Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Financial Blog Corliss Group - Here’s a tip: rubbish can be a dirty word

Call him Matt Black, which is not his real name. He looks like a clean-cut junior executive, but he has a dirty little secret.

These days Black is a regular lilywhite. He’s a husband and father and hides behind a glossy front: clean finger nails, Hollywood teeth, $40 haircut, mauve business shirts with matching ties.

It’s rumoured he has a Golden Retriever (not actual dog breed), test-drives Volvo station wagons on Sundays and is saving to send his pair of short Blacks (Jett and Koko) to the private school he went to himself.

But he wasn’t always such a cleanskin. He has hinted he used to “work in recycling management” but it’s odds-on his partner Ebony has no idea what that really means.

The truth is that the young Black was a teenage “tip rat” and lived with other tearaways who furnished their grubby share house with stuff hoisted from the Reservoir tip … including the fridge. Worse, they defrauded honest ratepayers by “recycling” goods straight into the boot and selling them for cash on the black market.

These scavengers justified the tip-skimming rort by claiming it paid for their education. In fact, they spent most of it on beer, bourbon and home-delivered pizza. “The rest we just wasted,” Black admits.

He eventually got out and went legit. Black is now just a media middle-management type with a shady past he hopes won’t come back to spoil a shiny future. But his story is disturbingly common: Many outwardly normal men are powerfully tempted to collect other people’s cast-offs.

“Even now,” Black confesses shamefacedly, “sometimes I bring home more than I take to the tip.”

At least he regrets a misspent youth as a junk junkie. Some never kick the habit and are drawn steadily deeper into the garbage caper’s rotten core. And clean-living folks are fascinated by dirty work on the dark side. Art imitates life — it’s no coincidence that everyone in Tony Soprano’s family claims he is in the “waste disposal business”.

Like abattoirs, knackeries and motor wreckers, bins can hide a multitude of sins. And tips are literally the pits — huge open cuts, filled to overflowing with the refuse of a throwaway society.

This separately brings us to the smell hanging over Bulla, right on Melbourne’s doorstep on the road past the airport.

Locals are kicking up a stink because the tip has one. A group of residents has got together to tackle the effects of what they see as a blight on the neighbourhood.

What was once a huge quarry is now filled to the brim with garbage — which legally includes asbestos, let alone any other noxious substances that might have been dumped there in the past.

Anyone who drives through Bulla will know the spot by smell and sight.

As an angry local writes on behalf of a posse of residents: “The tip … is an eyesore passed daily by thousands of commuters travelling to the airport and city from Sunbury, Diggers Rest, Gisborne, Lancefield, Romsey, Macedon and beyond.

“Of greatest concern to motorists are the dust clouds that blow out of the asbestos dump and the litter and mud strewn across the busy road. Does the dust contain asbestos particles? Are thousands of motorists being exposed as they drive past with vents open or windows down? Who knows? Who cares? Certainly not Hume City Council.”

The anti-tip people say the tip emits “nauseating odours” and thousands of pieces of litter, exceeds its legal height and generally shows an unhealthy disregard for the “health, amenity and wellbeing” of those nearby.

Now they are outraged because the council has just granted a permit extension to extend the tip’s life by two years. Apparently the council (and the Environment Protection Authority) believes the tip owners’ assurances they can “pulverise” the garbage and jam it into a smaller space so they can fit more in.

No one wants a tip in their backyard but some people want to own one. “Where there’s muck there’s brass,” the saying goes. As with nightclubs and massage parlours, some people see a huge potential for profit in businesses that straitlaced folk avoid.

The people who run Bulla tip are an interesting lot, especially to those who live nearby. So interesting that last year the Australian Securities and Investment Commission deregistered Bulla Tip and Quarry Pty Ltd.

Certain identities associated with the company had previously been investigated over allegations of money laundering and fraud.

The tip operation was also examined by the Senate Inquiry into Liquidators and Administrators in 2010.

The tip is now operated by Bulla Quarry Developments, which just happens to be another company with ties to the previous owner. This might not be a coincidence.

In December 2007 diners at Melbourne’s Society restaurant pretended not to overhear a testy meeting between “Mick” Gatto and his financial adviser Tom Karas and share trader Leo “The Gun” Khouri.

Khouri accused Karas of costing him “$2 million” in a deal involving the purchase of the Bulla tip. Khouri later dismissed the confrontation with Karas over the tip deal as a misunderstanding — and Karas said the deal also left him out of pocket at least $100,000.

It was just one deal of several that led authorities to investigate an official liquidator that had brought in a company to manage the tip.

One man connected with that company was described at the time as a “Sydney bikie” and had earlier been named in court as an associate of so-called Sydney “boss” Karl “The Godfather” Bonnette.

Not everyone at Bulla is reassured by this. One of many gripes is that a fire has been burning non-stop in the tip for more than 15 years.

The Bulla CFA can’t get keys to the tip from the management and is so angry about it that firefighters recently called in special cutting gear to cut the hardened lock.

Whatever it is that goes on at the tip, someone doesn’t want outsiders wandering around in there.

The council says the Environment Protection Authority has the authority to police the site but the EPA shrugs it off, saying tips have to go somewhere. Meanwhile, the tip produces licence fees for both the council and the EPA.

Something stinks at the Bulla tip but the unspoken policy seems to be “Nothing to see here, folks, so move right along”.

As for Matt Black, I’ll be seeing him at the next meeting of Tip Scavengers Anonymous. It’s our dirty little secret.

This article is from Herald Sun News

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