Interviewed on ABC Sydney Radio about Warragamba Dam

Overnight, former Labor politician Bob Debus addressed a gathering of UNESCO in Baku, Azerbaijan, to seek their support in opposing the raising of Warragamba Dam.

This morning, ABC Sydney Radio asked to interview me to provide a response.

Here’s the audio. I repeat the argument I’ve made many, many, many, many, many times before.

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Hawkesbury wins in the NSW Budget

The 2019-2020 NSW Budget handed down today by Treasurer Dominic Perrottet makes for encouraging reading. 

For people in the Hawkesbury, it includes:

  • $2M for the planning of the new Hawkesbury River crossing. 
  • $4.7M for the Pitt Town Bypass ($8.2M estimated for the whole project)
  • $31.4M for the Windsor Bridge Replacement Project ($78M spent to date)
  • Another $384K on top of $6.2M already allocated for the renovation of Richmond High School.
  • $56.4M for land acquisition associated with the new Rouse Hill hospital.
  • $99.2 over 4 years spread across the Western Parkland City Liveability Program for the rejuvenation of the town centres of Windsor, Richmond and South Windsor.

This is a good result for the Hawkesbury and sits in the broader context of record spending on schools, infrastructure and services, and ongoing budget surpluses.

This is what good financial management looks like.

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Funding for a new crossing of the Hawkesbury River

 

The North Richmond Bridge, built 1905. Photo: The author

Yesterday, the Federal Liberal government committed $200 million to build a new road crossing of the Hawkesbury River.

This is tremendously exciting news, but some commentary I’ve seen is misleading about about who to thank and where we go from here.

The need for traffic congestion relief for residents west of the river has been understood and acknowledged for years. A walk through the timeline will be instructive.

In 2011, the newly elected Liberal State government commissioned a study, which delivered its “Long Term Options Report” in September 2012 and canvassed a number of options. These included:

  • Amplifying the current bridge to three lanes and employing a contraflow arrangement morning and evening.
  • Constructing a new two-lane bridge immediately downstream to provide an extra two lanes, either at the same level as the current bridge, or somewhat further downstream and at a higher level to provide 1:20yr flood immunity.

Each of these options would ultimately increase traffic through both Richmond and North Richmond and would require substantial amplification to roadworks between the Bosworth St intersection in Richmond, and the Grose Vale Road intersection in North Richmond.

In 2011, the then Labor Federal government pledged a paltry $2M — money that did not appear in the budget or the forward estimates until 2015. The then Liberal Macquarie MP Louise Markus drew attention to this, saying

“(It’s) another empty promise that may never eventuate. Heavy peak traffic on Grose Vale Road, Terrace Road and Bells Line of Road leading down towards the M7 causes significant congestion around the Richmond bridge. It takes sometimes more than an hour for people, once they reach North Richmond, to cross the bridge to Richmond on the way to work, and the same can happen in the evening.”

By August 2014, the Federal Liberal-National government was in position to advance the issue. Louise Markus told the House of Reps:

The provision of safer, more efficient roads to regional Australia is a priority of this government. One such issue needing to be addressed was the Richmond Bridge … This bridge has experienced significant increased traffic pressure over recent years. Labor failed to deliver on this committed project, but I have fought to see Richmond and North Richmond receive the approved infrastructure that the community deserves. 

For several years, planning by the federal government and the New South Wales coalition government has been underway to cater for increased traffic around the Richmond Bridge. The city-centric previous Labor government short-changed regional Australia by cutting $500 million in regional funding. I am pleased to acknowledge the coalition government has committed $18 million of total funding for the Richmond Bridge and its approaches from 2013-14 through to 2018-19.

Meanwhile, the State Liberal Government got on with the job of using these funds to improve a range of issues affecting traffic flow along Bells Line of Road, with this graphic from an October 2018 RMS newsletter showing the works around the intersection, but which does not show extensive improvements at the intersection of Old Kurrajong Rd / Yarramundi Lane.

By the 2018 State Budget, our local MP and State Treasurer Dominic Perrottet was able to pledge $25 million dollars of State money to do detailed planning for a new river crossing ($7m of which was in the 2018-2019 FY). This is what proper collaboration between State and Federal governments looks like.

I am agnostic on the question of whether the bridge should be a straight duplication of the current bridge, or should be located elsewhere. I’m wary of increasing congestion in North Richmond and Richmond. Council is in the process of finalising a detailed Regional Traffic Study. The process of choosing a site for the bridge and the support roads that will lead to it should be data-driven, as well as acutely mindful of the effects on our heritage towns.

Against this backdrop, the only missing piece, and by far the largest one, was funding for the bridge itself. And it’s arrived.

When the announcement was made yesterday, you should realise it has come off the back of a decade of advocacy from Liberal representatives — Local, State and Federal, as well as a lot of dedicated members of the community.

State Pols

Building the roads and rail of the future helped Premier Gladys Berejiklian to be re-elected and today the Prime Minister is hoping to copy her vote-winning strategy. #9News | http://9News.com.au

Posted by 9 News Sydney on Monday, 1 April 2019

All your Local Liberal Councillors have advocated for the funding for an extra crossing — especially Sarah Richards, now the Federal Candidate for Macquarie, who has knocked on the door of the State and Federal government doggedly.

These kinds of infrastructure projects are possible when governments balance their budgets and grow the economy. No one argues that they are necessary, but it takes years of planning.

So how did Labor react, after years of neglect on infrastructure? They fell over themselves to say they would match the funding.

It’s galling to see this portrayed as some kind of Labor funding announcement, or something that has come as the result of Labor’s careful planning for infrastructure and thrift. It’s not. And I’ll bet that the $200 million dollar commitment is as unfunded and ephemeral as other announcements they have made over the years. Under the last Labor government in NSW, they had six transport ministers, nine transport plans, announced a dozen new railway lines and delivered just one — the Airport line — the contract for which was inked under the previous Liberal administration.

Susan Templeman, and Labor generally, deserve no credit for this fantastic announcement. This has come off the back of Liberal advocacy, and Liberal budgetary management. $200 million dollars doesn’t fall out of the air, and saying “me too” in its wake with no sign it was ever costed by Labor doesn’t represent leadership.

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Visiting the St Albans Community

Yesterday, The people of St Albans hosted a visit from myself, the Mayor, fellow Councillors and Council staff to catch up about how Council is serving that community.

Far from being overlooked, the “Forgotten Valley” tracing the course of the MacDonald River is one of the most beautiful parts of the Hawkesbury, and the effective provision of infrastructure and services is important to us. Ongoing programs of Council are repairing roads, have renovated the local Tennis Courts, and support initiatives in parks, tourism, and so on.

Locals, including Stephen Brown, President of the MacDonald Valley Association brought a range of issues before us, including renovation of the School of Arts Hall, planning controls on flood-affected land, the responsiveness of Council to inquiries, and the state of road and ferry services.

It was a pleasure to meet the MacDonald Valley community and listen to them.

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The Children’s Crusade on Climate Change

Today, some schoolchildren around Australia will wag school and march to promote action on climate change.

In discussing this with my 16yo son, I took the opportunity to draw a parallel with the ill-fated Children’s Crusade of the early 13th century.

Unarmed, and “led” by the 12 year old Stephen of Cloyes, they bore crosses, banners and an optimistic assumption that once they got to the Holy Land, they could convert Muslims with persuasion and divine intervention.

Of course, they were cruelly deceived. None reached the Holy Land, and many never went home either — starved, drowned, or sold into slavery.

I suggested that there have always been those willing to exploit the idealism and naïveté of youth, even if the putative cause is a worthy one.

We’ve also had long conversations about how protest activism, political power, and social change intersect. Do these forms of protest ever achieve their aims? Who turns up to co-opt and use well meant idealism for more cynical political purposes?

My son asked, reasonably, if he could go into the city today and observe the rally, because he wanted to see it for himself and make up his own mind. I thought it was a good idea and he’s gone with a posse of other students from his school.

I have no problem with this, because I want my son to be not only politically active in his life, but also to have the ability to recognise competitive virtue signalling when he sees it, and to employ his critical thinking toolkit to evaluate arguments for bias, vested interest, or factual errors.

I suspect he’ll see all those things today, and in spades.

When the issue of Climate Change came up this week at Hawkesbury Council, the Greens advanced a motion to hold a workshop locally to discuss our “Climate Emergency”.

Passing (for the moment) that the Greens also want to sell MDMA from Supermarkets, it was observed that an identical motion was put to Blue Mountains City Council within the last weeks. It’s manifestly part of the silly season of election politics.

I made some remarks and enclose the audio below, with my remarks commencing at 25m40s.

I think all Australians want to be good stewards of the environment. This involves both slowly transitioning to renewable and cleaner sources of power, and strengthening protections for fragile ecologies. As the deputy chair of the Hawkesbury River County Council, I sit on an organisation whose sole remit is biosecurity, weed control and the protection of our waterways.

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that merely changing our lightbulbs to LED or putting solar panels on the roof is the magic bullet that will mitigate climate change. It’s an important symbolic gesture, but if we really want to fix the problem, it’s not where the main game is at.

 World industrial carbon emissions are 9.8 gigatonnes, with Australia contributing 0.536 Gt, or 5.46% of the global total.

In turn, the 67,000 residents of the Hawkesbury represent 0.27% of the larger Australian population of 24.6 million. On a proportional basis, this means that the Hawkesbury contributes less than 0.0147% of global Carbon emissions — one part in 6,783.

Like Steven Pinker, I prefer to look at the bigger picture and find reasons for optimism.

The most recent Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, a scientific publication from the Department of the Environment and Energy, points out that Australia’s Carbon emissions per capita are at their lowest levels in 29 years, being 34 tonnes per-person per-year in 1990. As of September 2018, they are at 22 tonnes, and falling.

 Emissions per capita and emissions per dollar of real GDP, Australia, year to September 1990 to 2018

Similarly, Carbon emissions per dollar of GDP was 0.80kg of CO2 per dollar of real GDP in 1990. Today, it is 0.30kg, and falling.

The solution to climate-change and sustainable energy-generation issues largely sits at federal, and international level, through the covenants we enter into with other nations, the initiatives we support to develop sustainable and carbon-neutral sources of energy, and the pressure we put on other global emitters of carbon that simply dwarf what we do in our own community.

The fact is that the single biggest thing Australia could do to reduce Carbon emissions is embrace nuclear power. I don’t see the Greens falling over themselves to endorse that. Australia has the world’s largest supplies of Uranium, not to mention Thorium, which represents the next generation of nuclear fuel whose waste products can’t be refined into bombs.

What Australia needs is reliable baseload power, which is why it is so genuinely difficult for us to wean ourselves off coal. Energy storage technology has not advanced quickly enough for widespread or cost-effective adoption. I hope it will, and again its worth pointing out that Western Australia has the largest deposits of Lithium in the world. We could and should be leading research, development and commercialisation in this field.

In the meantime, Coal will continue to be needed to provide our baseload power. Neglect of generation in this sector is one contributor to the doubling of electricity costs over the last decade. Australia will make the transition to 100% renewables, but it cannot come at the cost of the whole economy. Those who push too hard on renewables fail to understand that only a nation with a strong economy has the ability to invest in renewables in the first place.

However, I think of all the other benefits that would flow from better international action on climate change. These include not basing the tenure of our whole civilisation on the consumption of resources which will some day run out; the advantages of cleaner air and water, especially around our major cities, or not forking out hundreds of billions of dollars to middle eastern countries that hate the West and gladly use the money to fund fundamentalism against us. There are also clear economic benefits in spawning new industries in renewable energy and scientific research. 

Holding a workshop on a so-called climate emergency here in the Hawkesbury will not solve those formidable challenges. It is cynical, competitive virtue signalling at its worst.

And today, we can expect representatives from the Greens, from GetUp, and (probably) Bill Shorten to whip up discontent without a shred of impartiality about the policies of the current government to tackle the problem.

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Confronting those who prey on the vulnerable

I’ve had a role over the years in raising awareness about cults and their destructive behaviours.

Being interviewed by Ch.9 about cult law reform in Canberra for a national conference in 2011.

Sadly, there are individuals and groups who exploit others, robbing them of their critical thinking faculties, and then their relationships, their money, and finally their dignity. It makes me angry, and it should make you angry too.

Frustratingly, Australian law is ill-equipped to deal with cults. The paradox of our pluralist, postmodern society is that people are entirely free to choose to join groups even when it’s objectively clear that the groups are exploitative, nonsensical, and laughable even while they are sinister.

For a healthy society, the balance between religious freedom and not tolerating those who cynically exploit it deserves to be debated, and refined, every so often. The dilemma was best put by the philosopher Karl Popper, who spoke of the Paradox of Tolerance:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them… We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”

–The Open Society and Its Enemies, 1945

Far from being an attack on religious freedom, it should be accepted that the most damaging thing for the good works of mainstream faiths are the presence of bad religious actors who poison the well.

There is a pressing need for reform of laws relating to fraud, psychological abuse, health regulation and guardianship of the vulnerable. I have been committed to this fight for many years, authoring submissions on behalf of advocacy organisations to the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council, the federal Department of Social Services over a proposed repeal of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, and the Ruddock Inquiry into Religious Freedom concluded last year. I’ve appeared on TV, radio and the Press many times to make my case.

To the degree I have a modest role in public debate, I am committed to continue advocating for these reforms and I seek your support.

On Sunday night, a major exposé was screened on the Channel 7 Sunday Night Program of the predations of a cult called Universal Medicine, led by the creepy Serge Benhayon. “U.M” was founded and has a significant presence in Australia, especially on the north NSW coast.

This exposé comes off the back of a recent, and major NSW Supreme Court victory over Universal Medicine. The fight was won by tireless campaigner, Esther Rockett. I am proud to say I made several donations to the fighting fund that led to this victory, over a period of four years.

I recommend the Channel 7 story to you — it perfectly encapsulates the cult phenomenon, and the need for the community to be better aware of cult tactics. “Dumb” people aren’t the only people who join cults. Smart people at a point of emotional vulnerability in their lives are equally likely to succumb.

If you ever encounter Universal Medicine or any other group showing the same M.O, run a mile. I can put you in touch with community support groups like Cult Information and Family Support (CIFS — I used to be on the Committee and remain a supporter) who can help.

If you have lost a loved one to a manipulative group, be they religious, new age, motivational or otherwise, there is help out there.

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Congratulations to Robyn Preston, successful preselection candidate for Hawkesbury

For the last two months the Liberal Party has been engaged in the process of choosing its candidate for our state seat in Hawkesbury.

I put my hand up. Our media policy restricted me from confirming little more than the existence of my nomination, and I have abided by that rule.

Today, the preselection was held and the successful candidate was Clr. Robyn Preston, from Hills Shire Council.

I have worked with Robyn for many years, starting with a time together in the office of Kevin Conolly, the member for Riverstone.

I congratulate Robyn on her successful nomination, and we will work hard to ensure her election and the re-election of the state Liberal government.

What I had to say to our local party members during the preselection campaign helped me reflect on and articulate a lot of what I believe in as an elected representative on Council.

If you wonder what makes me tick, and what makes me so desirous of being a good local Councillor, then this material may be of interest.

I wish Robyn well. She’ll do a great job.

Click below for my campaign brochure:

http://councillorzamprogno.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Nathan-Zamprogno-Hawkesbury-Preselection-Candidate.pdf

And here are three of the short videos I produced which spoke to what I believe.

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Commissioner rejects appeal on the Avina Caravan Park expansion

The 2016 story about the opposition to the proposal. Click here to read original story.

There has been a major development in the proposal to massively expand the Avina site, and I wanted to give you an update. 

In October 2016, barely a month into this term of Council, concerned residents approached me over the proposed expansion of the Avina Van Village bordering Oakville and Vineyard.

This caravan park has been a fixture within the local landscape for decades, and is permitted under the RU2 and RU4 zoning it sits in, where most other properties in the area are 5 acres or more — including productive farms.

We have long recognised the utility of a mix of accomodation styles in the Hawkesbury to our tourism strategy. Visitors to our area with a large boat in tow, or a horse float and need for temporary agistment, or maybe even pets that need some space to run about — they all benefit from the availability of this kind of accommodation.

Unfortunately, some developers see in caravan parks a convenient loophole to push through inappropriate development. The proposal Council received in 2016 was to massively expand the Vineyard site from twelve acres to forty-seven.  247 housing lots as small as 223sq.m were proposed. If this had come to Council as a housing development, it would fail at the first hurdle as completely inappropriate for such a rural lifestyle or agricultural zone.

Bizarrely, the proposal was able to be considered because the proposed structures were regarded as “removable dwellings” — like caravans. In reality they are houses, on concrete slabs, constructed on-site from prefabricated panels. It stretched credulity to think of them as portable in the same way as caravans. Nor would they have been constructed to conform to norms relating to energy efficiency, insulation, parking or open space required of any other housing proposal. There were also significant issues relating to public transport, road access and public amenity.

Under changes to planning law in NSW, the proposal was assessed by a JRPP — a Joint Regional Planning Panel. I disagree with planning panels because they remove decision making from democratically elected, and therefore publicly accountable, Councillors. Certainly people approaching me were expecting Councillors to play a role in representing their concerns.

At the planning panel meeting, apart from the mayor (who was on the panel proper), I was the only Councillor that turned up — on this occasion, to put my view as a private citizen and resident of the area. The JRPP rejected the proposal (unanimously), and I regarded this as a good result for the community.

The developer, Ingenia, immediately lodged an appeal in the Land and Environment Court. Since, I have been approached by people in other areas, like Forster, where Ingenia may attempt a similar playbook: Buy a caravan park, lodge a proposal to massively change and intensify its land-use by proposing an intensive housing estate not subject to the usual controls, advertise it as a “seniors living”, propose structures that exploit the loophole of referring to houses as “removable” or “portable” when they are anything but, and then litigate when communities push back.

I am not opposed to some adaptive reuse of land, and I’m not opposed to increasing our area’s stock of over-55s living options. However, I do object to inappropriate developments in rural areas that exploit loopholes that really should be closed in our planning instruments.

After a long delay and a failed mediation with Council, the matter was heard in the Land and Environment Court on 29 – 30 October 2018 by Commissioner Susan O’Neill. The evidence heard included testimony from 7 residents affected by the proposal. Hawkesbury Council were the defendants, despite the fact that the decision had been made by a planning panel and despite the fact that Council’s own report to the planning panel was to approve the development — an unwieldy feature of the new laws — A Council can put a view, be overruled by a Panel, and then have to defend the Panel’s ruling in court.

The Commissioner considered these fundamental issues:

•   Whether the proposed development satisfies the objectives of the RU4 Primary Production Small Lots zone under the provisions of the LEP 2012;
•   Whether the scale and density of the proposed development is appropriate having regard to the character of adjoining rural properties and the rural locality;
•   Whether the proposed development should be granted consent having regard to Clause 10 SEPP No.21 – Caravan Parks, with particular regard to whether community facilities and services, including public transport, retail and schools are reasonably accessible to the occupants of the proposed development; and
•   Whether the proposed development provides for adequate physical separation from adjoining land.

Today (7th November), the Commissioner rejected Ingenia’s appeal. Click here to read the judgement. It stated

The orders of the Court are:

The appeal is dismissed.

Development Application No. 0685/16 for the staged alterations, additions and expansion of an existing caravan park to accommodate an additional 208 long term residential sites is refused.

(Link to judgement)Hawkesbury City Council won. The development is dead in the water.

This is a pleasing vindication. What do you think?

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I join Dan Hannan in defence of the Enlightenment

There are too few genuine role models in politics. Tonight, I got the chance to meet one of mine.

Years ago I discovered the writings of, and then the many videos of Dan Hannan, one of the United Kingdom’s elected representatives to the European Parliament. I was hooked.

 I aspire to speak and to persuade clearly, robustly and intelligently. I have become therefore a life-long student of those who communicate well. If I model myself on anyone in this aspiration, I model myself on Dan Hannan, and on my other hero, Christopher Hitchens. These two are polar opposites on some questions, but as Hannan reminded me tonight when he quoted John Stuart MillHe who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.

Hannan is, in my mind, one of the most brilliant orators in conservative politics. When I discovered he was attending a Sydney function at the invitation of the Centre for Independent Studies, how could I resist?

His topic was “How identity politics is undoing the Enlightenment”. He made the point that western society is turning its back on the very basis of modernity when we judge the validity of an argument by some phenotypic characteristic of the speaker (such as race) or ethnicity, rather than the argument’s intrinsic merit. 

He skewered the doublethink professed by many competitive virtue-signallers when he pointed out that many of the great rights-crusades in history were predicated on the desire to treat people equally (such as for suffrage, or racial equality), but that social reformers today have lost their way, seeking to see certain viewpoints privileged precisely on the basis of the perceived minority status of their exponents.

His discourse, which also roved over the UK political landscape and the issue of Brexit, proved to be a great night. Dan was very generous to me when I buttonholed him and gushed like a schoolgirl.

I leave you with one of Hannan’s virtuoso performances at the Oxford Union, and this audacious claim: We should prefer, in our public representatives, either the ability to speak like this, or at least those with the aspiration to do so. Too many whom we accept into our parliaments simply cannot, and neither stir the heart nor persuade the intellect. And that is why the broader public become cynical about politics.

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Road Safety and Schools

Representatives from all tiers of government inspect the pedestrian safety issues at Ebenezer Public School, including Principal Luke O’Brien, P&C members Jodie Black, Rochelle Miller, Rachel Kousal and Gordon Eckel, plus people from the RMS and the Police.

This morning I visited Ebenezer Public School to view the concerns school parents have raised about road safety. The school, adjacent to busy Sackville road, is buzzing with passing vehicles morning and afternoon.

What I saw amply justified the case put to me. Traffic counts done in February showed 65% of vehicles were exceeding the limit of 40km/h during scheduled slowdown times. Several vehicles were clocked at over 100km/h. One in five were heavy vehicles.

What the school needs is a better pedestrian crossing, or an adult to moderate the pedestrian flow. I saw a bus zone big enough for one bus, while two buses arrived and the second hanging out into the street, further blocking visibility. A BMW with a ‘P’ plate growled past — a parent standing next to me issued an expletive; “That muppet hoons past here all the time and never slows down.” He adds “We’ve had too many near misses. It’s only a matter of when, not if, there is an accident.” While he spoke, I witnessed ten year olds shepherding six year olds across the road. Shortly after, a vehicle brakes so heavily at the crossing that smoke comes off the brakes.

Ebenezer School traffic.

Requests for new measures have been denied. In my view, this is not good enough.

The threshold for new measures is a vehicle count of 300/hr and 50 unattended children crossing, morning and afternoon. The numbers compiled by the school fall just short of this count — and usually only in the afternoons. A petition has been presented to the State Member with 1500 signatures — extraordinary for a school with 134 kids.

And by the way, these thresholds are state-wide, meaning a school in the inner suburbs on a main highway has its needs determined by the same formula as remote schools, which is unfair.

Sense should prevail. Ultimately, the Minister for Roads (Pavey) should work with the State Member to grant an exemption for the necessary thresholds and allocate funding for a traffic supervisor (that’s a lollypop person to you and me) morning and afternoon.

I will continue to advocate for this.

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