Infrastructure boss holds senior racing club board position, as it embarks on major development | The Canberra Times


news, act-politics, Major Projects Canberra, Canberra Racing Club, thoroughbred park, Gungahlin light rail, Duncan Edghill

The head of the ACT’s infrastructure department holds a senior committee position at Canberra Racing Club, which is embarking on a major residential and commercial development at Thoroughbred Park. Major Projects Canberra and the racing club say Duncan Edghill has made all of the necessary conflicts of interest disclosures and is not involved in any dealings between the government agency and private organisation. But the presence of Mr Edghill, who is charged with overseeing light rail’s expansion and the Canberra hospital upgrade, on the racing club’s board does raise questions, particularly given the club’s planned transformation of its Flemington Road racecourse precinct. The Canberra Times last month reported the club’s masterplan flagged up to 3200 homes on the site, as well as commercial space and possibly a hotel and aged-care complex. The racecourse would be retained. The 12-to-15-year project could inject up to $1 billion into the Canberra economy and support more than 2000 jobs, according to an internal government brief. The club has been keen to leverage its proximity to the Gungahlin light rail line to spur a redevelopment of Thoroughbred Park, which chief executive Andrew Clark said was key to the organisation and sport’s long-term future. Mr Edghill was one of the key people in charge of delivering the first stage of light rail in his previous role as Transport Canberra boss. The racing club’s records show Mr Edghill was first appointed to the committee on June 30, 2019 – about two months after light rail took its first passengers. He was elected treasurer of the racing club last year. Mr Edghill moved from Transport Canberra to head up the newly created major projects agency in July 2019, initially on an interim basis and then full-time. As chief projects officer, he is charge of the procurement and delivery of the ACT government’s infrastructure program, an agenda headlined by light rail’s second stage to Woden and the $500 million Canberra Hospital expansion. The infrastructure agency would not be responsible for assessing or approving the racing club’s masterplan or any development applications related to the Thoroughbred Park precinct revamp. Those decisions would fall to the ACT’s independent planning and land authority. The racing club plans to start community consultation on the proposal in February. It hopes to gain government approval within three years. In statements to The Canberra Times, Major Projects Canberra and Canberra Racing Club indicated Mr Edghill’s involvement with the two organisations was above board. A racing club spokeswoman said Mr Edghill, who fills the treasurer’s position on a volunteer basis, had made all of the necessary conflicts of interests to both parties and abided by confidentiality obligations. Mr Edghill hadn’t provided the club with any information which wasn’t already publicly available, the spokeswoman said. She said Mr Edghill did not represent the club in talks with the ACT government and had on a number of occasions stepped out of board meetings when discussions turned to the relationship between the two. However, she confirmed he had been involved in committee discussions about the proposed Thoroughbred Park redevelopment when there was “no conflict”, such as on matters related to club members and trainers. “Mr Edghill’s role within the ACT government does not involve any matters relating to the Canberra Racing Club, and Mr Edghill always acts with professionalism and integrity in disclosing any potential conflicts and adhering to his confidentiality obligation,” she said. “The Canberra Racing Club does not have access to information from Mr Edghill which is not already in the public domain, but values the leadership, project management and financial experience Mr Edghill brings to the committee – and by extension to the Canberra community – on a voluntary basis from his years in the private and public sectors.” A Major Projects Canberra spokeswoman confirmed Mr Edghill had made a conflict of interest disclosure to the head of the ACT public service, and did not represent the racing club in any meetings or correspondence with territory officials. ANU emeritus professor John Wanna, who is an expert in public administration, said it was reasonable, and not uncommon, for senior public servants to sit on boards of non-government organisations. What was important was how they managed potential conflicts of interest, he said. “On all of these kinds of matters there could be perceptions of too much insider knowledge,” he said. “But from my experience, they often take great steps to ensure that everything is above board.” A spokesman for Chief Minister Andrew Barr said Mr Edghill had met the requirements on senior public servants to disclose private interests.

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New home, new hope as Buzzoni embarks on comeback


Fast forward a year to the Central West of NSW, and trial watchers could be forgiven for thinking they were watching a different horse.

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In something of a strong pointer for Monday’s resumption in a benchmark 58 handicap over 1000m, the trainer trialled Buzzoni twice at the Towac Park track in Orange, winning both in handy sprint company.

The second trial two weeks ago was a real sign the son of Nicconi is ready, cruising home from well off the speed to round up his rivals under a strong hold.

Buzzoni draws to get a nice trail back in the field, but he will get a stern test from tough six-year-olds Charlie Chap and More Than A Samba while another Bathurst raider Miss Hugo A Gogo resumes having been overhauled by Buzzoni in that same trial.

Meanwhile, as they often do across some of the better country meetings, Warwick Farm stables are eyeing off a big slice of this Orange pie.

Promising stayer The Fringe looks well placed to claim a BM58 Handicap (2100m) third-up, exciting filly and last-start Canberra winner Too Much Class is the one to beat in a Class 1 & Maiden Plate (1600m) while three-year-old Solva can go back-to-back in a Class 1 Handicap (1280m) after a dominant maiden win at this track.

Supplied by Racing NSW



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Less neutral, more beefy – Sweden embarks on its largest military build-up for decades | Europe


“AN ARMED ATTACK against Sweden cannot be ruled out,” warned Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, shortly after he introduced a new defence bill on October 14th. It promises the country’s largest military expansion for 70 years. The reason is plain. Russia’s assertive behaviour across Europe, from invasion to assassination, has alarmed Swedes.

In recent years, Sweden has accused Russia of violating its air space and waters several times. Accordingly, it has deepened military ties with NATO (though not a member of the alliance) and with America and its Nordic neighbours. If the new bill is passed, as is likely, the defence budget is set to rise by SKr27.5bn ($3.1bn) between 2021 and 2025, a 40% boost that will bring expenditure to around 1.5% of GDP—the highest level for 17 years.

The new cash will pay for a 50% increase in the armed forces to 90,000 people, including regular soldiers, conscripts and local reservists in the Home Guard (no longer the Dad’s Army of yesteryear). The army will grow from two mechanised brigades to three, each of around 5,000 soldiers, with a smaller additional brigade for the Stockholm area.

The draft, abolished a decade ago but brought back for both sexes in 2017, will double in size to 8,000 conscripts a year. Five new local-defence battalions will be set up around the country, tasked with protecting supply lines from the Norwegian ports of Oslo and Trondheim. An amphibious unit will be re-established in Gothenburg, Scandinavia’s largest port.

The air force can look forward to newer Gripen fighter jets with longer ranges and better radar, some of which will go to a new air wing in Uppsala, 70km (43 miles) north of Stockholm. The navy will get an extra submarine, money to design a new type of warship, and air-defence missiles which its ships have needed for 15 years.

Civil defence will get more funds for cyber-security, the electricity grid and health care. “We’ve begun to rebuild a newer version of what we had during the cold war,” says Niklas Granholm of FOI, Sweden’s defence-research agency. The aim is to enable Sweden to hold out in a crisis or war for at least three months until help arrives (assuming it does).

Much of this dramatic expansion is to patch up a creaking force. “The armed forces were in a state of crisis for the last 20 years,” says Henrik Paulsson of the Swedish Defence University. In 2013 Sweden’s top general admitted that his forces could defend only part of the country—and only for a week. Sweden’s army has just two dozen artillery pieces. They are in the north, more than ten hours’ drive from the brigades they are supposed to support, says Mr Paulsson. Under the new plan, the army will have a more respectable 72 pieces.

“We are finally getting our house in order,” says Mr Granholm. But “new budgetary black holes” may appear after 2026. “The debate about the bill after this one”, he says, “has already begun.”

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “Less neutral, more beefy”

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Trump embarks on the sales job of a lifetime


As he makes his case for reelection, President Donald Trump has largely been campaigning on the same themes he ran on in 2016: “Make America Great Again” and “drain the swamp.”

But even though he’s now the incumbent, in his telling, he’s really still an outsider. And even though the nation faces epic challenges – a pandemic that has killed 180,000 Americans, double-digit unemployment, racial unrest – he and his surrogates are pitching a positive message. As Vice President Mike Pence put it Monday, “We’re going to make America great again … again!”

It’s a much more difficult argument to make than in 2016, because many of the problems the president is promising to solve have occurred on his own watch. Mr. Trump’s skills as a salesman and showman will be tested to the hilt over the next two-plus months – including Thursday night, when he formally accepts the Republican presidential nomination. 

“He is trying to point to the chaos and confusion that is 2020 America, and then divorce himself from any responsibility for the chaos and confusion – then argue that he’s the solution to the chaos and confusion,” says Rachel Bitecofer, an election forecaster at the nonpartisan Niskanen Center in Washington.

Washington

“Presidential power,” wrote the scholar Richard Neustadt, “is the power to persuade.” 

President Donald Trump may be putting that time-honored observation to the acid test, running for reelection in a nation beset by epic challenges. A chief executive with lesser powers of persuasion might be crushed by the turmoil taking place on his watch – a pandemic that has killed 180,000 Americans, double-digit unemployment, racial unrest, and increasingly routine weather extremes that many link to climate change. 

But President Trump is no ordinary American leader. As he demonstrated time and again in his business career, he has an uncanny ability to survive and even thrive amid adversity. His skills as a salesman and showman are his superpower, and over the next two-plus months – including Thursday night, when he formally accepts the Republican presidential nomination – he will deploy them to the hilt. 

Mr. Trump has for the most part been campaigning on the same themes he ran on in 2016: “Make America Great Again” and “drain the swamp” – that is, uproot the entrenched elites. Despite the fact that he’s now the incumbent, he’s really still an outsider, in his telling. 

“He’s demonizing the same people: immigrants, foreigners, the media,” says Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “It’s essentially a replay of the message that put him in the White House in 2016 – barely, but it worked. There’s a natural tendency to go back to what worked before.”

Historians see efforts to emulate President Ronald Reagan, another disruptor who won the White House twice, on the argument that he needed two terms to effect his conservative “revolution.” Others see parallels with President Richard Nixon, who ran on “law and order” amid the tumult of 1968, though he was not the incumbent president. 

At this point, Mr. Trump has been in office more than three and a half years. Despite the nation’s massive challenges, he and his surrogates are pitching a positive message: He made America great once, and he can do it again. Or as Vice President Mike Pence put it Monday, “We’re going to make America great again … again!” 

The president’s economic message centers on the low unemployment, robust growth, and reduced taxes and regulation that were the hallmarks of his record before the coronavirus hit. Blame for the pandemic lands squarely with others, Mr. Trump says: China, where the virus originated, and with the Democratic mayors and governors who failed to halt its spread. 

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump appear at a surprise visit at Fort McHenry in Baltimore yesterday, after attending the third day of the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech at the Baltimore monument in which he accepted his party’s nomination and called for “law and order” amid racial unrest.

Mr. Trump also portrays Democrats in Congress, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as villains (they offer the same assessment of him), amid a three-week hiatus in talks with the White House over more aid for struggling Americans. Thursday afternoon, Speaker Pelosi and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows were reportedly set to resume negotiations on the next COVID-19 relief package.

Still, it’s a much more complicated message than in 2016 – since many of the problems the president is promising to solve have occurred on his own watch. 

“He is trying to point to the chaos and confusion that is 2020 America, and then divorce himself from any responsibility for the chaos and confusion – then argue that he’s the solution to the chaos and confusion,” says Rachel Bitecofer, an election forecaster at the nonpartisan Niskanen Center in Washington. 

Mr. Trump, in effect, is trying to be the Harry Houdini of American politics – seemingly bound by the chains of multiple crises, but clever enough to escape with his political life. One bright spot for the president is that Democratic nominee Joe Biden got little to no “bounce” in the polls out of his convention last week, while Mr. Trump’s job approval has crept up in recent weeks to an average of 44%

While Mr. Biden argues that he represents a return to normality and decency, Team Trump counters with Mr. Biden’s long record in Washington – 36 years in the Senate and eight years as vice president. Mr. Biden’s election, they say, would bring both a deeper “swamp” and a leftist economic program that would send the nation on the path to socialism. 

Presidential historian Gil Troy of McGill University in Montreal questions whether Mr. Trump can pull off a Reaganesque comeback. 

“Ronald Reagan’s second-term election, most famous for its ‘Morning in America’ strategy, had a more positive record to run on, a more positive song to sing,” says Professor Troy. 

Another presidential scholar, David Pietrusza, sees multiple historical analogies for the Trump team to draw upon. 

“Surprisingly, FDR looked very shaky in the summer of 1936,” Mr. Pietrusza writes in an email, referring to President Franklin Roosevelt’s first reelection campaign. “But [Republican nominee Alf] Landon and the GOP ran an awful campaign, and FDR made no great mistakes and coasted to a historic, crushing landslide.”

Harry Truman’s “Give ‘em Hell” campaign in 1948 was a similar case, Mr. Pietrusza says. “At various times, Truman was left for dead, but after a very strong convention and after his challenger picked a running mate from California who added nothing to the ticket, Harry became president in his own right.”

President Reagan had only a one-percentage-point lead in December 1983, but he turned on the charm and touted “Morning in America,” while Democratic nominee Walter Mondale said he would raise taxes, Mr. Pietrusza notes. In November 1984, Mr. Reagan won big.

But Mr. Trump is unique, as are the times in which he is running for a second term. Historical analogies go only so far.

Republican National Committeeman Henry Barbour of Mississippi points to small things that could be telling as November approaches. Mr. Biden stayed in his home state of Delaware for the duration of the Democratic convention last week, which was supposed to be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but was held mostly virtually. This week, more than 300 Republican party figures gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina, including Mr. Barbour, for a reduced version of their in-person convention. 

Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence spoke from Charlotte on Monday in a show of defiance against the coronavirus that has shut down much of American public life. The president had earlier moved the larger, in-person convention activities to Jacksonville, Florida, after North Carolina’s Democratic governor refused to allow the mega-gatherings that are the essence of national party conventions. 

In July, Mr. Trump canceled the Jacksonville component of the GOP convention after an uptick of coronavirus cases in that city. 

Mr. Barbour says the president and the Republican National Committee wound up modeling what they want the country to do: behave responsibly and avoid large gatherings, but also not allow reasonable daily activity to grind to a halt. 

“I’m proud of what the RNC did,” he says. “That carries over into a much broader contrast and approach: people going to work and doing what they can.”



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