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Tromp walkabout was no picnic, more a fresh entry in grim Australian storybook

Mysterious journey: Mark and Jacoba (Coby) Tromp. Mitchell and Ella Tromp talk to media in Silvan. Photo: Daniel Pockett

Riana Tromp is still in hospital. Photo: Facebook

Mark Tromp leaves the Wangaratta Police Station (right) at night after being found. Photo: Mark Jesser

A scene from Australian horror flick Wolf Creek.

Guy Pearce in the Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Lucien John, David Gulpilil and Jenny Agutter in the film Walkabout.

A scene from Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Among the many images gleaned from the Tromp family’s ill-fated car journey from outer Melbourne into the wilds of NSW – a long, 1500-kilometre road to nowhere – one remains more frightening than the rest.

The finer details of it are thin because the man who found Riana Tromp, 29, the eldest child of the successful berry farming family from Silvan, has opted not to elaborate beyond the basics. But what we know is Keith Whittaker, of Goulburn, got in his ute to drive to Canberra last week and felt a kicking on the back of his seat.

Mr Whittaker found Riana huddled in the back, “catatonic”. That is, not moving, staring straight ahead, unresponsive. He called the police and she was taken away and remains in Wangaratta, back in Victoria, in the care of mental health workers alongside her similarly affected mother Jacoba, who had also walked out on the trip.

Out there somewhere was father Mark Tromp, tailgating a random driver in Wangaratta late at night before vanishing himself, into dark parkland on the regional city’s fringe, the keys left dangling in the ignition.

When news of the Tromps’ disappearance first broke, it already felt familiar. It felt like a variation on the Netflix show Stranger Things, itself a pastiche on missing-people stories from the 1980s. The strange gaps in the information also read like something out of the 1990s TV show the X Files, with its protagonists fleeing from technology but tracked just the same.

But the real echoes are much closer to home.

Return to Riana dazed and mute in the back of a stranger’s ute, unable to say who she was or what had played out – this narrative is straight from an Australian horror story, the road-trip gone wrong.

It has been a common trope in Australian storytelling since Europeans first arrived, starting with the bush tales, the Victorian gothics, the movies. From the many retellings of Bourke and Wills to Patrick White’s Voss to those 1970s classic films Walkabout and Picnic at Hanging Rock, the premise remains the same. City folk head into the bush and get lost, metaphorically and physically.

“Australian roads are hunting grounds,” wrote Katherine Biber, a legal scholar, criminologist and historian from the University of Sydney, in 2001. She was writing about masculinity in Australian cinema but of course femininity is challenged out there in the beyond, too – the female victims of Wolf Creek, the “girl” in Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout, even the cross-dressers of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The hunting grounds, wrote Biber, are “stages upon which elaborate pursuits and counter-pursuits are played” but the roads lead nowhere, instead acting as stages for “the performance of a series of cultural rituals”.

This new drama, she says, takes place in the car, or the vehicle, a “micro-habitat.”

In Rianna Tromp’s case she was in the original Tromp car that set out from Silvan, a grey Peugeot wagon owned by her sister, then she was in the vehicle that her sister allegedly stole, then she was found in Kevin Whitaker’s ute.

Like so many Australian road trips before them, it starts as a journey to destinations unknown. The Tromps didn’t know what they were looking for or where they were headed, son Mitchell told the media, just that they had to flee.

As the white boy says in the film Walkabout, “I don’t suppose it matters which way we go”.

Mitchell, who was the first to leave the trip in Bathurst, threw his phone out the window at Warburton, not far from home. The explanation given here is that the trip was supposed to be technology-free, he bought his phone and, when urged, chucked it out. From then the family were off-grid.

The irony is that by driving away into the Australian bush there were more people looking for them and tracing their movements than ever before.

Members of the family stuck in Wangaratta delayed their trip back to Silvan this week, telling friends they were intimidated by further feelings of surveillance by the TV crews camped in their driveway.

In Picnic at Hanging Rock, all the girls’ watches at the doomed picnic party stop, at noon, foreshadowing what was to come. In some ways Mitchell Tromp throwing his phone out the car window while going through the Warburton forests was the Tromps’ final and very equivocal farewell to the world they wanted to escape for a while and, for this trip, the end of common sense and logic.

In all, it lasted five days, but time appeared to shift for the Tromps, as if they had all entered some kind of temporal zone far away from normality and the usual chronologies of family life.

The Tromps were turning into urban legends even before they were all found.

While they were still whereabouts unknown, witness reports came in, various family members seen here or seen there.

A man with a pup-tent was seen walking into the coastal town of Bega and police swooped, thinking it was Mark. It wasn’t, but it could have been. Cabins and huts along the Hume that showed signs of disturbance were combed for clues- a muesli bar wrapper could speak volumes.

The one verified sighting came with its own pop culture reference – the young couple in Wangaratta who said Mark Tromp tailgated them after 10pm were out catching Pokemons on their mobile phones in the local reserve.

It culminated in the news photographs of Mark, after he had been found after three days wandering, flipping the bird to media outside a police station, from inside a car, the stress and isolation of what he had been through showing. It was misread as defiance, but friends say he is not an angry or defiant man.

Thankfully, this is a story with a happy ending, an Australian gothic in which everyone returns to civilisation and their their families. But it’s still a mystery, even to the Tromps themselves.

Standing outside the family home, expressing their joy and relief that their father had been found safe and well, Mitch and sister Ella struggled to say what happened.

“There’s no one reason for it,” Ella said, when pressed. “It’s bizarre.”

In time, there may be an explanation for what triggered this trip into the unknown. But perhaps there won’t be.

As the gardener says at the end of Picnic at Hanging Rock: “Some questions got answers and some haven’t.”

Anyone needing support can contact Lifeline: 13 11 14 www.lifeline杭州.au; or Beyondblue: 1300 224 636 www.beyondblue杭州.au.

Green slip reforms would leave most motorists to fend for themselves

Injured motorist Desmond Goulding. Photo: Sylvia Liber In-Young Joyce helps her husband Myung Jin Juong at their home in Epping. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Myung Jin Juong and wife In-Young Joyce at their home in Epping. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Most people injured on the road face losing their common law rights to sue insurance companies for ongoing medical costs and lost wages under radical changes to the compulsory green slip insurance scheme.

They would also lose their rights to any legal representation to challenge a disputed assessment of their insurance claim.

Under state government plans to overhaul the compulsory third-party insurance scheme, the minority of motorists who are most seriously injured would retain common law entitlements to lump sum compensation payments and legal representation. Others with less serious injuries would be given limited statutory benefits to income replacement and medical benefits for a maximum of five years.

The vast majority of injured motorists suffer less serious injuries, which can prevent them from returning to work, and will fend for themselves under the planned changes. They will no longer be able to claim for a lump sum payment for future expenses and income loss. They will be cut from the defined benefits scheme after five years.

“Under the new laws, almost no one will have the right to a solicitor. That’s disgusting,” said injured motorist Desmond Goulding, 64, from the Illawarra.

“How can a normal person go up against insurance companies. That’s ludicrous.”

A $400 million spike in fraudulent insurance claims in Sydney’s western suburbs and inefficiencies which result in just 45¢ in every green slip dollar being returned to injured motorists has spurred wholesale reform of the scheme which covers more than 2 million people.

Danielle De Paoli, from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, said fraudulent claims had increased the cost of the scheme, but there were other cost-saving alternatives to cutting benefits and redefining the entire CTP scheme.

The Baird government appointed State Insurance Regulatory Authority deputy chair Nancy Milne and former Labor Party industrial relations minister John Della Bosca to assess the fairness and affordability of the proposed scheme.

Their report released last week says the insurance industry is calling for an internal insurer dispute resolution process which would allow it to have the final say on disputes with claimants.

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, a member of the standing committee on law and justice, which last month reviewed the CTP scheme, said the proposed changes would be particularly unfair on manual workers.

“A nurse or carpenter who relies on a healthy body to do their job can lose their entire career with an injury that is assessed at well below 10 per cent whole person impairment,” he said.

“They face losing their right to claim for ongoing wage loss over their entire career and have it replaced with a statutory benefit that will run out after a maximum of three to five years.”

Mr Shoebridge said the joint parliamentary committee report highlighted a “grossly disproportionate share of green slip premiums that go to fatten up insurer profits”.

“Over the lifetime of the scheme they have taken one dollar in five and the regulator has repeatedly failed to address this,” he said.

“John Della Bosca savaged workers compensation benefits 15 years ago and the government clearly sees him as someone they can rely on to do the same with CTP.”

Mr Della Bosca implemented cuts to the workers compensation scheme in 2011. Unions portrayed him as the “butcher” of workers compensation.

Government sources say Mr Della Bosca has been recognised for his significant experience in delivering important social reforms including his advocacy and leadership of the NDIS. This was said to be testament to his ability to engage with complex reform.

Mr Shoebridge said he had no doubt Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello was more committed to addressing problems with the scheme than his predecessor Greg Pearce, whose planned CTP reforms failed.

Mr Dominello said his focus is on delivering a better scheme for injured road users and motorists. He said the government’s reforms were supported by social service advocates and will end “the days of insurer super profits and see a significant reduction in premiums”.

“It is not fair that only 45¢ in every green slip dollar goes to injured road users, nor is it fair that NSW motorists are being asked to pay the highest premiums in the country,” he said.

Insurance companies including Suncorp, Allianz and NRMA have made significant donations to the NSW Liberal Party and Labor Party in recent years.

In 2015/16 Suncorp’s financial contributions to political parties included $33,930 to the Liberal National Party and $34,300 to the Labor Party.

Richard Shields, the Insurance Council of Australia’s head of government and stakeholder relations, is a former deputy director of party affairs for the NSW Liberal Party. He was also touted earlier this year as a potential rival to conservative senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells in a factional challenge from the moderate wing of the party.

A spokesman for ICA said the insurance council draws talent from all sides of politics. “These people are highly professional and they work on policy matters with political parties of all persuasions,” he said.

Spokesman Campbell Fuller said the NSW CTP scheme was “broken” and in need of reform to create a fairer more affordable scheme to better support the most seriously injured motorists. He said the number of motorists who would need treatment after five years was very small.

“Fraud and exaggerated claims add an estimated $75 to every premium,” he said.

“The final design of the scheme has yet to be determined, so it’s premature for any stakeholder to make definitive claims about how a reformed scheme may deal with issues such as claims, benefits, profits and disputes.

“The ICA rejects any suggestion of a link between proposed changes to the CTP scheme and political donations by its members. The ICA and its members are committed to transparency in the area of political donations.”

A spokeswoman for Suncorp said it works with all governments and political parties to “drive the best outcomes for customers and the wider community”.

“To that end, Suncorp is bipartisan and transparent in its engagement with government.

“We agree with the government that the current NSW CTP scheme is broken and in need of reform. We support the proposed reforms to the scheme that tackle rising incidences of fraud involving legally represented claims, while delivering the best health outcomes for motorists and improving affordability.”

Top Education: Company at centre of donations furore a beneficiary of streamlined visa program

Top Education chief executive officer Minshen Zhu with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Top EducationThe education company at the centre of the donations furore that halted the front bench career of Labor senator Sam Dastyari is one of the greatest beneficiaries of the government’s new streamlined visa program, new data from the federal Department of Education reveals.

Data released this week shows that 98.5 per cent of Top Education students are international, more than double the Australian private higher education institution average of 42 per cent. It has one of the highest proportions of international students of any private higher education institution in NSW.

Of the 13 local students the institution has enrolled, only 46 per cent successfully completed their first year.

Last year, the 1000 student institution was one of only 22 private education providers to be granted access to the government’s simplified student visa framework, previously only available to universities. The move fast tracked the process for international students to obtain visas and enrol at the Eveleigh campus, opening it up to millions of lucrative student dollars.

The company donated $44,275 to the Liberal Party in 2014/15, while also footing the $1670.82 personal bill for Senator Dastyari’s travel expenses that led to his resignation from Labor’s front bench this week.

Based on a conservative calculation that multiplies the cost of its cheapest degrees and diplomas across its student numbers, the institution, run out of a ground-floor office in a University of Sydney building, earned $10 million in international student fees last year.

But the actual figure may be much higher. Department data reveals that the college had 171 students listed in the discipline of “society and culture”. The only degree it offers in that area is law, costing each student $80,000, netting it up to $13 million.

Top Education is also the only non-university private provider to be accredited for its law degrees by the federal government’s Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency and one of a handful of Australian institutions to be listed on the Chinese government’s official “white listing” of preferred overseas institutions for Chinese college students.

In 2013, Labor senator Kim Carr rejected the company’s application for a streamlined visa when he was the minister responsible for higher education after being lobbied by its chief executive Minshen Zhu.  He is a well-connected political figure in Australia and China as a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the Communist Party’s people’s forum.

On Friday, Mr Carr told Fairfax Media he was concerned about Top Education’s proposal because the Department of Immigration had advised him that there was a “very high level of risk” associated with the move to extend the simplified visa process.

“The department gave me emphatic advice that the risk levels of extending the simplified student visa framework were too high,” he said, referring to border protection concerns.

“Despite the fact that they had been significant contributors to the Labor Party, their case was not able to be sustained on the department’s advice at the time,” he said.

“There are some really serious questions to be asked here. How is it that this policy change occurred?”

On Friday, former federal education minister Christopher Pyne said any link between donations and the college’s visa application was “completely wrong”.

“The only reason they would have been given streamlined visa processing is they, along with 20 other education businesses in Australia, met the requirements that the public service decided were required,” he told Channel Nine. “It has nothing to do with the Liberal Party or the Labor Party or the government of the day.”

Top Education declined to comment.

Roseville’s big blocks offer buyers more bang for their buck

This contemporary addition enjoying a north-east aspect at the back of 4 Glen Road introduces a wonderful wow factor. Photo: Supplied This penthouse at 13/10 Nola Road comes with two double bedrooms, each with built-in storage. Photo: Supplied

With multiple living areas at entry level and flexible bedroom accommodation upstairs, 22 Merlin Street is a good proposition for families with school-aged children. Photo: James Rice

Roseville’s median house price is $2,306,000, similar to the median prices in Cammeray and Naremburn, which are closer to the city.

So why buy in Roseville? You get a whole lot more bang for your buck, with an average land size of 914 square metres compared with 411 square metres in Cammeray and 339 square metres in Naremburn (based on sales over the past 12 months).

It’s better than a two-for-one deal, with a train station thrown into the mix providing a city commute of just 20 minutes.

“I think the suburb is under-valued,” says McConnell Bourn agent James Matheson.

“A lot of buyers looking in Cammeray and Naremburn are now focusing on Roseville, so there’s a lot of room for growth.”

With its tree-lined streets and character homes, Roseville marks the beginning of the leafy upper north shore but has the advantage of being right next door to bustling Chatswood, a shopping and dining mecca.

On the northern border, plans for a new school on the UTS Ku-ring-gai site to open in 2019 will further boost the suburb’s appeal.

Rated in the upper north shore’s top five for liveability, according to a recent study by consultants Tract and Deloitte Access Economics, Roseville scores well for mobile and internet coverage, proximity to employment hubs, tree cover and transport.

“There’s great access down to Macquarie, it’s very family-friendly, safe and really pretty,” says Matheson.

A shortage of stock this year has helped secure some strong sales, including five house sales of more than $4 million, three of them in Roseville Avenue.

New apartments have sprung up along Boundary Street and in Victoria Street helping to push the median apartment price up to $855,000.

But there are still plenty of walk-up units in the suburb, with prices starting at a little under $600,000.

4 Glen Road, Roseville.

1. 4 Glen Road Guide: $2.8 million 4 bed 3 bath 3 car Built 1920s; renovated 2006 Land 813 square metres Inspect Sat and Wed, 1.30pm-2pm Agent McConnell Bourn, 0415 419 442 Auction September 17 Last traded for $900,000 in 2003 See more at: domain杭州m.au/2013012565

Embracing the best of old and new, this family home is set in a quiet cul de sac within walking distance of the station, cafes, cinema and Loyal Henry Park. Sitting behind a timber fence and a formal garden with manicured border hedging, the property retains its traditional Californian bungalow facade with a covered verandah, but a contemporary addition enjoying a north-east aspect at the back of the house introduces a wonderful wow factor. Encompassing two living areas with raked ceilings separated by a fireplace, the addition opens seamlessly through two wide sets of bi-fold doors.

Step out onto an outdoor terrace and up to a level lawn surrounded by tiered hedging with a cubbyhouse tucked into one corner. Back inside, the open-plan kitchen has a stone-wrapped island bench with breakfast bar seating, European appliances and a gas cooktop. There are four bedrooms at the front of the property, the main with a generous walk-in wardrobe and en suite.

Room for improvement: Consider installing a swimming pool in the back garden.

22 Merlin Street, Roseville.

2. 22 Merlin Street Guide: $2.3 million 4 bed 2 bath 3 car Built 1930s; renovated 2000 Land 1042 square metres Inspect Sat and Wed, noon-12.30pm Agent Savills Cordeau Marshall Lindfield, 0412 565 682 Auction September 17 Last traded price unknown See more at: domain杭州m.au/2013014423

This substantial property is located on Roseville’s coveted east side, where you’ll find a greater number of large, level blocks compared with west of the Pacific Highway. With multiple living areas at entry level and flexible bedroom accommodation upstairs, the home is a good proposition for families with school-aged children. A wide entry foyer leads to a formal lounge with fireplace on the left and a formal dining room on the right bookended by two outdoor entertaining areas.

There is a stone kitchen with European appliances adjoining a family meals area which opens onto a deep back garden wrapped in established greenery. Upstairs, access to the master bedroom is via an office with built-in cabinetry, a space which would also work as a nursery.

Room for improvement: Open up the back of the house to the garden.

13/10 Nola Road, Roseville

3. 13/10 Nola Road Guide: $1.25 million – $1.3 million 2 bed 2 bath 1 car Built 2011 Size 196 square metres Strata levy $1878 a quarter Inspect Sat and Wed, 11am-11.30am Agent Richardson & Wrench, 0413 384 545 Auction September 21 Last traded for $925,000 in 2010 See more at: domain杭州m.au/2013016694

Designed by architects Bates Smart, Pavilions is an up-market complex of 32 apartments positioned west of the highway a short walk from Roseville station. Set behind tiered, landscaped gardens at the end of a cul de sac, Pavilions has proven popular with downsizers, professionals and small families. This penthouse comes with two double bedrooms, each with built-in storage.

The main has a full en suite and access onto the balcony. The combined kitchen, living and dining room has timber floors and track lighting. An island kitchen features stone benchtops, a mirrored splashback and stainless steel Smeg appliances. Glass bi-fold doors open onto a wrap-around balcony with a leafy outlook. There is ducted airconditioning, secure intercom entry and lift access from the secure basement carpark.

Room for improvement: Use the boundary wall on the balcony for a vertical garden.

North shore offices are back in the spotlight

The north shore in Sydney is returning to its former self as more office towers are being constructed to satisfy the demand of the expanding commerce industries.

Having gone through tough times when office vacancy reached heady levels of about 20 per cent, the area was turned into a residential zone.

But with significant stock withdrawals and rising rents in Sydney’s central business district, the demand for office accommodation across the north shore is expected to rise substantially, according to Knight Frank’s managing director, North Sydney, Angus Klem​.

He said North Sydney is now “well and truly an adjunct to the Sydney CBD”.

“Over the next two years significant stock withdrawals in the CBD will see an exodus of tenants to North Sydney and the other north shore markets,” Mr Klem said.

There is also the planned state metro line that has led the state government to buy up properties in North Sydney, which has led to a tightening of stock.

Knight Frank’s Giuseppe Ruberto​, director of office leasing, north shore, said a number of tenants were opting away from the CBD due to cost and the limited options available. He said instead tenants were choosing to operate within the north shore with North Sydney expected to be a big winner over the next 24 months.

“Effective secondary rents in the CBD core have risen by over 20 per cent in the last 12 months, with rents now sitting over $900 per square metre gross in some locations, so it is no surprise tenants are now considering other options. Recently we have seen tenants, including BT Australasia and Chubb Insurance, committing to North Sydney from the CBD,” Mr Ruberto said.

He said the lack of prime space in North Sydney was an issue of the past with 101 Miller Street as the only premium building available and experiencing strong leasing success with a number of floors leased, highlighting the demand for quality assets.

Another development is by DEXUS Property Group at 100 Mount Street,  North Sydney. The group has appointed JLL national head of leasing, Tim O’Connor, and JLL head of office leasing North Sydney, Paul Lynch, to partner with DEXUS’ leasing team, headed by Chris Hynes, on the project’s leasing.

DEXUS executive general manager of office and industrial, Kevin George, said the group had received some strong inquiries to lease the office space since it had agreed to buy 100 Mount Street. “Now that we have settled on the acquisition, we can progress leasing discussions,” Mr George said.

Knight Frank’s Tyler Talbot, director, institutional sales, North Sydney, said north shore investment activity had been strong over the past 12 months and this was expected to continue with high demand from both domestic and offshore groups.

“Limited quality stock, falling interest rates and the real prospect of significant rental growth has been driving down yields,” Mr Talbot said.

Knight Frank’s latest research report, the North Shore Office Market Overview: August 2016 found about 80,000 square metres of office stock has been earmarked for permanent withdrawal from the North Sydney market over the next four years.

According to Knight Frank’s Alex Pham, senior research manager, NSW, the significant withdrawal of stock saw the North Sydney vacancy rate dipping to its lowest level in four years at 7 per cent in July 2016.

Illegal dumping investigator Craig Izzard denies bribery allegations at ICAC inquiry

Craig Izzard after appearing at the ICAC inquiry on Thursday. Photo: Peter RaeA former illegal dumping investigator told a corruption inquiry he was “surprised” to learn more than 200 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated waste had been dumped at a western Sydney property he was allegedly responsible for investigating.

Craig Izzard, a former rugby league player for the Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels, endured a day of rigorous questioning at the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Friday over his alleged involvement in “black market” dumping operations last year.

Mr Izzard maintained he had done nothing improper, as counsel assisting the commission James Mack guided him point-by-point through his employment code of conduct for the Western Sydney Regional Illegal Dumping Squad (RID).

“Is it your evidence that, while employed in the Western Sydney RID, you always acted honestly?” Mr Mack inquired

“I would say so, yes,” Mr Izzard replied.

Mr Izzard is the principal person of interest in four allegations of corrupt conduct, including three times last year when he allegedly solicited bribes from people in exchange for not investigating their dumping activity.

Among the allegations, Mr Izzard is accused of soliciting a bribe from Reuben Matthews in exchange for turning a blind eye to dumping at his property in Willowdene Avenue, Luddenham.

But Mr Izzard said he had no involvement in investigating the site, despite email evidence showing he was asked by Liverpool Council to investigate dumping complaints in November 2014.

He told the commission he had been “surprised” to learn that more than 200 tonnes of waste was later dumped at the site and tests revealed it was contaminated with asbestos.

Matthews was later convicted of dumping offences and fined $55,000. Another man, Nosir Kabite, was fined $25,000 after pleading guilty to transporting the waste to the property.

Earlier in the week, Mr Mack extracted an admission from Mr Kabite that he and Mr Izzard had an understanding that involved the exchange of “favours”.

After numerous recordings of phone calls between Mr Kabite and Mr Izzard were played before the inquiry, Mr Kabite admitted the pair used the code word “drinks” when discussing bribes.

“Mr Izzard frequently asked you for drinks, and by drinks he meant bribes, and it was your job to go out and get Mr Izzard a drink? Do you agree with me?” Mr Mack asked Mr Kabite.

“Yes,” he replied.

Mr Kabite said he gave Mr Izzard money on “two or three occasions”, and each payment was between $500 and $700.

However, Mr Izzard maintained the payments were in connection with an unrelated energy business he owned, whereby Mr Kabite would sell refrigeration units for him.

He also denied attempting to solicit a bribe from another man, Antonio Barillaro, in connection with alleged illegal dumping at a property in Badgerys Creek, telling the inquiry he’d never heard of someone by that name.

The commission also heard Mr Izzard regularly advised Mr Kabite over his council-related dilemmas, including one time when he suggested Mr Kabite’s nephew could attempt to avoid a dumping-related fine by pretending someone else was responsible.

When asked by assistant commissioner Reginald Blanch if he realised he was advising someone to pervert the course of justice, he replied: “I think it was, I probably didn’t [think] about it, Mr Commissioner.”

Mr Izzard will continue giving evidence to the inquiry on Monday.

Hotels sector braces for busy times ahead

The Novotel Darling Harbour was the first Accor hotel in Australia. Accor has grown to 208 hotels across the country.There are three mega trends that are being felt in the hotel sector and operators are taking up the challenge, says AccorHotel’s Asia Pacific chief executive Michael Issenberg.

Speaking in Sydney for AccorHotel’s 25th anniversary in Australia, Mr Issenberg said hotels had a new “dream phase” where the “before and after” experiences at a hotel had changed the sector dramatically.

AccorHotels arrived in Australia with the launch of the Novotel at Darling Harbour and now has 208 hotels under 12 brands across the country. It will expand with its latest $3.9 billion purchase of the Fairmont, Swissotel and Raffles hotel.

But Mr Issenberg said amid the new sharing economy and guests’ ability to plan and book a hotel room by themselves, and where every experience is put online immediately, its still old-fashioned service during the stay that remains the constant focus of hotel operators.

“Travel is now about the time it takes to plan and then book a holiday and select the appropriate hotel, which we call the dream phase, but once the guest arrives it’s back to offering the best service we can to make the stay enjoyable,” Mr Issenberg said.

“Everything has changed with technology and the sharing generation, so service is the differential for hotel operators.”

He said now that most people bring their own electronic devices and download movies, demand for cable TV in a room has diminished, but demand has risen for better Wi-Fi and technology outlets.

Mr Issenberg said the sector’s mega trends are the inflow of Asian travellers, the increased use of private stay accommodation, such as the group’s Onefinestay​ business, and the new sharing economy, which is not just the domain of the so-called millennials but where visitors like interacting in more relaxed lobbies and common areas.

“The growth of visitors from Asia is an important mega trend that is changing the hotel and tourism sector,” he said. “That includes having dual-speaking staff and different and more varied food, among many other services.”

This comes as the sector is bracing for an inflow of visitors for events that are now booked at the new International Convention Centre, which has been rebuilt in Sydney and opens later this year.

According to ICC Sydney, there are already more than 100 events booked and it expects to generate at least $200 million a year in economic benefits for NSW. Given the time and distance of travelling to Australia, it is expected that some guests will stay and see more of the country, which will benefit other states.

Business Events Sydney has booked 43 events to be hosted at UCC Sydney, of which 39 are international, which is its core focus.

Lyn Lewis-Smith, chief executive of Business Events Sydney, said of this pipeline 17 events will be hosted  next year, although she expects this to keep increasing over the next 12 months,

Ms Lewis-Smith said international conference delegates spend up to 6.5 times more than a regular tourist, so this super high yield traveller is the NSW government’s focus.

The chief executive and founder of Ovolo Hotels, Girish Jhunjhnuwala, said Sydney was the gateway to Australia for travellers around the world. And the opening of ICC Sydney will definitely further strengthen Sydney’s position in conventions, exhibitions and entertainment segments by attracting more international business travellers to the city.

“Hotel room demand is already at an all-time high in the city, and with the ICC’s opening, it’s going to likely accelerate rate increases, which is sure to benefit hotels in Sydney,” Mr Jhunjhnuwala said. “Overall room quality, however, continues to be a big issue, as there are limited new hotel openings and the majority of the city’s hotel room inventory is old and tired. Ovolo is well positioned with recently refurbished hotels in Darling Harbour and Woolloomooloo.”

Sarah Armstrong: books that changed me

Sarah Armstrong Photo: Donatella Parisini Journalist and producer for Foreign Correspondent: Author Sarah Armstrong. Photo: Supplied

Sarah Armstrong has been a journalist and producer for ABC radio and Foreign Correspondent on ABC TV. Her first novel, Salt Rain, was shortlisted for the 2005 Miles Franklin Award. Her third novel, Promise (Macmillan), is about a woman who runs away with her neighbour’s son after she suspects he is being abused. She lives in northern NSW with her husband, the writer Alan Close.

The Chrysalids

John Wyndham

When I was a kid, we didn’t have a television and I read all day long, including at school where I hid a book on my lap. I discovered John Wyndham when I was about 10, and I still remember the exhilarating and disturbing experience of reading The Chrysalids. This post-apocalyptic story with child protagonists was the first time I really felt the unsettling power of fiction.


Gillian Mears

This is a collection of linked short stories by Gillian Mears, who, so sadly, died in May. Set on the north coast of NSW, Fineflour is her second book, and tells the stories of those living in a riverside town. Gillian’s writing is wry, melancholy and exquisitely tender. When I first read it I felt a profound resonance, as if she was articulating, in a way I couldn’t, something about how I observe the world.

Playful Parenting

Dr Lawrence Cohen

After my daughter Amelia was born six years ago I read way too many parenting books and was tying myself in knots, until I read Playful Parenting. Larry Cohen says children use play to communicate deep feelings, release tension and get close to those they love. Coming to see playfulness as an essential aspect of parenting – and not least for dealing with conflict – has made our family’s life smoother and much more relaxed.

The Turning

Tim Winton

Another collection of linked short stories! I’ve read this book many times and am always moved and inspired. There’s an economy and spare quality to his writing that is all the more admirable because he conveys so many subtle and complex layers of meaning. In The Turning, Tim Winton captures, for me, the vulnerability and beauty of being alive. I re-read it every so often for a masterclass in writing.

Moroccan feel adds to office’s internal courtyard

Six Degrees Architects designed the new office in Jessie Street, Cremorne. Photo: Alice Hutchison The exterior of the four-level building designed by Six Degrees Architects. Photo: Alice Hutchison

This four-level office block, overlooking the railway tracks entering Richmond Station, has quickly become a landmark building in the Cremorne neighbourhood. Designed by Six Degrees Architects, the low-rise building could easily be mistaken for apartments rather than offices for the techno industry. North-facing balconies, with their concrete breezeblock screens, add a more domestic feel to the facade. “We wanted to add another layer to the facade rather than just presenting a monochromatic steel and glass office building,” says architect Michael Frazzetto, senior associate with Six Degrees Architects.

The prominent corner site, previously occupied by a single-storey 1960s warehouse, was shaped not only by the position but also, importantly, by the client’s admiration for Six Degrees Architects’ Newmarket Hotel, in Inkerman Street, St Kilda. “He loved the way we used concrete at that hotel and its general materiality,” says Frazzetto, referring to that project’s use of exposed brick, steel, tiles and more sumptuous materials such as the lush red velvet curtains. A recent trip to Morocco also captivated the client’s imagination. “He showed us images of the Riad where he stayed. There was an internal courtyard and a sense of intimacy that came with this place,” he adds.

Six Degrees Architects took their client’s brief on board and as a team looked at various courtyard-style buildings in several European cities as well as those built over several time spans, including Roman palazzi, Renaissance buildings and those found in Moorish cities. “We felt we could apply some of the same principles to this site. A number of people here came up with sketches and concepts in the initial design phase,” says Frazzetto, who sees the outcome of this project coming from the eclectic approach from various members of the design team.

The building’s concrete facade, comprising thermo panels (fully insulated to allow them to be fully exposed for the internal spaces) are complemented by floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors and concrete brise-soleil concrete block screens to filter light, ventilation and views over the railway tracks. In contrast, the west elevation is predominantly concrete with carefully articulated windows framed in steel to accentuate the impressive city views. “The yellow (painted panels) refer to the Richmond Football Club,” says Frazzetto, who included a large concrete planter on the first level on the western facade to form sun protection over the pavement.

As with many nearby warehouses and factories, the approach to this office building is fairly discreet through a narrow passage. But it’s only until one enters that the Moorish ambience unfolds. The office on the top level, for example, taking up the entire floor plate (approximately 250 square metres), features an internal courtyard. Immediately past the steel and glass doors to the courtyard is a colonnade of arched concrete columns, evocative of the Newmarket Hotel and also the Riad in Morocco. A fireplace with a concrete hearth framed by Moorish-style tiles, completes the picture. “Eventually this area will be filled with plants, creating an oasis in this urban environment,” says Frazzetto.

Six Degrees Architects also included archways within the office spaces, including carving into the concrete walls. And in contrast to the Moorish “overlay”, the palette has been kept simple, with concrete ceilings and walls, the former with exposed services.

Unlike the top level, the lower levels have been segmented into thirds with plywood walls softening the concrete floors and ceilings. Ideal for tech companies searching for smaller and well-located offices, there’s been no shortage of tenants since the building was finished. “We wanted to create simple, functional and robust spaces, but also provide a building that had its own character, something that didn’t feel too corporate,” adds Frazzetto.

Ellyse Perry looks forward to Southern Stars’ first series in Sri Lanka

As the Australian men’s team’s long tour of Sri Lanka winds up, the Southern Stars are ready to fly out for their first ever tour there – a limited-overs series that demonstrates that much could be learnt from the women’s game.

Meg Lanning’s squad are travelling to Colombo as part of the ICC Women’s Championship, with crucial points on offer in the first three one-day internationals in their bid to secure automatic qualification for next year’s 50-over World Cup in England.

The ICC is considering introducing a similar league structure for the limited-overs forms of men’s cricket in a development that could add context to standalone bilateral series.

In the women’s championship countries play each other home or away over a four-year cycle, with the top four gaining direct entry to the World Cup. The Australians, reassembling for the first time since the World Twenty20 championship in India in March, are on top of the ladder as they head to eighth-rated Sri Lanka.

“What’s been really great about this competition is it puts impetus on all nations,” Australian all-rounder Ellyse Perry said. “We haven’t toured Sri Lanka for a standalone series before. The [championship] has been mutually beneficial in that in allows us to be exposed to different conditions and some of the other countries can develop further as well.”

Perry is now keen on developing  her leadership credentials further. She led Sydney Sixers to the final of the  first Women’s Big Bash League last summer and has now been named to skipper a Governor-General’s XI at Drummoyne Oval in an annual game that was launched last season and this year will feature a touring South African XI.

“I haven’t done a lot of captaincy in my professional career, but I did quite a bit as a kid,” Perry said. “Last year was the first time I’ve really had a go at it playing at a higher level. I really enjoyed it andI guess the more experience you have doing it the more comfortable you get at it.”