Two minute Bob…
What journo would refuse an opportunity to interview former NSW Labor premier and foreign minister Bob Carr?
Mr Carr, along with celebrated author Thomas Keneally, will be in Lennox Head as part of a book tour, and thus a phone interview was arranged.
The call came through, and there were obligatory niceties. Then I asked the softest, squishiest question on how his young impressionable life was affected by Saint Gough Whitlam. ‘I was a teenage-Whitlamite,’ Bob enthused, ‘and joined the party at 15. It became rapidly clear in my view that he was the only the person who could articulate a modern vision. He was also capable of catching the swinging voter…’
But it soon became rapidly apparent too that Bob didn’t want to answer any questions unrelated to the golden Whitlam years. It was like boxing a glacier. ‘Do you think ICAC has overstepped its charter by investigating barrister Margaret Cunneen?’ He stopped me mid-sentence and said flatly he knew nothing of the case.
Okay. Then I asked, ‘Do we need a federal ICAC?’, to which he said No. ‘You would need a strong case for that, and you would have to think long and hard about it,’ he replied.
Okay – back to wonderful Gough. ‘Wow, Gough sounded like a great man,’ I said.
US intelligence hit job?
How tedious. Attempting to salvage the conversation, I asked if he thought Gough’s dismissal was in part owing to a US intelligence hit job.
Whitlam is said to have pushed the US over its spy base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs, which is off limits to Australians. And the US are well known to overthrow leaders of other nations if they suspect it conflicts with their interests.
Journalist John Pilger even claims that the CIA officer who helped set up Pine Gap, Victor Marchetti, told him, ‘This threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House… a kind of Chile [coup] was set in motion.’
Anyway, back to Bob:
‘I have never seen evidence of CIA involvement, and Whitlam himself said he didn’t think it was to do with the US.’
Mr Carr did go on to say that then-governor-general, John Kerr, was solely responsible for Gough’s demise and then expanded on other elements that caused him to topple: ‘The government was broken by the economic crisis in the mid 70s; the oil crisis, unemployment and inflation…’
‘He had pushed the limits of government spending, something he admitted in his memoirs.
‘There were rising prices, a wages boom. An absence of a wages policy was another.’
Alas, further attempts to tease out comment over matters of foreign or domestic policy were rebuffed.
Mr Carr and Keneally will be in conversation with Candice Baker from 5pm at the Lennox Cultural and Community Centre on Saturday, November 29.
The body representing NSW councils has refuted the federal government’s claim that the abolition of the carbon tax will lead to savings that will adequately compensate their expected budget shortfalls.
Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs), which contribute significantly to council operating funds, will no longer be indexed to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). They are a target of the Abbott government’s harsh austerity measures.
After Local Government NSW (LGNSW) called for the CPI freeze be reversed, Nationals MP and deputy prime minister Warren Truss issued a press release and instead accused the media of misreporting their widely criticised policies and budget. The electorate was also blamed for its inability to understand the ‘strong action’ that was necessary to restore the budget.
Mr Truss’s media response to LGNSW said, ‘In the near hysteria that has ensued since the federal budget was announced, much has been misunderstood and misreported.’
‘The government is asking all sectors of the economy to contribute to repairing Labor’s debt and deficit disaster, and so it is only reasonable that local government should also make a contribution.’ He also claimed the CPI freeze would ‘be more than offset by the abolition of the carbon tax and the injection of infrastructure investment for local communities.’
But Local Government NSW president, Cr Keith Rhoades AFSM, told The Echo, ‘The freeze on the Federal Financial Assistance Grants will have a long-term impact on councils and communities, and will not be offset completely by the negligible savings made by abolishing the carbon tax or the ‘injection of infrastructure investment’.
‘Financial Assistance Grants are untied, which means councils can assess the individual needs of their community and put that funding into where it’s needed most. That could be infrastructure or services, other than that dictated by the federal government.
Grants stuck at 2013/14 levels
‘While populations continue to grow and the CPI continues to rise, the Federal Financial Assistance Grants will still be stuck at the same level as 2013/14. What’s more, the infrastructure funding Truss speaks about is time limited. Unfortunately, under the decision to freeze the Financial Assistance Grants, which are particularly important to regional and rural councils, [their level] will be permanently lowered.’
The never-ending war against inanimate objects – in this case drugs – was highlighted recently with police dog operations targeting children as they entered both Murwillumbah and Mullumbimby high schools.
Subsequently, The Echo sought to examine the warrants used and to raise awarness about your rights if a cute puppy attached to a policeman happens to sit down next to you.
Despite The Echo being denied access to view the school warrants, two other related warrants for Byron Bay and Murwillumbah streets and parks were made available.
It revealed that police were relying on previous drug detections and ‘suspicious activity’ for their application.
And it turns out the only drug that was detected in those operations appeared to be very small amounts of cannabis.
Dated July 30, 2014, both warrants viewed were submitted at the Murwillumbah Court House by Murwillumbah-based senior officer Jason McGinley.
The warrant application included an attached map of both Murwillumbah and Byron Bay, with requested search areas highlighted.
In the case of Murwillumbah, officer McGinley claimed that after information was obtained on the previous search operation, it resulted in ‘12 cannabis plants being seized during the operation within the CBD. No illegal drugs were located but numerous detections were indicated.’
This last sentence is interesting; despite detections being ‘indicated’, ‘no illegal drugs were located.’ It reinforces the finding of the NSW Ombudsman that such use of police resources is of questionable value.
Byron Bay’s warrant was slightly different, with the last operation resulting in ‘19 drug detections (cannabis)’ which resulted in cautions.
McGinley wrote, ‘Byron Bay has a high transitory population… [there is a] large volume of persons in possession and partaking in the consumption and supply of illegal drugs. Recent information received is that it is continuing… in the presence of holiday makers and families.’
So what oversight is there of police undertaking these types of operations?
While budgets and results are difficult to extract from police and politicians, a spokesperson for the NSW Department of Justice (DoJ) told The Echo that officers lodging warrants are required to do so under oath and there are penalties for giving false information. Under Search Warrants Act 1985, providing false or misleading material ‘in or in connection with an application for a warrant’ can attract a maximum penalty of ‘100 penalty units or imprisonment for two years, or both.’
Additionally the determination of whether to seal the warrant is the decision of the local courthouse clerk where the warrant is lodged, the DoJ spokesperson said.
But what about your rights if stopped and searched by police in public if you have not been arrested?
Kirsten Cameron from Legal Aid NSW pointed to a 2001 NSW court of criminal appeal ruling for R v Rondo which highlights ‘reasonable suspicion’. She told The Echo, ‘Despite considering a repealed section, [this case] still has weight in determining whether a search is lawful.’
From paragraph 53 it reads, ‘Reasonable suspicion is not arbitrary. Some factual basis for the suspicion must be shown. A suspicion may be based on hearsay material or materials which may be inadmissible in evidence. The materials must have some probative value.’
But conventional wisdom of course is to always be polite and offer your name and address if asked. And if arrested, there is a right to silence.
It’s your right to seek legal advice before talking as well.
If being stopped and searched, you are also permited to ask the officer’s name and which station they are from.
The website for Legal Aid NSW advises that police have the power to search you – and your car, boat or other vehicle and possessions – if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect that you are carrying stolen goods or goods unlawfully obtained; prohibited drugs; an item that has been, or may be, used in a serious crime, for example tools to break into a car or house; knives, weapons or ‘dangerous implements’ and laser pointers.
Strip search rules
‘Police can pat you down, ask you to remove your outer clothing and shoes, look into your clothing and belongings and use an electronic metal detection device. They can also ask you to shake your hair and open your mouth.
‘Police can only perform a strip search if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that it is necessary and the circumstances are serious and urgent. They must provide you with as much privacy as possible.
‘As far as is practicable, the search must be carried out by a police officer of the same gender as the person being searched. In the case of a strip search it should be, as far as practicable, in a private area, out of sight of people of the opposite gender to you, out of sight of other people not involved in the search.
‘A strip search must not involve a search of a person’s body cavities or an examination of the body by touch.’
And remember, if you believe an officer has misused their powers, including being unreasonably intimidating, you can make a complaint.
This can be done by contacting the Ombudsman’s office (toll free) 1800 451 524.
More can be found at www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au.
NSW Business Chamber not informed over govt’s plans for ‘two votes for business’ bill
The NSW Business Chamber joins the state’s peak body representing local government (LGNSW) in being left in the dark by the NSW Shooters & Fishers Party and the coalition over Sydney’s CBD voting reforms.
The City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Bill 2014 has been widely criticised for advocating that businesses receive two votes, giving them a greater say in local elections. Typically such a move is considered to be a gerrymander.
‘Giving business a voice’ is the catchphrase, and supporters such as local MP Don Page (Nationals) say that it would remove ‘significant bureaucratic barriers’ and allow businesses to remain enrolled.
The legislation includes provisions for the scheme to be rolled out state-wide, and has the full support of the NSW Business Chamber.
But the Chamber’s policy manager Luke Aitken confirmed with The Echo that the legislation came as a surprise to his organisation. He backed calls by executive director of the Sydney Business Chamber, Patricia Forsythe, saying the government needs to justify the ‘two vote’ proposal.
‘The Local Government Act has always provided a mechanism for non-residents to vote in council elections,’ he said. ‘The principle behind this, however, is one person one vote. If you live in the city of Sydney and also have a business in the city, you can only vote as a resident.
‘If your business is in the city of Sydney and you live in Bondi (ie Waverley LGA), you can vote in the city of Sydney as a non-resident business owner and in Waverley as a resident.’ When asked how such a program would work across regional areas, he said that it’s a ‘little too soon to say exactly how things would roll out across the state, but simplifying the enrolment process for non-residents (who are currently required to re-enrol at each local government election) by implementing a permanent roll (so they enrol once and stay on the roll like other electors) would need to be a feature.’
But the Bill is also mired in politically motivated; ICAC recently heard disgraced Liberal MP Chris Hartcher explain that his former staffer Tim Koelma was preparing ‘a local government strategy in relationship to the City of Sydney.’
Meanwhile, Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardon will seek councillor support at Thursday’s meeting to oppose the bill. He is calling for Council to ‘commit to the basic democratic principle of “one-person one-vote” in local government elections,’ and if supported, he will express Council’s concerns to government heads and parliamentary representatives.
Of course Wayne thinks there is no ‘budget emergency’.
A real budget emergency was during the 2008 global economic collapse, when he was federal treasurer.
It’s Sunday and there’s a small crowd gathered in the Community Centre to hear Labor stalwart Wayne Swan talk – it was also the launch of his new book, The Good Fight, a memoir of his six years in perhaps the second most important job in Australia.
As expected, there was much ridicule of the current Abbott government.
‘It’s absurd that this government is out there with this language of “lifters and leaners,”’ he told the audience.
‘It’s straight out of an Ayn Rand novel! They are lunatics.’
Wayne’s main narrative of course centres around the measures implemented to stave off the 2008 global crash: guaranteed bank deposits and the stimulus packages to name a few.
Whatever was done, it worked because we were virtually unscathed while other western countries dipped into recession. Was Wayne just really, really lucky? While the mining boom could have been mentioned, Wyane reckons it was the first stimulus package that did it.
He briefly touches on his unwavering belief in Keynesian economic theory. ‘We went into deficit not because of the stimulus spending, but because of revenue write downs,’ he said. ‘You go into deficit; you spend and you restore confidence. Jobs come back, the economy starts to stabilise and then grow again.’
Of all the developed countries in the last 100 years, he said, ‘we have done a better job of matching economic growth with social equity.’
‘The attack that came upon us [in government from Murdoch and big business] is about dismantling that.
‘It’s about shifting the tax burden from the big corporates onto the average people. And in the middle of all that there’s not enough room to spend money on quality education and healthcare.
‘It’s incredible that we have a government that says it looks to America for its policy inspiration. The Americans are looking at Australia!’
Eating its own
‘There is a big battle going on,’ he says. ‘It’s for the soul of the country, and it’s also a battle internationally.
‘Lady Rothschild recently convened an “Inclusive Prosperity Conference” in London and the governor of the Bank of England said that capitalism is currently going through a period where it’s “eating its own”.
‘And the chairman of the IMF says policies for redistribution of wealth are absolutely imperative if capitalism is to be sustainable. And here? the government says “none of that, we need survival of the fittest”. The US model has hollowed out their middle class and produced the most amazing concentration of wealth, which in itself is a drag on their economic future.’
Proposed legislation aimed at ‘giving business a voice in local elections’ by the NSW Shooters and Fishers party and supported by coalition government, has been widely condemned by the entire opposing political spectrum, including the peak body representing NSW councils.
It complements yet another dreadful week for the NSW Liberal-National parties, which have seen more of their MPs resign over ICAC corruption investigations.
While the City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Bill 2014 applies only to Sydney, critics say there are plans for it to be applied across the state. Similar laws exist in Melbourne, and this proposal would give non-resident owners of rateable land two votes in local government elections.
In introducing the bill to Parliament on Thursday, Shooters and Fishers party MP Robert Borsak thanked broadcaster Alan Jones and the Daily Telegraph for their support.
Meanwhile, local NSW MP Don Page (Nationals) supports the idea – which Local Government NSW (LGNSW) says came without warning – and told The Echo the reforms will fix changes introduced in 1998 that created barriers to prevent non-residential voters from ‘exercising their democratic right’.
‘To be clear, businesses have always had the right to vote,’ he said.
‘Unfortunately, to do so they have to navigate through significant bureaucratic barriers within a three- month period. If they find a way through the red tape, they have to do it all again at the next election because the non-residential roll is deleted. No other Australian city deletes the non-residential roll after each election.’
Mr Page took aim at the lack of engagement on the bill, saying that, ‘Some who claim there was no consultation did not even bother to make a submission. Others that did are simply scaremongering.’
Mr Page also recited some of the Shooters and Fishers’ MP Borsak’s speech in parliament.
‘A person can only be enrolled once, meaning they only get one vote. A person who owns 20 properties in Sydney will only be enrolled once, not 20 times.
‘The reforms address an injustice that prevented those who contribute 78.5 per cent of the City of Sydney’s revenue ($188 million a year) exercising just 2.13 per cent of votes at the last election.’
Voting rights based on wealth: Greens
But such voting rights could mean a return to the ‘nineteenth century voting rights based on wealth’ says NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge.
‘The NSW coalition has consistently shown that they follow the money wherever it takes them and that they believe developers and businesses should control the political process. With this Bill, the coalition is directly handing political control to corporate interests.’
NSW Labor’s Sophie Cotsis said, ‘Given everything that is being revealed at ICAC, it is unthinkable that the Liberals and Nationals are proposing these changes.’
Meanwhile, the peak body representing Local Government NSW (LGNSW), says it is deeply concerned about the lack of transparency and non-existent consultation on the proposed legislation, and the potential for these new voting rules to be rolled-out to all NSW councils.
President of LGNSW, the peak body representing local governments in NSW, Cr Keith Rhoades AFSM, said he is outraged at the NSW Government’s support of this Bill.
‘How can a government justify ramming through changes in Parliament without any consultation whatsoever with the industry set to be significantly impacted?’
SCU law lecturer Aidan Ricketts told The Echo the idea looks ‘terrible, problematic and horrendous.’
Residents prepare for bypass fight
Butler Street residents in Byron Bay say they are gearing up to save their street from becoming a bypass after a majority of councillors voted against a proposal to pursue the unused rail corridor.
A motion at last Thursday’s meeting by Cr Duncan Dey requested written confirmation from the state government to ‘make land permanently available within the multi-modal rail corridor’.
But it gained only the support of Dey and the mayor; Crs Ibrahim, Cubis, Woods, Cameron, Wanchap, Spooner and Hunter instead voted against.
And while proceeding the current course reflects advice from the general manager Ken Gainger and staff, the Butler Street Community Network’s Paul Jones says that Council’s failure to ‘fully explore bypass route alternatives’ is a fundamental requirement of their application to state planning for the project approval.
‘We feel Council is its own worst enemy as they are so afraid of appearing to be indecisive and delaying the process that they vote to proceed into a legal and procedural quagmire,’ says Mr Jones.
‘As a result this will certainly have the effect of delaying the outcome and wasting precious financial resources’.
But the town’s chamber of commerce, Byron United, remains hopeful of a rail corridor outcome.
Vice-president Adrian Nelson said in a newsletter to members, ‘What was an encouraging outcome is that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) study for the bypass will need to consider possible alternative options. This may provide for the state-owned and unused land adjacent to the rail line to be considered for multi-modal use.’
During Thursday’s debate, Cr Sol Ibrahim turned directly to the Butler Street residents in the gallery and said, ‘I’m sorry, but it’s too late.’
He said that Council had already allocated and spent much of the $250,000 on exploring the current route.
‘Will the current government say yes? Most likely they will, but we would go back to square one.
‘We don’t have the money for a new EIS. At the start of this council’s term, the bypass was on everyone’s lips. The previous council debated it for four years. All Butler Street residents have known for the last four years if not longer that this was likely.’
It was around that time that Council pest Fast Buck$ interjected from the gallery and demanded to know if a cost analysis of the proposal had been undertaken.
After repeated bellowing by Buck$, the general manager eventually said that the state government asked Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) for one but Council have yet to see it.
Cr Basil Cameron received applause from the gallery when he said that ‘it doesn’t stack up to spend a lot more when we are not going to address the traffic problems in the long term. We are geographically constrained, so it doesn’t matter how many bypasses are built.’
Meanwhile Mr Jones says that he and fellow residents will now ‘object in every possible way to prevent approval of the project EIS submission as Council has left them no alternative.’
He says Council also failed to acknowledge the work done by the GTR proponents in clarifying so many misconceptions and in tabling an innovative proposal that addresses most if not all community, business and environmental concerns.
‘GTR has provided a superior bypass plan that avoids the Shirley Street roundabout bottleneck and enables extension through to Cemetery Road addressing the increasing traffic congestion approaching from the south of town and helping to retune Bangalow Road to far better residential amenity.
‘Butler Street Community Network will continue its work to protect our town’s cultural and built heritage.
‘We love this place in which we live and we will strive to ensure a workable, inspiring bypass solution that will enhance and support our town’s unique people-friendly character.’
n See letters page 11
While proponents of rail trail continue to spruik repurposing the region’s disused railways, Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson (Greens) is calling on ‘potential providers or users of the rail line for proposals and plans that utilise the rail corridor in Byron Shire, while not removing the tracks.’
He’s organised a meeting at the Byron Community Centre, on Thursday July 17 from 6.30pm and says it’s a chance for the community to come and hear what other options may exist for the rail corridor, ‘aside from a far away train return, or the track-removing rail trail proposal.’
The call follows the second government-funded study on the region’s tracks; the first explored the plausibility of returning rail, while the latest released mid-June examined the possibility of rail trails.
And while that report recommended the track’s removal to accomodate rail trail, it also spruiked a possible $200 million per year injection for the region.
Cr Richardson said, ‘Whether it be festival sites seeking ways to bring attendees to a site via public-transport rail-line options, or developers seeking to establish housing clusters along the line, it is also important that possible users of track-based transport options can outline their vision.’
MP ignores light rail
But that view is not shared with local state MP Don Page (Nationals), who recently told Parliament that he is ‘keen to see a rail trail established on the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line,’ and has been lobbying to have the rail trail funded from the $110 million Regional Tourism Fund.
Interestingly, Mr Page failed to tell parliament that the 2013 independent report into returning rail did not include the potential use of light rail.
According to Hansard’s transcription from June 19, he said, ‘[The report] indicated that any combination of train services on the line would not meet the public transport needs of the region because two of the three largest urban areas – Ballina and Tweed Heads – would not be serviced.’
He said that Treasury and Infrastructure NSW ‘are currently examining the [current rail trail] report to verify the consultant’s cost-benefit analysis and after this is done I am confident further announcements regarding funding for this project will be made by this government.’
Meanwhile the mayor says, ‘It is time now for the community to join the discussion of how best to provide transport options for our community, especially our youth.’
‘It is time for all those who have formalised or well-considered ideas or projects that utilise the rail tracks to come forward and share them with the wider community.’
Mullum’s Bi-Rite to close
A chapter for business in Mullumbimby will soon be closed as Bi-Rite shuts shop over the coming weeks.
Owner-operator Graeme Wilson will be selling off remaining stock and then taking a long-earned break from working full time in retail for nearly 23 years.
All but one of his full time employees have already landed other jobs in the region.
‘I’ll be doing everything possible to help find employment for him,’ he says.
‘It’s the right time to go,’ Graeme reflects. ‘While business was still performing well, I started to see the signs.’
Following US retail model
As for the causes, he says a combination of the pressure from bigger chain stores and the internet has played its part.
‘Australia seems to be following the same retail business model that the USA has, but only a few years behind.
‘I don’t begrudge that – it’s just the reality.
‘I think ultimately we all as consumers decide the retail landscape, but I still feel it is a sad time to see the stores with personalised service on the decline.’
After completing Mullum High School, Graeme began his career in retail, which included working for the town’s only other electrical and furniture shop – Bridglands.
‘I was there for over 11 years before going out on my own in 2003, buying the business that originally was started by Bill and Noel James in 1953.
‘We started out at one end of Burringbar Street and in 2007 moved to much larger premises at the other end, next to the Commonwealth Bank.’
As for the building’s future, he is unsure whether to sell or retain it – at 500 square metres in size, the building is one of the largest in town.
Graeme says he is open to any good suggestions or offers on what it could be used for.
‘The local community has been good to me for a very long time, for which I am very grateful. And equally I have always tried to return that support in any way possible.’
Graeme says he is looking forward to taking some time out and having a long-earned rest with some travelling also planned.
The Pacific Highway’s Ballina to Woolgoolga upgrade will be constructed through the middle of the region’s most intact koala colony after the state government approved the proposed western route last week.
And in response to public concerns over the endangered marsupial, the NSW roads and freight minister Duncan Gay announced that ‘a team of experts will be brought together to develop a detailed koala management plan’ for the upgrade. He says the appointment, ‘allows the next stages of early work to start, while the overall project is considered by the federal department of the environment.’
In a letter from Mr Gay to local MP Don Page (Nationals), the roads and freight minister explained why his department has ignored public calls to keep the highway’s current alignment. The minister said the route suggested by koala advocates was not ideal. ‘While a shorter route, the southern section cuts into Broadwater National Park, which has also been identified as having an important koala population.’
He also claimed such a route would be along a flood plain, would traverse underlying soft soils and therefore earth fill would be required.
‘It would require acquisition of high-yield canefields, residences and farm infrastructure… and would pose a considerable engineering risk at a much greater cost.’
But koala campaigner Garry Owers claims widening the existing highway would be the quickest and cheapest solution and would affect far fewer koalas. ‘They just have to add more lanes which they have room for, and it can be done quickly.’
Mr Owers, who works at Richmond River County Council, says he has studied acid sulfate soils and specialises in wetlands.
‘Contrary to the minister’s claims, trimming the road’s edge would not result in having to acquire a lot of canefields and residences.’
More significantly, Mr Owers says the minister’s proposal would see more flooding risk than the aligning with the current highway.
‘Dingle Creek is subject to three-metre flooding, which is far greater than the route along the current alignment,’ he says.
Mr Owers concluded by saying that by 2005 he suspected the government had already made the current plans and was just playing lip service to give the appearance of consultation.
Meanwhile Friends of the Koala president Lorraine Vass says she is concerned about the long-term decline in koala numbers as well as the actual construction phase.
‘There are no mitigation measures while the road is being built,’ she says. ‘During the construction of the section at St Helena in Ewingsdale, RMS (Road Maritime Services) records only roadkill as impacting on koala populations.
‘Our experience from this is that there will be a spike in mortality rates. Other places where upgrades have been done, for example at the Yelgun to Chinderah upgrade in the early 2000s, we were hearing that the numbers of koalas dropped dramatically.
‘But generally population decline takes time; you can construct underpasses etc but there’s no guarantees on maintaining the populations.’