Tonight I was elected as the new Chair of the Hawkesbury River County Council, after serving for the last 12 months as Deputy Chair. This is a great honour. I am the first Hawkesbury Liberal Councillor ever to be elected to this role.
The HRCC covers 3,823sq.km over four municipalities (Hills, Blacktown, Penrith and Hawkesbury). It has responsibility for waterway health through the control of weeds, and increasingly takes a role in terrestrial weed control as well under the Biosecurity Act. In this last year alone it conducted 2,014 property inspections. With its specialised assets like weed harvesters, and using new and innovative techniques like biological control (Salvinia eating Weevils, anyone?), it plays a major role in caring for our local environment.
There are a range of grant programs that community groups can avail themselves of in supporting their work.
Hawkesbury Council have their own Community Sponsorship program, recently revamped by Council with clearer processes and assessment guidelines, which groups can access here in the case of facilities, and here in the case of events.
As part of my work supporting Hawkesbury organisations, I have become adept at identifying and advocating for groups to get funding in this way.
If your community organisation want a hand in securing grant funding, get in touch, because I’d be happy to help.
I successfully initiated and pursued a grant for $25,800 to install a sound system in the Richmond School of Arts building in 2010, followed up by $3,655 in 2015 for a new projection screen for the same building.
In the case of the School of Arts and its anchor tenants, the Richmond Players dramatic society, the masterplan was always to attempt to complete the auditorium refurbishment with a new lighting system.
The old lighting system in that building is old and fragile. The filament lights could only be driven to 80% brightness – if they blew, there were no replacement parts. Once it dies, that’s it.
It was obtained second hand from Channel 9 in the early 1970s, and was old even then. I hear, in the past, the lighting operator John Phipps dimmed the lights by plunging a live coil of wire wound around a broom handle into a bucket of water!
I’m hugely proud to say that this year, a grant I initiated and pursued for $90,750 has been successful, finally allowing this wonderful community organisation, now in its 68th year, to complete the refurbishment.
The pivotal moment was when the State Government launched a new grant scheme, the MyCommunity Grant Scheme, in which the winners would be voted on by the public. I knew there was a large and enthusiastic community of patrons of this space, and of community theatre, who would rally to the cause. They handed our fliers at shows, letterbox dropped the local area, and gained the support they needed.
Of course this would not be possible without the support of the NSW State Government, and of our local Hawkesbury MP, Robyn Preston, whose office has facilitated information about the grant programs throughout. Thank you, Robyn.
As the story suggests, Chamber attendance is only one part of our duties, and isn’t a perfect indicator of our engagement in our work.
Non-Chamber-meeting Tuesdays are for closed Councillor briefings by Staff, and most Councillors are also members of a number of Committees. The list of my Committee involvements are here. Committee membership is an essential part of being a good representative, as it allows us to “deep dive” into particular policy areas and gain a better understanding.
Lastly, when Council hold community consultation meetings around the district, I feel it is important to get along to as many of them as possible. I’m pleased to report that in the most recent round of town-hall meetings, I attended those at North Richmond, Upper Colo, Oakville/Maraylya and St Albans.
At the last Council election we also held a referendum on whether our city should be divided into wards. That exercise – really just the thought bubble of one Councillor — cost us $24,000 and the idea went on to be soundly rejected by the community.
At our Council meeting tonight we were asked to consider if there was any other change we wanted to put to a referendum for the local government elections that are scheduled for September next year. Would we like 13 Councillors instead of 12? A popularly elected Mayor? To revisit the Wards issue?
I took the view that these suggestions wouldn’t improve the quality of democracy in our city.
Some of our Councillors made a very conspicuous show only a couple of months ago of rejecting a CPI-rise in the fee paid to Councillors — a virtue-signalling exercise that would save Council a grand total of $7,132p.a. Nevertheless, tonight the same ones took a shine to the idea of holding another referendum that would cost another $24K (or more) to put to voters, and in the case of increasing Councillor numbers, another $80K+ in pay across the 4 years of a Council term.
I confess, I found that a trifle inconsistent.
So I voted for the status quo. I’m happy to report I was in the majority. I suggest that the money we save by not entertaining thought bubbles like this will be better spent on better roads, parks and services.
Amplifying the current bridge to three lanes and employing a contraflow arrangement morning and evening.
Constructing a new two-lane bridge immediately downstream to provide an extra two lanes, either at the same level as the current bridge, or somewhat further downstream and at a higher level to provide 1:20yr flood immunity.
Each of these options would ultimately increase traffic through both Richmond and North Richmond and would require substantial amplification to roadworks between the Bosworth St intersection in Richmond, and the Grose Vale Road intersection in North Richmond.
“(It’s) another empty promise that may never eventuate. Heavy peak traffic on Grose Vale Road, Terrace Road and Bells Line of Road leading down towards the M7 causes significant congestion around the Richmond bridge. It takes sometimes more than an hour for people, once they reach North Richmond, to cross the bridge to Richmond on the way to work, and the same can happen in the evening.”
The provision of safer, more efficient roads to regional Australia is a priority of this government. One such issue needing to be addressed was the Richmond Bridge … This bridge has experienced significant increased traffic pressure over recent years. Labor failed to deliver on this committed project, but I have fought to see Richmond and North Richmond receive the approved infrastructure that the community deserves.
For several years, planning by the federal government and the New South Wales coalition government has been underway to cater for increased traffic around the Richmond Bridge. The city-centric previous Labor government short-changed regional Australia by cutting $500 million in regional funding. I am pleased to acknowledge the coalition government has committed $18 million of total funding for the Richmond Bridge and its approaches from 2013-14 through to 2018-19.
Meanwhile, the State Liberal Government got on with the job of using these funds to improve a range of issues affecting traffic flow along Bells Line of Road, with this graphic from an October 2018 RMS newsletter showing the works around the intersection, but which does not show extensive improvements at the intersection of Old Kurrajong Rd / Yarramundi Lane.
By the 2018 State Budget, our local MP and State Treasurer Dominic Perrottet was able to pledge$25 million dollars of State money to do detailed planning for a new river crossing ($7m of which was in the 2018-2019 FY). This is what proper collaboration between State and Federal governments looks like.
I am agnostic on the question of whether the bridge should be a straight duplication of the current bridge, or should be located elsewhere. I’m wary of increasing congestion in North Richmond and Richmond. Council is in the process of finalising a detailed Regional Traffic Study. The process of choosing a site for the bridge and the support roads that will lead to it should be data-driven, as well as acutely mindful of the effects on our heritage towns.
Against this backdrop, the only missing piece, and by far the largest one, was funding for the bridge itself. And it’s arrived.
When the announcement was made yesterday, you should realise it has come off the back of a decade of advocacy from Liberal representatives — Local, State and Federal, as well as a lot of dedicated members of the community.
These kinds of infrastructure projects are possible when governments balance their budgets and grow the economy. No one argues that they are necessary, but it takes years of planning.
So how did Labor react, after years of neglect on infrastructure? They fell over themselves to say they would match the funding.
It’s galling to see this portrayed as some kind of Labor funding announcement, or something that has come as the result of Labor’s careful planning for infrastructure and thrift. It’s not. And I’ll bet that the $200 million dollar commitment is as unfunded and ephemeral as other announcements they have made over the years. Under the last Labor government in NSW, they had six transport ministers, nine transport plans, announced a dozen new railway lines and delivered just one — the Airport line — the contract for which was inked under the previous Liberal administration.
Susan Templeman, and Labor generally, deserve no credit for this fantastic announcement. This has come off the back of Liberal advocacy, and Liberal budgetary management. $200 million dollars doesn’t fall out of the air, and saying “me too” in its wake with no sign it was ever costed by Labor doesn’t represent leadership.
Yesterday, The people of St Albans hosted a visit from myself, the Mayor, fellow Councillors and Council staff to catch up about how Council is serving that community.
Far from being overlooked, the “Forgotten Valley” tracing the course of the MacDonald River is one of the most beautiful parts of the Hawkesbury, and the effective provision of infrastructure and services is important to us. Ongoing programs of Council are repairing roads, have renovated the local Tennis Courts, and support initiatives in parks, tourism, and so on.
Locals, including Stephen Brown, President of the MacDonald Valley Association brought a range of issues before us, including renovation of the School of Arts Hall, planning controls on flood-affected land, the responsiveness of Council to inquiries, and the state of road and ferry services.
It was a pleasure to meet the MacDonald Valley community and listen to them.
Today, some schoolchildren around Australia will wag school and march to promote action on climate change.
In discussing this with my 16yo son, I took the opportunity to draw a parallel with the ill-fated Children’s Crusade of the early 13th century.
Unarmed, and “led” by the 12 year old Stephen of Cloyes, they bore crosses, banners and an optimistic assumption that once they got to the Holy Land, they could convert Muslims with persuasion and divine intervention.
Of course, they were cruelly deceived. None reached the Holy Land, and many never went home either — starved, drowned, or sold into slavery.
I suggested that there have always been those willing to exploit the idealism and naïveté of youth, even if the putative cause is a worthy one.
We’ve also had long conversations about how protest activism, political power, and social change intersect. Do these forms of protest ever achieve their aims? Who turns up to co-opt and use well meant idealism for more cynical political purposes?
My son asked, reasonably, if he could go into the city today and observe the rally, because he wanted to see it for himself and make up his own mind. I thought it was a good idea and he’s gone with a posse of other students from his school.
I have no problem with this, because I want my son to be not only politically active in his life, but also to have the ability to recognise competitive virtue signalling when he sees it, and to employ his critical thinking toolkit to evaluate arguments for bias, vested interest, or factual errors.
I suspect he’ll see all those things today, and in spades.
When the issue of Climate Change came up this week at Hawkesbury Council, the Greens advanced a motion to hold a workshop locally to discuss our “Climate Emergency”.
Passing (for the moment) that the Greens also want to sell MDMA from Supermarkets, it was observed that an identical motion was put to Blue Mountains City Council within the last weeks. It’s manifestly part of the silly season of election politics.
I made some remarks and enclose the audio below, with my remarks commencing at 25m40s.
I think all Australians want to be good stewards of the environment. This involves both slowly transitioning to renewable and cleaner sources of power, and strengthening protections for fragile ecologies. As the deputy chair of the Hawkesbury River County Council, I sit on an organisation whose sole remit is biosecurity, weed control and the protection of our waterways.
But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that merely changing our lightbulbs to LED or putting solar panels on the roof is the magic bullet that will mitigate climate change. It’s an important symbolic gesture, but if we really want to fix the problem, it’s not where the main game is at.
World industrial carbon emissions are 9.8 gigatonnes, with Australia contributing 0.536 Gt, or 5.46% of the global total.
In turn, the 67,000 residents of the Hawkesbury represent 0.27% of the larger Australian population of 24.6 million. On a proportional basis, this means that the Hawkesbury contributes less than 0.0147% of global Carbon emissions — one part in 6,783.
Like Steven Pinker, I prefer to look at the bigger picture and find reasons for optimism.
The most recent Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, a scientific publication from the Department of the Environment and Energy, points out that Australia’s Carbon emissions per capita are at their lowest levels in 29 years, being 34 tonnes per-person per-year in 1990. As of September 2018, they are at 22 tonnes, and falling.
Similarly, Carbon emissions per dollar of GDP was 0.80kg of CO2 per dollar of real GDP in 1990. Today, it is 0.30kg, and falling.
The solution to climate-change and sustainable energy-generation issues largely sits at federal, and international level, through the covenants we enter into with other nations, the initiatives we support to develop sustainable and carbon-neutral sources of energy, and the pressure we put on other global emitters of carbon that simply dwarf what we do in our own community.
What Australia needs is reliable baseload power, which is why it is so genuinely difficult for us to wean ourselves off coal. Energy storage technology has not advanced quickly enough for widespread or cost-effective adoption. I hope it will, and again its worth pointing out that Western Australia has the largest deposits of Lithium in the world. We could and should be leading research, development and commercialisation in this field.
In the meantime, Coal will continue to be needed to provide our baseload power. Neglect of generation in this sector is one contributor to the doubling of electricity costs over the last decade. Australia will make the transition to 100% renewables, but it cannot come at the cost of the whole economy. Those who push too hard on renewables fail to understand that only a nation with a strong economy has the ability to invest in renewables in the first place.
However, I think of all the other benefits that would flow from better international action on climate change. These include not basing the tenure of our whole civilisation on the consumption of resources which will some day run out; the advantages of cleaner air and water, especially around our major cities, or not forking out hundreds of billions of dollars to middle eastern countries that hate the West and gladly use the money to fund fundamentalism against us. There are also clear economic benefits in spawning new industries in renewable energy and scientific research.
Holding a workshop on a so-called climate emergency here in the Hawkesbury will not solve those formidable challenges. It is cynical, competitive virtue signalling at its worst.
And today, we can expect representatives from the Greens, from GetUp, and (probably) Bill Shorten to whip up discontent without a shred of impartiality about the policies of the current government to tackle the problem.