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The legacies of Barangaroo

THE Great Depression entailed bitter experience for many but the make-work projects that helped restore economic activity left a legacy still useful and appreciated: in Sydney, think of the Wakehurst Parkway or the popular bathing terraces at Clovelly.

THE Great Depression entailed bitter experience for many but the make-work projects that helped restore economic activity left a legacy still useful and appreciated: in Sydney, think of the Wakehurst Parkway or the popular bathing terraces at Clovelly.

THE Great Depression entailed bitter experience for many but the make-work projects that helped restore economic activity left a legacy still useful and appreciated: in Sydney, think of the Wakehurst Parkway or the popular bathing terraces at Clovelly.

In the present jittery times, the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, seems to be suggesting a similar role for the commercial towers of Barangaroo, brooking no quibbling about design.

He says NSW ''cannot afford'' a probable delay of up to a year that would be involved in reconfiguring the towers to slimmer profiles, as recommended by a panel of three distinguished architects O'Farrell appointed to review the scheme only two months ago.

This panel, which notably includes the NSW Government Architect, Peter Mould - astonishingly in his first involvement in this massive remake of the city centre - said the existing concepts were so large as to ''create the effect of an homogenous mass''.

O'Farrell says Barangaroo has already been ''designed, redesigned and tweaked over and over again'' and that if ''we keep debating the design it will never be built''.

The existing design provides the large floor ''plates'' sought by the financial services sector, he says. ''Given the volatile nature of world markets, we simply cannot afford to delay Barangaroo while we look at alternative designs.''

There are many curious aspects to this turn of events. The claim that a new building shape will delay things a year is dubious, since the design is still at a concept stage anyway.

With the global financial sector in enormous disarray and consolidation, the burning hunger for new office space in what is still a second-echelon financial capital is far from obvious. Nor is it at all clear that large horizontal office spaces will be needed so much in an emerging era of dispersed, mobile work ''platforms''. For all we know, these towers could end up as apartments rather than Wall Street Down Under.

We can conjecture that O'Farrell's expressed wish to cut Barangaroo's contentious hotel-on-water is weighing on his mind. The question of compensation that might be sought by Lend Lease, the developers, is still in the air. Perhaps the Premier worries that pushing the developers on a second aspect of the scheme will end up with a large impact on the budget. He may be more worried about economic activity.

Whatever the case, this toxic hangover from Labor will not be dispelled by mysterious, snap reversals and rejection of expert official advice. O'Farrell is gradually assuming ownership of Barangaroo. What kind of legacy will he be leaving the future generations of Sydneysiders?

Israel needs to think againIT SOMETIMES seems that the Israeli government is determined not only to provoke its enemies but to infuriate its friends. Its announcement last week that it is to build another 1100 Jewish housing units in disputed East Jerusalem, in an area regarded by Palestinians as occupied territory, could hardly have been more ill timed. It came just as diplomats from the so-called Quartet - the US, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia - are trying to persuade the two sides to resume negotiations.

Even more pointedly, the announcement came in the immediate lead-up to the visit to Israel this week by Barack Obama's Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta. It was an odd way for the Netanyahu government to show its gratitude for the US President's pre-emptive promise to use its veto in the Security Council, if necessary, to block the Palestinian bid for membership of the UN. Obama's intervention, while partly dictated by domestic political considerations, has further damaged his credibility in the restless Arab world.

Small wonder Panetta spoke bluntly to reporters during his flight to the Middle East. He warned that Israel was becoming increasingly isolated, urged an early resumption of peace talks, and called on Israel to repair its strained relations with its neighbours, notably Egypt and Turkey.

Even the Australian government, which has tended to be less even-handed and more uncritically pro-Israel under Julia Gillard, is losing patience. At the weekend, the Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, described the new expansion of settlements as counterproductive and unwelcome, and called on Israel to cease settlement activity immediately.

True, at the weekend Israel repeated its readiness to enter negotiations without preconditions. But that assurance will ring hollow in regional capitals, given that the prime precondition the Palestinians are insisting on is a cessation of Israel's settlements.

Understandably, they see the settlements as designed to further change the reality on the ground. This, they say, will then be presented as a fait accompli when and if negotiations begin. While Israel did withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005, already about 500,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the number is increasing.

It is also true that the Palestinians are equally obdurate. The difference is that, militarily, the Israelis are strong, the Palestinians weak. But diplomatically, the game is changing. Not even the biggest boy on the block can afford, gratuitously and indefinitely, to thumb his nose at increasingly impatient allies.


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