St Joseph's Church, St Albans

At Council last night we were presented with the application for the use of the restored St Joseph's church at St Albans as an accomodation and function venue. We had originally considered this application before Christmas but it was felt that a site visit would be useful for Councillors to be able to appreciate the merits (and concerns raised) over the application. I was pleased to visit the site recently.

Steve Kavanagh, the owner and restorer of this beautiful and historic building really should be commended for his passion, hard work and creativity. When he took on the building, it had been a roofless ruin since a fire in the 1840s. Mature trees had grown up through the original roofline amid the crumbling stone. When the church was founded (building commenced in 1839), it was the largest sandstone building outside Sydney.

Councillors were presented with the need to balance the proposed use of the site as an accomodation and function venue with the understandable desire of near neighbours to the peace and quiet which is distinctive of the Macdonald Valley. I listened carefully to the concerns raised at the meeting.

I felt that the conditions of consent proposed by Council adequately addressed those issues. Constraints on the days and hours of operation, which side of the building on which outdoor activities could occur, and the installation of noise-limiting technology that physically cuts the power if certain levels are exceeded certainly demonstrated, in my mind, a willingness of the applicants to be a good neighbour. Similarly, issues about campers and parking appear to have been addressed through appropriate signage and the use of a bond for bookers of the venue.

The recommendation of Council staff was to approve the application, and my Liberal Councillor colleagues, Clr. Richards and Clr. Conolly, agreed with me that this was precisely the kind of sympathetic tourist development we need in the Hawkesbury (Councillors Tree and Calvert were absent). Regretfully the Mayor, Mrs Lyons-Buckett, all the independent Councillors with the exception of Clr. Rasmussen, and Labor Councillor Kotlash voted the application down and the venue will be directed to shut down as a function venue from May 2017. I am informed that bookings had been accepted through until well into 2018, and that up to 20 local businesses will now be denied the aura of economic activity that the venue encouraged (including other accomodation venues, function planners, caterers, celebrants and providers of transport).

It's a bit rich, when we talk almost continually about tourism being the spine of our prosperity in the Hawkesbury, and especially in scenic areas like the Macdonald Valley,  and we have a historic and beautifully restored venue like this appearing in the national media (the kind of exposure money can't buy) only to find some Councillors voting in this way. It's a poor outcome, and it defies my understanding.


Let's Celebrate Australia Day!

Happy Australia Day, everyone.

I am fiercely proud that on this day, we remember the pioneers, mostly British, who came from the other side of the world to a wondrous, yet challenging land. They built a prosperous and peaceable society from nothing, which is now the envy of the world. Could you?

This is the day to honour the spirit of a people who have an innate ability to punch above their weight. Who respect the idea of a fair go. Who cheer for the underdog.

Even though we're the best nation on Earth, we can laugh at ourselves, and we're happy to prick the egos of the self-important.

We are a people who will always come to the aid of a friend. We've laid it on the line to protect freedom and decency in the crucible of war, and we have paid with our dearest blood. We'll welcome you in with open arms if you work hard, respect our values, speak our language, and value your Aussieness over all other national, cultural or religious identities.

Our patriotism rarely descends to jingoism, but is grounded by our laconic good sense and an effective (and distinctly Aussie) BS-filter.

Here's a great thing about Australia: It doesn’t matter the colour of your skin, or your accent. We all came from somewhere. Some of us just came more recently than others. There are no “first Australians” and then the rest of us. There’s just…. All of us. Equal, without pretentiousness. If you pitch in, and respect the remarkable legacy of our young nation, then you’re a mate. Welcome!

This is our day. If you don't feel like you're a part of it, then it's only because you haven't accepted the invitation. This is not a day to wallow in recrimination, cast accusations, or judge our forebears by the different standards of today. No one is trying to exclude you, and no one says our nation, or any nation, is without faults. Just understand that this isn't what Australia Day is about. You’re welcome to join us--  We're looking forward, not back.

We're a youthful, peaceful, democratic, pluralist, secular, lawful, compassionate, innovative and good-humoured country. That's worth celebrating!


Scheyville silos, 2006

The forgotten history of Scheyville and Pitt Town

Scheyville silos, 2006

I value our wonderful history here in the Hawkesbury, and as a Councillor I want to do what I can to help other people get excited about it too. The late Dr Stubbs, when he was on Council was always a wonderful exponent of our history, and wrote extensively on many local topics, as well as being President of the Hawkesbury Historical Society. One subject that was very dear to him was the history of the Pitt Town, Scheyville and Oakville areas, since this is where he (and I) grew up.

Before Christmas, I had the opportunity of attending the graduating parade of the Cadet unit from 336SQN RAAF Richmond. They decided to hold the graduating parade on the parade grounds at the old base at Scheyville as a way of commemorating the military history of the precinct, and it inspired me to complete a project I began nearly a decade ago.

In 1983 Rex and Linda Stubbs completed a book on the history of the Scheyville area, which included key events from the history of Pitt Town as well. This excellent and concise work has been available in Windsor Library ever since, but has been inaccessible to  students, historians and researchers using the Internet, being only available in hard-copy.

It has long been my desire to update, digitise and republish the Stubbs' work, and the school holiday break afforded to me as a teacher has granted me the time to complete this.

It is therefore with much pleasure that I republish electronically, for the first time, Rex and Linda Stubbs' "A History of Scheyville".

Scheyville History book front page

Click the above image for the PDF file.

I owe many thanks to Linda Stubbs for her gracious permission to permit this republishing, and to Kylie Lowe for her editing support.

The book contains several fascinating (and partly forgotten) stories about how the Hawkesbury shaped early Australia; stories which deserve to be more widely known.

Did you know that an early (and failed) experiment in Australian socialism occurred at Pitt Town? If the experiment had succeeded, would Australia have become a Socialist workers paradise?

Did you know about the time that the new Australian government almost literally beat swords into ploughshares by taking money put aside for a battleship and instead spent it on training young British lads to become Aussie farmers? It happened right here.

Did you know about the major military installation, now defunct, that trained young officers such as Jeff Kennett (former Victorian Premier) and Tim Fischer (former Australian Deputy Prime Minister)? Right here in the Hawkesbury.

Did you know that there is an entire ghost town nestled in one of our national parks, which in its day had its own cinema and school, and now abandoned?

If you can, get out to Scheyville National Park one afternoon and walk some of the well-signposted trails that tell the story of this jewel in the Hawkesbury.


Is the Hawkesbury a Shire or are we a City?

I still remember that when I was a kid in 1989, "Hawkesbury Shire Council" changed its name to "Hawkesbury City Council".

I wondered then, as I do now, why we bothered. It seemed a pointless gesture which worked actively against the identity most locals held about the area. I believe it sprang from an erroneous sense of inadequacy, and that we lost nothing by continuing to be known as a Shire.

Did you know the word Shire is a Saxon word, whereas County is its Norman equivalent? And a city, as our late Mayor Rex Stubbs used to explain to me, was a "town large enough to have its main church called a cathedral". Despite Rex's romantic penchant for referring to our historic St Matthew's church (this year celebrating its bicentenary!) as the "Cathedral of the Hawkesbury", I'm afraid I just don't buy it. We don't have to be a city. Let's look at some numbers.

Types of Council across NSW
Types of Council across NSW. (Source)

There are (subject to the ongoing vagaries of the Council amalgamation process), presently 128 Councils in NSW. The City of Hawkesbury has a population of 66,134 (per 2015 ABS Statistics). It's just a fact that plenty of Councils bigger than us are perfectly happy to continue to be known as "Shires", even when given recent opportunities to re-name. Look at Hornsby Shire (population: 156,847), Hills Shire Council (169,872), or Sutherland Shire (210,863). The latter is three times our size, and they feel no need to "upgrade". And no-one could accuse our near neighbour in The Hills Shire for being less dynamic or future-oriented. Further, their adherence to the word Shire is not an anachronism, considering they had the opportunity to re-brand themselves as a "city" when they changed from "Baulkham Hills Shire Council" (a name in use since 1906) to "The Hills Shire Council" in  November 2008. And look at that area now!

I've always held the belief that the word "Shire" was more pleasant than "City", both for its ancient linguistic roots, but also its evocation of bucolic, open spaces.

The term Shire, in our case, used to reflect the fact that we were precisely not a bustling, congested, urbanised polis. We lay... between. We were between Sydney city proper and the country. The trendy term now in use is "peri-urban", but I find this to be a little pretentious. One could speculate that Tolkien would never have used such a Newspeak word when trying to evoke his sylvan idyll. The recent process I engaged in to draft our new Community Strategic Plan underlined that  what we aspire to as our identity is largely defined by our semi-rural aspect. Our mix of habitation, agriculture, and protected environmental spaces is well described with the word "Shire".  The word "City" just seems to convey the opposite to me, and, considering our population and neighbours who don't use the word, makes us look more than a little self-conscious.

Should the Hawkesbury remain as a City, or go back to our old name of "Hawkesbury Shire"? I think we should, even while I acknowledge that there is probably little appetite for the change. Further, there would be the cost of changing all our signage, letterheads and other livery -- and I would absolutely oppose that needless expense while we have more important matters to attend to as we pursue long term financial sustainability as a Council.

What do you think? I'm interested in knowing.


A community meeting at Pitt Town about the NBN rollout

About NBN towers and the rollout of fixed wireless

A community meeting at Pitt Town about the NBN rollout
A community meeting at Pitt Town about the NBN rollout

We've all waited far too long for better Internet broadband in the Hawkesbury, especially for many of the rural and acreage properties in the district.

Frustratingly, there isn't much of the newer, faster NBN broadband outside the Richmond/Windsor area, excepting the northern fringe of the larger urban rollout that has petered out just at the southern edge of Oakville. I'm as frustrated as the rest of you -- faster broadband was promised to us years ago, and promised schedules only a year old were broken almost immediately.

NBNCO have been running community information sessions around the Hawkesbury as part of the process of the ongoing build process. I attended one of them recently at Pitt Town Sports Club, but others are being held for pending locations at Maraylya, Wilberforce, Cattai and elsewhere.

The most significant development announced was NBNCO's intention to roll out broadband via what they call "fixed wireless" rather than by the "fibre to the premises" (FTTP) method used to date. Fixed Wireless is supposed to be different in execution to the kind of cellular network you use for your mobile phones -- each tower will serve up to about 100 houses and each house will have a directional dish and a point-to-point link back to the local tower with a guaranteed amount of bandwidth (unlike your cellular mobile phone, where all bandwidth is shared). Unfortunately, fixed wireless at launch will give about half the bandwidth fibre would deliver (50Mbps down and 20Mbps up for fixed wireless, versus 100Mbps down and 40Mbps up for fibre), even though this is still far better than most people are getting now through their ADSL2 connections over Copper. For example, I measured the bandwidth of my ADSL2 connection at Oakville just now using Speedtest.net and got 2.58Mbps down and 0.75Mbps up. That's awful! -- worse than ADSL1, but I know that it's because I'm over 5km from the local exchange. Attenuation over copper is a  fundamental limitation of ADSL, so there's nothing to be done about it.

NBN -- in any guise, is a huge step up.

Hawkesbury NBN progress at December 2016. Purple is active now - brown is "under construction".

So, it might seem that anyone who was originally promised fibre but is now being offered fixed wireless should feel unhappy. However, NBN officials promised that new-generation wireless technologies (such as 5G) will substantially boost the throughput within only a couple of years, and that customers about to get Fixed-Wireless NBN will be upgraded at that time.

Me? I'm agnostic about technology choices made NBNCO are making because the best new-era broadband for me is the one with the best chance of arriving this decade. I could hold out for something that will never arrive, or would cost me thousands of dollars to switch to. It's already overdue, let's get it done. I suspect most Hawkesbury residents feel the same way.

Anyway, these were the facts laid out at the information session. I was there in my role as a Councillor, but it's worth pointing out that Council has nothing to do with the technology choices NBNCO make, and very little to do with the process as a whole. Council acts as the consent authority for applications to install communication towers, but that's about it. The tower proposed to serve the Maraylya area, for instance, is in the Hills Shire Council area and Hawkesbury Council won't have anything to do with it.

I'm bothering to write about this because of something I learned that had nothing to do with Council. It was something I learned about human behaviour. I have noticed this before but it is newly relevant to me as a public representative.

I've worked in I.T for over 20 years, so I know a bit about technology. I studied Science method for my Masters degree in teaching, and regard myself as a Science nut. And frankly, most of the unhappy people at the (at times heated) community meeting I went to were ignorant of the scientific facts.

I saw a lot of people with genuine, but poorly founded fears about the impact of wireless technologies on their health. Even though they had lived alongside mobile phone towers for decades, they were convinced that these new NBN towers would irradiate them and give them cancer. One gentleman, on the wrong side of 60 or so it seemed, got up and proclaimed that he was worried about the effects of NBN radiation on the motility of his sperm. No, I'm not making this up.

As a politician, angry constituents made angry by something that's Not Their Fault™ are usually seen as grist for the mill, and are a prompt for soap-boxing, tub-thumping and general denunciation of the angriness-causing-thing.

However, on this occasion, I was surprised, and I felt a little embarrassed. These were people I knew personally; who were constituents in my neck of the woods. And they were, as I came to realise as I listened to them,  mostly wrong about most of the things they were anxious about. In my opinion, the NBN representatives were saintly in their patience as they fielded the many questions they received, trying to convey scientific facts to a lay audience.

But, misguided fears are not insincere fears, and the people were entitled to answers about whatever they worried about, so let's unpack them.

Radio frequency radiation is regulated by Federal standards to protect public health. The chief body is ARPANSA, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. ARPANSA has a lot of documentation describing the general risks of RF radiation, and of the risks attendant on NBN wireless technology specifically. It would appear that most people at the meeting either didn't know about that, or specifically chose to be skeptical based on other non-authoritative research they may have done on line.

What troubled me about the tone of the meeting I attended was that some people's Googling was accepted as having as much merit as ARPANSA's authoritative role n determining absolute and relative risk as regards exposure to radiation. People are always free to hold their own opinions, but are not  entitled to their own facts. This is an observation we can relate directly to the recent and inexplicable election of Donald Trump.

So let's be clear: The radio technology used in the NBN program is not harmful to human health. I'm convinced of that. If that's the basis of your objection to the NBN, then I'm afraid we just won't agree. No, Council aren't really involved anyway, but that's my view.

As a public representative, my job is to acknowledge the sincerity of concerns expressed to me, regardless of their foundation. I saw a lot of people sincerely worried about whether the move to wireless technologies to deliver the NBN was going to have a harmful health effect on them and their families. I listened carefully. However, rather than siding with them to gain political brownie points, I think it's more important to educate people and to work to dispel their fears with well-explained and factual information. Some people won't thank me for that, but it's the right thing to do. Beyond this, there are undoubted advantages to finally getting the NBN activated for the huge number of Hawkesbury residents living on acreage properties and for whom this can't come soon enough.

So, for what it's worth, I',m fully supportive of the NBN program and so long as wireless technologies eventually provide similar bandwidth as fibre (as we were promised it would), I have no objection to the mode of delivery.

-Councillor Zamprogno.


I love Trump, I hate Trump

trump_with_friends

November 13, 2016.

Today, I'm talking about Donald Trump. I'm sorry.

And who am I to add to the torrent of commentary that we've already endured on this subject? Especially when the bulk of that commentary, from pundits and pollsters who should have known better, was spectacularly wrong?

Perhaps they were missing something, and in the contemplation of that possibility, I am haunted by an adage:

"There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it."
- Larry Niven.

A week ago, I expressed the view as a Conservative that it might be better if Trump lost the election. I saw... danger. That Trump did not reflect any Conservatism I could support. This has crystallised an emerging sense I've had about what motivates me in politics, and what I stand for. I want to counter those who are desperate to dictate what Trump's election to President does and does not mean for the future of Conservative politics.

Let's start with a useful definition I've leaned on over the years as a first approximation of a Conservative philosophy.

"Competence trumps Ideology".

Apart from the (coincidental) play on words, what I mean is that no amount of high-minded intent is worth a hill of beans without the ability to execute. That Conservatism is interested in what has proven the test of time. That Conservatism is wary of grand theories and radical change.

As a teacher, I offered this truism to my students as a starter for a classroom debate when musing on the question why democracies tend to devolve into binary blocs – two parties of the so-called Left and Right.

The Left, ever thinking with their heart ("Ice cream for everyone, and damn the expense!"), but rarely delivering. Prey to all the traditional follies of socialism, but now adding the corrosive influence of woke culture and its competitive virtue signalling. Poor with money and public administration.

Meanwhile the Right, who regard parsimony as a virtue. Who invariably have to clean up the mess the other mob leave behind when the political pendulum swings back, but rarely do the "vision" thing well. And now, further split between free-marketeers and social (and often religious) conservatives. And whose claim to the mantle of good economic management is only thought safe when resisting the urge to abandon fiscal prudence and keep to small government ideals.

Is this the best we can do?

This point was driven home recently when I read a recent speech by my friend and State MP Dominic Perrottet. He was speaking to the Menzies Research Centre where he called for Conservatives to better articulate their values.

Perrottet said:

"There is a loss of faith in public institutions, the political class and its programme. People feel displaced by rapid changes in the global economy. Establishment parties overseas are perceived as being on a unity ticket – of big government globalism, crony capitalism and minority fundamentalism. The frustrated centre is rejecting this elitist agenda and looking elsewhere for solutions – ending up in the arms of reactionary parties."

Now there is a man with his finger on the pulse, considering that he spoke before the result in America was known.

So, is the choice increasingly reduced to alternating between parties that make high-sounding promises but engender disillusionment when they never deliver, and parties that run a trim ship but are perceived as being heartless econocrats while battling their own religious fringe? Surely we can do better.

Why not both?

I think we can do better. And yet, here is the danger: I believe Trump represents the worst, the absolute worst of both worlds. Because Trump doesn't promise the "both" we're all looking for. He offers neither.

Donald Trump, and the dysfunctional party that backs him is an infuriating mix. Where Trump is right, on Islamic terrorism for example, or immigration, he will have little ability to execute (despite a majority in both houses), and will apply the wrong remedy anyway. He's dead right about the dislocation and disempowerment the working class feel as the result of Globalisation, but betrays his party's philosophical roots by becoming an economic protectionist, ignorant of the benefits of comparative advantage. Trump is like a doctor that diagnoses medical problems well, but whose prescription is obsolete, like leeches and Mercury. His solutions are dead wrong, even when his diagnosis is spot-on. And where he is wrong – such as on renewable energy, or universal health coverage, or nuclear proliferation, his powers will be limited to undoing the work of others rather than proposing any better fix. I predict an ongoing split within the Republicans and an attempt at impeachment within this Presidential term. It's a dreadful situation.

Rounding our the danger is Trump's sneering anti-intellectualism, which I find contemptible.

Asimov on proud ignorance

Only Trump could suggest a young earth creationist as Secretary for Education. Or a climate-change skeptic and oil magnate to be in charge of the environment. This proud know-nothingism lays at the core of the paradox that makes America simultaneously the smartest nation on earth and the dumbest at the same time.

I oppose Trump, even as a capital "C" Conservative because I can't throw my weight behind a person who barely respects rationality, let alone Science; Who sees conspiracy theories in every corner; Who shows no sign of thinking deeply on almost any subject;  Who thinks, like Creon in Sophocles' Antigone, that his definition of loyalty to the state can be defined by his personal prejudices – and that to be outside that is treason.

And lastly, and no less important: because Trump acts as a poor role model because of his gross disrespect for women.

By any objective measure, Trump is a lightweight, vulgar con artist.

On the other hand, I feel conflicted because Trump has exploited a legitimate resentment, which I share, that has built over recent decades towards modern fads. Competitive virtue-signalling, political correctness,  victim-fetishism, identity politics, polyculturalism masquerading as multiculturalism – these have all poisoned the well of our polity. The pushback has come from people who are sick of the moral superiority asserted by regressive leftists through their lecturing about "microaggressions", "deplatforming", "safe spaces", or their refusal to mount a muscular defence of Western civilisation in favour of appeasement towards Islamic fundamentalism. Look no further than the abuses of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act for proof that this problem extends to Australia.

Analogous, well held concerns about the downside of globalisation and the need for sovereign autonomy among nation states contributed to the UK voting for Brexit in June. (Parenthetically, Australia can only benefit from a renewed and independent Britain as a member of the club of English-speaking peoples of the Commonwealth.)

So on some of these broader questions, Trump is right. Yet still, I think he is absolutely the wrong standard-bearer for Western Civilisation. It's an invidious situation, and the world will become a more dangerous place while he remains President.

How did we get here? How did Americans, in an era where fact-checks are available on everyone's smartphones, elect a man who could deny in one breath what he had said in the previous one, and then stick his chin out when he was called a liar? Specifically, how do religiously conservative voters reconcile the cognitive dissonance of supporting a man with so few scruples? I recall the advice of my favourite author, Robert Heinlein:

“The America of my time line is a laboratory example of what can happen to democracies; and what has eventually happened to all perfect democracies throughout all histories. A perfect democracy, a ‘warm body’ democracy in which every adult may vote and all votes count equally, has no internal feedback for self-correction. It depends solely on the wisdom and self-restraint of citizens… which is opposed by the folly and lack of self-restraint of other citizens. What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes his own self-interest as he sees it… which for the majority translates as ‘Bread and Circuses.’

‘Bread and Circuses’ is the cancer of democracy, the fatal disease for which there is no cure. Democracy often works beautifully at first. But once a state extends the franchise to every warm body, be he producer or parasite, that day marks the beginning of the end of the state. For when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader—the barbarians enter Rome.”

I also recall my Spinoza:

"Faith requires not so much true dogmas as pious dogmas, that is, such as move the heart to obedience; and this is so even if many of those beliefs contain not a shadow of proof."

I lament that this election heralds an era where factual correctness, moral rectitude, or depth of insight are explicitly rejected as necessary for high office.

So what's the alternative?

What would a conservative leader who actually knew their history look like? Who was as likely to quote Scruton or A.C Grayling as Hayek or Von Mises in supporting their worldview? Who, if they had to seek a sense of the numinous, looked to the revelations of the Large Hadron Collider, the Hubble Telescope or a gene sequencer before they looked to a holy book? Carl Sagan said "Science, properly practiced, is a kind of informed worship". Why can't that be enough? Why can't we have a Conservative leader whose hero is Carl Sagan or Neil DeGrasse Tyson? Why should they "belong" to the Left? Science is cool!

What would a conservative leader look like  who spoke unapologetically about Western Civilisation being objectively, measurably better that its alternatives? Who was able to demolish the intellectual impostures of cultural relativism and postmodernism, and who built and articulated an intelligent and publicly compelling case for the subsequent and necessary decisions on immigration, foreign policy and defence, instead of calling names and threatening political opponents with gaol?

A leader who, as John Howard says “Can win arguments, not just elections.”

What would a conservative leader look like who understood that we live in a society, not just an economy, and who admits that although free-markets consistently deliver greater wealth, some regulation and accountability are necessary to ensure that this wealth is not distributed unfairly? Who can admit that universal health-care is not socialism, but rather something that many countries have supported with bilateral zeal for half a century? That such boons are the patrimony of prosperous and humane societies?

What would a conservative leader look like who was prepared to address existential threats to civilisation such as overpopulation, climate change or resource depletion, but did so honestly? Who understood that our fundamental duty is to the generation after our own, more even than to our own? Who prioritises science funding, and space exploration? Who acknowledges our Judeo-Christian heritage at the same time as respecting the necessity of separation between church and state? Who was welcome to be a practicing Christian, but refused to wear it on their sleeve or ram it down your throat?

Whose attention span was longer than a tweet?

Maybe I'm asking too much. Maybe I'm asking for a conservative Jeb Bartlett. Maybe I'm fantasising that the nightmare will end when the Trump suit is unzipped, and a smiling Alan Alda steps out, miming finger guns to an appreciative crowd.

The left beat the pants off us in this regard. Again, returning to Perrottet's speech:

"[The left's] original aim of social justice, through helping the working class, has been left far behind. Today they cloak their politics in the sweet rhetoric of fairness, equality and tolerance – but their agenda is far from benign. They are motivated now by a burning hostility to our culture and heritage. It’s no coincidence they want to redesign our flag, rewrite our anthem, remove ANZAC Day, replace our constitution, repudiate our Judeo-Christian heritage, and rename our national day."

I agree that the militant left have precisely this agenda, and my gut feeling is that there is a hidden majority in the sensible centre of the Australian electorate who are as repelled by this agenda as I am. The electoral dividend residing in that distaste for social engineering is the Liberal Party's for the taking.

But I cannot see Trump as anyone's solution to these problems (and let me emphasise, this is no endorsement of Hillary Clinton).

Conservatism for me has nothing to do with "preserving marriage as sacred between a man and a woman".  For pities sake... Let people live their lives. Aren't right of centre parties the parties of individual liberty? Of mitigating the State's influence in your personal lives? Grow up and stop pruriently caring about what happens in other people's bedrooms. It's none of your business. And don't say "think of the children". Kids with gay parents turn out just fine.

But Conservatism has everything to do with acknowledging the wisdom that our future comes from our past, and that there is value in a sense of continuity and connection with our heritage. That we respect the intent and work of our forebears, even while we innovate and update our sense of "what can be" for Western Civilisation. The Crown, the Constitution, and our inheritance from the Enlightenment are worth defending, because they have given us health, wealth and (relative) peace for over a century. That's something Australians should be more proud of than they are.

Conservatism should have little to do with blindly following free-market economics, but should seek to temper economic rationalism with a humane core. We should recognise the inherent value in some less tangible things and practices that provide enduring value – anchors to the way we want to live. Preserving the semi-rural lands in our city, and the viability of agriculture within the greater circle of the Sydney metropolitan area would be a good local example.

Conservatism should be about an absolute commitment to balancing our budgets and living within our means as the surest way of preserving intergenerational equity, but it shouldn't be about driving efficiency at any cost, because the electorate will spit you out. Witness the huge electoral damage of pushing unpopular Council amalgamations in NSW as proof. A huge, and easily avoided mistake.

Conservatism should be about preserving an absolute right to free speech, and being confident enough in the force of our arguments to never seek to censor. If your inclination is to say "I'm offended" when you are contradicted rather than offer a rebuttal, maybe you're just wrong and won't admit it. Censorship robs us all of our right to see bad ideas fail in a fair fight in the public square.

Lastly, Conservatism should be about governing for everybody, because when the pie is bigger, everyone gets a bigger slice. As Perrottet noted, a famous Australian politician once said:

“This country has great obligations to the weak,the sick, the unfortunate. It must give them all the sustenance and support it can…. to every good citizen the state owes not only a chance in life but a self respecting life”
Perrottet then noted: "That wasn’t a socialist politician.  That was Sir Robert Menzies."
My belief is that Conservatism is better for us all.
But Trump? He's just an idiot.

The proposed Hindu temple, Mcgraths Hill

The Hindu Temple at McGraths Hill

The proposed Hindu temple, Mcgraths Hill
The proposed Hindu temple, Mcgraths Hill

The proposal to build a Hindu temple in High street in McGraths Hill came before Council at the last meeting and was narrowly approved. The vote was tied six-all and was approved on the Mayor's casting vote. I spoke and voted against the proposal. The councillors who voted for and against the proposal are listed in the following table:

Voted for the Hindu temple

Voted against the proposal

Councillor Barry Calvert (Labor) Councillor Paul Rasmussen (Ind)
Councillor Patrick Conolly (Lib) Councillor John Ross (Ind)
Councillor Amanda Kotlash (Labor) Councillor Emma-Jane Garrow (Ind)
Councillor Lyons-Buckett (Ind) Councillor Peter Reynolds (Ind/Labor)
Councillor Sarah Richards (Lib) Councillor Danielle Wheeler (Greens)
Councillor Tiffany Tree (Lib) Councillor Nathan Zamprogno (Lib)

There is no doubt that this matter has been divisive, and I am aware of the strength of feeling that was expressed at the meeting from the gallery and on social media. However, my job was to examine the application before me and to consider it on its merits.

Tonight, I had the opportunity to attend a public meeting at McGraths Hill where the community expressed its frustration at the approval of a development with so many flaws. Only one other Councillor, Clr. Ross, was present.

Objectors to the proposal meeting at McGraths Hill
Objectors to the proposal meeting at McGraths Hill

I felt quite proud of the civility with which people spoke. These were ordinary people-- tradies, retirees and professionals, voicing well-thought-through concerns about their perception of deficiencies in leadership and of process at Council. Neither race nor religion were mentioned, nor was any bigotry manifested. The most common sentiment expressed was "great idea, wrong spot". Frankly, apart from a very small minority of noisy online ranters who were not even present at the meeting tonight, the stereotype of "objectors as racists" was completely disproven.

This post does not intend to prosecute the argument for or against the development, nor to reflect on my worthy colleagues who were entitled to vote as they chose. We differed in opinion-- and were entitled to. This is the process we engage in.

However, I will say that the purpose of this website is to communicate with the community. Each Councillor must account for the stance they have taken to their electorate, and I was glad to be able to stand among local residents and answer to them. A recording of my (brief) remarks are below:


Finding common ground on Windsor Bridge

thompson-square-protest

There is no more controversial issue before the new council than the project to replace Windsor Bridge. It is an issue that has tested friendships, inflamed passions within the community, and created a protest movement that uses every trick in its playbook to prevent the project proceeding.

There will be much more to say on the matter of the bridge, and of the larger issues it augurs relating to the future of our district. I hold particular views on the subject, but this post makes no argument. Yet.

And why? Because there are seven new councillors on council, myself included. I feel that the first step, the step that must occur before a substantive debate about the bridge occurs, must be for the new council to be properly briefed by the relevant departments.

So, at the council meeting on Tuesday, I moved my first Notice Of Motion which called for a briefing to be given to us on the project. I asked that the briefing be held either in Thompson Square, or in Chambers (or both), and that relevant RMS, ministry and council staff be present. Councillor Richards and Councillor Reynolds had moved similar motions of a more limited scope, relating generally to support for an extra river crossing, and relating to an overall traffic strategy respectively. I am pleased that both of those councillors acknowledged that my own motion encompassed their concerns, and with their permission and certain amendments, they withdrew their motions and the following was put:

"That Council:

Support an additional crossing of the Hawkesbury River.

  1. A Councillor Briefing, incorporating presentations from relevant RMS and Council staff be held to provide details on the current status of the Windsor Bridge project.
  2. This Briefing should address project status, heritage, traffic performance, design and aesthetic issues (including open space) and maintenance responsibilities.
  3. A further Briefing be held for RMS and Transport for NSW officers to outline options and planning for future river crossings including commentary on the impacts of proceeding with the current Windsor Bridge replacement.
  4. That Briefing canvas the various options to give substantive effect to achieving the actions and funding of studies and investigations."

My background to the motion, furnished to assist my colleagues to understand why this was important, stated:

"The state of the Windsor Bridge replacement project is the most contentious issue before the new Council. The expectation of some is that Council should quickly resolve to reverse its former support for Option 1 and now formally oppose the project.

With seven new Councillors in the new term, there is clear merit in receiving a briefing on this issue before such a resolution comes before the Council, especially when it seems obvious there is sincere disagreement on some matters of fact.

To assist the General Manager identify which public officials should be invited to best achieve the briefing’s purpose, and to permit those officials to be adequately prepared, it is proposed the matters to be discussed could include (but not be limited to):

  1. The current state of the bridge replacement project (true cost and timeframe).
  2. How the project is identifying and conserving the heritage of Thompson square.
  3. The status of nearby heritage items, including number 10 Bridge St, the colonial era drainage works, the School of Arts steps, and the remnants of Greenway’s wharf.
  4. The evidentiary basis for predictions relating to improved traffic flow.
  5. The adequacy of the project to deal with projected traffic flows on a multi-decade horizon.
  6. The proposed aesthetic qualities, form, fabric, scale and position of the new bridge.
  7. How the project will manage the slope between the upper part of Thompson square park and the water.
  8. What ongoing input Council can have in ensuring the renewed precinct will suit the communities’ needs as regards amenity, aesthetic design (stone, ironwork, landscaping etc), tourism, mobility access, parking, historical interpretation and so on – which will be Council’s responsibility to manage after State-managed works are complete.
  9. What the options are for a longer term plan for future river crossings, such as the suggestion that an additional crossing form part of the feasibility investigations for the M9 orbital.
  10. What the cost of Option 8 from the 2011 RTA study would have been, which was for a downstream bridge near Pitt Town, and how it compares to the likely final cost of Option 1.
  11. Whether the time-frame or funding of such a future crossing is in any way affected by the completion or cancellation of the current bridge replacement project."

I am well aware that feelings run strong on this issue, and my expectation is that those councillors who oppose the project should and will ask many pointed questions when the briefing is held. I hope they do! Ultimately, eleven of the councillors voted in favour of my motion, which is pleasing.

The sole vote against the councillors receiving this briefing came from CAWB member, John Ross. I'll repeat that: On the very issue that elected Clr. Ross to Council, my worthy colleague voted against councillors even receiving a briefing, even after I had made it clear that it must be regarded as the first step towards a productive, rather than an angry and sterile, debate.

I will have much more to say on the subject of Windsor Bridge, but I will do so after this briefing has been given.


About the Redbank development at North Richmond

redbank-plan-with-open-space
An image of the RSL Kingsford Smith village layout, still available on their website today, advertising open space on the subject lands (the green area near the words "retirement living")

Last Tuesday was the first public meeting where we new councillors addressed regular council business. It went from 6:30pm until well after midnight, owing to the backlog of matters created by the election, and a helping of deferred matters gifted from the previous council.

I remarked at the meeting that this was a baptism of fire, as immediately before us was arguably one of the most contentious issues facing the new council: The Redbank development at North Richmond. The specific item before us on Tuesday were ten blocks in an area called "The Gallery" which back on to the RSL Retirement village. The retirement village residents objected that they had secured their houses in the belief that the land behind them would be left as empty space. They also objected on the grounds privacy, drainage and noise, given that the land slopes upward behind them and a retaining wall has been constructed.

The previous week I had inspected the site and, despite arriving unannounced, the site manager Scott was gracious in receiving me and showing me around. I also spoke to various residents living in the RSL village in Catalina Avenue, who showed me the promotional material the RSL offered them. It did indeed show a layout of the Redbank site with the land in dispute left open-- such as the image at the header of this post.

The recommendation from Council staff was to approve the subdivision -- or rather to ratify it, since we were told that the blocks had been sold and the new owners were waiting to build. I was informed that the original approval body of this part of the subdivision was not Council, but a State body called the JRPP (Joint Regional Planning Panel), who take planning decisions out of the hands of Councils if the value of a development is over $20 million.

Meantime, the deferral of this matter by the previous council was taken as a deemed refusal and the developers had commenced litigation in the Land and Environment Court. If the litigation proceeds, legal costs could be considerable to council.

I expressed my anger at the meeting that the JRPP did not take up the issue of why the development they were asked to approve in early 2014 was at such variance with the prospectus offered RSL village purchasers. The village residents have every right to be aggrieved that the material was misleading. My understanding is that the RSL have acknowledged this and have offered the residents the option to move and gain a refund. But surely this is cold comfort for many of those residents who have considerable sunk cost in their new homes and who probably regarded their last move of house as their last.

To determine who has perpetrated a deception on whom is not simple. I believe the testimony of the residents when they say that they were given an indication that the land would be open, both in terms of the brochure they showed me, and verbally. I disagree with the statement in the Council business paper which says

"Investigation from Council staff has not found evidence that sales person's advice had made this claim [that the land would be left open]"

However, on the other side, there are other factors which should be taken into account:

  • The land was always zoned for potential subdivision, and the residents should have known that this was a permitted and likely use of that land when they bought adjacent to it.
  • The residents bought-in after the Redbank development was approved (I'm awaiting definite dates here, but the developer says the JRPP approved it in early 2014 and the date one resident quoted me for their settlement was August 2014), and their solicitor could have found out the subject land was sub-dividable (but there is the legitimate riposte that they had received a verbal undertaking that the land would be free and did not think to check).
  • The material which misled them was produced by RSL Lifecare, and the developers of the subject properties on Tuesday's D.A's are an unrelated party, and that recourse should be made by the RSL.
  • That a complaint was made to Fair Trading about the deceptive promotional material, but that at this stage, the claim has not been upheld. I disagree, and would encourage the residents to pursue those avenues of appeal that Fair Trading indicated.
  • That the developer's right to build on the lots approved by the JRPP is probably strong and a court case will be unlikely to negate it, but will be costly.

After balancing these concerns, I voted to approve the subdivision, but remarked that we metaphorically had a gun to our heads. I wasn't happy about it, but felt we had to do it. I didn't believe deferring or refusing it would alter the outcome, as regrettable as it is for the residents of Catalina avenue.

I am heartened, however, to hear that related issues concerning noise, drainage, and the screen planting between the fence and the retaining wall are all matters the developer is still happy to address with the residents as the matter comes to conciliation in the court.

The residents are entitled to think that the whole system has failed them. From their perspective, the RSL misled them and offered a remedy unpalatable to them. The JRPP should have been where the difference between the RSL prospectus and the developer's request  were questioned, but weren't. The matter was dumped in the old Council's lap and then deferred to the new Council, who have again deferred it.

If the entirety of the Redbank decision had been mine to make years ago, I would have said no. However, that is a whole other question. On Tuesday, I was focused on the application before me, and nothing else.

As one of my worthy colleagues said during the meeting: "This is an example of how not to do things". I agree.


Removing barriers between Council and the public

One of the things I expressed my commitment to when I was seeking election to Council, is to improve the perception that Councillors are accountable to the public, interact easily with the public, and welcome public participation at Council meetings.

Immediately after the election, my worthy colleagues and I began a conversation about measures to implement this desire. It was commonly agreed that removing the boundary cordon between the seated Councillors and the public gallery would be a symbolic yet significant gesture, as would dispensing with the security guard, since in the recollection of our Councillors who had been on Council for 17 years, not a single incident requiring security action had ever occurred.

At the council meeting on Tuesday 11th October, a Mayoral minute to this effect was put forward, with myself as a co-sponsor.
Immediately as the proposal passed in the Chamber, I was one of the Councillors reported as rising to physically remove the barrier. 

I am confident that in this Council term, visitors to our public gallery at Council meetings will interact positively with us, and that mutual respect will prevail.