Bottleshop DA relinquished
A bottleshop DA attached to the rejected Dan Murphy’s bid in Byron Bay has been exchanged for restaurant car parking according to mayor Simon Richardson.
Last week, The Echo reported that a liquor bottleshop development application (DA) which was rejected by the Office of Gaming and Racing (OLGR) last year was again before Byron Shire Council.
Cr Richardson told The Echo that car parking behind the Palace Cinema on Jonson Street was the only reason Council staff refused the current DA. ‘Negotiations with the developer, myself and staff have resulted in the bottleshop application being transferred to the restaurant DA as a liquor licence.
‘The developer has surrendered the car spaces within Dan Murphy’s DA and will use them for two restaurants in that location.’
The DA is yet to be debated by councillors but the mayor told The Echo the restaurants would be fine dining and ‘family friendly.’
The state government’s overhaul of planning laws, tabled in NSW Parliament on October 22, has been finally supported by the state’s peak body representing 152 shire councils, Local Government NSW.
It’s the most significant planning overhaul in several decades, yet was continually criticised by environmental and civil liberties groups who claimed the draft legislation favoured fast-track developments and lacked community input.
And while Local Government NSW also shared many of those views, president Cr Keith Rhoades AFSM said in a statement his organisation ‘achieved significant amendments’ to the draft policy prior to it being introduced.
They include sustainable development, community inclusion, biodiversity conservation, natural resource management and retaining heritage protections.
‘[Planning] Minister Hazzard has listened to the concerns of councils and communities alike and included sustainable development in the upfront objectives of the Act and triple-bottom-line considerations in merit-assessable development applications, which will still be dealt with by councils.
‘What’s more, the Bill’s underpinning objectives now also recognise biodiversity conservation, natural resource management including agricultural land, and retain the same heritage protections as the current Act.’
Meanwhile Mr Hazzard told Parliament on October 23 that ‘The Greens should be on board with that concept. They cannot have it both ways: either we are backing the councils and the communities or we are not.’
The minister also had a swipe at media reporting, saying his new laws have been ‘misinterpreted by some members of the media.’
‘The bottom line is that code-assessable development will be available across the state, across all of Sydney. It will be up to the councils and the community to determine whether they want code-assessable development.’
For more visit www.planning.nsw.gov.au.
A working group has formed after a recent meeting between Byron Bay’s stakeholders wanting to address alcohol-related crime. Held at Council’s chambers in Mullumbimby, it was chaired by mayor Simon Richardson and included representatives from Council, Byron United, Last Drinks at 12, VIA Byron, local police and hospitals, Byron Bay Liquor Accord, Byron Youth Service and Save our Night Life.
Byron’s chamber of commerce (Byron United) president Paul Waters said the forum was a recommendation by his board to bring all stakeholders together and ‘begin a process by taking into account everyone’s position in the community.’
‘It was very clear that we all want the same result, and it’s also clear that more needs to be done on the streets where most of the trouble occurs.’ Additionally he’s calling all CBD businesses to light up the streets and back lanes around their businesses and to install their own CCTV around their businesses.
‘I also urge Council and state government to commit the resources that will make our streets safer.’
Mayor Simon Richardson told The Echo, ‘We all agreed we need to create a working group to develop a whole-of-town response, rather than fighting over individual aspects, eg opening/closing hours, lighting, CCTV, activation of laneways, diversifying the demographics etc.
‘Instead, we need to consider all of [the issues] in a strategic and considered manner.
‘Cr Paul Spooner has put a notice of motion to Council outlining this.
‘It may be slower and more “committee-ish” than many want, but it is the only way to take the discussion away from a self-interested, black- and-white view currently shaping the debate.’
When asked if Council is close to receiving state and federal funding to improve lighting and CCTV, he told The Echo Council was, ‘not really any closer at the moment, but staff and I are still working on it.’
A chat with Council’s GM Ken Gainger
Meet the manager of Council’s operational arm, general manager Ken Gainger.
While elected councillors make policy, the implementation – or operation – is undertaken by 270 full-time public service employees, all overseen by Mr Gainger. And that makes Council perhaps the shire’s largest employer.
We met last week just after he emerged from a meeting with the Grants Commission. Byron Shire is currently significantly disadvantaged by the formula used to distribute federal financial assistance grants to NSW councils, and he’s hopeful this will change after a review is completed as part of a local-government reform program.
He says of the meeting, ‘We exchanged presentations and Council representatives explained how disadvantaged Byron Shire is compared to the state’s other 151 councils.’
‘It’s not just the 1.5 million annual visitors that come here, but also the landslips, the cyclones and beach erosions which contribute to high infrastructure maintenance costs.’
Council’s funding allocation from the state is calculated from many factors. He says, ‘It’s not just the ratepayer base and property values, but infrastructure such as the length of roads and bridges and a range of disability factors.’
$1m surplus target met
He’s held the top job for just eight months, and when he took the reins, Council’s financial situation was looking bleak.
‘We were told by the Treasury Corporation, on behalf of the Department of Local Government, that we had no further capacity to borrow funds until we improved our capacity to meet loan redemption obligations.’
And while it will take a long time to get on top of overall debt, he says financial stability has already been achieved after restructuring and efficiency measures.
Remarkably a target of a $1 million accumulated surplus has already been reached, well before expectations.
While negotiations with staff are ongoing, he says, ‘the top level of executive management has been pared back to three directors and an executive position.’
Other measures that could help Council get into the black include selling and better managing some of its property.
He says around 15 years ago, Ballina Council helped to turn around its finances by developing and managing the property it owned. So what plans has he got for Byron?
Apart from subdividing and selling the contentious Ocean Shores Roundhouse, he says a factory-sized parcel in the Byron Arts & Industry Estate will soon be up for sale. ‘Initially we are looking at the low- hanging fruit,’ he says.
And while the former Telstra land next to the Mullumbimby Woolworths is currently being rezoned and prepared for sale, he says that due to site contamination, ‘I would expect to see a loss after the sale.’
But he’s hopeful that the old Byron Bay Public Library building could eventually be transformed into a successful commercial hub. Located in the CBD, he says in future years it could provide good returns if appropriately developed.
As for Council meetings, he says transparency has improved after confidential session rules were refined.
‘A council is required to go into confidential session where a price comparison between tenderers is discussed, for example. But that also meant other discussions were not heard in public. Councillors now only enter confidential sessions when absolutely necessary.’
40 years’ experience in local govt
The Bangalow resident and former Lismore City Council GM says after years working away, he feels that this region is his home. Last week he addressed the Bangalow Lions Club, and will be guest speaker at the Byron business chamber annual general meeting on November 7.
‘I’ve been in local government for 40 years, and this council is one of the best I’ve worked with,’ he enthused.
‘Despite some differing political opinions, everyone works very well together.’
He also says he has seen a huge improvement in staff morale, and, along with councillors, has encouraged creative and innovative suggestions from staff. ‘They are certainly less “risk averse” these days,’ he says.
You can see councillors and staff in action this Thursday at the Mullumbimby chambers from 9am. This week’s agenda is available at www.byron.nsw.gov.au.
The NSW government’s draft controversial planning reforms were overwhelmingly rejected at the Local Government NSW (LGNSW) 2013 annual conference, held in Sydney last week.
It’s the latest thumbs-down for the NSW coalition’s plans, which critics say will strip the rights of communities to reject inappropriate developments.
LGNSW is the peak body representing the state’s 152 councils, and Byron Shire councillors Di Woods and Alan Hunter both attended the conference.
The conference’s outcome saw LGNSW delegates agree that community participation should be enshrined ‘at all stages of planning’.
They also voted to, ‘Express strong concern about the removal of community consultation from any stage of the planning process and call on the NSW government to ensure all planning considerations are made with infrastructure commitments, for example childcare and transport etc.’
It was also decided to advocate that, ‘Councils are given equal status to the minister for planning and infrastructure in planning decisions,’ and that developments have ‘triple-bottom-line outcomes for planning decisions.’
Meanwhile Nature Conservation Council CEO Pepe Clarke was in Byron Bay last Friday, launching a new report – available at nccnsw.org.au – that he says, ‘exposes serious flaws in the draft Planning Bill 2013.’ He says, ‘Under the new laws, developers would have new rights to override local plans and challenge council zoning decisions, placing existing environmental protections at risk. In addition, State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPP), which contain protections for sensitive environmental areas including koala habitat and rainforest, will cease to exist under the new planning system.
‘The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has raised concerns about the broad, unfettered discretion given to key decision makers, including the minister for planning and the director-general of the Department of Planning and Infrastructure.’
Recently Byron Bay-based NSW coalition MP for local government and the north coast, Don Page, told The Echo he relayed community concerns about the planning overhaul to planning MP Brad Hazzard.
NSW Business Chamber’s input
As for input from the NSW Business Chamber: they gave feedback to the Green Paper in December last year. The Chamber said then that ‘at the local level, councillors should still have a role in leading the community in the development of broad planning policies and principles for a local area’, but added that ‘the development of Local Land Use Plans will need to be oversighted by the department of planning… to ensure that they are consistent with subregional, metropolitan and NSW plans and policies.’
The controversial legislation, which so far has gained little to no public support, is due to be debated in parliament next month.
Meet one of only two politicians who doesn’t wear a tie in the federal senate: Tasmanian Greens MP Peter Whish-Wilson.
The scruffy economist, environmental campaigner, surfer and ex-wine maker replaced Bob Brown last year and was in town last week, meeting with marine conservation groups and trying to ‘tempt’ former NSW Greens MP Ian Cohen out retirement to help with the cash for container campaign.
‘Ian’s done a lot on this topic in the past and his help would be very valuable,’ he says.
Cash for containers
As an environmental campaigner, Whish-Wilson has focused his passion for the ocean on its preservation.
He says the biggest threat to marine life is our rubbish, and the way to address it is to go to the source.
Back in the 80s and 90s, Australia had the scheme in place; aluminium cans and bottles were returned to a depot for cash.
Fast forward, or perhaps rewind, and South Australia and the Northern Territory remain as the only states that recycle drink containers.
The container deposit scheme (CDS) has attracted a lot of recent alternative media traction; mainstream media recently refused to screen an advertisment which highlighted the destructive effects of plastic on marine life.
But at the heart of this battle are retail lobbyists who are desperate to maintain a somewhat twisted narrative: they say returning to a national container recycling scheme would be ‘inefficient and inequitable’ despite it being successful in two states.
Whish-Wilson says the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) lobby group represents special-interest groups Coca Cola, Lion and Schweppes and is the most vocal in opposing it.
Needless to say, Whish-Wilson says these lobbyists have never come to see him.
Instead he’s been working closely with the Boomerang Alliance (www.boomerangalliance.org.au) to get their message through about recycling the estimated eight billion containers produced nationally every year.
‘If you put a value on rubbish, it no longer becomes rubbish. What we are asking for is to add ten cents to a bottle’s price, then when recycled, the ten cents is returned. It’s a no -brainer that would decrease litter and create instant jobs.’
A senate inquiry he initiated on November 7 last year examined the connection between cash for container schemes and lower levels of marine plastic pollution.
According to the Boomerang Alliance, the inquiry ‘unanimously reported that the AFGC research was based on “weak methodology and poor data.”’
‘For example the Council assumed the ten cent deposit would not be redeemed by any consumers (when 80 per cent redemption is common) and that all beverage prices will rise by 20 cents (despite this never occurring in either state).’
The Alliance also claims the CSIRO mapped plastic debris and ‘reported there is far less plastic bottle litter coming off SA shores.’
Not all lobbyists are necessarily bad, but many are very close associates of politicans. Often they attended university together or have work-related connections. Many are former advisers or MPs.
And as Whish-Wilson says, ‘They wear out the carpets in politician’s offices.’
There are 595 registered lobbyists listed with www.lobbyists.pmc.gov.au, and they all operate under the Lobbying Code of Conduct.
Its preamble states, ‘The Lobbying Code of Conduct is intended to promote trust in the integrity of government processes and ensure that contact between lobbyists and government representatives is conducted in accordance with public expectations of transparency, integrity and honesty.’
The most powerful lobbyists in Canberra, Whish-Wilson says, are from the mining, pokie and beverage industries. ‘The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is also very influential’, he says, ‘obviously campaigning against same- sex marriage… but perhaps the slickest I’ve seen yet is the Food and Grocery Council, who primarily represent both Coles and Woolies.’
When asked if their duopoly would ever be addressed, he says that without a strengthened Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), there will be no changes.
It’s the ‘special interest effect’ that determines many political outcomes, he says.
‘A politician weighs up what will eventuate if they go with, or against, a lobbyist’s wishes.
‘It’s called the “special interest effect”, which also depends on “rational ignorance”.
‘That’s another term that refers to the public’s ignorance on a topic.’
Photo by Jeff Dawson
Unified government and industry rhetoric regarding a looming liquid natural gas (LNG) shortage has increased after the NSW government’s Energy Security Summit was held last week in Sydney.
The pro-coal-and-gas message was loud and clear, while little to no mention was made of renewable options. NSW resources and energy minister Chris Hartcher said in his opening address, ‘Coal and gas contribute over 90 per cent of NSW’s energy needs,’ but, ‘still gives us the best opportunity to get back to energy security... Alternative sources of energy that could take the place of gas are not ready to come online.’
Adding to the pressure to drill is new coalition federal industry minister Ian Macfarlane, who told media last week the production of CSG in NSW is his number one priority.
Meanwhile corporations are also ramping up against opposition to gas production; on their website, gas giant AGL threatened the pub- lic that: ‘Continuing to say “no” to natural gas development in NSW will have significant consequence for industry, manufacturers and households in that state.’
But is this just gold-plated rhetoric from fossil fuel companies eager to tap the lucrative overseas market?
So far many of the talking points have not differentiated domestic and export markets, making the argument for expansion vague and potentially misleading.
According to a report by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), NSW is way behind in LNG projects compared to other states and is only supplying five per cent of its own supply. ‘Historical low-priced domestic gas contracts will progressively expire over the next five years. Contract replacement activity is expected to peak in QLD in 2015−16, and in NSW and Victoria in 2018... the expiration of low-priced contracts and their renegotiation in a market exposed to global prices will continue to place pressure on domestic prices.’
Demand for the state is not increasing
However AER’s State of the energy market 2012 released last December also goes on to say that domestic demand for the state is not increasing.
‘Gas flows into NSW from July 2008 to July 2012 appear to be steady, that is no fluctuation.’
But a solution offered to protecting NSW from the expected 2018 gas price hike comes from NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.
In a SMH opinion piece last week, he suggests the government, ‘regulate the gas market so that domestic gas demand is fulfilled before LNG exports are allowed.’ He added Western Australia has already implemented this.
‘Australians should not have to pay the price because these large gas companies have gambled in investing in LNG export terminals and export contracts before having secured a social licence or approvals to extract massive amounts of coal seam gas.’
The Echo asked Mr Hartcher’s office if Mr Buckingham’s suggestion would ensure energy security for the state and the reply was, ‘Given NSW produces just five per cent of its gas needs, Mr Buckingham would be wise to point out what gas in NSW is intended for the export market.’
When asked the same question, state MP for the seat of Ballina, Don Page, said that was a matter for the cabinet and he was not in a position to comment at this time.
But Mr Page did claim much progress was being made in renewable energy.
‘Recently as acting minister for the environment I signed the contracts with AGL to build Australia’s biggest solar energy plants.
‘One is at Nyngan with a 102 megawatt capacity and the other near Broken Hill with a 53 megawatt capacity.
‘They will supply power to our grid by the end of 2015 for 50,000 homes.
‘The NSW government contributed $65m towards this project, which will create 450 jobs during construction.
‘Since 2011, 70,000 house- holds have installed solar power.
‘On CSG, the only sup- plier based in NSW is AGL which through their Camden gas project supplies five per cent of our NSW gas needs, the rest being imported from other states.’