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
A brief lifting of the political iron curtain has revealed what NSW deputy premier Andrew Stoner (Nationals) really thinks of those who oppose gas drilling at Bentley.
‘Mark my word we were prepared to go head to head with that protester group,’ was just one of a few comments made to Jenna Cairney, deputy editor of The Land (Fairfax) newspaper, at a recent Nationals convention.
She shared the comments on social media site Twitter, with other comments reading, ‘It broke my heart that some of those professional bludgers thought they had a win.’
The belligerent and pro-gas mining stance comes despite Mr Stoner having not travelled to meet with the farmers who may still be affected by Metgasco’s drilling attempts just outside Lismore. The Echo previously reported some of those farmers were prepared to be arrested and had ‘locked on’ to concrete devices.
And while the comments were condemned by Lock The Gate’s Michael McNamara, Mr Stoner’s office confirmed with The Echo he was quoted correctly. ‘I said words to the effect that it was a large protest which included a core of hardline protesters who had travelled to the area but also some good local people.
‘At no stage did I suggest that all the protesters were professional bludgers.’
The ‘head to head with that protester group’ comment remains without elaboration. Mr Stoner is also on record as saying he would not want a gas operation near his property.
A group of Bentley residents that live near Lismore travelled to Sydney last week to speak to politicians about their concerns over unconventional gas exploration in their area.
Former Byron Shire may- or and now upper house MLC, Jan Barham (Greens), told The Echo, ‘I was very pleased to be able to assist the delegation while they were in the parliament and encour- age other MPs to hear the locals’ fears about their future if Metgasco proceeds.’
‘The Christian Democrats and Robert Borsack from the Shooters and Fishers Party did meet with the Bentley delegation and respectfully heard their side of the story.
‘Many ALP and coalition members also met with the Bentley farmers, but it was extremely disappointing that the premier did not.’
Ms Barham said that many MPs raised questions about the use of police against the protectors.
‘The new premier is now aware of the broad community opposition to CSG on the north coast and the requests for him to review the situation.
‘Many people have concerns that the Bentley exploration approval is the trojan horse of industrial-scale gas production for the north coast.
‘The community are savvy enough to realise that it’s crucial to stop this now, so that the sustainable future that locals want is possible.
‘As I raised in an adjournment speech last week, Mr Baird’s inaugural speech in 2007 stated that he expected the Liberal Party to lead the restoration of a community-based party in this place.
‘He said at the time: “We should never be ashamed of listening to our conscience or to our community – in essence this is why we are here.”
Licences should be reversed
‘Premier Baird should listen to the community and reverse the licence approval and call off the police intervention on a peaceful, democratic response to an unwanted industrialisation of the north coast.
‘This issue will be a test for the new premier and the government and will impact on next year’s election.’
State coalition minister and Byron Bay resident, Don Page, is unsupportive of a 12,000-strong petition by residents calling for a north coast moratorium on coal seam gas
The widely anticipated petition was tabled in parliament last week after it reached 10,000 signatures.
Mr Page, who is the minister for the north coast, instead used parliament time to launch attacks on the region’s two federal Labor MPs and members of the public opposed to mining expansion.
It follows widespread opposition to CSG by communities throughout the north coast, including many declarations by towns and local councils against the industry taking a foothold. Protests against CSG continued last week with residents from Lismore and Richmond Valley rallying outside Metgasco’s offices and drill sites.
While defending his government’s unprecedented ‘tough’ restrictions on the industry, he accused ‘disingenuous individuals’ of conducting anti-coal seam gas surveys in residential locations in north coast towns, despite their knowing that his government, ‘already banned CSG activity in all NSW residential areas and in a two-kilometre buffer zone surrounding every residential area.’
But Richmond MP Justine Elliot hit back saying, ‘The Nationals betrayed the people of the north coast in supporting CSG mining’. She also challenged the CSG companies, saying if there are no coal seam reserves in her electorate then they should return their exploration licences.
And while Mr Page didn’t name Justine Elliott (Richmond MP) and Janelle Saffin (former Page MP), he told parliament, ‘it was a shameless electioneering tactic, initiated by two Labor federal members on the northern rivers in a desperate attempt to boost their chances in the recent federal elections.’
‘They stood in main streets gathering signatures and spreading alarm about coal seam gas – scaremongering to try to save their seats – in the full knowledge that coal seam gas companies had walked away from the north coast months before because our rules are so tough.
When asked by The Echo to clarify that statement given Metgasco are recommencing drilling near Casino, he said, ‘Metgasco have sealed all their CSG exploration wells and only have an interest in conventional natural gas.’
And with regard to the petition’s request to exempt the north coast from mining, Mr Page told parliament, ‘It is not good public policy to discriminate either for or against any particular geographic area of the state, no matter how close to paradise that part of the world might be.’
‘The government’s role is not to advocate on behalf of mining companies, but to have the regulatory framework that protects our land and water resources and our environment – something that Labor never did.’
During the debate, Lismore MP Thomas George also went on the attack, accusing former Page MP Janelle Saffin of allowing mining expansion while in office. ‘She was a member of the Legislative Council when the licences were issued for the northern rivers. They took the money and ran.’
But surprisingly Mr George then stated his support for fossil fuel expansion. ‘If we do not produce the extra energy needed in this state, especially in the northern rivers, major businesses such as the Northern Co-operative Meat Company will pack up and move over the border. They cannot survive without cheaper energy.’
Page challenged on renewables
Meanwhile Greens NSW MP John Kaye challenged MP Page’s sustainable credentials and vision for the Ballina electorate.
‘National Party MP Don Page says on his webpage that his vision for the electorate is to create a sustainable future for the whole community,’ Dr Kaye said. ‘[Mr Page] says he understands that this is about creating jobs by protecting the environment. The challenge for Mr Page is to show he is serious about the environment and local jobs by supporting our push for 100 per cent renewable NSW. Starting the transition now means that regional NSW can get ahead of the global competition and become leaders in clean energy solutions.’
When asked if he supports Dr Kaye’s 100 per cent renewable push, Mr Page told The Echo, ‘I stand by my long-standing commitment to renewable energy. Indeed I was a keynote speaker at a conference in Bangalow a few years ago, specifically on the importance of renewable energy to our future. Clearly it will take some time to transition to a 100 per cent renewables situation given both the Commonwealth and state objectives are to get to 20 per cent by 2020. I would like to see the Ballina electorate better those targets, which is entirely possible given our interest in renewables, the employment opportunities associated with such a focus, and not to mention the abundance of sunshine! I think our area can be a leader in renewables.’
Transmission line abandoned
The challenge comes as a proposed high-voltage transmission line from Tenterfield to Lismore was cancelled last week. The abandonment of the $250 million Bonshaw line, once dubbed ‘essential’ by electricity network provider TransGrid, is a victory for grassroots campaigning and follows on the heels of the cancellation of a similar line on the mid-north coast in April.
Dr Kaye will make his 100 per cent renewable presentation at the at the Ballina RSL Club on November 6 from 5.30pm and also at the Mullum Civic Centre on Thursday November 7 from 6pm.
I was asked to mediate the Wikileaks Party launch in Byron Bay on August 29, 2013. Below is my introduction.
Veteran journalist Mungo McCullum was going to present tonight but after the preference fiasco, he washed his hands of it and said he won't be giving the Wikileaks party any oxygen. Frankly the things he said to me are actually too damning for me to repeat here. But he did tell me one gag which seemed to sum up the situation: put four lefties in a room to form a party and you will end up with three parties and one independent.
And from my understanding, this is essentially where the senate preference fiasco has led us. I don't want to dwell on this topic for too long, but it's an important one. Those following this will know that there have been an exodus of Wikileaks party volunteers and a candidate after an internal squabble erupted over where their preference votes would flow. According to a founding member of Wikileaks and long time Assange friend, Daniel Mathews, the eleven National Council members agreed on a set of preferences but they were mysteriously changed. He says he quit the party after hearing Assange on JJJ's Hack incorrectly explaining how his party's preferences are handled. Daniel also made the point Assange was absent for the majority of the Council's meetings. It's an interesting turn considering the party ran on a platform of transparency, democracy and accountability.
This is a good time to add that Byron Shire Councillor Paul Spooner was also going to chair tonight as well as Mungo, but declined after this was brought to light.
Some say that placing very conservative parties above the Greens and the major parties will lead to both houses of parliament controlled by the Coalition. Others say instead that micro-party preferences won't have a big impact. We'll have to wait until September 7 to find out.
And it's not just Wikileaks either, the Stop CSG party have done deals with other parties that don't seem to fit with a 'progressive' ideology. The following were all placed before the Greens and majors for the Stop CSG part: The Stable Population Party, Family First Party, Australia First Party, Australian Voice Party, Australian Protectionist Party and the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party.
I asked Michael McNamara from northern rivers lock the gate about this, and said his group are not politically aligned to anyone and he suggested that voters look at the policies and preferences themselves. That's hardly an ringing endorsement.
I thought Graham Askey summed it up well in this week's Echo on why we have a metre long senate ticket, but more than why, the result I believe has damaged Australia's democracy. No reasonable citizen in NSW should be asked to differentiate or understand the policies between 44 senate parties.
And to make it more complicated and boring, internal preference deals from an outsider perspective appear like a poker game, so to win you need to know this stuff inside out. It's reasonable to assume that new parties will not have the skill or knowledge to negotiate like the long-term ones.
Has Assange and his Wikileaks party blown their credibility by this fiasco? With so many senate parties with endless policies, can this team provide a much needed alternative? That's my take for what it's worth. These letdowns only matter because we've all been so inspired by WikiLeaks and Assange standing up against secretive and oppressive governments, including ours.
I'd like to introduce Alison and offer her an opportunity to respond and to also hear more broadly about the issues Wikileaks are championing.
Alison Broinowski is a former Australian diplomat with experience in Asian countries and the United Nations. She has written and lectures extensively on Australia’s reputation abroad, and has publicly opposed the way prime ministers send Australians to war illegally and in defiance of public opinion. She lives in Sydney.
Monday morning, August 19, 2013 and Graeme Dunstan, 71, walked into a Rockhampton court surrounded by around 20 supporters carrying peace flags and photos of dead civilians and soldiers.
Northern rivers-based Dunstan is charged with wilful damage of Commonwealth property, namely an Australian Army ‘Tiger’ armed reconnaissance helicopter, which was disabled by a blow from a garden mattock during the 2011 Talisman Saber Military Exercises.
Local filmmaker David Bradbury is covering the case in Rockhampton, and told The Echo that Dunstan’s trial has initially been promising.
‘The judge seems to be reasonable and has a sense of humour,’ he said. ‘And Graeme seems to be winning with cross-examining the expert witness, and the questionable costs of the helicopter’s repair bill.’
While the action was allegedly committed by fellow activist Bryan Law, now deceased, Dunstan confessed to being Mr Law’s driver and assistant and is charged as a co-offender.
But Mr Dunstan is pleading not guilty to the charge and is employing the ‘Ploughshares’ defence, a biblical concept where military weapons or technologies are converted for peaceful civilian applications.
He says he will be arguing that the strike was an act of conscience ‘aimed a raising public awareness to the true nature of the war in Afghanistan where the attack helicopters were to be deployed.’
‘The Tiger is similar in design and identical in function to the Apache helicopter used by the US Army to gun down innocents in the “Collateral Murder” footage leaked by Bradley Manning and Julian Assange and which has had in excess of 14 million viewers on YouTube.’
His long and colourful peace activism legacy is well known: trained at Duntroon’s Royal Military College, he says he later became disillusioned ‘with the military mindset’ and enrolled to study engineering.
In his opening address to the court, he said, ‘Soon I was to become a major campus organiser of the war resistance at the University of NSW.’ In 1973, Dunstan helped organise Nimbin’s Aquarius Festival and later founded Peacebus.com.
The trial is expected to last three days.
A local man who was cuffed and sprayed in the face with capsicum spray by police has had charges against him thrown out by the District Court upon appeal.
The decision last Thursday by Her Honour Judge Wells in the Lismore District Court convincingly overturned the findings of Local Court Magistrate Michael Dakin and held that the evidence of the two police officers involved, Senior Constables Amos and Hayworth, lacked credibility.
After being pulled over for a licence check just outside Mullumbimby on October 25, 2011, police conducted a search of John Scrivener, then aged 50, and his car, supposedly on suspicion of drugs. Police then alleged that Mr Scrivener became abusive towards them. However, Mr Scrivener instead claims he was abused and told The Echo he immediately lodged a complaint against the two officers after the incident.
Even though Mr Scrivener had told the officers that he intended to lodge a complaint, he told The Echo that he gave evidence in court that the police nevertheless ‘proceeded to violently assault me, including throwing me on the ground, jumping on me with their knees, punching me, pulling my hair, attempting to choke me and then cuffing me before spraying me in the face with capsicum spray.’
After Mr Scrivener was found guilty by Magistrate Dakin last September for resisting arrest, assaulting police officers in the execution of their duty and behaving in an offensive manner, he lodged an appeal, which was then heard in the higher-ranked District Court. Mr Scrivener won that appeal on August 8.
During the Local Court hearing, Mr Scrivener’s solicitor, Cameron Bell, argued that the search was illegal and that the evidence of the two police officers was so inconsistent that it could not be accepted.
However, Local Court Magistrate Dakin held that the search was legal and went on to find that the police witnesses were truthful notwithstanding the inconsistencies in their evidence. To add insult to injury, the Magistrate was critical of Mr Scrivener’s evidence and indicated that he was not a truthful witness.
'Preferred' police evidence: magistrate
Magistrate Dakin, a former police officer, even told the court, ‘I prefer the police evidence.’
On appeal, the District Court held that the actions of the police officers in searching Mr Scrivener were not justified as there was not the ‘reasonable suspicion’ required to conduct a legal search. The District Court also held that Mr Scrivener’s evidence was ‘consistent and clear’.
Most importantly, the District Court found that the evidence of the two police officers was not credible. Mr Scrivener told The Echo his lawyer Cameron Bell ‘found at least six discrepancies in the police officers’ evidence. Even the Crown prosecutor said they couldn’t offer any explanation for the discrepancies.’
One of the issues in the case was the allegation by the police officers of the existence of a small ‘resealable’ bag, which Senior Constable Amos said, ‘are normally used to put drugs in, namely cannabis’.
Her Honour noted that in the Local Court hearing the police prosecutor objected to Mr Bell cross-examining as to the whereabouts of that ‘resealable bag’. Although an important issue in the case, the cross examination was not allowed by the Magistrate who said that it was ‘not relevant’. Her Honour stated that this ‘casts a shadow’ as to whether the bag ever existed at all.
Mr Bell said, ‘The decision by Judge Wells was a clear and unarguable finding that, based on the facts and evidence in this case, the conviction of Mr Scrivener by the Local Court Magistrate could not be upheld. Her Honour indicated that it was not an appropriate consideration for a Magistrate to ask ‘why would the police act in a way like this towards the defendant’, as it reverses the burden of proof.’
Civil rights issue
The outcome shines a light on local civil rights issues; the increased police presence in Mullumbimby has resulted in a handful of complaints received by The Echo regarding recent aggressive behaviour by police towards the public.
Although the appeal process brought justice for Mr Scrivener, the public may feel less confident that faced with a similar situation, the Local Court will uphold their rights or allow their defences to be properly heard.
When asked what he had learnt from this experience, Mr Scrivener stated, ‘I’ve realised how easy it is for police to abuse their authority and get away with it, and how difficult it is to defend against false accusations and misrepresentations by police.’
‘I will never again feel safe when being stopped by police and I will always record any encounter I have in the future, for my own safety and security.
‘I don’t think I would do anything differently if the same circumstances arose again, apart from making sure I had my camera rolling.
‘I would recommend to anyone who has a similar experience with police, to immediately write down a detailed and accurate account of what happened as soon as possible after the incident. I did this and the written account was later used as the basis for an affidavit that I lodged with my complaint.’
Obtaining proper legal advice is also important.
‘I would also like to say that Cameron Bell has been a really perceptive and supportive representative throughout.’
When asked about the complaints against the officers, duty manager Inspector Darren Steel from the Tweed-Byron LAC told The Echo he had no knowledge of complaints lodged as the process is confidential and he is not on the complaints committee.
Since the state Liberal/National government’s push to expand coal-seam gas (CSG) across the state, residents of all political persuasions are uniting against the threat of this unnecessary environmental destruction.
While cynics might claim to be CSG fatigued, there is little doubt a network of wells and toxic ponds spread across suburban, agricultural and forested areas is ludicrous, given clean energy availability.
And yet the struggle continues; last week a second blockade against drilling near Kyogle was established – Glenugie is ongoing – while Broken Head Road residents joined countless other towns and streets and declared themselves CSG free.
But what makes citizen activism tick?
A new breed of educated, intelligent and non-violent CSG free dissident is emerging, as exemplified by author and SCU law lecturer Aidan Ricketts.
Though he’s been on the frontline since 1984 protecting our nation’s shared environmental heritage, in more recent times he’s been educating those wishing to be a more effective activist while also mediating with law enforcers at protests.
He was also a co-ordinator of the North East Forest Alliance (www.nefa.org.au) from 1991 to 2001, and last year published The Activists Handbook: A Step By Step Guide to Participatory Democracy, which is distributed internationally.
‘I see the explosion of CSG free campaigning as an immune response to a cancerous growth,’ he told The Echo.
Faced with a failure by our political institutions to protect us from mining, Ricketts says communities are facing the reality that the mining industry runs our parliaments.
‘This is a very big moment in the history of democracy for Australia. I have begun to advocate for a statewide referendum on CSG and I think, like the Lismore poll, a return to democratic principles is the only way to resolve this conflict.’ Repercussions for the current government, and especially the National Party, are likely he says.
Breakdown in the democratic process
‘Communities have expected that a new and high-risk industry would not be imposed on a region when 85 per cent of the residents oppose it.
‘Yet instead of slowing down, doing the science or consulting, we have the NSW government trying to impose this dangerous new industrialisation on the community by force.
‘The social movement is committed to non-violence at the deepest level, but the shock waves of trauma that go through a community when they see government using riot troops to smash legitimate community protest will have unpredictable consequences.
‘The NSW government is playing a very dangerous game in turning the riot squad against its own population, and against a non-violent social movement.’
He describes generally how non-violent protests are coordinated. ‘You tend to have a few people in blockade installations; that’s people locked to machinery or up in tripods. In our speak, we say those people are in “arrestable situations”, and they choose to be there.
‘If I am a police liaison rep, my role would be to say to police: “We understand that these people are in arrestable situations, but the group want to know where we can stand and observe the protest without risk of being arrested.”
‘In most situations the commanding officer tells the group where to stand while the police go about unlocking the blockade devices.’
But that all changed at the Glenugie blockade, near Grafton, where 18 people were arrested in a major action by imported riot squad police last week. Ricketts says there were no arrests for disobeying instructions until the riot police tried to frog march 200 people down the road and away from their cars, belongings and the protest site itself.
‘The riot squad kept moving the protesters from where they were told to be, and moving the police line. That didn’t lead to any arrests. But then they pulled out this quite unusual power – which we checked and they do technically have – and they closed a whole section of road for a temporary purpose.
‘It’s used mainly for when there are road accidents. I’ve been doing this for years and have never seen this done before. As you can imagine, police shunting 200 people down the road against their will led to some arrests. The crowd did very well; we have our own anxiety about how well we can train crowds to be non-violent, especially under pressure.
‘Their task is to passively resist as much as possible, while appearing to comply. As long as we are complying – albeit slowly – we are not arrestable.
‘But then they started pushing people in the back... Interestingly the ones who were getting most stroppy were the older ladies who were offended at being treated so roughly.
‘The average age of those arrested was about 55, which is very much about this movement; it comprises a lot of older people becsuse it is about belonging.’
He says the crowd posed no threat or hindrance to the drilling trucks arriving. ‘It was totally unnecessary to gain access for the trucks as the crowd were already complying with instructions. Despite all of that, relations with the riot police are pretty good. We were getting along well with around about two thirds of them. But a small portion of them wanted to crack heads, and unfortunately if a policeman decides to grab someone for an arrest, there’s a code of support.
‘So a few people were innocent victims of some overzealous police officers.
‘It appeared that the riot squad and local command had a strange power struggle going on too. It was unclear what the Grafton inspector was in control of, as was the case for the riot squad. I think there is quite a strong reluctance of the local command to engage because they know that it’s around 87 per cent of the local population who are opposed. It was inevitable that the state government would have to bring up the riot squad.’
As is the case with any successful public relations message, it needs to be clear and concise.
‘The message at Glenugie was, “After a 48-day blockade and a drill rig tied up for a month, it takes riot police to break a peaceful protest. This is what it takes to bring one drill rig in. A week after the riot police leave Glenugie, residents are still at the blockade site while a second blockade has been established near Kyogle.
“‘The government cannot beat such a broad-based movement with a symbolic show of force.”’