Hawkesbury Council's position concerning the new Hawkesbury River bridge

Last night Council considered the submission we would make to the consultation process on the route of the new Hawkesbury River crossing at North Richmond.

My position is guided by an awareness that this is not Council’s project. Like the Windsor Bridge project before, we neither decide nor craft its appearance, budget or timeline.

However, Council does have a role to listen to residents and then represent their concerns clearly. And other tiers of government, if they are wise, should listen. I’ve been contacted by dozens of residents and had long conversations both for and against the preferred ‘green route’.

I’m persuaded that the briefings conducted by Transport for NSW make a good case for the preferred ‘green route’. The modelling clearly shows it saves the greatest amount of travel time, is subject to fewer ‘major’ constraints, has a superior cost-benefit ratio compared to the purple route, will draw more traffic away from the already-congested current crossing, and will have a lower impact on the landscape in terms of earthworks, heritage and ecology.

That said, there are still substantial unanswered questions before us, and many ways in which the proposed route could be improved. If we don’t ‘hustle’, the community won’t get what we deserve.

I remain concerned about the impacts on the residents of Hobartville, and especially on Southee Road and Inalls Lane.

I think the intersection of Kurrajong Road, Old Kurrajong Road and Yarramundi Lane should be an elevated flyover – not just to reduce traffic congestion, but to provide better flood resilience as well.

I’m happy for Council to acknowledge the strengths of the green route, but continue to press for investigations to continue into a hybrid green/yellow route – especially if that benefits the users of the playing fields on Yarramundi Lane.

The 'Hybrid' yellow/green option that's worth exploring

Lastly, the community needs to know whether the status of the Grose River crossing – contractually bound on the Redbank developers, but much delayed and still no certainty, affects the modelling.

I am pleased that Councillors understood the need for a bipartisan approach on this, and with the exception of Councillor Ross (who votes against everything in what I regard as a very unconsidered attitude), we will be making something close to this submission.

 

 


Make no mistake - raising Warragamba Dam will make our community safer

This morning, the opponents of flood safety in the Hawkesbury were falling upon a 'leaked' State Government report that stated something so obvious it's banal – that in the event of a major flood, the water has to go somewhere.
 
Their tortured argument says if Warragamba Dam is raised, providing a buffer against future floodwaters, then that water will need to be released progressively after the peak. This means river levels will remain elevated for a number of weeks as that release occurs - affecting water filtration and sewerage treatment plants downstream.
Scarcely surprising. Any major flood is a catastrophe with effects lasting weeks or months. There is no scenario where a major flood would not disrupt in this way.
 
Those confecting outrage even suggest that raising the dam would *worsen* the effects of flooding in the Hawkesbury – a staggeringly misleading and contemptible statement.
Such a statement is as brazen as telling people that vaccination will give them COVID. It is geared to provoke outrage. It counts on people not knowing the facts.
 
What they don't concede is that in the event of a major flood, if the dam has not been raised, those same floodwaters would hit the floodplain all at once, catastrophically. It would cause flooding to a far higher height than would otherwise be the case.
The 'Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities' document laid all this out in 2017:
In the event of a 1:100 year flood, 1000 houses would be inundated with a raised dam, instead of 5000 without. In an 1867-level flood, that's 5000 houses instead of 12,000. The severity or frequency of flooding will be reduced overall by 75%, the damage bill reduced tenfold. The flood height would be lowered by many meters.
Flood damage reduction from raising Warragamba Dam, from the 'Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities' report (2017)
 
Imagine if the floods we endured in March this year were 3-5m lower – on the order of the February 2020 floods. Many houses would have been saved. Now imagine if that flood was another 3-5m higher. Those are the margins we are talking about in choosing not to implement flood mitigation.
 
Stating that the backlog of floodwaters would be released progressively from the dam in a responsible way is so obvious as to be no admission at all. Not focusing on what *would* have happened if that buffer had not been there is irresponsible.
Opposing flood mitigation condemns thousands of houses on the floodplain to inundation when the next big flood comes, and you should remember that when you vote.

When will the NSW Local Government Elections be?

https://youtu.be/o2ELM-_ZGP4

Council elections were supposed to happen in NSW in September 2020.
Then COVID put them off to September 2021.
Recently, the Minister delayed them a second time to December 4th, 2021.
Now there's a rumour going round that they will be delayed to next year.
This should concern all of us.
Accountability to the voting public is the cornerstone of our democracy.
Worse, there may be restrictions in place that make it almost impossible for candidates to put forward their views and policies for your scrutiny.
A recent bulletin to Councillors and candidates from the NSW Electoral Commission included the following statement:

Participants should be aware of new arrangements that have been made for posters and electoral material distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic, contained in recent changes to the Local Government election legislation.

To comply with public health orders at the time of the elections, or to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, the Electoral Commissioner may direct that no posters are to be displayed and that noelectoral material is to be handed out to voters for the December 4 elections at:

  • a polling place or a pre-polling venue, or
  • premises occupied, used by, or under the control of the NSW Electoral Commission, other NSW government agencies or a council within 100 metres of a polling place or a pre-polling venue.

Premises include buildings of any description, other structures and land (such as the street).

Given the evolving Delta strain outbreak, candidates and parties should be prepared that directions limiting posters and how-to-votes may be made by the Electoral Commissioner across NSW.

This will heavily distort the vote as worthy ideas or candidates are unable to reach you for your consideration.
I have found that a diversity of ideas and skills makes our Council better, and I believe this is what the community wants and deserves.
 
The answer: Sit up. Tune in. Ask questions.
 
In 1864, Abraham Lincoln held an election in the middle of a civil war.
In 1944, Roosevelt did the same during WW2.
Australia held two wartime elections in 1940 and 1943.
In the UK, there were 141 by-elections held during WW2.
If they could hold elections in emergencies like that, so can we.
 
Demand your right to vote.

The Tragedy of Afghanistan

I rarely venture into geopolitics, but what’s unfolding in Afghanistan now is a tragedy. The Taliban are resurgent, and will shortly repossess all the territory won from them after 2001. So much of our own blood and coin spilled for no gain after a twenty year war.

How must the 26,000 men and women of our own defence forces who served there think. Or the families of the 41 soliders who died. Or the many more wounded or traumatised.

And we've let down the innocent of Afghanistan - the interpreters and guides who assisted our troops, and for the children and women who are now living in fear.

Ultimately, I believe our presence in Afghanistan was just. I don't believe that any accusation of aberration from our values invalidated the rectitude of our overall mission. We were there to uphold human rights, not to abuse them. I don’t agree with the complaint that the West had no business being there. The Taliban are brutes. They banned schools, music and even kite-flying in the service of their murderous creed, even as they institutionalised child rape and a hateful, fundamentalist, medieval social order.

Under the Taliban's twisted Sharia, a woman can be publicly flogged merely for appearing on their balcony, or for wearing embroidery on their sleeve, or for drawing water from the wrong well; a man, for trimming his beard, or owning a phone.

I ask: what does cynicism gain us? If one nation can do anything to bring the rule of law, adherence to international norms, or human dignity to another, surely we should try? Imagine if Australia had taken the view that the struggle against Nazism in Europe was too distant or irrelevant for us to bother with. Opposing evil is a generational moral duty.

Worse, the West's withdrawal makes the world a more dangerous place. Afghanistan will again become an incubator for Islamic fundamentalism. The bitter fruit of that may lay years in our future. The next Osama Bin Laden sleeps safer now than he did last year.

I think of Nobel Peace Prise winner Malala Yousafzai, raised in the Afghan borderlands. She was shot on a bus for daring merely to attend school. I weep when I think that there are a million Malala’s in Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan whose voices will now be brutally silenced.

The fact that the war became intractable did not mean that the cause was not just. I think too much commentary fails to make that distinction.

It’s not that I don’t accept the finality or necessity of our withdrawal – we couldn’t stay in an open-ended engagement forever. Just that our failure should grieve us all. Our failure to maintain the political will to get the job done. Our failure to the people of Afghanistan.

I'm reminded of Thomas Friedman's argument in The Lexus and the Olive Tree that likens nations to computers. You can't boot "DosCapital 6.0" as he put it (modern democratic institutions, independent judiciary, universal franchise, free press) on medieval hardware (a social system based on tribalism and superstition). This explains why Germany and Japan in defeat after WW2 became model international citizens, and Afghanistan, after 20 years and $2 trillion of war and nation building, has not.

Being a reader of history also reminds me that this intractability was foretold a century before the West, or the Soviets got mired there.

A Young Winston Churchill didn’t hold back when he served in Afghanistan in the Malakand campaign in 1897. In the same deployment that had him famously quip “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result”, he also formed a pointed view of the complexities of the region. He wrote a famous, and lengthy account:

“...Every tribesman has a blood feud with his neighbor. Every man's hand is against the other, and all against the stranger… the weapons of the nineteenth century in the hands of savages of the Stone Age.”

“Every influence, every motive, that provokes the spirit of murder among men, impels these mountaineers to deeds of treachery and violence... That religion, which above all others was founded and propagated by the sword—the tenets and principles of which are instinct with incentives to slaughter and which in three continents has produced fighting breeds of men—stimulates a wild and merciless fanaticism.”

“The love of plunder, always a characteristic of hill tribes, is fostered by the spectacle of opulence and luxury which, to their eyes, the cities and plains of the south display.”

“And all are held in the grip of miserable superstition, which exposes them to the rapacity and tyranny of a numerous priesthood— the Mullahs, who live free at the expense of the people. More than this, they enjoy a sort of ‘droit du seigneur’ [right to rape a woman on their wedding night] and no man's wife or daughter is safe from them. Of some of their manners and morals it is impossible to write.”

Like most people fortunate to be born into an age of peace, I am appalled by war, and repulsed by those who glorify it.

But if the might of our armies cannot be employed to lift the faces of people so downtrodden, then what is all our power for?

People are hard on the idea of “Empire” these days. But I remember what Lord Curzon, Governor General and viceroy of India said when he was asked what the noblesse oblige of the West was. He said in a 1905 speech:

“To fight for the right, to abhor the imperfect, the unjust or the mean, to swerve neither to the right nor to the left, to care nothing for flattery or applause or odium or abuse… but to remember that the Almighty has placed your hand on the greatest of his ploughs… to drive the blade a little forward in your time, and to feel that somewhere among these millions you have left a little justice or happiness or prosperity, a sense of manliness or moral dignity, a spring of patriotism, a dawn of intellectual enlightenment, or a stirring of duty, where it did not before exist. That is enough. That is the Englishman’s justification.”

Both we, and the people of Afghanistan will suffer the consequences of our failure to eliminate the Taliban.

 

 


Further delays to the Grose River Bridge should make you cranky

https://youtu.be/FuF-kUkjoSY

The Redbank project, and associated wrangling over the promised Grose River Bridge crossing goes all the way back to 2008.

So if you're angry or confused about why it seems that this infrastructure keeps receding to the horizon, then I'm with you.

Why is it taking so long? And why, after this week’s Council meeting, is it going to be delayed even more?

Here's what you need to know. This video lays out the timeline of this issue.

I have been on about this issue for this entire term of Council.

From 2016:

https://councillorzamprogno.info/2016/10/15/about-the-redbank-development-at-north-richmond/

And 2017:

https://councillorzamprogno.info/2017/04/10/about-the-grose-river-bridge-and-the-redbank-development/

 

 


Why you should be angry about reckless election-season posturing

If there was any doubt that the election silly-season is upon us, this week's Council meeting should leave you in no doubt.

Two things in particular stand out – variations on the same theme, one might say.

Two motions came to Council, calling for us to abandon our relationship in two regional bodies, WSROC and HRCC  - one of which  we have been a member of for 73 years. I regard this as lazy, reckless vandalism parading under the patina of 'reform'.

This subject matter may feel obscure, but it's really important to understand. Here's the shortest explanation I can give you:

The Problem

In the scheme of things, Hawkesbury is a small-ish Council. Huge in area, yes, but our revenue base is only one-third of that of our neighbours, like Penrith and Hills, and less than a fifth the size of Blacktown (source data). That means that there are times where it's better to band together with others to achieve good outcomes for our community.

Sometimes we do that to save money. Shared-service models are a proven way to achieve economies of scale in procurement, insurance or service delivery. In other words, bigger is better.

Sometimes, it's because there are some issues that don't stop at Council's borders, and good sense requires a regional approach, like ensuring the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river.

And sometimes, we do it to stand with other local governments and speak with a common voice. When bullies (usually other tiers of government) shift cost burdens to ratepayers, overlook the concerns particular to western Sydney, or issues are more appropriate for local governments to take the lead, then it's good to have friends.

All these reasons, among others, were why our Council has long maintained membership of HRCC and WSROC.

WSROC, the Western Sydney Organisation of Councils was created in 1973 and Hawkesbury may be a founding member. If so, we've remained associated with it for 48 years because it has been strongly in our interests to do so. Councils come and go over the years based on shifting assessment of value, just like it's always been an evolving patchwork quilt of political views. But for Hawkesbury, it remains a valuable relationship for us because of our size. Our former Labor Mayor, Councillor Barry Calvert is the President of WSROC, and I am our Council's other delegate and Director, so I'd say we represent non-partisan representation. The positions are unremunerated.

Similarly HRCC, the Hawkesbury River County Council was founded in 1948 and looks after weed control and waterway health across a four Council area including Hawkesbury, Penrith, Blacktown and Hills. It's one of those bodies most people have heard of but know little about, despite the fact it serves over 830,000 western Sydney residents. It's a fully constituted Council in its own right and governed by the same legislation as other larger Councils. It just overlaps the jurisdiction of municipal Councils and has a particular focus – these days governed by the Biosecurity Act. I have been a member of the HRCC Board since 2016 and Chairman since 2019.

Hawkesbury River County Council

What HRCC does is an unalloyed good. In 2004 the Hawkesbury Nepean River was hopelessly choked with weeds. New resources allowed HRCC to clear it and another outbreak of that scale has never happened since. Recently, we kept the river clear of weeds so that our Olympic rowing team could train on the river at their facility at Penrith - and Rowing Australia have been strident in expressing concern and support for us while we've been wrangling with the State Government who have cut our operational funding for weed activities on the river. I've taken that the fight directly to the Federal Assistant Environment Minister, Trevor Evans.

There's so much good that HRCC and its staff do: It has been in the vanguard to sponsor bush regeneration schemes, like the Blue Mountains Shale Cap Forest Project I launched at Bilpin last year. I've raised awareness of its Landcare and creek health initiatives for years. Here's a lovely example of an Echidna spotted by HRCC staff working near the Friendship Bridge over Bardanarang Creek at Pitt Town, a location I've helped clean up myself, and hopefully evidence of improving ecological health.

However, at this week's Council meeting, Labor Councillor Amanda Kotlash brought a motion to Council which proposed, in part to "ask the Minister to dissolve HRCC as a County Council but keep its structure and function and annex it to one of the constituent councils."

HRCC, headquartered in the Hawkesbury at South Windsor

I think that's an absolutely irresponsible proposition, and profoundly counter to our interests. Here are the facts:

Hawkesbury Council contributes ~$200,000p.a. for membership of HRCC - about 0.2% of our income. The four Councils contribute equally despite the fact that the Hawkesbury comprises 73% of the area covered. The County Council is headquartered in the Hawkesbury (in Walker St at South Windsor). Arguably we get the lion's share of benefit from this arrangement, to which the four member Councils are bound by legislation.

These membership dues make up roughly half of the HRCC's income, the rest coming from grants and funded programs. A report we received in April stated that works undertaken in the Hawkesbury LGA in the F.Y were valued at $471,510. Further, if we were to "go solo" and become our own "Local Control Authority" it would cost Hawkesbury over $610,000p.a. to get the same results, given that HRCC has significant economies of scale, unique plant and equipment, and access to grant funding.

In short: We get massive value, hugely in excess of our membership fee, for this long-standing relationship. It works, and it works well.

HRCC's successful model for service delivery has been confirmed and reaffirmed over and over: By a NSW Independent Local Government Review in 2013, by a NSW Weeds Review in 2014, in part by the 2015-2017 "Fit for the Future" process, and now through our own Council's assessment of the costs of exiting the partnership.

Dissolving the HRCC and gifting it to one of the member Councils (she doesn't suggest which), would break the very co-operative model that has grown up between the four Councils over many decades. I can attest that the Board I lead is, with this exception, ecumenical, friendly, and supportive. The proposition to dissolve HRCC has, at time of writing, zero support from the other member Councils.

I labelled the motion reckless because the debate simply sailed straight past these facts - even the report commissioned specifically from our own staff that showed this partnership delivers outstanding value. Not a word was said that attempted to negate or contextualise that data as so wrong that breaking up HRCC after 73 years is the best option.

I'm not shy about questioning long-standing arrangements, and I have been very critical in this term of Council to ensure everything we do has an adequate justification and delivers value. There are no sacred cows for me. Why is my favourite question. HRCC wrestles with an increased regulatory and reporting burden, and like any organisation, balances the tension between admin overheads and front-line staff. But the motion suggesting that dissolving HRCC will release 'wasted' overheads for other uses is just not true.

This motion was, in my opinion, lazy and misguided. However, the motion passed. It is unlikely to result in the dissolution of HRCC given the zero buy-in of the other Councils and the legislative hurdles to unravelling. For those interested in such things, the other Liberal Councillors voted against me.

WSROC - The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils

Five years ago, Council commissioned a report about whether Hawkesbury should remain as a member of WSROC. Frankly, that boggles me. Five years. Why this report has taken this long arrive was not explained.

Whatever the reason, the report laid out the case very well. WSROC membership costs Hawkesbury $92,000p.a, or 0.08% of our total income. Membership has allowed us to access annual joint procurement savings which exceeded $2.9M across the member Councils.

Hawkesbury specifically saved $87,000 over two consecutive years through one initiative alone - the Western Sydney Energy Program (a program that saved Councils a cumulative $15.8M over its lifetime and saved the emissions of 380,000 tonnes of CO2), and we saved a cumulative $145,196 through participation in the Light Years Ahead street lighting scheme.

Meaning, our membership easily pays for itself, to say nothing of the ability for Hawkesbury to punch above its weight as part of a larger voice for western Sydney.

WSROC has pioneered a number of initiatives involving urban heat, reducing the waste going to landfill and into waterways, hosted 48 forums on regional co-operation, met with Ministers over a dozen times to represent regional concerns, secured $413,000 of funding beyond membership dues to deliver on strategic priorities, and led conversations with government over sustainability and resilience, including with Resilience NSW Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons.

WSROC Directors with former RFS, now Resilience NSW Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons.

 

Given these focus areas, I am baffled that the Greens and left-leaning independents would vote against ongoing WSROC membership. There is simply no better vehicle for our Council to pursue issues like urban heat, climate change, energy efficiency, resilience, sustainability, and waste than WSROC. But they were happy to throw it all away to score a political point.

Despite the findings of the report, Councillor Emma-Jane Garrow brought a motion to discontinue our membership in WSROC, effective immediately.

Clr Garrow never approached myself or Councillor Calvert to ask us if we felt our membership still represented value. She's never attended a WSROC meeting. She didn't address a single word to the report that Council staff wrote to cast doubt on its statistics laying out the cost-benefit of our membership. Vague sentiments were offered about our Council being able to participate in some of WSROC's initiatives in an ad-hoc fashion as non-members, but this was not backed with any data as to which, how, or why this would be a better option for us. Clr Peter Reynolds said that WSROC has an "East-West" focus when what we need is a "North-South" focus, when that's precisely what WSROC have been pivoting to, especially in relation to the airport rail link.

Those who supported Clr Garrow's motion offered ill-informed opinions, but no facts. Thankfully the motion was defeated, with a replacement motion tasking Council to write to WSROC to ask them to re-iterate the financial and other benefits of our ongoing membership.

Those who voted to withdraw from WSROC were Clrs Garrow, Rasmussen, Lyons-Buckett, Wheeler, & Reynolds. Supporting retention were myself, and Clrs Conolly, Calvert, Richards, Kotlash, Tree and Ross.

Lazy, reckless, ill-informed decision making

I am sick of Council meetings where Councillors make decisions based on whims and personal antipathies rather than hard data. Sometimes, it's obvious they haven't read (or don't like) the data that Council staff include in the reports that come to Council. Just like I'm sick of Council staff holding workshops and briefings on key issues and finding I'm one of only 3 or 4 Councillors that turn up. This week we held the latest of eight different workshops for us to examine the decade-overdue revamp of our planning instruments (our DCP and LEP). It's a massive job, and the most consequential thing I'll do in this term of Council. I've attended all of them. Most, including this week's workshop had four Councillors in attendance for the bulk of that time. Not good enough.

In my view, this twice-delayed election can't come too quickly.

The audio of the debate that encompasses the two motions I discuss are at Council's SoundCloud account. The Business paper for the Council meeting is here.

 


A Win For Colbee Park Users – A Masterplan... And $573K in Funding!

With members of the Oakville Raiders Baseball club and Hawkesbury Sports Council President Les Sheather

 

Overwhelmingly, the biggest problem Council has with developing masterplans for our parks is there is no money allocated to execute the plans once they're made. In this term I have lamented that community consultation and masterplanning processes raise community expectations, only to dash them with no follow-through.

Take Colbee Park in McGraths Hill as an example. It is one of our most used, and most neglected sports fields. I should know, as a Soccer Dad whose child’s club was based at the park for a decade.

I've been engaged in a long campaign of engagement and advocacy to get some funding for improvements to the park.

The process for developing a Masterplan for the park has taken two years. Community consultation began in August 2019, and received a surprisingly strong response, with 152 online survey responses.

In September 2020, Council exhibited a Draft Masterplan, and I engaged with various stakeholder groups such as the Oakville United Soccer Club, the Oakville Raiders Baseball Club, and the Hawkesbury Hornets BMX Club to ask if the plan met their current and future needs. The response was mixed, with feedback mentioning limited vehicular access to the BMX track, a lack of lighting (making Colbee the only competitive BMX track in Sydney without lights), noting the susceptibility of the park to low-level flooding, and suggesting storage be moved to higher ground.

Crucially, and as was observed by the media at the time (in September 2020), no money was in prospect to build the improvements to the park.

 

Hopefully, this will change now. I moved for Council to adopt the new masterplan for Colbee Park at our meeting tonight. It was passed unanimously, and after my advocacy last year, I'm pleased to say that $573,000 has been allocated in the 2021-2022 Budget. This is not enough to complete all the improvements, but it's an excellent start. These funds will allow core or 'enabling works' that facilitate future improvements, and will benefit the whole park (not just any one user-group).

I am convinced that only by having a local Councillor continue to advocate for future budgetary commitments, will this program continue to advance. I didn't hear any other Councillor advocating for Colbee Park. No other Councillor lives in the area. I do.

Many of the earlier issues raised by stakeholders have been addressed, and I've contacted each of them to verify they are satisfied with the final plan.

The masterplan documents are available at Council's website (meeting of 27 July 2021, item 140).

Helping to clean up Colbee Park at a May 2021 Council post-flood cleanup day, with Federal MP Susan Templeman (we were the only two volunteers who turned up!)

 

Colbee Park Soccer Dad!

We should look after Jenolan Caves better

Today's post isn't about the Hawkesbury, but of a dearly loved tourist destination nearby in the Blue Mountains I am sure many of you have visited.

In January I took a few days' holiday and visited Katoomba, Bilpin and Jenolan Caves. The Caves have been a special place for me over my entire life. I did my work experience there as a cave guide in year 10. I spelunked there with the Sydney University Speleological Society in my Uni days. I hiked the Six Foot Track. I led school science excursions there for many years.

I was immediately saddened by the catastrophic damage wrought by the 2020 bushfires, and an earlier flood. But apart from the damage caused by disaster, I observed a precinct looking rather run down and worn. Essential maintenance has not occurred. Some caves are no longer shown because the paths and wiring have not been upgraded. The on-site staff quarters have been condemned, meaning people have to commute in. The small but historic on-site Caves community is dying. The caver's cottage, beloved in my memory and used as a springboard by speleological societies for research into the karst area, burned to the ground. The Devil's Coachhouse and Blue Lake walk both closed because damaged railings have not been replaced and of a perceived risk of rockfalls.

I immediately wrote to the local MP, Paul Toole and the relevant Minister, Matt Kean to seek urgent intervention.

 

I'm pleased that my call for funding and remediation works for this internationally recognised environmental treasure and tourism gem has been heeded. Today, an additional $7.9M of funding has been announced to repair damage, and takes the Government's total commitment to the precinct to over $20M.

I thank MP Toole and the Minister for recognising the value of Jenolan Caves.


What you need to know about COVID

(The text below references slides presented in the video. Watch the video.)

Recently, I went to Canberra to attend Australian Local Government Assembly.

It was a great opportunity to meet with a range of agencies and organisations to learn how to serve the community better.

We were briefed about the COVID global pandemic. Some of the statistics presented were new to me and really surprised me, and I wanted to share them with you.

One briefing was from Professor Mary Louise McLaws, an epidemiologist from the University of NSW. The professor had some chilling statistics about COVID and vaccine effectiveness.

Another was from Danielle Wood, the CEO of the Grattan Institute - a heavyweight and independent economic think tank. Danielle spoke about the economic impacts of the pandemic.

I'm relying on the notes and pictures I took of the presentation slides, and offer attribution and thanks to the respective authors.

The first insight relates to just how different the Delta strain of the COVID virus is compared to what we're used to

There are three attributes of concern in a virus:
How catchy it is, how long you can have it without manifesting symptoms, allowing people to become unwitting super-spreaders, and how deadly it is once you have it.

Delta is worse in two out of those three.

This new strain, which originated in Maharashtra State in India is between 70% and 90% more virulent than the strain we were dealing with for most of last year.

People can carry Delta for longer without realising it.

So, containment strategies are even more important - face masks, stay at home orders and lockdowns.

On the other side, there's evidence that Delta may be slightly less lethal, possibly because it seems to hit younger people, who are better able to fight it off. That makes this week's announcement that people under 40 can get vaccinated is a game-changer.

Concerning vaccines: Both the Astra Zeneca and Pfizer vaccines are overwhelmingly safe.

If there's one message above all others, it's this: please get vaccinated, as soon as you can. Book it with your GP, hop on to the Service NSW app.

According to John Dwyer, Immunologist and Emeritus Professor of Medicine at UNSW, only one person per million is likely to die of the complications of thrombosis associated with vaccination. You're far more likely to die of COVID if you're not vaccinated.

There was something on the news last night that really drove home that point:

However, there is something worth knowing about the relative effectiveness of the two vaccines, made by Astra Zeneca and Pfizer.

Both vaccines are less effective against the Delta strain than the old strain.
The data clearly shows it's critically important that you get both doses, and that your immunity can more than double after the second dose.
Also, the Pfizer vaccine is somewhat more effective overall.

But that shouldn't make you an Astra-Zeneca holdout. The best vaccine, bar none, is the one that's available, and soon. Don't wait, if there's no medical reason not to.

Next, here's what you need to know about the profile of outbreaks.
Data from the Victorian outbreak in May, and the Sydney outbreak before Christmas showed that outbreaks have peaked in 14 days, taken as a 14-day average.
The last NSW outbreak ended after 33 days and the return to baseline levels - usually seen as the necessary for lightened restrictions is 46 days.

We're at the end of the first week of the new Sydney outbreak, but these figures may have been for the less catchy strain, so we have a long way to go.

Next, the statistics overwhelmingly show that breaches in our quarantine system are to blame for outbreaks, and no particular state deserves all the blame. The NSW system fares better than most - being run by the ADF and police. Outsourced arrangements fare poorly, and the general message is that, from an economic perspective, the cost of a purpose built facility is cheaper than the cost of even a single major city lockdown.

There used to be a time when this was self-evident.

Quarantine, like the defence of the nation, customs and border control, is a Federal responsibility, not the States. It's right there in the Constitution.

Those of you who, like me, have visited the Sydney Quarantine station know that this is how our forebears, better acquainted with disease than we it seems, dealt with quarantine. The The data shows that Hotels are not optimal quarantine venues.

Next, is where we are compared to the rest of the world.

Israel have fully vaccinated 57% of their population.
The UK, 49% the US, 47%, and Singapore, 36%

At 28th June, only 4.7% of people have been fully vaccinated (although 23.9% of Australians have had one dose).

However, this is also because in Australia there have been only 910 deaths in total from COVID, while in the US for example, the toll now tops 604,000.

In terms of deaths per capita, worldwide, we are spectacularly lucky.
In Peru 5,893 per million head of population have died (x164)
In the U.K. it's 1,913, and 1,832 in the U.S.
In Australia the figure is only 36 deaths per million. That's between 51 and 164 times lower mortality than the others, and that's largely because our governments took the relevant scientific advice early and implemented measures.

We would need to deliver 155,000 jabs a month, using all available vaccine types, to get to herd immunity by the end of the year. We're currently tracking at about 110,000 doses per month.

Unfortunately, so called ‘Vaccine hesitancy' is a major risk, with 26% percent of survey respondents stating they're unlikely to get the jab.
Without herd immunity, usually cited as 85%, 90% or higher in a community, outbreaks can still occur.

A breakdown of the numbers shows that only 5% of those who are hesitant are your stereotypical tinfoil hat wearing anti-vaxxer - and I use that term advisedly: those misguided people are endangering us all.

But most people who are hesitant have legitimate concerns about the potential side effects for their age group, have particular medical circumstances, or just want more information, which is why I'm making this video.

Vaccination is safe and effective, the side effects are rare, and the benefits outweigh the very small risks.

And here's some facts about the economic impacts of COVID.

COVID delivered the biggest temporary hit to Australia's growth since records started being kept in 1930. It beats every other economic downturn, hands down

But this chart shows that not only is the relative death toll lower for Australia, but the relative economic impact has been far lower than for other developed nations. The UK, EU and Canada have all been hit harder economically speaking.

But relative to other economic downturns, such as the GFC of 2007, or the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, the overall impact of COVID has been shallower.

It doesn't seem like that, because its impact has been so much more visible and has hit vulnerable sectors of the economy. The recovery is likely to be stronger, much stronger than coming back from other downturns, because the dip was artificially induced, rather than any due to any deficiency in underlying demand.

Disposable income to Australian households is higher now than before the crisis, although I disagree with this chart because it does not show the differential effect of COVID on different people - those working in the service and retail economy might not feel better off at all.

But to employ a metaphor, the economy is running on sugar at the moment. A massive stimulus spike, funded by… us, the taxpayer.

The net result is deficits, as far as the eye can see.

Although it's worth observing, when we compare the predictions of recovery from this crisis with the predictions made at the heights of others, the track record of economic forecasters and governments only have two things in common - they are spectacularly optimistic, and usually wrong.

I am concerned that what has been termed “Modern Monetary Theory” abandons the idea of debt as bad.

Running surplus budgets and lowering public debt used to be an article of faith for right of centre, fiscally prudent governments.

My own view is that of Edmund Burke, the father of modern Conservatism:

“Society is a contract, between those who have gone before, those alive today, and those who are yet to be born”

We should not be in doubt. The money that the government has borrowed to meet the needs of the current emergency does not come from nowhere.
It's borrowed from future generations.


Raising awareness of the need for Hawkesbury-Nepean River Health

I was pleased to join the Federal MP for Lindsay, Melissa McIntosh as she hosted a visit to the Hawkesbury-Nepean River of the Federal Assistant Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Trevor Evans MP.

The purpose of the visit was to raise awareness of river health, a responsibility I share as the Chairman of the Hawkesbury River County Council, which covers four Council areas and much of the river from Warragamba to Wiseman's Ferry.

We have specialised plant and equipment at HRCC which is essential to keep the river free of weeds, and were disappointed when the State Government pulled some key operational funding last year - just as we completed the salvage, refurbishment and recommissioning of our giant 'Weedosaurus' harvester with a $130,000 Federal grant.

My belief is that taxpayers, to say nothing of key river user groups like Rowing Australia, representing our Olympic team training on the river for the Tokyo games, expect the tiers of government to work together co-operatively to undertake this critical and ongoing work.

Minister Evans was a thoughtful listener and we gave him a detailed account of the effects of the floods earlier this year, the temporary reprieve it has given us as it flushed the river, and the short-sightedness of forcing us to sell our plant and equipment when weeds, like grass, will inevitably grow back. This is a warning I have delivered before.

The above story appears in this week's Western Weekender, and follows earlier coverage back in February.

A Salvinia outbreak that choked the Hawkesbury River in 2004. We can't go back this.