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!
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!
Gateway without a gate
The NSW coalition (Liberal/Nationals) suffered further embarrass- ment this week after its ‘Gateway Process,’ which assesses mining proposals on strategic agricultural land, saw two of the six panel members resign.
According to The Australian (Newscorp), the NSW Farmers Association questioned the independence of the government- appointed panel’s chairman Terry Short, a soil expert, who had to declare an interest in two of the three applications being assessed by the panel.
In addition, Greens NSW MP Jeremy Buckingham put the boot in on fossil fuel lobbyists; he said Mr Short and his panel were forced to grant a ‘Conditional Gateway Certificate’ for a mine in the Bylong Valley west of Newcastle, despite assessing the mine as failing 12 out of 13 criteria. ‘It’s ludicrous that the Bylong mine failed 12 out of 13 criteria, and the Spur Hill mine that failed nine out of 11 criteria, are still granted a certificate and progress to the next stage of planning assessment.’
This again casts doubt over this government’s credibility and its continuous bleating of having the ‘toughest CSG regulations in the country.’ Mr Stoner’s office again offered up that rhetoric in reply to The Echo when asked what he will bring to the north coast as its minister.
In return, The Echo suggested to Mr Stoner’s office perhaps the present safeguards weren’t working given the overwhelming protests by farmers at Bentley, Leard, The Pilliga and other min- ing sites. The Echo then asked if the minister would intervene and stop Metgasco’s plans at Bentley given the public outcry.
Unsurprisingly there has been no reply – The Echo understands the Bentley land earmarked for fracking is owned by a high-profile Nationals Party member, as was the case in Glenugie.
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
Dear Mr Mike Gallacher
As NSW police minister I thought it important to let you know that a court case instigated by your legal team was thrown out of court and found to have wasted time and your department’s resources.
I know it may sound like a trivial matter, but it was actually a significant test case in civil liberties.
Residents who were peacefully protesting against an unwanted Metgasco CSG test site at Glenugie near Grafton on January 7 this year were arrested on questionable grounds.
It appeared like a fairly sloppy piece of legal work; charges were also changed at the last moment.
But most concerning was that magistrate David Heilpern last week suggested there may have been political interference.
He said, ‘In this case I find myself asking what could possibly be the reason for continuing on with such an innocuous charge in these circumstances?’
I think it’s in the public interest to know who was behind this.
Who pressured a police prosecutor to proceed with ‘vexatious’ charges? It’s possible you know already… but if not, maybe you can find out who it is so they can be made accountable? As you would know, such behaviour undermines the public’s confidence and the capacity of the police to keep law and order.
I believe the police force for the most part carry out their duties professionally; however, directives and the tone of any organisation come from the top. I sincerely hope that you agree that police should not act as private security guards for corporate interests and that this matter should be explained publicly.
The small spotlight that shone on fossil fuel investment by the four big Australian banks last week was a reminder that catastrophic environmental destruction is a cornerstone of western economic success.
Although from a public relations point of view, divestment campaigns make great copy.
And maybe that’s all that’s needed to get a wider movement started towards realistic renewable targets.
The latest push to divest from companies that are heavily involved with fossil fuels comes from Bill McKibben, who is the founder of grassroots climate campaigning organisation 350.org.
He told The Guardian that a recent Oxford University study claims it’s the fastest growing divestment movement in history.
The most important thing, he says, is getting the analysis out into the ‘information bloodstream’.
‘Most of the carbon in the world has to stay underground,’ he says. ‘The analysis has now spread to the point where the World Bank, the International Energy Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and just about everybody else has said that we have to leave at least two-thirds of the carbon we know about underground.’
And while the current knuckle-dragging Liberal/National government wants big polluters to help themselves to public funds for vague climate change solutions, economists think otherwise. Fairfax Media reported last week that after a poll of 35 prominent Australian economists that they almost universally back an emissions trading scheme (ETS) over Toned Abb’s ‘direct action policy’ on climate change.
The carbon tax myth examined
One bright note of this election, perhaps the only, was the development of fact checking organisations, one of which is run by theconversation.com.
The site examines the interesting question: ‘will scrapping the carbon price lower electricity prices?’ According to author Dylan McConnell from Melbourne University’s Energy Institute, removing the carbon tax would result in a reduction in electric- ity prices of ‘around five per cent, with an upper boundary of about 10 per cent.’ But he points to an example from Victoria
in recent years, where transmission costs went up 27 per cent, distribution by 11 per cent and retail costs by 17 per cent.
‘These components are independent of the carbon price, and account for the majority of hikes in retail electricity prices.
‘It’s worth remembering too that even without the carbon price, electricity prices are predicted to rise. Climate Change Authority research suggests that without the carbon price, the rise would with be slightly smaller, with retail electricity prices just six per cent lower.’
Additionally, ABC TV’s Australian Story recently ran a great yarn entitled ‘Corridors Of Power’ which exposed ‘gold plating’ by the NSW government owned electricity transmission company, TransGrid. Gold plating is building unnecessary projects and in this case, 330,000 volt electric power lines were earmarked for the Manning Valley in NSW as part of a large-scale state expansion.
In response to the plans, Manning Valley farmer Bruce Rob- ertson helped create the Manning Alliance and sparked a senate inquiry which backed his claims of gold plating. People power overcame corporate interests and the project was abandoned.
‘[Gold plating] was the single largest cause of the electricity price rises that consumers had experienced in Australia,’ says Robertson.
What other half truths are being presented as fact?
Hopefully in coming years, fact checking organisations will develop further and investigative journalism will continue to prevent truth being the first casualty of politics.
Below is a reply from TransGrid PR regarding the editorial on September 3, 2013.
You claim it's 'investment' whereas Mr Robertson says it's 'gold plating'. The implication that all investment should be welcomed without scrutiny is of course your right to promote as a corporation.
And while the rest of this letter goes to say what good things TransGrid is doing, my understanding is that most of those things have only come about from the senate inquiry the residents of Manning Valley pushed for. Unless I missed something, you have not refuted the claims from Mr Robertson.
Perhaps instead the letter should say, 'With thanks to the Manning Valley Alliance and the senate inquiry, TransGrid reviewed its TOR, stakeholder and consumer engagement and has sought to become more transparent in the future.'
Pictured left: NSW Forestry Corp CEO Nick Roberts
There’s been a smelly plume of unaccountability and wanton ecological destruction wafting from the NSW Forestry Corporation for many years.
The private enterprise arm of the toxic O’Farrell state government is tasked to ‘man- age’ our valuable natural assets, but instead destroys our heritage and makes a financial loss while doing it. Echonetdaily reported last May that ‘NSW taxpayers were slugged nearly $120 million last year to fund the ongoing logging’ of the state’s forests.’
And now it’s at our doorstep. Old-growth blackbutt on private property adjacent to the Whian Whian State Conservation Area, just west of Goonengerry National Park, is being logged by the Corporation.
While it’s legal to log privately owned land when requirements are met, the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) claim the area is home to endangered koala habitat and at least four other species that are threatened with extinction.
This means they are acting illegally, they say. It’s just another in a long list of incidents that NEFA has reported. Around a year ago, NEFA found numerous koala scats in logged parts of the Royal Camp State Forest near Grafton. Later the Corporation was slapped with paltry fines of less than $1,000 by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for logging a koala high-use area. Then last June, it appeared they were up to the same thing in the Koreelah State Forest near Woodenbong.
There is little doubt that the EPA needs to be strengthened to ensure better outcomes for forest protection. But like the ACCC or the Press Council, they have little bite. The Forestry Corporation’s ‘Native Forest Operations’ have no place in modern times – plantation timber can more than provide for our needs. Stop killing koalas, Nick Roberts.