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.
Best practice please
It was a surprise to learn the West Byron Project developers have yet to address Council staff concerns from 2011 over traffic, housing density and flooding.
One has to wonder what type of development this will become.
A positive so far, however, is the developer’s offer to pay $7,000 per residential lot which would go a long way towards an estimated $8.2 million bypass. But offering the community infrastructure such as roads to get your way – even in good faith – typifies what is wrong with ignoring due process. Why bother with councils at all? When you leapfrog Council to get to the state for large-scale approvals – like Splendour’s Yelgun site or Mullum Woolies – it means developers are instead wearing the boots that popularly elected representatives should be wearing.
It means the community’s voice comes second to the state government and the developer is doing what they want on their own terms.
Ultimately it’s a risk–reward ratio exercise. Almost all developments are for financial gain, so social capital (the public’s goodwill) is weighed up against perceived financial outcomes.
Losing a little social capital here or there is okay if the final outcome means a good cash return. It’s similar to political gains.
But it doesn’t work that way here: many who have ignored the wishes of this engaged and savvy community have failed before. It’s a community with a proven history of repelling inappropriate development.
And that’s where local NSW Nationals MP Don Page comes in.
As with the Brunswick Heads residents currently dealing with an 800-page ‘grand design’ document for their town, the West Byron decision rests with Don, we are told. Still, there is an opportunity for the West Byron Project landowners to make that suburb the envy of all.
One example is just up the road: the Currumbin Eco Village. It’s a community that is based around sustainable housing principles.
Retaining Byron’s unique character should be at the forefront of this development. Let’s hope the developers work with all of us so we can avoid the dull visionless consumeristic urban sprawls that are unfortunately part of the mainstream Australian urban landscape.
Public submissions close this Friday at http://bit.ly/westbyronplans.
The end of 2013
Thank you, 2013, it sure was a gas. Much like the all natural, organic, juicy, colourless, odourless gas that lies beneath our vast lands and has corporations and shareholders salivating. And it sure is good to cook with. But I digress. Here are some interesting events throughout the year (in no chronological order):
Farewell to those who passed and welcome to those anew.
Happy new year and a safe 2014 everyone!
Hans Lovejoy, editor
Nationals smell jobs through hemp
It’s heartening to hear that the NSW National Party has thrown its support behind a local hemp manufacturer.
Bangalow based Hemp Foods Australia is spruiking the funding by NSW Trade and Investment of six new employees for a minimum of three months, which director Paul Benhaim says is ‘invaluable
in improving financial stability and credibility to move ahead and employ many more for longer.’
According to Benhaim, there is strong interest from Asia and North America and, ‘we’re confident we will become market leaders in the southern hemisphere with our specialised products.’
Presently the company produces hulled hemp seeds, oil and protein. But unlike the tinctures that reportedly provide relief from epilepsy, his products contain no THC. Instead, his company specialises in food-grade stuffs which contain omega-3, omega-6, omega-9 and essential fatty acids.
The catch? Hemp foods are not allowed to be sold as food in Australia and New Zealand (except for hemp oil in NZ). Buy this stuff locally and it has to be applied externally; however the federal government is looking into it.
Anyway, local Nationals MP Don Page says hemp foods are ‘a prime example of the NSW government’s success in helping regional businesses move forward and boost employment.’
‘Jobs are always a priority in NSW, especially in the bush, and this government is working hard with bright initiatives to provide them.’
Similarly, NSW deputy premier and Nationals leader Andrew Stoner was quoted in Benhaim’s press release as saying the performance of hemp foods ‘would hopefully be a story repeated over and over in NSW as the government’s incentives and strategies became established.’
So will we see the Nationals take the ball on this and promote jobs and industries that will take on big pharma, plastics, paper, cotton and fossil fuels? One could say this is certainly a good start.
And it’s not often the Nationals can be commended; let’s forget for now that appalling $2m rail study designed to rob this region of public transport, planning reforms that favour developers, or proposed legislation to sack councils and shift power to the state.
Oh, and also Mr Stoner’s refusal to support a mini-hydro business in his own electorate, as reported in The Echo a few weeks ago.
While Mr Page says jobs are a priority in NSW, his leader Mr Stoner failed to offer the same assistance to that industry. It could have possibly saved a Dorrigo business that offered renewable energy.
Wins and losses in 2012
As in previous years, Byron Shire again danced the mambo of environment versus development while holding ground against outside political and corporate interests. And so sets the stage for a year of wins and losses.
A big win in 2012 – which favours a more sober Shire – included Byron’s unanimous rejection of a Dan Murphy’s mega-booze outlet in the CBD.
While Byron’s tenacity paid off, that decision was ultimately at the behest of the NSW liquor and gaming authority. But reasonable given the national media attention last year over alcohol-fuelled violence on Jonson Street.
As for Council, they marched onward and awkward despite teetering finances and a public barney between the then-mayor and general manager. It culminated with the GM’s sudden departure and an election in September.
Council correctly defended knocking back a 27-room boarding house development in Bruns too. But its draft local environment plan (LEP) copped a lot of public flak over out of date mapping and complicated zonings.
And there was a reversal on Council’s decision on its flawed tender process for surf schools and kayaking. Thankfully that allows the Byron Bay Surf School back in the water. Large festival events also featured last year, with Splendour’s site in Yelgun being given the go-ahead for this year by an independent panel, despite equally noisy opponents.
Public infrastructure pressed ahead with the opening of Council’s $17 million Byron Regional Sport and Cultural Complex (BRSCC), although many teething issues continue throughout the year such as soggy fields.
Heavy rain washed away a section of Wilsons Creek Road on Australia Day but Lighthouse Road fully reopened – six-and-a-half years later – in February.
But by far the most frustrating part of the year was the slow churning bureaucratic pace at which the state government operated. Still to be sorted is the Bruns caravan parks saga, which is wrapped in state government inaction, arrogance, greed and belligerence. Another was the mooted video-conferencing replacement of Mullum Hospital’s night doctor, which took from May until November to be decided. But hey, at least that’s a win.
So it wasn’t all such a bad year, as long as you don’t count the planned expansion of the non-renewable CSG industry by the state government.
Thankfully public activism against the insanity of polluting land and water gained momentum throughout the year.
Will we see the continuing austerity measures the state Liberal/National government has assumed? Most likely.
At least Byron Shire maintains a point of difference against the bullshit narrative that economic rationalism delivers. And finally, farewell to all those we lost last year and welcome to all those that are found.
Murphy’s law foiled
Woolworths – owner of Dan Murphy’s – is a company that is used to getting what it wants, as Mullumbimby discovered when the supermarket giant insisted on jumping the development queue and built in Station Street before sewer connection was available.
This time, the liquor giant was so confident of securing its Byron licence that it signed a 25-year lease with the owner of the Jonson Street premises before approval.
While the state government is ideologically, commercially and politically aligned with developers, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) – which rejected Dan Murphy’s – is thankfully a genuinely independent body.
Its chairperson, Chris Sidoti, has been Australian Human Rights Commissioner (1995–2000), Australian Law Reform Commissioner (1992–1995) and Foundation Director of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1987–1992).
Can the the NSW planning department’s Joint Regional Planning Panel boast such quality of independence?
As some may know, Woolworths also makes significant profit from poker-machine addicts. But a new study by activist group GetUp! says it targets socially disadvantaged areas (see www. getup.org.au/profiting-from-poverty).
Farmers squeezed by a tightening supermarket duopoly and alarming suicide rates in the bush are rarely reported in the national press; its newspages are instead filled with colourful full- page ads by Coles and Woolies undercutting each other.
With retail, perpetuating the illusion that cheap is always best only serves the retailer and consumer, not the producer.
Competition, while a bedrock of western prosperity, has diabolical consequences if it isn’t regulated or examined. One could well expect a renewed liquor licence application from Dan Murphy’s in due course, if not a supreme court challenge. With unlimited legal funds available, why wouldn’t they?
Give it up for the state
A major election issue for The Echo was Council’s failure with the tendering process.
Regulating commercial use of public spaces to ourselves, be it beaches or market sites, should not be an impossible feat.
It should allow established businesses to operate and not be bumped by cost. It should foster localisation where possible. This fault rests entirely with Council, both staff and councillors, not the businsesses who gave a ‘blind bid’ in the surf school tender process. There is little doubt staff and the outgoing/returning councillors have the knowledge to solve this, but the message is still muddled, which indicates confusion. And the result is inaction, which has affected the livlihood of those at the Byron Bay Surf School.
Here’s a clue: the NSW state government controls the supply of surf school licences. Does this not demonstrate that we are fooling ourselves and the state is ultimately in control?
It’s no secret that local government is not recognised by the constitution.
Here’s some of the things the state government has done to Council and this community:
They are apparently looking at splitting Fishheads’ rent from the Byron pool (leaving us with nothing) and they grabbed some Brunswick Heads caravan parks and turned them into commercial ventures that Council won’t benefit from.
The Echo looks forward to seeing whether Cr Woods’s claims of Greens mismanagement are indeed correct – or does the state do as it pleases? The state also doesn’t appear interested in funding a night doctor for Mullum hospital since our night cases are so low (despite overwhelming public opposition).
When asked directly whether E2 coastal zonings were scrapped from the draft LEP, Don Page ambiguously told The Echo, ‘Some aspects of Byron Council’s draft LEP don’t comply with the Department of Planning template and have been amended prior to public exhibition.’ Is that a dodge or doesn’t he know?
It should be acknowledged that as our local member of parliament, he now has clout in NSW parliament but remains ineffectual or uninterested in these issues. Having influence in the Sydney-based parliament would be hard for an outsider but we deserve better, even if it is tokenistic.
The great fear of course is that our lack of ability to self- regulate will land us with being administered directly by the state. As outgoing Jan Barham’s ‘freakout’ demonstrated at Thursday’s Council meeting over publicly talking about the tender process, ICAC is very familiar with us. Thankfully she added later in the day that amalgamation wasn’t on the cards as ‘nobody would have us’.
All the best for whoever wins on September 8.
The cost-analysis of rhetoric
With the election countdown upon us, it’s time for the candidates to sway us over with a cost-analysis of their promises.
Potholes are of course an issue, but how are we going to fund it? Council’s operating budget was fairly tight last year, as is exemplified by the kerbside collection being scrapped.
A festival to replace roadside rubbish collection is also very left field, especially coming from the usually politically astute Paul Spooner.
And turning rail into cycle paths? Apart from the state government’s current rail feasibility study (which is the first sign in years something may actually happen), would there be a huge uptake in cycle use between towns, given the long distance?
The Mullum Woolies legal battle has been kicked around as a waste of public money, along with other legal forays.
However The Echo agrees with standing up to inappropriate development and there is a long history of it in this region.
In Woolies’ case it was totally appropriate and Council was correct in doing what it could to preserve the town’s character.
It’s worth remembering that underdeveloped areas on the planet have real value because they are underdeveloped.
This week I will be interviewing ex-Greens leader Bob Brown at the Writers’ Festival.
While formulating questions to ask, I searched ‘Andrew Bolt and Bob Brown,’ thinking I could learn something from an opposing point of view. But after reading Mr Bolt’s views on Bob I almost choked on my double shot flat white in a mug.
Right-wing media pundits are so predictable. And boring. All you have to do is feign outrage and spew vitriolic vomit at anything that challenges a narrow world view. They rarely play the ball, always the man. It does make great theatre admittedly, but is this constructive to the evolution of our species?
I did a phoner (journo speak for phone interview) a few years ago with Mr Brown and asked about his hemp policy. At the time, all he said was that he supported hemp production and nothing more.
I have learned subsequently this week that The Greens still don’t have a policy on hemp. The Echo has reported previously on the CSIRO’s support of cotton and lack of hemp innovation.
This matters because hemp production represents progressive idealism just as renewable energy does. It has a long, rich history as a useful natural fibre and is far superior to others. Henry Ford even made his car bodies from hemp material at one point.
And it’s an easy thing to overlook; hey, we get everything we need from plastics and cotton, right? Except that this plays well into the recurring ‘light bulb’ theory. Humans can produce a light bulb to last much longer than those commercially produced.
Mass consumption is predicated upon obsolescence.
Author Aldous Huxley once said, ‘Armaments, universal debt and planned obsolescence – those are the three pillars of western prosperity.’
Our collective future depends on a fruitful and harmonious marriage between economics and environment.
The Echo hopes Bob’s replacement in the senate, economist Peter Whish-Wilson, will provide a bridge to those political divides.
Questions for Bob are welcome. Please email email@example.com.
The bloodsport of court
Being present in the Byron Bay courtroom last Friday was like watching a slow motion implosion. It was never going to be a happy ending for the accused.
Oh but what theatre: a casually dressed and slightly over-confident Shai Major claimed he couldn’t afford a lawyer (legal aid refused) and struggled with some of the legal jargon. Adding to that, English is his second language. He was charged with ‘development without consent’; in other words he organised a group of schoolies to board at his Byron Bay share-house for a week.
The prosecution included two Council lawyers with a town planner and a Council compliance officer as witnesses.
Despite his very bad odds, The Echo is not sympathetic to Mr Major’s case – he did after all break the law. But fining an unemployed person nearly $100,000 only means two things: declare bankruptcy or pay back $12 per week, as per Centrelink’s debt repayment plan. That equals 160 years of debt, and the prospect of ever recovering Council’s legal fees of $20,000 is remote.
Rules to consider if unrepresented: never talk over the magistrate and don’t make assumptions in any questions you ask.
Stay on topic and defend the facts. As hard as he tried to highlight the hypocrisy of holiday letting and counter-accuse Council and APN media of racism and unfair treatment, leniency wouldn’t be applied by any reasonable magistrate because it’s off topic. Pleading guilty may have been a start, but that means you acknowledge accountability.
Hopefully this result will widen the debate over community housing versus holiday letting in a town where the main currency is tourism. Clearly defined areas need to be applied under Council’s Local Environment Plan (LEP) so there is little doubt what constitutes someone’s house or party dorm accommodation.
Would Mr Major have continued to host schoolies if his neighbours didn’t dob him in? Does this send a ‘strong message’? Who’s next? Will Council continue to act upon the small fry?