Question time on steroids
It’s that time of year again which political junkies love and state politicians in power hate: the annual NSW budget estimates.
Before the eyes glaze over, it’s worth pointing out that it’s a rare opportunity to witness our elected ministers and unelected senior public servants squirm under questioning from their political opponents, away from the noise of parliament.
The setting is intimate – they sit opposite each other over tables in a small room – and it’s all streamed live, online.
Expenditure, performance and departmental effectiveness are all on the table. Awkward? You bet. And yes, incredibly boring at times due to incredibly boring MPs and bureaucrats.
It requires great stamina to persevere, as those with a dull tone may in fact be attempting to deflect all manner of inadequacies and questionable conduct.
Take Treasury’s inquiry on Friday, starring 40-year old newbie Andrew Constance (Liberal) and his bureaucratic sidekick.
Treasurer Constance sat mostly with chin in in hand, staring with pure contempt and disdain at Labor and Greens MPs as they asked him questions. Didn’t everyone know who he thought he was?
And in the background, Liberal MP and Lennox Head local, Catherine Cusack, continually interjected with shrill indignation at the questions. She was told to ‘shut up’ on more than one occasion.
Besides mindless politicking – did we learn anything?
Shadow minister for the environment Luke Foley seized on comments by NSW environment minister Rob Stokes, who apparently flubbed his government’s policy on meeting a declared target of 20 per cent renewable energy by 2020.
‘The minister was confused as to whether the state even has a 20 per cent renewable energy target or whether only the Commonwealth’s target applies,’ Foley said. ‘The NSW Liberals & Nationals Plans to Boost Renewable Energy policy, released before the 2011 NSW election, clearly states their intention to ‘provide a blueprint to increase the proportion of energy from seven per cent to meet the target of 20 per cent renewable energy consumption by 2020.’
Meanwhile there were no surprises that health minister Jillian Skinner (Liberal) supports the federal government’s $7 GP co-payment policy, which has been roundly criticised by doctors, nurses and the Australian Medical Association. Shadow health minister Dr Andrew McDonald claims Ms Skinner has not commissioned economic modelling on its impact.
And proposed large-scale Crown lands legislation which would give state bureaucrats almost total control of public lands seems to be on indefinite hold, after minister for lands, Kevin Humphries, told the committee that there was ‘a lot of interest in it.’
‘There will need to be a focused response from certain sectors of the community that have a significant stakeholding in Crown land. We have received 650 submissions… we might have to go back to some of those sectors for more consultation.’
And lastly – not included in budget estimates – was the bizarre revelation that minister for primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson (Nationals), read a joint AGL/Dairy Connect press release to answer a question about the ability of coal seam gas to coexist with the dairy industry. Greens Jeremy Buckingham, who asked the question, called her an industry mouthpiece. In typical tit-for- tat schoolyard fashion, Buckingham was then labelled by the minister as ‘anti-mining, anti-agriculture and anti-development.’
Yes, the political tide is at an incredibly low ebb – thankfully there’s a public rally to encourage debate at a higher frequency.
People In The Park, Missingham Park in Ballina. 2pm, Sunday.
Hans Lovejoy, editor
We’ve been Borsaked
Congratulations, Robert Borsak of the Shooters and Fishers party, for trying to give big business ‘a voice’ in Sydney.
Because if there’s one thing missing from Australia’s social landscape, it’s the voice of extremely rich middle-aged wealthy white people.
The idea of forcing tens of thousands of businesses to vote in Sydney City Council elections came without warning and is ‘outrageous’, says Local Government NSW (LGNSW).
But with help from extremely rich wealthy white people Alan Jones and Rupert Murdoch, this debacle has been given a special oxygenated bubble in which to exist.
Indeed no-one except govcorp – ie this government, the corporations and local Nationals MP Don Page – thinks this is a good idea. So much for supporting small businesses, which is the backbone of our economy.
The core argument appears to be comparing Sydney to Melbourne’s existing model, but as shareholder activist and Melbourne councillor Stephen Mayne told The Newcastle Herald, the Melbourne model was ‘exclusive’ to Melbourne and was intended as a counterbalance to the city’s largely left-wing residential population. ‘The result [in Sydney] will be a pro-business, pro-growth council,’ he said.
But there are smelly fumes belching from this secret deal with the coalition: Fairfax reports that the ICAC had been asked to look into links between former Liberal state energy minister Chris Hartcher and his former adviser, ‘who had worked on a “local government strategy” for the City of Sydney.’
US dollar challenged
US dollar challenged
News on wars and the MH17 crash overshadowed an important development on the global financial chessboard late last month. Five leaders from emerging superpowers recently agreed on the formation of a bank to rival the US-run World Bank and IMF.
It’s called BRICS, and it stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and it will be lending its cash for infrastructure and development projects in emerging economies.
Additionally, a $100 billion fund has been established to protect the nations involved from any future US-led financial crisis.
If properly governed, it will give these countries an enormous advantage over US-dependent countries such as Australia should/when such a thing happen again.
So will this cartel take any cues from the Rothschilds? Mayer Amschel Rothschild reputedly said in 1790: ‘Let me issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who writes the laws.’
NSW Libs also a disgrace
‘I’ll tell you what’, property developer Hilton Grugeon ‘might’ have said. ‘I like this painting that hangs on your wall so much, that I’ll buy it from you for $10,000. No, really.’
And there begins the public career collapse of NSW Liberal MP Andrew Cornwell, former chief whip to the NSW Baird government, after Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) hearings last week.
More than the bottle of plonk that robbed O’Farrell of the top job in April, this goose took wads of cash in an envelope from a developer as well as from the current lord mayor of Newcastle.
Idiot alert: accepting money from developers was banned in NSW in 2009. It’s also put lord mayor of Newcastle and ex-property developer Jeff McCloy under pressure to resign.
So where is this stupid greed-based saga headed?
Apart from paying off his tax bill, Cornwell gave the money to his beloved party for its 2011 election war chest.
Funny that, as it’s the subject of ICAC enquiries.
There are now nine MPs who have stood down from the current coalition crop since they took office in 2011, including the premier, police minister Mike Gallacher and energy and resources minister Chris Hartcher.
Will the people of NSW take notice of this endemic corrupt behaviour before the upcoming 2015 election?
Hans Lovejoy, editor
The railway’s fate
Mayor Simon Richardson is looking for suggestions to keep the railway tracks from being ripped up for a rail trail, but the odds are that it’s going to happen anyway.
And here’s why:
The Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC) is the peak body representing Ballina, Byron, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed councils.
It is the obvious organisation to head a Trust to oversee any use of the 130km Casino to Murwillumbah line.
NOROC’s president is Tweed Shire mayor Barry Longland, and I asked him his position on light rail and rail trails and guess what – he is right behind a rail trail.
It took a bit of persistence, but Cr Longland reluctantly acknowledged the absence of light rail in the 2013 Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study.
Taking the less-than-courageous position, he said, ‘If the state government wanted light rail they would be doing it.’
Cr Longland then pushed the rail study’s rhetoric as to why light rail was not possible. ‘For example, there’s 67 bridges along the line which need replacing…’
‘But such a claim is baseless as no formal study of light rail was ever undertaken’, I replied.
‘There is a real threat that the railway lines will be sold off,’ he then said. ‘Who is making that threat?’ I asked.
It was around then that the line between pragmatism and acquiescence appeared. As state MP Don Page (Nationals) has the ear of Treasury and is armed with supporting ‘studies’, rail trails are all but inevitable.
And thus the track will go, although it appears likely light rail will run from North Byron Beach Eco Resort into Byron.
‘I just want to see something happen on the tracks before I die,’ Cr Longland said in somewhat sad desperation.
Another problem is that rail lobby group TOOT (Trains On Our Tracks) is nowhere as resourced, connected and organised as the rail trail mob. It’s unfortunate but true.
Yet ripping up railway lines is an abomination. Especially this one. In Byron Shire, it’s fairly straight and flat with only a few (mostly small) bridges. I recall that, when at Mullum High, we could jump on the train to Byron – it made all the difference growing up in a quiet town. To think we are now at this point is not just depressing but embarrassing.
Regardless of the lies and deception that the last two government-sponsored reports provided, rail track removal signifies defeat to a community in desperate need of more public transport and a victory for lazy and inept politicians.
I’m no lawyer, but…
The third rejection of a long-running development application (DA) in Bangalow by Council last week will likely lead to a showdown in the Land and Environment Court, we are told.
A proposal for a two-storey building with eight dwellings, three shops with basement car park and attic has pushed Council’s planning policies beyond the max; it would cover almost the entire block and sits on the relatively quiet Station Street adjacent to the historic A&I Hall.
Submitted by Sydney-based developers Gordon Highlands, It received a lot of criticism for being out of character with the rest of Bangalow, and public meetings were held. It’s arguably out of character with just about anything in Byron Shire, really.
Anyway, confidential legal advice was given to councillors regarding their chances of defending the rejection. It’s interesting that staff opinion changed to now recommending acceptance of the DA since the last rejection, despite only minor changes being made this time.
And whatever legal advice was tabled, it clearly rattled Crs Cubis, Woods and Hunter; they voted against Council holding ground and supporting community objections. They wanted instead for it to pass and ask general manager Ken Gainger to mediate.
While voting to minimise the chances of expensive court costs is prudent, the double edge is of course is that it messes with the fine balance of public amenity and sets precedents.
And in this case the majority of councillors are rightly concerned at the impact traffic may have given the building’s size; the primary school is opposite the back laneway.
Holding ground can lead to wins of course; at Thursday’s meeting, the mayor pointed out other DAs that were defeated: KFC, Dan Murphy’s… and even a development on Mullumbimby’s Station Street that was averted just before it went to court.
Regardless, a lot of this hinges on Council’s Development Control Plan (DCP). But what is it? According to Byron Council’s website, a DCP is supplementary to the Byron Local Environmental Plan (LEP), ‘by providing more details, guidelines and controls applying to the various forms of development permitted…’
Incidentally, the DCP was also adopted by Council last week, which is a key issue that divides mayor Simon Richardson and Cr Sol Ibrahim over West Byron.
While the mayor says it’s a ‘useless’ policy that has been ‘gutted by the state government’, Cr Ibrahim says he’s confident that the DCP, ‘coupled with other statutory instruments and plans of management, can produce a great outcome.’
So doth this policy contain magical powers?
One comment gleaned was from Council’s executive manager of planning, Ray Darney. He said of the policy last week that, ‘While only a guideline, some provisions are prescriptive and must be met when submitting a development application such as sewer, water and communication utilities. Other provisions allow flexibility and innovation in design to be accommodated such as landscaping.’
So there you have it. The court will presumably, along with other factors, examine how this case applies to the DCP.
The question is: like sport, will this be a game of two halves? And instead of sport being the winner, in this case will it be the lawyers?
Bruns plan fallout
One of the biggest ever development plans for Bruns was quietly adopted on June 2.
Being quiet about this is expected considering the strong and clear public opposition, but adding to the fiasco has been appaling public relations by North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP).
It was a sloppy and rude campaign by the dubious government-run corporation; it tried to sell us the idea that major holiday parks and Crown reserve upgrades are needed but failed to convey anything of meaning through long, complex bureaucratic documents and an information session debacle.
It’s something residents in Evans Head are also facing, with major upgrades planned at their holiday parks too. And like here, they are responding with a strong community voice.
Crown lands are inherently designed for public, not private, use, but we have been continually insulted by NCHP manager Jim Bolger arrogantly telling the community what public lands are accessible and which are not.
Should this absurdity just be ignored? And with boundary-encroachment issues also remaining, it’s clear money will be made for the state government at community cost.
It’s inevitable we will see a price rise for accommodation.
The key to the entire issue lies in the independent audit that examined the public submissions that Bolger collated.
Author Dr John Mackenzie said, ‘Several significant and frequently raised issues that were beyond the scope of the planning process have not been included in the analysis.’
‘For example, issues raised concerning park governance, the inconsistency of the POMs with the regional character and the community-engagement process featured prominently in the reviewed submissions but were not included in the analysis.’
His suggestion is that ‘Inclusion of these issues in the Issue Categories should be considered. This would not result in any changes to the recommendations, but could also provide decision-makers and the community with a more comprehensive understanding of points raised in the submissions.’
But for NSW Crown Lands bureaucrats to concede that point would inevitably result in more questions.
The Echo asked specifically if the minister responsible would respond to that recommendation but was ignored.
So bravo to the bureaucrats in the NSW Crown Lands department. The appalling trend of privatising public assets is almost complete and it’s unlikely this would have been legit without big changes to Crown Lands legislation too. Bravo!
Immoral govts plan Ag-gag laws
While a murder of lawyers – under the direction of federal attorney-general-bigot Brandis – combs over legislation in an effort to limit personal freedoms and extend corporate ones, our own coalition state government is joining in the fun.
According to Fairfax, NSW primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson (Nationals), has instigated a joint federal/state crack- down on ‘agri-terrorists’, or those who trespass onto intensive animal farm industries and film the activity.
As such, the NSW Primary Industries Legislation Amendment (Biosecurity) Bill 2012 is up for amendment.
Barnaby Joyce (federal Nationals) is also keen to help keep people ill-informed and dumbed down about what they eat and is joining the fray at the national level.
Clearly the effort by activists is to stop or reduce the appalling way in which some animals are farmed. If better legislation were enacted to improve the conditions of animals subjected to inten- sive farming, would there be a need for these laws?
It’s like introducing a bad law to prop up bad behaviour.
Regardless, the 2008 US doco Food, Inc. is a good place to start if you want to be informed about intensive large-scale ani- mal farming. It posits that corporate agribusiness produces food that is unhealthy, environmentally harmful and abusive of both animals and employees.
While free speech works in mysterious ways, it gener- ally only favours those who write the legislation. Thankfully there’s still public submissions. The state legislation is open for public comment until June 27 and is available at www. dpi.nsw.gov.au/biosecurity/legislative-review.
The Guardian and handful of other news outlets reported last Monday something quite significant: church leaders were arrested for an asylum prayer vigil at Tony Abbott’s Sydney office.
Meanwhile, a simultaneous sit-down protest was held at opposition leader Bill Shorten’s electorate office in Melbourne.
The significance of course is that peaceful, law-abiding civilians with strong religious beliefs are now prepared to be arrested over the horrendous imprisonment of 1,023 children in Australian-run immigration detention centres.
More than that, they targeted both political parties that engage in this cruelty, and came from a broad section of the Christian faith: Catholic, Baptist, Anglican and Uniting churches.
Interestingly Abbott’s goons brought the cops in while Shorten let them stay. It follows similar sit-in protests at immigration minister Scott Morrison’s electorate office in March, as well as the office of foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop. Will non-violent protests against human and environmental crimes define 2014?
Heads up hyper-local media junkies – newly released newspaper circulation figures have seen The Byron Echo increase its domi- nance over The Byron News (APN), with a 48 per cent circulation lead. The figures, which are updated every six months, were released last week by the Audited Media Association.
There’s been a general decline for local daily The Northern Star, owned by Australian Provincial Newspapers (APN). The Star now prints 9,662 copies daily, which is down seven per cent on the same period last year. Its Saturday edition is also down 8.8 per cent.
While independent publishers such as The Echo are holding steady and expanding online, the days of complacency are long over. The media’s existence relies on more than just relevant and informative news; it relies on good relationships with its advertisers.
But as for corporate suckholes like Rupert Murdoch, be wary of those who afflict the afflicted while comforting the comfortable.
Steaming the Greens
Welcome comrades, to the great big Green event, held at St John’s Hall in Mullumbimby last Saturday night.
‘It’s great to see the carpark full with so many cars,’ was one awkward welcome. And it was; the place was packed, and while not awkward all the time, there’s no doubting the earnest passion from nerdy intellectual progressives wishing that corporate powers be curtailed and social justice flourish.
Would fiscal policy be discussed? How about that ‘massive debt’ that threatens to ruin us – how will we tackle that in a post-fossil fuel age?
Sadly no, this wasn’t a night for that – this was about people power and Bentley. The event was to feature federal senator Scott Ludlam (WA), but senator Larissa Waters (Qld), NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham and Senate hopeful Dawn Walker joined the line-up.
To their credit, The Greens didn’t try to own the Bentley victory – acknowledgment was made of the two women who started the door-knocking campaign, Gasfield Free Northern Rivers, the Lock The Gate movement, the Githabul people and the Knitting Nannas. Alan Jones could have perhaps also been thanked after his attack on Metgasco and the state government, but that would have been a stretch. It would be interesting to have been privy to the recent Nationals Party meeting held in Tweed as a comparison.
What we do know is that Mullum is Greens heartland – last polls showed Mullum had the highest Greens voter turnout in Byron Shire and therefore the Richmond seat for the 2013 federal election.
Public events where policy and ideas are discussed are rare, and even rarer is the opportunity to hear firsthand how the big parliamentary chicken factories work. The crowd were told what current legislation had recently been knocked back or enacted. For example a federal ICAC bill by The Greens was rejected by both Labor and the coalition. Both parties even declined to debate it, said Ms Waters. Additionally the federal government just handed all environment laws to the states to manage, giving no national oversight to air, water and food security issues.
There were warnings to protectors too: MP Buckingham said in response to the current Maules Creek protest that the government has enacted legislation under the Crimes Act to lock up those obstructing a mine vehicle. ‘If guilty, it carries a sentence of seven years’ jail. So you really do, as a community, need to be across that.’
The night ended with a reminder about the little known Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). MP Ludlum said, ‘We only know about this because WikiLeaks has told us. This would possibly allow multinational corporations the right to sue local state and federal governments for passing laws that might impact on their future profits. If you want an example of clear and present danger of corporate rule, look to the TPP.’
Two party pigs
Who is worse – a new NSW premier who refuses to explain un- declared donations and subsequent plum appointments, or an opposition leader who ignored the code of conduct regarding bribes and took six months to tell someone he had an offer?
Sounds complicated and boring, but all that can be said about modern NSW politics is that govcorp morons are shouting at each other from across the room over who is worse. And somehow they think the public will find that acceptable.
Can these idiots be any more insulting?
Yes – both parties also voted last week against an amendment to the Mining and Petroleum Acts to establish an Independent Expert Mine Licensing Committee, as recommended by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) following the inquiries into corruptly granted coal mining licences.
Jeremy Buckingham (Greens) says they also combined to replace a broad ‘public interest power’ to cancel mining licences and replace it with a narrower ‘fit and proper person’ test.
Unlike the classic ‘corporations are people too’ line, it appears to ensure corporations are better people.
And why has this happened? Just follow the money.
According to Buckingham, ‘Since 1999, the mining sector has donated $5,753,721 to the Liberal, National and Labor par- ties and they are still not prohibited political donors.’
If any public faith is to be restored, the mining licences that were handed out by disgraced Labor MPs Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald need to be cancelled and re-examined by someone with integrity. Integrity? Ha!