SUBJECTS: Great Barrier Reef Foundation grant decision; Cosmetic surgery; Heritage listing of brutalist architecture in Sydney; Drought in New South Wales.

RICHARD GLOVER, PRESENTER: On Radio ABC in Sydney, the Monday Political Forum. Geoff Cousins businessman, former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, he's with me in Sydney, alongside Kathryn Greiner, Gonski panellist and former Deputy Mayor of the City of Sydney, welcome to you two thanks for coming in.
GLOVER: And with us in Canberra, Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Labor Leader and of course Member for Sydney. Tanya, good afternoon to you.
GLOVER: Now Josh Frydenberg, the Environment Minister has defended the decision to award a grant of $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation saying it has a good track record of science-led decision making, here he is yesterday with Barry Cassidy:
GLOVER: Despite the controversy over the process, isn't it a good thing in the end, that the Government is directing such big funding, I mean it's nearly half a billion dollars to help save the reef? Geoff Cousins, you've had a long interest in the Great Barrier Reef, what do you say?
GEOFF COUSINS: Yes well it would be good if that's what they were doing Richard, unfortunately it's not. The explanation as to why this happened is very simple - 2015 the Australian Government promised the World Heritage Committee that by 2020 it would spend $716 million on the reef. So far, with a year and a half to go, it has spent very little of that, just over $100 million. It therefore is at great risk of having the Great Barrier Reef placed on the endangered list. So finally it decides, what are we going to do about this, the possibility of spending the remainder in the next 18 months is non-existent, there is no pipeline of projects. So it transferred that money in the 2017/18 budget to this Foundation so it could say we've spent it.
GLOVER: OK, even though the money won't be practically put onto projects for some time?
COUSINS: Well for quite a long time, so this is not a criticism of the foundation which I am familiar with, at all. It is an absolute criticism of the Australian Government. Forget the process for a moment, which is another matter and I'd like to comment on that in a minute, but it is just a totally cynical move to try and say to the World Heritage Committee we have spent this money.
GLOVER: OK, it's better than them keeping the money in their pocket and people say that it is, that they've got a lot of very reputable scientists who are involved in the foundation, the money probably will be spent in a good way? 
COUSINS: The Great Barrier Reef Foundation is a very small organisation that hasn't actually raised a huge amount of money in comparison to most of the major environmental groups in this country, which I'm very familiar with, at all. Nevertheless it's a nice little operation. However if you look at what it spends its money on, last year of the top seven projects that the Barrier Reef Foundation gave money to, they were Government organisations. In other words, the Government has given over $400 million to an organisation that gives grants to Government organisations. I mean come on! It really is a piece of accounting trickery. Of course I am in favour of any amount of money that's spent on the Great Barrier Reef but obviously the major issue, and even the Great Barrier Reef Foundation agrees with this, is to deal with climate change. None of this money is directed to that major issue and yes would you like to see the money spent on a crown of thorns and water run-off? Of course. But to suggest that this is the largest grant every given is simply not true. The only reason it looks like it is because they accumulated all of the money into the one year.
GLOVER: Kathryn Greiner, do you accept that there is a process problem here, no tendering, no consideration of other people who might be able to spend it differently?
GREINER: Look, Geoff knows far more about this particular issue, but let me make a comment about a non-profit organisation, which is what this one is, and I have to say its partnerships with the CSIRO, with every institution, particularly the ones in Queensland but even as far as the University of Melbourne and ANU, these are partnerships that just don't happen by happenstance. So they've gone out of their way to create the networks and to create the opportunities. Now I can't speak about the quality of that work but just by looking at the corporate partners they've got listed under their Chairman's panel, their connections to the universities, I can understand why a Government would want to give it to a non-profit, because they tend to be a lot more nimble and a lot more accountable. Now I-
GLOVER: OK but there are a range of non-profits, you could have some form of tender process, couldn't you?
GREINER: Well I'm not sure that you can because I don't there are that many that have got so many connections. I would have to say, Geoff would know better than I, but my knowledge in trying to read up on some of this is that I don't think there are that many other people out there who can actually focus specifically on the reef and the reef issues like this organisation can.
GLOVER: All right, Tanya Plibersek, would it be fair to say that even if you've got problems with the process the outcome in terms of money for the reef is a good one, isn't it?
PLIBERSEK: Of course we want to see our beautiful reef protected, it's unique, it's very important environmentally and of course it's very important economically for jobs in Queensland as well - we think about 60,000 jobs rely on the reef. What I'm very concerned about and what Labor is concerned about is the extraordinary process that decided to hand over close to half a billion dollars of taxpayers' money with no real investigation. I mean, it's been handed to an organisation of six people who didn't ask for the money in the first place. The submission-
GLOVER: It doesn't mean they won't spend it well though?
PLIBERSEK: Well it's half a billion dollars! You'd want to be pretty confident that they were going to spend it well. Yes they might, they might, but oh my goodness, it's almost half a billion of taxpayers' money. You would normally in a situation like this have a competitive process, you'd normally have an organisation coming with a proposal about how they were going to spend the money, asking the Government to invest taxpayers' money with the organisation. The organisation has made it clear that in fact they had to put in a submission after the money was already allocated in the Budget. I've never heard of anything like that!
GLOVER: So what's your, if you think it's strange behaviour, what's your theory for why they've done it this way?
PLIBERSEK: Well Geoff's got a theory, I can't understand why any Government would behave in this way. It might be that they wanted to get a certain amount of money out the door before they were criticised internationally, but your guess is as good as mine. It's highly irregular is all I can say.
GLOVER: OK Geoff, a final word from you on this.
COUSINS: Well Richard I've had to put in applications for a few Government grants over the years for various organisations-
GLOVER: I didn't know you'd been on the dole, Geoff?
COUSINS: No it was for hair restoration. But the thing you normally have to prove, apart from competency, is what you're going to do with the money? That's the whole basis of a grant application. If you give me this money, this is precisely what I will do with it and what benefits will flow. They didn't put in any application. As the CEO said, it was like winning the lotto. Well that's not what Government money is supposed to be about.
PLIBERSEK: Well it's like winning the lotto and you haven't even bought a ticket!
GREINER: Which is an issue, but I think there's also another layer here that we're not focusing on, which is capacity building. Because this is not a problem that is going to go away for quite some time, and the organisation’s got 400 and something million dollars over six, eight, ten years, so it's not as though they are getting $400 million in the bank. And I've no doubt at all there will be benchmarks, because I'm dealing with something else in two different areas with this exact same issue, where you've got to determine that there's going to be some capacity building so that the organisation can live on and it's work can continue.
COUSINS: They've actually got the money in the bank, Kathryn.
COUSINS: The money was actually - can you believe it - put in their bank account in one lump sum, for the simple reason as I explained, if that hadn't have been done they wouldn't have been able to say to the World Heritage Commission we've spent the money.
GLOVER: It's quite a moment in front of the ATM I presume, when you put your card in. Monday Political Forum. Geoff Cousins is here, so is Kathryn Greiner and so is Tanya Plibersek. Well Four Corners tonight considers the world of cosmetic surgery which in the era of social media and anxiety about appearance is booming, leaving in its wake some people who, well, some people praise the industry for helping people build self confidence, but others talk of operations that have left women disfigured and in pain, struggling to find the money to afford corrective surgery. There'll be a lot of those stories tonight I think on Four Corners. On our Breakfast show this morning, Wendy Harmer said that maybe it was time to go back to a more traditional view about the importance, or lack of importance, of appearance. Here she is:
GLOVER: I loved it! If you're a bit plain, learn to play the piano! Kathryn Greiner, have we ended up going insane about the shallow thing of how you look?
GREINER: Oh Wendy is absolutely spot on. And you know this era, remember we're not that too far removed from arranged marriages and in the old days, as one would have said, if you weren't the beauty then you did learn to sew beautifully or play the piano and therefore your other attributes would show forward. But I think, I mean I will be watching this show with shock and horror, because I thought that the women's liberation era had taken us out of this, that it was actually about women as individuals with their skills and it's not the beauty, it's the person inside.
GLOVER: But it's much worse than it ever was.
GREINER: Oh much worse now! And listening to Fran this morning on Radio National, the interview with the surgeon who said well they're taking liposuction from one's part of the body and putting that into their bottom to create big bottoms like the Kardashians.
GLOVER: That's right.
GREINER: I mean, really? Give me a break!
GLOVER: People when they air kiss at the opera are literally kissing each other's bottoms!
GREINER: It's got, and it's the young ones I think which we will really reel back from. The young ones at 18 having botox in their lips and fillers in their face and this is a ridiculous situation.
GLOVER: And they all look so beautiful. I mean, every 18 year old looks beautiful.
GREINER: Of course they do!
GLOVER: And yet we seem to have developed a thing where we're creating such anxiety around it they don't realise it.
GREINER: And those of us who are a little bit older than 18 have faces that record life's joys and struggles.
GLOVER: Tanya Plibersek, have we gone completely insane about appearance and is there any way back from the place we find ourselves?
PLIBERSEK: My mum used to say that when we were teenagers to me and friends, "Oh you girls all look beautiful, you don't need to wear makeup" and we never believed her, and I think teenagers have a tendency to a bit of insecurity. What we are doing at the moment is feeding it with this crazy Instagram, social media sort of work and then making it possible for people to spend money on unnecessary procedures that of course have their dangers. I mean it's surgery, you are doing surgery, in some cases in very poorly regulated environments. When I was the Health Minister of course we had the PIP breast implant horror, where a whole lot of women were finding that their breast implants were rupturing and we had to do MRI scans to see which of these had ruptured and so on. I mean, I know that if you've had breast reconstruction after a mastectomy or something, that's a different case but if you are a nineteen year old girl and you are worried that your boobs are just a bit small, it is heartbreaking that people are going through this. We also, one of the other things we had when I was Health Minister, we ended up taking vaginoplasty and vulvoplasty off the Medicare Benefit Schedule, like people are having cosmetic surgery in the most intimate circumstances. Unless there is a medical necessity for this stuff, it’s dangerous. 
GLOVER: Appearance generally, even literary novels, I mean the last think you would expect is a literary novel to feature a large picture of the author, and yet that is entirely the case these days. I mean you go back 20 years ago and you know there weren't big pictures of Margaret Drabble on the back of her books. But now you are only allowed to be a literary novelist if you are good looking it seems. 
PLIBERSEK: And Richard, I think it’s really important to say to girls and boys, because boys are becoming increasingly sucked into this world as well - be kind, be thoughtful, be funny, be intelligent if you can be - these are the things that matter, the size of your butt, and your thigh gap and your boobs and your white teeth and all the rest of it, really, second order issues. 
GLOVER: Geoff Cousins there used to be an attitude to all this, a generation ago, where if you caught someone looking in the mirror to assiduously, you would say, oh get over yourself! You know, looks are not everything, people would say. Now it seems that they are everything? 
COUSINS:  Well I just discovered why my novels hasn't done as well as they might, but look, I haven't had a close personal relationship with this subject Richard, but I did a bit of research on it and I thought, well maybe it’s because of the ageing population? You know people living longer, therefore they might resort to this a bit more, but in fact I discovered that the great increase is among young people. And I read on the website of the Sydney Cosmetic Surgery Institute that, for instance, 2017 was the year of the nipple. Now I didn't know this, and I was riveted to find out, and the website went on to say, that there had been a 30 percent increase in nipple enhancements or change, and then it said that women with flat or inverted nipples could now regard this as a breath of fresh air. 
GLOVER: Now you have used the work nipple too many times Geoffrey, I am starting to become uncomfortable...
COUSINS:  How those two things go together, look, I don't know...
PLIBERSEK: But there is another element to this which you know, Geoff is saying nipple and I'm saying pornography. But too much porn is really bad for all of this as well, because people get really unrealistic ideas about what the human body looks like. 
GLOVER: But how do we get back from this because some people say, look it is almost an inevitable creation of the social media world that people are inhabiting. Once you have everyone comparing each other on Instagram and here is me at the party and here is me on the beach and here is me swimming in the Hawkesbury River, once you do that, once that is so much part of people lives it becomes inevitable that people are going to judge these surfaces appearances, the only ones that are available in the photograph, as more important than anything else. 
PLIBERSEK: I don't think it is inevitable. I think we really have a responsibility as parents, grandparents and anybody who has contact with younger people to say honestly, all this stuff that you think is so important now you won’t think it is important in five years’ time and in ten years’ time. What will matter to you are your relationships, your friendships, your family, what you put into your brain, what you are doing in your heart, what you are doing to make the world a better place and however insecure you feel about this surface stuff now, honestly it becomes less and less important. 
COUSINS:  It’s going to be very hard Richard though, after Wendy's comments to say to your daughter, I think you should take up the piano. I mean you know...
GREINER: We may well have killed piano lessons for quite some time for young women
COUSINS: Terrible trouble.
GLOVER: There will be all sorts of implications now. The Monday Political Forum, that discussion ahead of Four Corners on cosmetic surgery, both its enormous growth and sometimes the stories of when things go wrong and then the incredibly expensive processes people then go to try and repair the damage, all on Four Corners tonight. With us Geoff Cousins, businessman and former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Kathryn Greiner, Gonski panellist and former Deputy Mayor of the City of Sydney and Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Labor Leader and of course Member for Sydney, who joins us from our studio down in Parliament House.
Now modernist buildings, including some listed as among Sydney's ugliest, are set to be heritage listed by the City of Sydney, among the MLC Centre at Martin Place, the brutalist buildings of Town Hall House and I guess this is the ugly one, the Sydney Masonic Centre. Is it fair enough to save some examples of each period of architecture or are there some periods which would be better left to the developers’ demolition ball? Tanya Plibersek?
PLIBERSEK: I have a little secret soft spot for brutalist architecture and of course I was very supportive of the campaign to save the Sirius building, to keep it as public housing, but also to keep it...
GLOVER: This is the one right next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge?
PLIBERSEK: Absolutely, that's right and I've also got a little soft spot for the University of Technology Tower which fits firmly into the list of ugliest buildings in Sydney because that's where my husband and I met 28 years ago this August.
GLOVER: Is that right? Cause it's-
PLIBERSEK: Is that right? Yes it is.
GLOVER: A lovely relationship but a shocking building!
PLIBERSEK: You can't see out the windows. It's got the most amazing views that you basically have to climb on a table to see.
GLOVER: You mention the Sirius, I mean that was an interesting example of this debate and you could have it I'm sure about the Masonic Centre too. Half of Sydney said look it is a beautiful, unusual building and absolutely speaks to a time and other half of Sydney said 'look I don't get it, it just looks ugly'.
PLIBERSEK: First of all, it should have been kept as public housing, those tenants should still be living in it, but secondly the building itself absolutely has merit. It's not to my taste, it's not what I'd build today but it's representative of a very interesting idea in architecture.
GREINER: I'm not sure that it's...
GLOVER: Kathryn, you used to be on the Council deciding these things.
GREINER: I wouldn't have thought that that was ever going to be listed or a building to be saved, I'm not disputing the process and things that have happened.
GLOVER: Well they did try to list it and then it got knocked back, and then there-
GREINER: It has no merit as a listed building, and of course the Masonic Centre was very interesting. It took them about 20 years to work out a design on how to improve the functionality of that centre and it almost sent the Masons broke. So they've actually built the architectural design on top of that building is now actually makes it a very stunning building but you know we've had-
GLOVER: But on street level it just looks like a big pile on concrete.
GREINER: No, no, it's got a lot of glass frontage through it. It's changed a lot, it's been remodelled and is a much better building. The MLC Centre is one of the first and was like Australia Square, you know, it's got a merit other than just the architecture which would make it eligible for listing. But brutalist architecture, that was part of the model. Harry Seidler was a great proponent of that in the early years, hence Blues Point Tower, which like as Tanya was saying, it's like the UTS Tower, you can hardly see out the windows. The best views in Sydney and you've got the tiniest little windows. But that was the design of the time, and I think-
GLOVER: So you say that because it's the design of the time?
GREINER: No, no, there was a form and a function and a philosophy behind each one of these stages. You'll find that in residential architecture as well if you go back through the seventies and now you're going to have it in the 21st century, a lot more of the glass architecture in residential development.
GLOVER: On that basis you could save the three storey red brick apartment block with the carparks underneath?
GREINER: And also the California Bungalow because that's was what was built inter-war.
GLOVER: But they were nice.
GREINER: I know, that's because we all grew up in them.
GLOVER: Geoff Cousins?
COUSINS: Look I think there is a case, Richard, to save significant buildings from each era. You're always going to get different views on this,. You might remember they were going to knock over the wonderful wharves at Woolloomooloo and now the property developers are all having lunch down there and saying how great it is. Walsh Bay was under threat at one point.
GLOVER: QVB building was under threat.
COUSINS: QVB building, so, indeed, QVB was I think has a DA approved.
GREINER: It did.
GLOVER: Unbelievably it was going to be a parking lot.
COUSINS: Exactly. So, no, I think there is a case and you can't just say 'I like this building' 'I don't like that one', you mentioned the University of Technology. Well Frank Gehry's just done some new buildings for them. Some people love Frank Gehry's architecture, some don't. I happen to think it’s amazing and wonderful. But it is certainly significant architecture and I guess Harry Seidler's buildings were a bit the same. No I think you pick really good examples of each era and save them.
GLOVER: Geoff Cousins, Kathryn Greiner and Tanya Plibersek, let me just ask you finally the ABC's drought appeal held mainly on Friday has raised over $1.2 million, mainly from listeners to this very radio station. It's proof I guess of the remaining link between city and country Australia. Some note that Australia is one of the most urbanised nation on earth so how come we are still so passionate about rural Australia as 702 ABC Sydney listeners proved on Friday? Tanya Plibersek?
PLIBERSEK: Oh two things, I think you know we are a compassionate country and even when there is national disasters overseas Australians are good at reaching into their pockets and making a donation. But more particularly with the drought, I think Australians are very proud of our farmers, how hard they work, what they produce and they are very aware of just how fickle their lives are. You know, rain when you need it, fantastic rain when you don’t need it, can spoil a crop, or this terrible drought, you know, farmers losing everything and having to kill their stock through absolutely no fault of their own.
GLOVER: Those eyes desperately looking to the sky.
PLIBERSEK: It's just so sad, so sad to watch.
GREINER: I agree with Tanya, I think Australians are some of the most, if not the most generous people in the world as a nation, we really do step up when there is great need. Your interview with the, was it the Nundal Principal...
GLOVER: Trundle, yeah yeah . John Sullivan...
GREINER: ...was brilliant, it just shows you that they are inundated with gifts now.
GLOVER: Yeah yeah, Geoff Cousins?
COUSINS: Yeah it’s one of the defining characteristics of this country that makes you feel proud of it, along with volunteering and with helping in any disaster. The other one used to be welcoming people from other countries. Unfortunately that seemed to have disappeared, I hope it won’t be for long.
GLOVER: Geoff Cousins thank you very much, Kathryn Greiner thank you very much indeed, and there in Parliament House in Canberra, Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you.