Sydney public transport: fewer complaints

“People … are telling us they are seeing improvements”: Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian Photo: Lisa McMahon “People … are telling us they are seeing improvements”: Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian Photo: Lisa McMahon

“People … are telling us they are seeing improvements”: Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian Photo: Lisa McMahon

“People … are telling us they are seeing improvements”: Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian Photo: Lisa McMahon

Grumbling about public transport might be as much a feature of Sydney as the harbour. But according to government surveys, Sydney residents are doing it less.

The light rail service from Dulwich Hill to Central was the only form of public transport to experience a drop in “customer satisfaction”, according to survey results released on Thursday by the Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian.

Satisfaction ratings for trains, buses, ferries and taxis all increased in the year to May. But the surveys also highlighted what caused commuters and occasional passengers the most angst.

For train and ferry passengers, the availability of parking near train stations and wharves remains the biggest issue. Just 13 per cent of train users said they were very satisfied with parking levels.

Bus passengers, meanwhile, nominated the lack of information about service delays as their biggest complaint. The infrequency of buses was also nominated by a large number of bus passengers as a complaint.

The customer satisfaction index was created by Ms Berejiklian’s Transport for NSW based on survey results.

The surveys also measure satisfaction by train line. The Carlingford Line (now called T6) scored the lowest level of satisfaction. The Hunter Line, which the state government plans to truncate, recorded the highest, while among inner rail lines the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line also scored highly.

Ms Berejiklian said: “We know we still have plenty of work to do, but overall people using public transport are telling us they are seeing improvements.

“We will use this feedback to ensure we see even better results again next year,” she said.An earlier version of this report incorrectly referred to the Carlingford Line as T5.

WorkCover NSW bullying: Wayne Butler receives belated apology for poor treatment and dismissal

Bullied … Wayne Butler, the Workcover NSW employee, received an unconditional apology for the poor treatment he received by his employer. The Industrial Commission had already ordered that he be reinstated to his job. Photo: Phil HearneA belated and unconditional apology has been given to Wayne Butler who was bullied by the workplace safety regulator, WorkCover NSW.

The apology comes four months after a joint parliamentary committee found that bullying is rife in the ranks of the regulator.

The cross-party committee urged WorkCover to make a public apology to staff including Wayne Butler, an employee it was forced to reinstate after it sacked him for dubious reasons. The committee said this was important to help the organisation rebuild trust with staff.

A letter by Vivek Bhatia, chief executive officer of the WorkCover Safety, Return to Work and Support dated on Wednesday apologised for the way Mr Butler was treated during an investigation and for his dismissal. WorkCover accepts that he was exonerated and completely cleared of all allegations.

“This is an unconditional apology, made without any qualifications or reservations. I regret the way in which you were treated during the investigation and your dismissal and I acknowledge that you and your family did go through a difficult and distressing time. I would also like to extend my apology to your family as well,” the letter said.

“The STWS Executive Team and I, sincerely apologise for all statements made during the inquiry hearings which may have inferred that WorkCover held other evidence if misconduct by yourself. This is not the case at all.

“I confirm there are no matters to your conduct other than the allegations made against you in 2012. All of those 2012 allegations were not sustained even partially in a court of law, whose decision we accept without reservation.”

Deputy President of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission Rodney Harrison described an investigation WorkCover conducted into Mr Butler as little more than a “witch-hunt” and characteristic of “institutional bullying”.

Mr Butler had spent 12 years in WorkCover’s Safety, Return to Work and Support Division until being sacked in November 2012 following an investigation Mr Harrison denounced in June last year as “deplorable”.

The committee also recommended new anti-bullying laws for all workers in NSW in a report that was damning of WorkCover. It also called for independent oversight of the agency, which has responsibility for regulating workplace safety and providing workers compensation.

Greens MP and Industrial relations spokesperson David Shoebridge said the government apology comes just 48 hours before WorkCover is required to make its submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into bullying.

“Without this continuing Parliamentary pressure it is pretty obvious that WorkCover would not have apologised,” he said.

“This apology is far too late, but I welcome the fact that it is unconditional and has finally been delivered.

“Mr Butler, like every employee in NSW, deserves to be treated with far more respect than he received at the hands of WorkCover.”

From Hipsters to Soul Mates

Cavemen: Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier star in Soul Mates which debuts on ABC2 on October 23. Cavemen: Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier star in Soul Mates which debuts on ABC2 on October 23.

Cavemen: Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier star in Soul Mates which debuts on ABC2 on October 23.

Cavemen: Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier star in Soul Mates which debuts on ABC2 on October 23.

In a yoga studio turned TV-set in Bondi Pavilion, it is difficult to spot where the ultra irony of the beachside burb ends and the mockumentary begins, such has been the success of the YouTube sensation Bondi Hipsters in nailing the parody of this generation’s zeitgeist cliche.

Christiann van Vuuren and Nick Boshier, whose alter egos Dom Nader and Adrian Archer are a perfect distillation of society’s grievances with the hipster trope, have come along way since shooting the early episodes of Bondi Hipsters in the lounge room of their friend’s apartment.

Decked out in flamboyant lycra ensembles, Boshier and van Vuuren are preparing for an afternoon shoot that will see Dom and Adrian attempt to navigate the perennial quandary of zen-seekers: the yoga fart.

Above the din of  TV  cameras rolling into position, van Vuuren’s directions fly thick, fast and ridiculous across the wooden-panelled studio: “As long as the person who sees the camel toe is behind the person who has the camel toe.”

As the production crew scuttle across the set, rushing to add the final touches before lunch break, a make-up artist manages to hold van Vuuren still for just long enough to seal Dom’s beard to his face.

Everything looks set to roll on an upmarket episode of Bondi Hipsters. Except, not quite.

The duo are midway through filming their latest, and undoubtedly most ambitious venture yet, Soul Mates – a  6-episode comedy series commissioned by ABC2, which sees Dom and Adrian’s Bondi Hipster bromance reincarnated across the time continuum.

“It’s a comedy show about two dickheads who bump into each other in other lifetimes,” Boshier says as he greets me on set, bespectacled in his character Adrian’s signature black-framed glasses (ironically lensless of course).

After two years of refining Dom and Adrian’s moral and sexual ambiguities for an internet audience, Boshier and Van Vuuren’s acting talents will be tested in a fresh set of characters: as cavemen in the neanderthal era, as Kiwi assassins in the ’80s and as agents in a time travel agency in the future.

“We haven’t done any TV before,” Boshier says, “and we haven’t done anything internationally before in TV.”

But this is what makes the duo’s swift rise from obscurity to mainstream all the more remarkable, and a testament to the internet’s power to juggernaut raw talent. Neither actor’s CVs are furnished with the formal acting qualifications you might expect of stars of a major network TV series.

The two men had already staked separate claims to the title of “viral sensation” when they met at a YouTube convention in 2011. A guest speaker at the convention, Van Vuuren had garnered worldwide attention with the Fully Sick Rapper – a video web series he created while quarantined in a Sydney hospital for six months with tuberculosis in 2010.

“It was the first time that I had come across Christiaan’s stuff, and I immediately thought our senses of humour were aligned,” says Boshier, who had achieved internet notoriety as “Trent from Punchy”, a foul-mouthed bogan from Sydney’s western suburbs. He was also part of the team behind the Beached Az whale series.

The young creatives kept in contact after the convention, riffing on ideas for collaboration. Some weeks later, in a setting that could not have been more ironically suited, van Vuuren and Boshier sketched out the idea for Bondi Hipsters.

“We caught up in North Bondi and had a breakfast, and had an avocado smoothie that we both agreed had a consistency of dragon semen,” says Boshier.

“That was the moment,” Boshier recalls, when van Vuuren struck with comedic timing: “so I have this idea of two hipster characters we can jam on.”

And so, in late 2011, Dom Nadier and Adrian Archer, the two self-absorbed fashionistas from Bondi, arrived on the internet, spruiking their nameless fashion label in their signature hipster argot.

“Why waste fahshun resources on printing labels? We’re trying to minhamise our environmentahl footsie,” Dom says, as he flicks his cigarette butt out the window.

From there “it started to naturally blend from a two-person thing to a three-person thing,” Boshier says, with Connor van Vuuren, Christiaan’s brother, joining the fold as a co-writer.

These days, the talented triumvirate are a professional outfit.  When Soul Mates hits TV screens in October, the brothers will celebrate their first co-directing TV credits under their production company, the Van Vuuren Brothers.

With Dom and Adrian, purveyors of the underground and undiscovered, now poised at the precipice of mainstream success, will the duo’s TV debut bring about their ideological demise?

“Christiaan wanted to kill them off immediately,” Boshier says, but hints that Dom and Adrian may well endure for as long as the millennial subculture does.

“Not to say we want to globally dominate,” he says, but  “we haven’t explore the lengths to which we can take these characters.”

Soul Mates, ABC2, Thursday, October 23, 9.30pm

Muslim groups, lawyers and academics call for Foreign Fighters Bill to be put on ice

More than 40 groups have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis over the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill. Photo: Andrew Meares More than 40 groups have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis over the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill. Photo: Andrew Meares

More than 40 groups have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis over the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill. Photo: Andrew Meares

More than 40 groups have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis over the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill. Photo: Andrew Meares

Muslim groups, lawyers, Amnesty International and Civil Liberties Australia have united to urge the federal government to delay passing its latest anti-terror law.

Forty-three groups, including the National Imams Council and Lebanese Muslim Association, have signed a letter to Attorney-General George Brandis warning that the case has not been made for the need for the so-called Foreign Fighters Bill.

The bill, which will bestow new powers on national security agencies to detain and investigate terror suspects and returning fighters, will be rushed through Parliament by the end of the month with the support of Labor.

“The government is seeking to rush this law through Parliament … doing so will deny our elected representatives and the community the opportunity to fully debate the proposed changes,” the group wrote to Senator Brandis in a statement delivered on Wednesday afternoon.

“The government must explain why all of these changes are needed. Australia already has laws to meet the threat posed by foreign fighters. Indeed, the government and its agencies have formidable powers to combat terrorism. In light of this, it is not clear why some of the changes in the bill are necessary, particularly where they could have a major impact on the human rights of every Australian.”

Several of the groups who signed the letters have already lodged detailed submissions to the Senate committee scrutinising the bill. It is due to report on Friday ahead of Parliament’s return on Monday.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance has raised concern the new law could be unconstitutional as it will allow security agents to search houses before applying for a “delayed notification” warrant and give the Attorney-General power to suspend a terror suspect’s welfare payments. In both cases, there would be no avenue to appeal to the courts.

The Muslim Legal Network, a co-signatory, raised concern in its submission that the new concept of “advocating terrorism” could preclude teachings from certain passages of texts such as the Koran and the Old Testament.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, the independent regulator overseeing the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, has said the legislation is so wide as to redefine the meaning of “security” which could lead to any Australian who commits a criminal act overseas becoming a legitimate target of ASIO.

The organisations and individuals include constitutional expert George Williams of the University of NSW, international law Professor Ben Saul of Sydney University and Professor Hilary Charlesworth, of the Australian National University.

In its letter, the group pointed out that existing anti-terror laws do not lapse until 2015, allowing time to scrutinise new measures like the Foreign Minister’s power to proscribe certain areas of conflict as “no go zones” for Australians.

“These regimes risk encroaching on rights to freedom from arbitrary detention, free speech, movement and association, without specifically addressing the threat posed by foreign fighters,” the group said.

“Given the extraordinary nature of this bill, the undersigned call on the Australian Parliament to not pass the bill without a more comprehensive public consultation on the necessity of the laws and their compliance with domestic and international human rights obligations.”

A spokesman for Senator Brandis declined to comment.

Opposition grows to storage of photo and biometric data

There will be a major expansion of facial recognition imaging. Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said “a clear explanation” was needed from the government. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Privacy fears: the government has announced a significant expansion of its biometric data collection.

Photographs of millions of Australians will be stored by the Immigration Department, and this “biometric data” gathering could extend to fingerprinting and iris scanning under the Abbott government’s controversial counterterrorism laws.

The “foreign fighters” bill means there will be a major expansion of facial recognition imaging of Australians passing through international airports in a crackdown on passport fraud that could eventually apply to a wide range of biometric data – which could be shared with other government agencies.

Critics say the danger of such information being hacked is profound, given many personal electronic devices are now secured by fingerprints and iris scans.

The sheer scale of the personal information that would stream into the government’s databanks is set to open one of the first fissures in the largely bipartisan approach to national security, with Labor warning that the legislation poses a danger to privacy.

“It’s clear that this provision would be a significant expansion of biometric data collection by the government,” shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said.

“Australians deserve a clear explanation from the government about what protections will be put in place to protect the privacy and security of their information.”

The legislation specifically clears the way for all Australians as well as foreigners to be photographed when they leave Australia and when they return if they go through automated passport gates – which are set to become far more commonly used.

The department estimates that between 40 and 60 per cent of the 35 million travellers leaving and entering Australia each year would be photographed, many millions of them Australians.

The department can also share the biometric information for “specified purposes” according to the bill’s explanatory memoranda, though it does not explain what these purposes are.

The foreign fighters bill is being scrutinised by the high-powered parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security before a vote expected by the end of the month.

It would allow the government to collect and store fingerprints and iris scans without needing to pass new laws. This could instead by done through regulations, which can be blocked only if opposition parties muster a majority of MPs in either house.

The Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, told a recent parliamentary hearing into the legislation that under the changes, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection would hold personal biometric information to an unprecedented “extent and volume”.

The Immigration Department was rocked this year by an embarrassing data breach in which the personal details of nearly 10,000 asylum seekers were mistakenly made available on the department’s website.

Underscoring the extent of security concerns, the growing biometrics database would be secured by the nation’s top defence cyberspooks, the Australian Signals Directorate, according to testimony given by the department to the intelligence and security committee last week.

The ASD has indirectly suffered its own data breach recently in the case of renegade American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, whose massive leaks of Western intelligence files involved some relating to the agency including, most spectacularly, details of Australian spying efforts against Indonesian leaders.

Privacy advocates are particularly worried about the consequences of biometric data being hacked because, unlike a passport or a tax file number, it cannot be changed.

“You can’t readily change your fingerprints or your face,” Australian Privacy Foundation chairman Roger Clarke said.

Labor MP Anthony Byrne, the intelligence and security committee’s deputy chairman, expressed deep concern at a public hearing last week about the privacy implications.

“I am deeply, deeply uncomfortable with that level of data being kept by that department, particularly given the potential for someone to break into that and basically lift hundreds of thousands of fingerprints of Australian citizens,” he said.

“Think about the privacy implications of that with iris recognition, which is used for laptops and computer systems. Iris scans are now being used on portable devices.”

Emily Howie of the Human Rights Law Centre said more debate was needed about the government’s counterterrorism laws.

“Australians’ right to privacy is often eroded through the use of new surveillance powers and technologies without proper legal safeguards,” she said. “Of course the government has a responsibility to protect the community, but it must do so in a manner that is reasonable and accountable.”