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.
Mayoral ‘brevity’ award
So far, the mayoral campaign ‘brevity’ award goes to Hemp Party member and independent Jack Sugarman, even if some of his policy statements are completely at odds with most constituents. You have to admire the uncompromising underdogs.
But all six contenders have contributed spirited and worthy debate to what is surely the hardest gig in town. No-one has jumped ahead of the pack, to The Echo’s knowledge. Thankfully there’s still more time.
Any message communicated through writing is best served stripped of rhetoric, pandering and pap. It wins debates hands down every time. Trimmed and lean language is vital to democracy and many politicians lack this ability. Bridging the gap between what is often bland bureaucracy and how it affects us is a study in itself.
In addition, negativity towards opponents is a predictable and pointless exercise that only serves the lowest common denominator.
Unfortunately it works in most cases with an uninformed public, but thankfully that has not been a feature of debate so far.
With only weeks to go to the election, The Echo will look closer at the dynamic between councillors and council’s staff, its operating budget and what is possible within our constitutional rights.
Another renegade mayoral candidate, Morgan, assumes reasonable knowledge of constitutional law; however, it can only be described as ‘untested’ at a local level. Still, the theatre of politics is usually limited to tit-for-tat, so any deeper understanding of
our constitution is a welcome relief, especially in light of local government (council) not being recognised constitutionally.
This Shire sets precedents for many other councils across the continent, and that means leadership and vision, which also means being informed and transparent. But the tendering process – for example – is unacceptable in The Echo’s view, in regards to both the long-suffering Byron markets policy and more recently the surf schools. Clarity is yet to be provided by Council on this and on its public/media gag orders, which go against NSW state guidelines.
Even local government MP Don Page’s media advisor is on record as saying (in a convoluted way): ‘Nothing under the Local Government Act or Regulation would prevent a council from putting in place restrictions of the type contained in the Byron [tender] policy.’
Those seeking further information on any candidate or mayoral hopeful can visit The Echo’s online profiles at www.echonetdaily. net.au. Click on the ‘Elections 2012’ tab and then ‘Byron Shire special coverage’. It’s the most comprehensive election coverage of the region ever attempted – Ballina, Byron, Lismore and Tweed are all included. But if mayoral hopeful Jack Sugarman gets his way, it will all b e ‘ carved up ’.
This week’s online mayoral hopeful Q&A can be found at www. echo.net.au/opinion-piece/mayoral-hopefuls-qa. It’s entirely in their own words and is unedited for length. It provides the public with a great way of determining substance over waffle.
The public’s punching bag
With elections heating up, there is no doubt a sharper focus on the councillors’ current performance and past achievements.
And if you were to just take The Echo’s front-page story as an indication of their abilities, it would be an unfair judgment.
The job entails a workload completely at odds with remuneration and it will never live up to the public’s expectations. But the expectation is to get it right, and obviously something went very wrong with the way the surf school tender process was handled. The Echo looks forward to the results being made public in the hope it won’t be repeated in the future.
So what does this mean for councillor hopefuls?
In case they were interested in what happened at the last meeting on Thursday (there was only a handful of them present):
Public access started at 9am, which gave an opportunity for the public to lobby for their DA, for example. But it has also been known as a chance for the public to stand in front of councillors and staff and whinge. That was followed by a short break before a long, long, long day of considering and debating a 380-page agenda.
That’s 380 pages of notice of motions (NOMs), submissions and grants, reports by divisions, committee reports, councillors’ questions with notice and not forgetting confidential reports and late reports. The minutes from this average-sized agenda noted that 67 items were discussed. Yours truly left around 5.30pm and it looked like they were just settling in.
Despite the ideological differences that day (and all others), there appeared enough cohesion to get things done. And the sad fact for ratepayers is that knowledge hard-won over four years is mostly lost, especially on this occasion when all but three Councillors are retiring.
So to all 29 councillor hopefuls: good luck, you’re going to
Local election ponderings
The Echo very much looks forward to a new Byron Shire general manager being appointed and some fresh councillor faces after the September 8 elections.
So far the debate has been mainly rhetorical, but now is the time to talk about how this community can pull together and work more collaboratively. Sounds like a joke, right? But nobody can deny it’s desperately needed.
There are so many conflicting egos and ideals in this region that whoever lands the vacant spots of general manager and mayor will be under immense pressure to produce at least some level of unity. Previously both ended up in a tit-for-tat squabble where the only winners were lawyers.
Here are a few issues to ponder over until ballot day:
Address and review unexecuted Council motions. Councillors’ many requests to staff has led to a cyber graveyard of well-intentioned but forgotten motions.
There is no doubt that tourism is the dominant economy, but what of other sectors that, with the right nurturing, could provide the resilience that this community continually espouses? Food production, manufacturing, creative arts and IT come to mind.
Addressing affordable housing could perhaps be achieved by investigating working models in neighbouring shires.
Byron Bay has needed a bypass for over 20 years, and as the Ocean Shores population is almost as large, it too could do with basic infrastructure.
An equitable festival policy is needed as well; it’s not just two major events we have in this Shire, it’s two major event companies who want to ramp up their event sites that we have to deal with.
Other big elephants in the room are holiday letting and the social problems caused by a binge-drinking culture. And let’s not forget potholes and grubby public toilets.
One last thing: a great start to freshening up Council would be to rename our infrastructure. Poor language usage divides and confuses. Until something vaguely cultural is held there, the Byron Regional Sports and Cultural Complex should be just called the Ewingsdale Sports Facility.
National and global media continually analyse this community whether we like it or not. Those outside our bubble often mock our differences and ridicule the commitment we have to the environment and social issues.
Let’s be a smart unified council so we can tell them – and the NSW government – to go fuck themselves when needed.
Hoi polloi meets polly elite
Every three years one can look forward to seeing first hand the political elite and their understudies in action. The second and only Byron opportunity was the ‘Meet The Candidates’ night, held at the Byron Community Centre last Thursday.
Justine’s victory was inevitable; her preparation was thorough, her answers of pure polly dreams. She did cop a few heckles, but that’s the price for saying to a crowd of train supporters the state, not federal government are the ones to blame for taking the Trains Off Our Tracks. Similarly, Byron library supporters were told funds for community projects allocated to Council are not bound by conditions, so it’s a local government issue. Well done – crisis diverted. So the people of Byron need a new library? At least it’s better than Kingscliff’s one, Independent Julie Boyd told the gallery. This caused an awkward silence but spurred a new thread of conversation into play – the selling of public assets to build infrastructure. Unfortunately both van Lieshout and Nationals candidate Alan Hunter spoke mostly about themselves and with ignorance on complex issues. Democrats David Robinson didn’t speak much at all. It was sometimes just a little embarrassing, but sort of cute. Grandmas and farmers can run for office, just like lawyers.
The intellectual discourse was thankfully projected to a higher frequency by Independent Stephen Hegedus, who opened with ‘I came here instead to talk about philosophy.’ He offered reasoned and empathetic responses to complex issues which is encouraging in a newcomer. Fellow independents Nic Faulkner, Matt Hartley and Julie Boyd along with Joe Ebono of the Greens also displayed knowledge, wisdom, humour and bluntness in their unelectable cause. It was theatre of the absurd and the ultimate in standup comedy – all for the benefit of 150 physical and 100 virtual (web streaming) souls. That figure represents 0.27 percentage of the 91,881 voters in the seat of Richmond. Democracy inaction?
Richmond is no longer a marginal seat. In 2007, ALP primary votes tallied 43.8 per cent, the Nationals 37 per cent and the Greens 14.9 per cent. Back then there were only four minor party candidates. Except for the Democrats, most were religious and/or right wing – this time we have a much more sophisticated free-thinking group of independents, albeit all similar in ideology.
By comparison, Justine Elliot of the ALP doesn’t say or do much, which is a wise move given that this is a safe seat for her. In 2004, Elliot beat Larry Anthony (Nationals) by a margin of only 301 preferred votes. In 2007 there was a national mood for change and she delivered a swing of over seven per cent to the ALP. It is hard, however, to write a glowing account of her achievements. Failure to deliver a light rail system – despite explicit promises – continues to highlight how underfunded our region is. The federal government just gave Queensland a huge financial boost for rail infrastructure, but Ms Elliot doesn’t seem to have the political clout to make it happen here.
Joan van Lieshout of the Liberals was pushed out of her gig as mayor of Tweed by her council ‘colleagues’ last year. In the bigger pond of national politics it is likely her influence would be even less effective. Since the Libs didn’t run a candidate last election, she may pick up some elderly conservative support. Like the Nationals, her campaign has appeal for those knocking on death’s door, but very little in the way of a youthful or progressive outlook. Considering what the demographics are in Richmond this may be clever politics, which is surprising because she doesn’t appear that bright.
Alan Hunter of the Nationals is a nice chap by all accounts, however like the Liberals he is attached to policies and ideology that offer future generations of this country nothing. Nothing. As with most politicians aligned with conservative parties, he is more progressive than his party in terms of climate change and farming practices.
Joe Ebono of the Greens will no doubt poll comparatively strongly, given that the folks who live in the immediate area are generally engaged in the political process and understand complex geopolitical and social issues. Both Gillard and Abbott don’t want to debate Bob Brown. One can only assume this is because of their concern for losing political ground, which highlights why two parties offering little variation in policy keeps stunting the growth of a nation.
If you don’t capture four per cent of the vote, then the $500 it costs to climb into the political arena is not refunded.
Thank you Nic Faulkner, Stephen Hegedus, Matt Hartley, David Robinson (Democrats) and Julie Boyd. It is those who have little hope of winning who can speak more freely. More importantly, they can highlight and examine issues without party approval or retribution. In other words, they can be more truthful.
As mentioned, Richmond is not likely to change sides in this election. What changes the political sheets in this country is a few thousand swinging voters in marginal seats. It is their often short-sighted and ill-conceived views that both sides of parliament believe they have to flatter. Until that fundamental problem can be addressed, our politicians will continue to lead by opinion poll and govern by focus groups.