Op Ed: The commercialisation of national icons

I read once that there’s an ancient tomb in Rome inscribed with a plea: ‘Bill-poster, I beg you, pass this monument by. If any candidate’s name is ever painted here, may he suffer defeat and never get an office.’

Strangely, that’s what I recall when I see the commentariat, furious this week over the use of the Opera House sails to advertise an event; in this case, a horse race.

Some of the swirling outrage says we live in a competitive commercial culture, and the Opera House is an international icon ready-made to boost an event that’s just as economically significant as Vivid, the Wallabies, the Ashes, or the Olympics; each of which have been projected on the sails.

Others say it’s a desecration of a world heritage landmark, and that the Opera House is not a billboard, and asking if stewards would permit advertising on the Statue of Liberty, or the Eiffel tower, or Big Ben?

But if that’s the basis of their objection, how ignorant of history these people are! The designer of the Statue of Liberty, Bartholdi, licenced his design’s likeness and flogged it mercilessly to advertisers. The Eiffel tower carried the word “Citroën” in lights from top to bottom for years. And even Big Ben has been lit, although a distinction should be drawn between sanctioned commemorations like Remembrance Day, and guerrilla marketing campaigns who projected onto the landmark without permission (usually late at night) to create a media storm.

A political cartoon from Puck Magazine, circa 1880s, entitled “Let the Advertising Agents Take Charge of the Bartholdi Business and the Money Will Be Raised Without Delay.” (ref.)

So despite the ABC’s conclusion that this is an “exquisitely Sydney stoush over the city’s premier billboard”, this teacher of history sees today’s debate as old, old news.

However, don’t think I’m making excuses — The fact that it’s happened forever doesn’t mean it isn’t in poor taste, and I want to be clear: this is.

My view is to lament that society is losing its ability to feel an aversion for the crass, which my Oxford defines as ‘lacking sensitivity, refinement or intelligence’.

Do you remember when over a century of tradition surrounding the Sheffield Shield was flogged off for branding by Pura Milk, a Filipino food multinational? Or when the Melbourne Cup was flogged to Emirates, a $37 billion airline conglomerate owned by the government of the UAE? That nation has an appalling human rights record, and where, for what it’s worth, gambling, with the exception of horse racing, is illegal. Oh, the irony. Or when the naming rights for Sydney’s Olympic Stadium was flogged to Telstra, and then ANZ?

These branding opportunities undoubtedly made sound commercial sense. They may have boosted the profile of the events or venues, or enlarged the prize pool, or negated some need for sponsorship by government or through ticket sales. But the cost to the dignity of our society is high.

We saw a similar thing when Woolworths tried to use ANZAC images to sell groceries, or when Coopers Ale tried to do something ‘woke’ by placing their beer in an advertisement about same-sex-marriage. They both copped a serve for it, and deserved it.

Here’s what they have in common: It’s crass.  And people are right to pull a face, and lament why it isn’t seen as obvious that some things should be off limits for commercialisation, regardless of the airtight spreadsheet-logic behind it.

I agree with our Premier that using the Opera House sails to promote this event is will be noticed around the world – the advertising value will be huge and there’s no denying it. And equally, I’d tell her that it’s a tasteless and demeaning gesture, and it should never have gotten past the thought bubble stage.

I’d like to know what you think.

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We have a new Mayor!

It is timely to have a word about tonight’s vote for the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

I witnessed some truly awful behaviour from the gallery in Council, so this is where I stand.

The Liberal Councillors are four among twelve. We collaborate as best we can. But in this term, having no majority, our lot is limited to choosing the least worst from options put before us by others.

We all know the pendulum will swing back some day. My job is to ensure that the Liberals deserve a majority at the next election, and never merely assume it as a right. We accept our accountability.

Tonight, knowing no Liberal could secure the role, I made a choice between the two candidates.

Mary: Vivacious. A great grass-roots networker. Broad minded. Compassionate. Mary has brought a flair and energy to the office of Mayor that had been missing for a long time.

Barry. Quietly spoken, deliberative, policy-and-outcome focused. I’ve witnessed Barry to have a depth of experience borne of 19 years in local government which has earned my respect.

I have nothing to bad to say about Barry or Mary. I enjoy a friendly relationship with both, and I accord them (as I do all my colleagues) the courtesy of believing they are honourably motivated to serve the community.

So I chose Barry. I didn’t choose on the basis of Party. Indeed, it was in the face of enmities others assumed we should hold against each other.

I didn’t choose on the basis of some “deal”. There wasn’t one. Those present observed unanimous support for an open vote and not a secret ballot. There was no “quid pro quo” as some said — everything was out in the open. 

Sadly, we got to witness another Labor Councillor and now state candidate, presumably bound by his party’s constitution to vote for his leader, betray that for all to see.

Here’s some unwelcome free advice: You do nothing to advance the case for your party’s ascendency to State government by joining their team and then knifing your colleagues before you even hear the starter’s pistol.

 If you want to know what a return to State Labor would look like—there it is.

Anyway, the Liberals made the choice that seemed least-worst for our community for the next two years. No vendetta. No Machiavellian intrigues. Just an opportunity to tweak the team and knuckle down and make the best out of the remainder of this term.

I congratulate our new Mayor Barry, and I thank our outgoing Mayor Mary for her service.

I have few illusions, of course. Labor supported the rate restructure that made our rating system less fair. And Labor supported the Special Rate Variation that will hike all our rates by nearly a third, because left-leaning governments will always raise taxes. Tonight’s vote does nothing for those who are rightly aggrieved by a system that has doubled or tripled their Council rates over the last two years. If you want the system to be fairer again, vote Liberal.

A spread of views in an elected chamber is what makes democracy work. We may contend passionately over differences of policy, but tonight some people got very angry, and personal, and cruel when they were displeased at the result. This has spilled over into social media, and in addition to juvenile tit-for-tat, some serial pests have infringed on the personal safety of Councillors, including women and children, and have made unfounded allegations about the conduct of Councillors for vexatious intent.

Let me be clear: This crosses a bright line, and it must stop. The twelve Councillors met specially to discuss this last week and we all agreed unanimously that the conduct of some trolls has gone too far.

Regardless of whether you support or oppose one side or another – argue passionately about ideas and values, but don’t be an asshole to another human being. I won’t tolerate it on any forum I moderate, and my challenge should sound familiar: you endorse any behaviour you walk past.

Please, be kind.

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Appearing on the Hawkesbury Gazette Podcast

This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with reporter Conor Hickey from the Hawkesbury Gazette for their weekly podcast.
Topics covered included how elected representatives can better engage with the community, development, and Windsor bridge.
Listen in!

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Demanding clarity on the future of the Hawkesbury

(Edit– 27th June: The motion I put to Council on the 26th passed 11 votes to 1. Audio of the debate can be accessed below:)

Original post:

The whole messy process that has unfolded since March about road corridors has brought the issue of development in the Hawkesbury into focus.

Everyone can see the  massive surge of housing and commercial building that has marched down Windsor Road and is now knocking on our door. Indeed, some of this urban development is even now in our Council area, because the “Vineyard Precinct” of the North West Growth Sector (NWGS) is within the Hawkesbury City boundaries.

Residents and landowners on acreage properties adjoining the NWGS are justified in their concerns that this development will eventually overtake them as well. Everyone is entitled to some certainty about their future on the land, which includes some of the Sydney basin’s diminishing stock  of prime and currently productive agricultural land, plus remnant Cumberland woodland.

As a Councillor, I’ve tried to apply pressure to planning officials with the State Government to be honest and co-operative about what the long term future of these areas are, largely defined by the suburbs of Oakville, Maraylya, Vineyard, and even parts of Pitt Town and Cattai.

What I’ve received are mixed messages, and this isn’t good enough. Some of the documentation associated with the Outer Sydney Orbital hints at areas “north of the Vineyard Precinct” for some kind of industrial use. The “SEPP”, a planning zoning that makes the NWGS possible, actually encompasses a far larger area that the current development. Speculators — real estate types and developers — are fomenting rumours about currently rural areas being re-zoned for future development and this is inflating prices, which inflates land value, which inflates your rates. I’ve said more about this in the video I made about the corridors proposal. Check it out.

The consequence is a persistent sense of dread, and an inability for residents to know what their future looks like, even while they are being rated out of existence on the properties that they bought with a working wage, and wanted to retire on.

Council has a particular responsibility here. Later this year we are renewing what’s called our “Residential Land Strategy”. This exercise will set out Hawkesbury Council’s desires for what areas will take what degree of development over a longer timeframe. Regardless of where you sit on the question of growth, Council needs to manage what could or should happen, and where. Here is the link to the current strategy, adopted in 2011.

In the RU2 and RU4 zoned acreage properties in the south eastern part of the city, our choices could range from “no change”, to “detached dual occupancy” (meaning two houses on a five acre lot, but under one title), to “large lot rural subdivision” (like we see at Windsor Downs, with block sizes at a minimum of one or two acres), and then upward through a range of subdivision options that resemble what we see on the eastern side of Boundary road. I am emphatically not in favour of that outcome.

However, for Council to deliberate well, we deserve clarity from a range of state government departments, including the Department of Planning, Transport for NSW, and the Greater Sydney Commission. And of course, the public also have a right to know, and my gut feeling is that we have not had full disclosure from these agencies.

I am therefore moving the Notice of Motion you see below at the Council meeting next Tuesday (26th June), and I invite you to spread the word, come along, and register your support for this call for honesty and clarity about what the government’s long term plans are for our homes.

Notice of Motion - Development outside the NWGS

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The BLOR and M9/OSO Corridors, Part 2

This post is the second of two in response to a proposal to create two motorway and rail corridors through the Hawkesbury.

The first video provides some historical context to the broader phenomenon of State and Federal governments foisting large projects on unsuspecting communities. The challenge of balancing long term planning and the impact on individual communities has frequently been botched, and I cited the history of corridor sell-offs, and earlier proposals for airports, prisons, dumps and new suburbs, by both major political parties, as salutary examples.

What follows is a transcript of the video, with documents referenced on-screen linked or inserted as needed.

TRANSCRIPT:

In the first video, I provided a small history lesson about the litany of misguided schemes that governments of both hues have cooked up over the decades for the Hawkesbury, and how each one, after a fight from the community, was scuttled, and the government of the day had their asses handed to them, on a plate.

Today, let me be far more specific about the current corridor proposals. This video is also a part of my submission to Transport for NSW.

Point 1:  Both these corridor proposals are equally bad.

It is true that the Bells line of road corridor has gained more publicity here in the Hawkesbury, including through a very well attended meeting at Clarendon showground a few weeks ago. But the fundamental problem of both corridors are the same.

Both corridors divide rural communities, destroy productive agricultural and equine lands, diminish visual amenity, endanger ecological communities and threaten the futures that families thought they had by buying homes outside of what I call ant-nest Sydney.

And both corridors suffer from the deficiencies of process that have landed these proposals on unsuspecting voters, without sufficient community consultation, without  enough knowledge of the options to make meaningful contributions to the debate, and in a time-frame that is far too short.

The community has had barely 8 weeks to inform themselves and organise to have their say on  projects that may happen decades from now. What’s the rush?

Point 2: The River crossing has to be back on the table

We are free to speculate that the government will change its mind about the Castlereagh corridor. It may default to the original 1951 alignment, and it may choose to stop at the Hawkesbury Nepean river instead of crossing over it.

If that’s the case, then the question of an extra crossing of the river must be back on the table.

I always believed that only someone as major as the M9 could deliver what we’ve always needed – a new crossing of the Hawkesbury Nepean River, somewhere between North Richmond and Wilberforce.

The BLOR/ Castlereagh corridor (purple, at left) and the M9/ OSO corridor (blue, at right), and the floodplain. Castlereagh is a long way from where traffic relief is needed, which should be between North Richmond and Wilberforce

It turns out that we got proposals for two corridors, and neither delivered. The briefing Council received on the Castlereagh corridor actually suggested that it would help alleviate traffic on Windsor Road, by putting a new crossing of the river at Castlereagh, more than half the way to Penrith. Bollocks!

But what  a huge political win it would be for the party that redirected the M9 along, say, the south creek floodplain, crossed the Hawkesbury river downstream of Windsor bridge, and joined it to the Putty road, providing a link to both the Hunter and Newcastle as originally intended.

An alternative route that would cross the South Creek floodplain and cross the Hawkesbury River downstream of Windsor.

Point 3: Why are both corridors roads to nowhere?

The Bells line corridor is irrelevant unless there is a major amplification of Bells line itself west of Kurrajong Heights and over the range. There isn’t anything like a compelling case for this given that billions have been spent over the last two decades to upgrade the Great Western Freeway.

A summary of the major capital works spent on the Great Western Highway.

And the M9 corridor konks out at Maraylya. Here’s what the terrain looks like between there and Newcastle. Mountainous terrain, National parks, wetlands, another major crossing of the Hawkesbury River, and well downstream, so the river is broader and deeper.

The terrain north of Maraylya is hilly, heavily forested, and crosses both the Hawkesbury at a location that is deeper and wider than Windsor, and passes through National Parks

If there’s little prospect of the corridor being driven north of Windsor Road, why endure the political pain of taking it even that far?

Point 4: Why is the government’s material contradictory and incomplete?

Why do the government’s press releases and maps state that the corridor passes through Box Hill?

The Outer Sydney Orbital brochure referencing the corridor as passing through Box Hill. You’d think they could name the suburb correctly.

Below, the area in purple is Box Hill, in the Hills Shire, and on the left is the corridor. They are not the same.

Why does the draft EIS reference the M9 corridor as only running from Windsor Road and south to the Hume Highway at Menangle?

Why is the vegetation study in the draft EIS so incomplete?

I’ve created a tool in the program  Google Earth. The online map that Transport for NSW provides is difficult to navigate and doesn’t allow you to leverage other geographical datasets and overlay them on the corridor.

This overlay I’ve created allows you to see the Hawkesbury ends of both corridors and toggle them along with other useful data, like alternative routes and a vegetation study.

There’s a link to this overlay at my website, along with a longer video tour of what it shows. All you need is the Desktop version of Google Earth for Mac or Windows, and that’s a free program.

Nobody else seemed to be doing this kind of analysis, so I thought I’d do my bit.

What you can see here is the area of the M9 north of Windsor Road, in Oakville, Vineyard and Maraylya. Here is an overlay of the vegetation study map that appears on page 96 of the OSO Draft EIS dated March 2018.

The northern extent of the proposed M9 corridor overplayed on the vegetation study created by Transport for NSW.

This looks a little muddy, but the green areas represent “Threatened ecological communities” and the hatched areas represent “Cumberland Plain Priority Conservation Lands”. Even from this map, it’s obvious that the M9 corridor goes through threatened ecological communities.However, what concerns me more is that this map is incomplete.

The northern extent of the proposed M9 corridor overlayed on the vegetation study created by the National Parks and Wildlife service. This shows that TfNSW have vastly underplayed the significance of the remnant Cumberland woodland (specifically, endangered shale forest) in the corridor area.

Here is a 2002 map from NSW National Parks overlayed on the same area. It shows many more stands of Cumberland Shale Forest – areas that just don’t appear on the Transport for NSW Map. And it’s not because there has been mass deforestation since 2002 – the amount of tree cover in this area has remained pretty constant over the years, precisely because landowners look after them as rural lands.

If I toggle the layers, you can see a huge difference. The draft EIS has massively underestimated the tree cover, and the conservation value of the lands under the M9, and it seems apparent that the BLOR corridor study suffers from the same defect.

Point 5: What is the future of this part of the Hawkesbury anyway?

The government can’t have it both ways. It says it needs to reserve this corridor through the area because of future land use pressures. But this land is currently zoned rural, for acreage properties.

Here’s the property on the corner of Old Pitt Town Road and Speets road – part of the Sydney basin’s diminishing store of productive agricultural land. It’s also smack bang underneath the M9 corridor.

Here’s a map you’ve probably never seen. The red area is the area defined by the current North West growth sector. The part that’s in the Hawkesbury is this bit south of Commercial Road and Menin Road.

The outer dashed line represents the outer boundary of what’s called the SEPP – it’s the planning instrument that makes the North West Growth sector possible. It encompasses a much larger area – all of Oakville, the rest of Vineyard, most of Maraylya, and parts of Mulgrave and McGraths Hill.

Why stick a fuse in something unless you’re going to light it? We already know large chunks of land inside the dashed boundary, but outside the North West Growth Sector, are already subject to development, like this huge area north of Old Pitt Town Road. When will the other shoe drop?

Hawkesbury Council will be reviewing its Residential Lands Strategy later this year. I grew up in Oakville, and live there still.  My heart is to protect our rural amenity and provide a buffer between the development at our door, and our agricultural lands, the National Park, and the remnant Cumberland Woodland that still exists outside the boundaries of the park.

But as an elected representative, I have to weigh what is best for the whole community. If there has to be development in the Hawkesbury, this is the area closest to Windsor Road, closest to the new rail infrastructure, not subject to the pinchpoints of the river and its inadequate crossings, and relatively flood free.

I’m calling on the state government to be honest with the community and to tell us if there are any plans to subdivide land outside the current growth sector boundaries.

For example, there’s this from the OSO Draft Strategic Environmental Assessment, which says:

The Growth Area LUIIPs have assumed that the recommended corridor will be formally identified in the future, and will inform more detailed planning for precincts yet to be rezoned. For example, the DPE is considering land immediately north of the Vineyard Precinct as providing future opportunities for employment and industry related to the future OSO infrastructure, with detailed planning to commence once the location of the recommended corridor is formalised.

The areas north of the Vineyard Precinct are in Oakville and Maraylya, and are currently zoned “Rural”. Questions I have asked of departmental officials about the long term future of Oakville, Vineyard and Maraylya have been met with silence.

A map of the Vineyard Precinct. Note the lands to the north are zoned “Rural”

Point 6: Why weren’t we told?

Minister for Western Sydney, Stuart Ayres made much of saying that the announcement of these corridors was already the culmination of plenty of consultation with the community. Bollocks.

Here’s a glossy document that came out in 2014, three years ago, titled “A plan for growing Sydney”. And in that document is the only map I’ve ever seen that shows, before this announcement in March, where the corridors may have been.

“A Plan for Growing Sydney” (p14), released December 2014

It clearly shows the possibility for these corridors to affect Castlereagh, Grose Vale, Yarramundi, Bowen Mountain, Kurrajong in the west; and Oakville, Maraylya and Vineyard in the East.

No one I have spoken to in any of those communities were consulted. Not one. And not Hawkesbury Council, to the best of my knowledge.

Point 7: There are plenty of alternatives.

I’m not a town or transport planner. Maybe you are. But why has the government placed one option for each corridor before us, and left it to us to suggest alternatives?

I feel inadequate to the task, but here are some starters.

Stop the corridor at Windsor Road.

This option has the M9 corridor ending at Windsor Road.

Follow the South Creek catchment and cross the river downstream from Windsor (see map above)

Follow the alignment of the North West Rail Line extension corridor.

Or, there’s this proposed solution from a road lobby group, Roads Australia.

Lastly,  the funds could be diverted into local road solutions.

Point 8, and my last: Do not forget the political dimension.

I am an elected Liberal, and statistically, most Hawkesbury voters are Liberal voters. This isn’t a left-right thing – my last video showed you a long list of awful thought bubbles foisted on us by past governments of both hues.

But I lament that the bad way in which this issue has been handled by an otherwise praiseworthy state government has given a huge free kick to our political opponents.

The government has made a mistake in both these corridors. I can’t find it in my heart to attribute to malice what can easily be explained through stupidity.

The government simply needs to step back, realise it may well lose the next State election if it keeps this up, and without ego, change its mind – just as it was mature enough to do on the question of council amalgamations, greyhound racing, and stadiums.

I think it’s actually the mark of a good government to put things out there and then really heed criticism. It needs to do that now, because the damage has already been done.

Even if you’re watching this after the deadline for community submissions, which is June 1st, please let me encourage you to keep the pressure up, especially by calling and writing to the office of your state member of parliament, Dominic Perrottet, Stuart Ayres, and the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian.

My name is Nathan Zamprogno, and these views are my own. They are not Council policy and they are not the “Liberal Party line”, whatever that is. I’d love to know what you think.

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A Google Earth overlay of the OSO-M9 and BLOR-Castlereagh corridors

In my videos on the OSO-M9 and BLOR-Castlereagh corridors (Part 1 and Part 2 are here) I reference a Google Earth overlay I developed that draws together data from a variety of sources.

My other posts do not tour the various layers that have been incorporated into the layout, so I made another short video to show you around.

Please note that my focus is on the northern extents of the corridors passing through the Hawkesbury LGA. My apologies if you have come here from the Camden locality looking for data on the southern extent of the M9. Perhaps someone down your way can do a similar analysis.

What is a Google Earth overlay?
You are already familiar with Google Maps. Perhaps you use the web based version on your browser or smartphone.
There is a more powerful standalone app called “Google Earth”, which allows more sophisticated data to be layered on top of the general map, and layers can be toggled and edited.
The document format for an overlay carries the “.KML” or “.KMZ” extension. They are functionally the same. “.KMZ” files are simply compressed and take up less space.

How do I get Google Earth?
It’s free! There are versions for Windows and Mac, and you can download them here.
There is also a version called “Google Earth Pro”, and it will work, but the standard version is fine.

Can I use the version of Google Earth through the Google Chrome Browser?
Not to view my overlays. You need to use the app for Mac or Windows. You can’t use the Google Earth App for Android or iOS, either.

Where can I get your overlay of the road corridors?

At    THIS LINK HERE.

What do I do once I’ve got it?
If you have Google Earth installed, and you’ve got my file “M9_BLOR_Corridor_Analysis_Clr_Zamprogno.kmz”
then double-clicking it should bring it up in the Google Earth program as a series of layers and folder in the left-hand pane of the app. Experiment with toggling  them on and off. You can do this individually or as whole folders.
Note that the layouts will come up with a splashscreen with my notes. It’s the first thing you’ll turn off by deselecting “Title Graphic” in the left hand pane.

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The BLOR and M9/OSO Corridors, Part 1

This video is the first of two, and explores the history of government attempts to ride rough shod over the community, and what has tended to happen when they try.

It is intended to encourage people engaged in the current struggle to protect the Hawkesbury from two destructive corridor proposals to recognise that these kinds of things have come along before, and the community has generally won.

The second video will be more specifically focused on the reasons why the current proposal is a bad idea.

Transcript:

In this video, the first of a two-parter, a history lesson about why the government’s proposal to drive motorways through the beautiful vistas of the Hawkesbury is deja-vu, all over again.

I’m Nathan Zamprogno, one of your elected Liberal Councillors on Hawkesbury City Council.

Barely two months ago, the State Government announced a consultation period in relation to two proposed road and rail corridors passing through the Hawkesbury district.

The Castlereagh Corridor proposes a crossing of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River at Castlereagh, and then goes through Yarrramundi, Grose Vale, Bowen Mountain, Kurrajong, and rising steeply to join Bells Line of Road at Kurrajong Heights.

The Outer Sydney Orbital or M9 corridor runs north from Camden, passes through the site for the new airport at Badgery’s creek, strikes north-east from Marsden Park and would decimate communities in Vineyard, Oakville and Maraylya.

At some indeterminate point in the future, it is suggested that it will go all the way to Newcastle. Pigs might also fly.

As an elected Liberal, I’m stating my opposition to both corridors.
Even though the State Government is of my party, a dumb idea remains a dumb idea wherever it comes from.

Recently, all four of your local Hawkesbury Liberal Councillors voted unanimously with all the other Councillors to express our concern about these corridors, and to seek a better solution, in a motion passed at Council on May 8th.

I want to explain why, and the best way is a video two-parter.

Both videos are a part of my own submission to Transport for NSW.

You may have cause to agree and disagree with me simultaneously – and that’s because I’m doing my job. I’m aware that I need to represent a range of views. But stick with me.

This video, part 1, is called “We’ve all been here before”
After this, watch part two, called “Surely, we can do better than this?”.

Since everyone loves lists, let’s roll with that.

Point 1: There’s nothing wrong with the idea of corridor reservation.
I promise this is the only overtly political thing I’ll say – so I’ll get it over with.

Look, we criticise governments for failing to engage in long term planning, and we’re especially critical over the issue of transport congestion.
Those of us with an eye to history remember that it was the Wran Labor government who left a ruinous legacy of flogging off road corridors for the M4 and elsewhere in 1977.

The Canberra Times, 1978. A piece penned by the seemingly immortal Errol Simper.

The Wran Government left an awful legacy of selling off corridors. We’re still paying the price today

Now, taxpayers are left with multi-billion dollar bills for projects like Westconnex, or the north-west rail link – made ridiculously more expensive precisely for the lack of some bold, long term planning decades ago.

But lest you think that I am mounting a defence of wall to wall freeways – think again. Sydney needs a coherent mix of road and public transport networks.

We need to avoid “Los Angeles-isation” of our city. But if this infrastructure barely keeps pace with an eternally growing population, it merely creates the illusion of progress while we actually go backwards in terms of our quality of life, sustainability outcomes, and commute times.

It alarms me that none of our leaders are prepared to ask the question “When will Sydney be full”? It’s a simple enough question, and shouldn’t be heresy.

I’ve used Dick Smith’s compelling documentary “The Population Puzzle” with my students.
It alarms me that Sydney is growing without any leadership on the question of what it’s maximum population should be.

I believe that Australia’s sustainable future lays with both limiting population growth, and providing sharper incentives for decentralisation – sending demand outside of our capital cities. we need to have a period of consolidation in Sydney, so that our infrastructure can finally catch up. People are very angry about this, and it may prove decisive at the next State election.

however, that’s a huge topic which I’ll say more about in another video.

Point 2: We’ve all been here before

Confession: If this begins to sound like a history lesson, it’s because I am a qualified history teacher. But indulge me; because it’s really important to understand some historical context, so we can understand why this kind of thing keeps coming up.

I only need to pick one small part of the Hawkesbury to illustrate in microcosm what happens when governments suffer from these repeated thought bubbles and then ride rough-shod over the community.

1948 – The County of Cumberland Plan

Back in 1948, there was a master blueprint for Sydney called the “County of Cumberland” plan. It understood that a healthy city contained a dense core, a ring of urbanised suburbs, and most importantly, green belts that served the city with recreational spaces, productive agricultural land, wildlife preservation and visual amenity.

1948 – The County of Cumberland Plan. Note the green belts that were integral to the plan. They didn’t last.

It was a great idea. And it didn’t last. Sydney wide, the pressure for growth at any cost gradually eroded the green belt idea.

All the land in our neck of the world was farms and rural properties. And the land now next to the proposed M9 corridor, is Scheyville National Park. It was gazetted in 1996. But before it was a National Park, it was one of the largest contiguous parcels of crown land left in the Sydney basin. Which is why, by turns, various governments, Labor and Liberal, state and federal, if I might paraphrase HG Wells, “looked upon us with envious eyes, and slowly, they drew their plans against us”

In 1978, there was a serious proposal to make Scheyville and Pitt Town the site of Sydney’s second airport.

Hawkesbury Gazette, March 1, 1978

This bubbled away for years. One of my earliest memories, and a kind of political birth for me, was seeing this map of the proposed locations of the runways.

My home at Oakville was underneath one of them. The irony that these airport runways now also lay directly beneath the path of the M9 shouldn’t escape us.

Hawkesbury Gazette, 15 February, 1978

The proposal created uncertainty and dread just like we’re seeing today.

Hawkesbury Gazette, May 3, 1978

I think it’s significant that, by 1983, the State, Liberal member for Hawkesbury, Kevin Rozzolli, was prepared to speak out strongly on behalf of his constituency. He said:

“Mainland Australians are concerned at the environmental damage that may occur should the Franklin Dam be constructed in Tasmania.
The same people should be concerned about consideration of the siting of an International Airport in the area… variously described as Nelson, Box Hill, Rouse Hill, Maraylya, Oakville and Pitt Town”
“The major factor is not technical feasibility… but whether such construction will so alter the character of the area in which it is located that it will destroy forever a part of Australia’s heritage, a heritage at least as priceless as the Tasmanian wilderness”

Hawkesbury State Liberal MP Kevin Rozolli stands up for his community. Hawkesbury Gazette, 15th June, 1983

I’ll underline that: Our State Liberal member was prepared to liken the natural and historical heritage of Oakville, Maraylya and Pitt Town as analogous to that of the Franklin river in Tasmania. He went on:

“The natural endowments of the area which have created the unique circumstances of its history, scenic beauty and quality of life, demand its preservation as part of Australia’s heritage”.

That heritage is still relevant today.

Dominic? I am calling for you to show the same conviction that your predecessors have.

Let’s move on. In 1987, the same site was announced for a massive, maximum security prison, bigger than Parramatta gaol.

Hawkesbury Gazette, July 29, 1987

Again, the local Liberal state member for Hawkesbury was in the vanguard in condemning the idea, saying

“I am going to give my full support to the community in opposing this gaol”

In 1991, the Government announced that Scheyville was at the top of a list of preferred sites for a what would have been the largest rubbish dump in the southern hemisphere.

In 1992, the government announced that the same area would be the site for a massive housing development. Hawkesbury Council issued a prospectus that showed bushland at Oakville and Scheyville bulldozed and replaced with a new suburb of 20,000 people, complete with four new primary and high schools, and urban runoff draining straight into Longneck creek.

1992- Scheyville housing development plan_sm

So, my point? We’ve all been here before. There’s nothing new under the sun.

But also: People power can win!

Each of these proposals, presented in most cases as necessary and inevitable, were knocked on the head by the community rallying to make the government see sense.

The airport idea was scuttled.

Hawkesbury Gazette, November 8, 1978

The dump didn’t happen. The prison idea went the same way


And the plans for a massive new suburb? Stopped cold.

Hawkesbury Gazette, November 18, 1992

And eventually – we got the land around Scheyville gazetted as a new national park. I was 22. It was the year after I first stood for Council. I played a small role in that fight, and I’m kinda proud of it.

You’ll note that I’m not political point scoring here: These rotten ideas were proposed by both Labor and Liberal governments alike.

What matters is people standing up and demanding that their leaders listen to them.

The point of this history lesson is this: People can make a difference, and governments can be made either to see the light or feel the heat.

In the second video, I’ll be listing the reasons why this particular proposal isn’t good enough, and suggesting some alternatives. I hope you’ll join me.

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A word about representing all people, not just the ones who agree with you

I’ve been reflecting recently on what principles should guide me in my role as a politician. I still regard myself as relatively new to this, and I want to continue to learn and grow in what I’m doing.

I think that leaders should hold themselves to the discipline of sitting down regularly, not only with people they agree with, but with their most withering critics. Even with people who might perceive themselves as your enemy — not that I regard anyone in that way.

It’s always struck me as obvious that this is an essential part of the job. In politics, we contend and we argue; and we must expose our ideas to both affirmation, and to scorn.
It’s been said that an overlooked evil of censorship is that it denies weak arguments the opportunity to publicly humiliate themselves in a fair fight. Nothing is easier than becoming jaded and to withdraw to an echo chamber where that refining fire has been extinguished. I’m too aware of my own ignorance to think that my own views must always be right. I refuse to take myself so seriously that if a three-year-old hands me a toy phone, I can’t take the call with a glint in my eye.

I recall my Aristotle, and warn you that you should not make the mistake of thinking that me entertaining your idea, is the same thing as me agreeing with you. But if I disagree with you, I’ll always try to offer you the courtesy of remaining civil, saying why, and then continuing the conversation because, who knows, I might be wrong. Maybe we’re both wrong!

Leadership is about sifting through contending views and trying honestly to serve the greater good. Making tough calls is bruising, and frankly, sometimes it leaves me exhausted. I have enormous respect for people who do this daily, and at much higher levels than a humble Councillor. Still, I’ve never, ever been happier than in trying to fulfil this calling. Please take my enjoyment as a gesture of respect for the challenge of representing you.

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Hawkesbury Council fails a test of leadership on flood safety

I am disappointed that Council last night reversed the position it has held for decades, and declined to reaffirm its support for raising Warragamba Dam to provide flood mitigation to our valley, through the Notice of Motion I brought to the chamber.

As I said last night, this issue is too important for it not to have bi-partisan support.

The Mayor of the Hawkesbury, Councillor Mary Lyons-Buckett voted against the motion.

In my opinion, the Mayor’s position as the chair of Council’s Flood Risk Advisory Committee is now untenable. In September last year, Council ratified new terms of reference and objectives of that committee, which specifically includes advocating for the flood mitigation strategies contained in the Hawkesbury Nepean Floodplain Review Taskforce report, Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities, ‘in partnership with relevant state agencies and stakeholders.’

That report’s signature capital flood mitigation initiative is raising Warragamba dam.

If the Mayor is unable to support the Committee’s objectives and show the leadership her predecessors offered on flood mitigation, then she cannot be its chair and she should resign from that committee.

Joint Media release - Flood Mitigation

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Hawkesbury Council should support the raising of Warragamba Dam

Warragamba Dam in 1960

Warragamba Dam in 1960

Update: The result of the motion I put to Council is recounted here.

Only last year, we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the worst flood since European settlement in the Hawkesbury district. We were reminded that, back in June 1867, an inland sea of swirling detritus 30km wide stretched from Riverstone to the foot of the Blue Mountains —  the result of only four days of rain. The survivors in Windsor inhabited a shrinking island, huddled in St Matthews Church. Wearily, they grieved over the news of the drowning of 12 members from the one family, the Eathers, barely a mile away at Cornwallis. Past the mouth of the river, the beaches from Barrenjoey to Long Reef were black with uprooted trees and bloated livestock. Of course, many of the dead were never found.

Many people are unaware that the construction of Warragamba Dam in 1960 confers little in the way of flood protection to the communities downstream. The whole capacity of the dam is for drinking water storage. In the event of a rain event, there is no “buffer” to absorb flood waters in the dam and moderate its release, reducing the frequency and severity of flooding on the floodplain.

Recognising this, there have been thwarted plans to augment Warragamba since the 1980s by raising the dam wall, and we should welcome the State Government’s June 2016 commitment to a $700 million program to finally raise the dam by another 14 meters, giving it that crucial buffer. It is clear that the Hawkesbury Council, representing the community most at risk from flooding, should support this new initiative. I have been advocating and writing about this for many years.

To date, Council has not availed itself of the opportunity to express this support, and it would be timely for it to do so in the face of well intended but misguided opposition from environmentalists.

Thus, I and my fellow Liberal Councillors are bringing a Notice of Motion before the chamber next Tuesday to invite my colleagues to show their support for this measure which will protect your life and property against the rare but potentially catastrophic effects of a bad flood. I will have more to say on this soon.

ORD_APR1_2018_BP_NOM(WarragambaDam)

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