remanded in custody and will face the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

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Australia’s $3b hangover: Alcohol and drugs causing 11.5m ‘sick days’

A new study has found that the more alcohol and drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work. Photo: Arsineh Houspian A new study has found that the more alcohol and drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work. Photo: Arsineh Houspian
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A new study has found that the more alcohol and drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

A new study has found that the more alcohol and drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

Hangovers are causing 11.5 million “sick days” a year at a cost of $3 billion to the Australian economy, new research suggests.

There are also fears that people who are mixing alcohol with amphetamines on the weekends are experiencing “Weepy Wednesdays” because of the delayed effects of their drug use, making them irritable and unreliable workers.

A Flinders University study has found that the more alcohol and/or drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work.

After tallying the total cost of this lost productivity at $3 billion a year – up from $1.2 billion in alcohol-related absenteeism alone in 2001 – the researchers said employers should be looking at ways to promote a healthier culture in their workplace especially around alcohol, which is by far the biggest problem.

Researchers at the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction looked at data from the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which asked more than 12,000 people about their habits and how often they missed work, university or school because of them.

While most (56 per cent) drank alcohol at low risk levels (four or less drinks on one occasion), 27 per cent drank at risky levels (five to 10 drinks in one session) and 9 per cent drank at a high risk level (more than 11 drinks in one stint).

When asked about illicit drug use, 7 per cent used drugs yearly, 3 per cent did so monthly and 5 per cent used weekly.

Using the participants’ responses, the researchers estimated Australians missed a total of 1.6 million days due to alcohol and about 854,000 days due to drug use that year, with rates of absence increasing with riskier and more frequent consumption.

The researchers then used two measures to work out the cost. The first measure multiplied the self-reported number of days missed by $267.70 (one day’s wage plus 20 per cent employer on-costs).

The second measure calculated the amount of any illness/injury absenteeism attributable to alcohol and drug use by estimating the average difference in absence for those who used alcohol or drugs compared to abstainers. This figure was also multiplied by $267.70.

On the first measure, 2.5 million days were lost annually, costing $680 million. On the second, 11.5 million days were lost annually, costing $3 billion.

Lead author of the study, Ann Roche, said people indulging in alcohol and drugs on the weekend may not realise it is causing their stomach upset, headache or worsening cold by Monday, making the second measure arguably more reliable.

“Alcohol puts a bit of a tax on your immune system … and it’s quite implicated in mental health problems. If people are prone towards anxiety and depression, they often self medicate with alcohol,” she said.

Professor Roche said there was also anecdotal evidence of “Weepy Wednesdays” among people who use amphetamines and alcohol on the weekend and then experience a deterioration of their general wellbeing during the week.

While the average amount of alcohol being consumed by Australians has been decreasing, Professor Roche said there was evidence a minority of people were drinking extreme amounts of alcohol – enough to end up in hospital.

“There has also been a statistically significant increase in baby boomers drinking at risky levels. We’ve never seen that before,” she said.

Professor Roche said Australian businesses should promote healthy behaviour to reduce the costs of absenteeism. She recommended formal alcohol and drug policies, education and training for staff and confidential access to counselling and treatment if people need it.

“The good news is that these kinds of strategies have been shown to be highly effective,” she said.

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Why it pays to plead guilty: discount for serious crimes revealed

Criminals who plead guilty are doing so sooner in the judicial process.Criminals have more reason to plead guilty early as first-of-its-kind research reveals most offenders are getting reductions of 20 to 30 per cent off jail sentences in Victoria’s higher courts.
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The second-most common discount was even higher, of up to 40 per cent, and in a third of cases the type of sentence was changed entirely and the offender did not receive any jail time.

The data comes from a Sentencing Advisory Council report into the effect of regulations that since 2008 have required judges to disclose the discounts given to people who plead guilty to certain offences.

The study, which looked at more than 9600 cases in the Victorian county and supreme courts for the five years to June 2014, found those who pleaded guilty were doing so sooner in the judicial process.

“That saves everybody time and money,” council chair Arie Freiberg said, adding that it spared victims trauma associated with drawn out court proceedings.

Victims of Crime Commissioner Greg Davies said although it was important to encourage guilty pleas, discounts that were too generous were also damaging to victims.

“On average, it’s a massive discount and while this process allows many victims to avoid experiencing revictimisation through the trial process it then opens them up for revictimisation through what they may perceive to be an inadequate sentence,” he said.

The report also found most criminals in the higher courts (72 per cent in the Supreme Court and 84 per cent in the County Court) pleaded guilty, young people were the most likely to plead guilty and those sentenced for murder were least likely to plead guilty.

Most discounts were “quite standard, in fact, towards the moderate end of the range”, of what was happening in other states and overseas, Professor Freiberg said.

The report found widely criticised sentencing laws passed in 2014 to impose a baseline median for the most serious offences could deter offenders from pleading guilty and complicate plea negotiations, leading to agreements over lesser charges to avoid the baseline.

“It may be if you plead guilty to that then you may be facing that baseline so there is a motivation of an accused person to plead not guilty and take their chances at getting an acquittal,” Professor Freiberg said.

The report comes as the Victorian Law Reform Commission released a discussion paper into the role of victims of crime in the criminal trial process, calling for input on whether victims should be given more power.

Mr Davies’ submission to the commission will call for dedicated personnel at courts to support victims akin to those supplied for accused people, he said.

“At the moment a victim has no greater status at trial than as a witness and they’re the worst treated witness at that,” he said. “Someone needs to be there to give victims some support and understanding and to raise their status above that of a witness.”

Other reforms considered by the review include whether victims should be allowed to have a lawyer represent them at trial and the prospect of abolishing committal hearings.

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Botany Bay proposal to convert Eastlake Golf Course into major public park

The Eastlake Golf Course could be in for a transformation under a long-term vision for Botany Bay. Photo: Brendan Esposito Eastlake Golf Club, Daceyville is the proposed site for a major public park. Photo: Brendan Esposito
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Golfers like Paul Saltoon will be upset if the course is lost to the sport. Photo: Brendan Esposito

It might take 15 years, but Sydneysiders could one day enjoy 65 hectares of new, uninterrupted parkland just 20 minutes drive from the CBD.

The proposal would see the 18-hole Eastlake golf course converted into a major new public park, as part of the City of Botany Bay’s Vision 2040 Directions Paper; the penultimate step in the 25-year vision for Botany Bay.

“The last five years has seen around 3000 new dwellings added to the Botany area, with another 4000 expected in the next 10 years … people need access to public space,” City of Botany Bay Mayor Ben Keneally said.

The announcement comes after a Fairfax Media report on Monday found NSW councils have sold, developed or reclassified more than 20 per cent of public urban open space in the past decade.

The situation has been described as “incredibly alarming,” by Nature Conservation Council chief executive Kate Smolski, meaning Tuesday’s proposal to increase open space in Sydney’s east should be welcome news.

“With urban consolidation and the desire of more and more people to live closer to the CBD, there is an increasing population that wants places to enjoy Sydney’s great beauty,” Mr Keneally said.

“The Botany wetlands are beautiful, but they are a hidden gem. They’ve been locked up inside these golf courses and inside industrial estates.”

Mr Keneally said, while private sites were once a great way to protect the wetlands, “we now know communities value these great ponds and lakes and the social and environmental heritage they contain, and they would love better access to them.”

The park would connect from Gardeners Rd, Daceyville, all the way to Sir Joseph Banks Park on the shore of Botany Bay, following the course of the Botany Wetlands.

Neighbouring the public Eastlake Golf Club is the exclusive Bonnie Doon Golf Club, The Lakes Golf Club (both owned by Sydney Water) and the country’s most eminent, The Australian Golf Club.

The land on which the club is situated is owned by Sydney Water and leased to the club, which is currently operating on a 25-year lease.

While there is a 25-year option to renew, the current lease will expire at the end of December 2025, falling well within the time frame proposed for the parkland project.

“We’re not proposing to destabilise their existing tenure. It’s in line with security of tenure they currently have.

“The club’s response has been that it will be a matter for the landlord to determine, being Sydney Water.”

Calls by Fairfax Media to Eastlake Golf Club general manager George Kozis were not returned.

A Sydney Water spokesperson said it would work closely with the relevant parties on any future plans for the Botany Wetlands.

“Ultimately, Sydney Water will work to ensure that any future use of the wetlands provides benefits to the community and environment.”

But not everyone would be pleased with the idea. Paul Saltoon has been playing golf for more than 20 years, and often has a hit at the Eastlake course.

The Bondi local said he “would be pretty upset if the course was taken away for that use”.

“Even if you only play three times a year, when you’re on that golf course you feel like you’re away from all that Sydney hustle and bustle.”

The Botany Bay 2040 Directions Paper also proposes a plan for the council-owned Botany Golf Course to be converted to provide more sporting fields to a wide variety of organised sport such as football, league, netball and rugby.

Mr Keneally said council would be working closely with stakeholders over the next 20 years on the site’s transition.

“The proposed parkland should become a significant addition to the Centennial Parklands as it follows the same hydrological flow path as the Centennial Ponds and boasts historical plantings from the era of when the Royal Botanical Gardens were established.”

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Taylor’s rooftop bar lifts the lid on Sydney’s Republic Hotel

Sky high: Taylor’s at the Republic Hotel. Photo: SuppliedSydney’s rooftop bar and food movement has a new pin-up. Taylor’s has opened at the Republic Hotel, on the corner of Pitt and Bridge Streets, in the CBD.
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It’s a rooftop space with a difference, owner Patrick Ryan peeling away the roof cyclone-style to create the space.

“I’ve been told people usually get convertible cars, not convertible pubs. But it has let us keep the old features, like the heritage windows,” he says.

With vertical garden, copper barrels, exposed beams and a clever menu from former Morrison chef Lee Thompson – including prawn tacos and roasted five-spice chicken with coleslaw – Taylor’s is the latest in an expected new wave of open rooftop CBD venues.

As well as sympathetic weather, Ryan believes Sydney workers crave outdoor spaces as many spend all day inside on computers.

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Banc chef Paul Camilleri opens Eat Burger in Cronulla

Newbie: Eat Burger in Cronulla. Photo: SuppliedThe opening of Eat Burger in Cronulla has put Paul Camilleri in an exclusive club. Not because he has launched yet another Sydney burger joint, or served 4000 burgers in his first week.
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And it isn’t because wagyu and pork belly burgers are among his bestsellers in a suburb that used to be known as Chicko Roll central.

No, it is because Camilleri follows Warren Turnbull and Justin North as the latest chef from the fine-dining Banc restaurant empire to branch out into burgers.

All three have owned hatted restaurants, but the lure of the bun has gripped them all. If more evidence of Sydney’s dizzy conversion to total Burgerness is needed, there is the Fatties Burger Appreciation Society page on Facebook.

What started as a bit of banter between friends, last week chalked up more than 13,000 members. Chris Burrell, part of its administration team, says they were surprised by the level of interest in the rise of the Sydney burger.

FBAS has branched out to events, has a stringent “pickle rating” system for burgers and is exploring an app to help punters locate our best burgers.

And while he agrees there is a bit of a fad bubble around the burger, Burrell remains confident of its future. “It’s a classic, a staple,” he argues.

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Sickening crash mars final stage of Tour of Utah

An Irish cyclist was taken to hospital after colliding with a support car on a sharp bend in the Tour of Utah race.
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Matt Brammeier suffered injuries to his lungs, pelvis and ribs as he came around a hairpin known as Guardsman’s Pass with a sickening thud into the door of the car.

As spectators and officials attempted to clear the area so the 30-year-old Irish rider could receive treatment, a further two riders collided with the motor bike of a race official and also crashed to the ground – although not with the velocity that Brammeier did.  Cyclist Matt Brammeier smashes into car after taking corner too fast in US… http://t.co/qBfqpVvXSJ#InfoNdoroTweetpic.twitter南京夜网/VAo8kC41vJ— IG: NdoroTweetID™ (@NdoroTweet) August 10, 2015

Australian Lachlan Norris went on to win the stage, the seventh and final of the tour. American rider Joe Dombrowski, 24, was the overall champion.  All good in the hood guys. Thanks for the messages. pic.twitter南京夜网/SGB8NEssCF— Matt Brammeier (@Mattbrammeier85) August 9, 2015

This wasn’t Brammeier’s first horrible accident involving motor vehicles – in 2007 he broke both his legs when he was involved in a crash with a cement truck.

The Irishman remains in a critical but stable condition in hospital after this latest accident.

Matt Brammeier seriously injured in collision with car during Tour of Utah | http://t.co/VM2qV90opCpic.twitter南京夜网/pLgGLHQkrE— Cycling Weekly (@cyclingweekly) August 9, 2015

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Breathing life into Brisbane’s underground rail

Could driverless light rail be a key to Brisbane’s future transport system? Photo: Glenn Hunt Brisbane’s busways could be converted to use with a light rail system. Photo: Glenn Hunt
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Tunnels such as the Clem 7 have transformed Brisbane’s road network. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Airport link tunnel. Photo: Harrison Saragossi

Brisbane’s future underground rail project under George Street must mesh with a stand-alone “driverless mini-metro” system in the city’s CBD to give the project “more bang for its buck”, an experienced tunnelling expert said.

It must also plan for more than one rail track in each direction.

Scott Keniston from the Australian Tunnelling Society will deliver a speech outlining these issues at the University of Queensland on Thursday to re-open public debate about the future of Brisbane’s underground rail.

Mr Keniston founded Bamser, a tunnelling advice service for Brisbane until it was bought out by a national management buyout and now operates from Perth to Sydney.

Mr Keniston, now managing director Skarpa PL,  has advised the New South Wales’ government on its North West Rail metro system – Australia’s first driverless metro system – and has advised the past two Queensland Governments on the Cross River Rail and Legacy Way tunnels.

“One of the key things that the new government needs to take into consideration is that the George Street corridor is a one-time deal,” Mr Keniston said.

“The alignment works really well, but are two tracks though that corridor really enough given that there is only one Roma Street?” he asked.

Mr Keniston said Brisbane has had cross-river link suggestions for 90 years well before Labor’s Cross River Rail and the LNP’s Bus and Train Tunnel in the past decade.

“We have actually had 90 years of proposals – and some of them very credible – which haven’t been built,” Mr Keniston said.

“And the reason for that is funding,” he said.

“And if you are going to compete for funding you need to have the ‘best bang for buck’ and get more for less.”

Mr Keniston will on Thursday recommend a three-pronged approach to give the new Cross River Rail “more bang for the buck.”

1 – Using a ‘driverless metro system’ around the inner-city; similar to Bucharest.

2 – Including extra underground train lines under George Street, but not adding the trackwork until needed.

3 – Planning for a time 15 to 20 years ahead, when Brisbane’s busways are all light rail.

Mr Keniston said all of Brisbane’s busways were built to be switched to light rail.

He said the idea of an ‘inner-city metro’ – separate but meshed to the new version Cross River Rail – had first been considered by Campbell Newman as Brisbane’s lord mayor in 2011.

“I had spoken to him two days beforehand and given him a presentation on how cost-effective a metro system might be,” Mr Keniston said.

Mr Keniston said the scheme was shouted down in the media before figures could be checked to see if they could be achieved.

“And then shortly thereafter he went off and declared that he would run for premier and the idea never went any further.”

Mr Keniston – who has a background in undergound mine engineering – said the incremental cost in providing the extra space under George Street would not be significant in the overall cost.

“It is not necessary to fit them out with tracks, but to create the (underground) space and have one eye on the future is appropriate,” he said.

He will on Thursday suggest the tunnels under George Street be dug by “road headers” and not tunnel boring machines, because TBM’s provide only a circular tunnel – not flexible enough – and “road headers” could save one year in construction time and costs.

However Mr Keniston said his strongest argument was that Brisbane needed to plan for 15 to 20 years in the future when most of Brisbane’s busways have been converted to light rail and “driverless metro” system ran through the inner-city.

Features of a metro system

– Driverless tram-like carriages running in a circuit;

– Stations are 800 metres to a kilometre apart;

– no timetables, just high frequency service around the inner-city;

– More standing rather than sitting passenger areas.

Mr Keniston said “metro” was inevitable in inner-city Brisbane.

“Almost certainly Brisbane will get metro,” he said.

“There are already comparable cities around the world with comparable population densities have managed to fund and operate driverless metro,” he said.

He named Bucharest in Romania – with its six metro lines – as a similar case to Brisbane.

Bucharest has a large urban area and a population of about 2.2 million residents, while Brisbane – which includes Australia’s largest local authority – has around 2.3 million residents.

“Driveless metro is very much the norm now and is being rolled out in very similar environments around the world,” he said.

“For Brisbane it’s a case of when, not if, is probably the summary.”

Funding issues

Mr Keniston said capturing value uplift – the rising value of properties close to good infrastructure – was the model to explore.

“There are a number of stakeholders which already benefit from the alignment being chosen,” he said.

“And they get that by default.

“The government benefits most by controlling most of the land around the future George Street station .

“But others will be taken on the journey and currently will garner that uplift in value for free.

“But I imagine that the opportunities to build on or around the stations would be something that the state  would be interested in valuing potentially for a transaction.”

Scott Keniston speaks on Thursday at University of Queensland’s Advanced Engineering Building; Room: 49-301 from 5.30pm for 6pm.

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