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.

 


Australian Councils deserve more help from the Federal Government

I'm down in Canberra at the 27th National General Assembly of Local Government, and it's been a valuable experience.

My head is swimming with statistics - the presentations have been excellent, covering the effects of COVID (both economic and health), initiatives to make communities more resilient, new technologies that aid in planning, communication and environmental protection. Enough for several other posts, but here are some headlines:

In 1996, Financial Assistance Grants - the main way the Federal Government assisted Councils, was 1% of Federal taxation revenue. Now, it has declined to only 0.55%, half of what it used to be. Despite the annual feeding-the-chickens announcements we're used to (like the very welcome boost to the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure program), support from the Federal government to Local governments has declined in real terms for decades.

Councils, through levying rates and charges, take in just 3.2% of ALL tax in Australia. Yet we're responsible for 32% of all public infrastructure, including 75% of roads.

COAG - the Council of Australian Governments, was founded in 1992 and was traditionally the table where all the tiers of government sat down. When that was replaced by the 'National Cabinet' last year, Local Governments were no longer at the table, and right at the time when our voice needed to be heard the most as COVID hit.

That's why I'm here. To learn, listen, and advocate for a better deal.


Saving Council money by trimming Councillor perks

At last night's meeting of Hawkesbury Council I presented a Notice of Motion to review our 'Provision of Facilities to Councillors' policy. The text of my motion is at this link.

When I was elected to Council in September 2016, I was surprised to be given a Windows laptop, a new iPhone with a SIM card, a printer, and a wireless modem & router to facilitate Internet access at home.

I didn't need or want most of these resources. I handed the laptop and iPhone back, and have never used the wireless modem router. Some of my fellow Councillors did the same. Representing the community is a privilege, and I was happy generally to use my own resources for Council business.

Frankly, the current policy is both wasteful and outdated. It refers to installing extra landlines and fax machines in Councillor's houses. It refers to arrangements for receiving a tape (an actual tape!) of Councillor meetings, even though we've been podcasting meetings for years.

I felt that the least we should do is update this policy so that the new Council elected in a few months are asked first what resources they may need – hopefully in the expectation that this will save ratepayers some money.

The motion was passed unanimously, which was very pleasing.

A new policy will be drafted and placed on exhibition for adoption before the elections in September.


Proposed McGraths Hill motel development knockback prompts litigation

Those driving down Windsor Road from Windsor will be familiar with the former but beloved Millers Nursery (a.k.a Windsor Garden Centre) on the left hand side on the corner of McGrath Road at McGraths Hill.

Opened by Ross and Lynette Miller in 1969, and carried on by daughter Bec it was a stalwart local business for 47 years. I remember it as a cosy and personal ramble – a place with nooks, and curios, and proper service. Not at all like the bland 'big box' nurseries that prevail now. Ross was active in Windsor Rotary for many years. Sadly, the business closed and the property sold in July 2016. The site has lain empty and sad ever since.

 

I mention this today because the fate of this site reveals in microcosm two things: The first is how Hawkesbury Council still has a long way to go to be a responsive, efficient public body that meets deadlines and applies our planning codes consistently. The second is how planning laws imposed by the State Government have disconnected the community from knowing much about, or having much say in Development Applications.

In 2017, the NSW Government instituted Planning Panels to determine DA's, removing the decision-making powers of elected Councils across Sydney. Planning Panels consist of unelected appointees who may have subject expertise in planning, but who are not democratically accountable to you, the citizen and voter. I and many other Councillors, including some Liberals were opposed to Planning Panels, and I've spoken at length about them before, including with 2GB's Ray Hadley.

A series of DA's have been lodged for the old nursery site to become a motel development. A pre-lodgement meeting held with Council in February 2018 indicated a desire to build a $10.8 Million, 130 bedroom motel.

DA0235/18 was lodged in May 2018 proposing a 94 room motel.

A decision on this proposal now sat with the Sydney West Planning Panel, with Hawkesbury Council staff writing a report with a recommendation for or against.

Council's report to the Planning Panel did not arrive until September 2019, over a year later. This kind of delay is itself an issue for me. Such determinations should not take so long. In October 2019 that application was knocked back, for a variety of reasons including the ability of the McGraths Hill sewerage treatment plant to cope with the load the development would place on it.

The applicants then came back with a new proposal for an 80 room motel under DA #0130/20, lodged on 13th May 2020.

I suspect not many people, even residents of McGraths Hill, knew much about any of these proposals.

76 days later, on 28/7/2020 the applicant made an application to the Land and Environment Court (case #2020/00226591) to litigate the DA on the basis of an assumed "deemed refusal", which means that the DA was not finalised or determined either way within the prescribed assessment period (which can be either 40 or 60 days).

Recently, on 31/5/2021 the application was withdrawn and a request for a refund of DA fees made, but only because this litigation was, and remains pending. A hearing may not occur until September.

In their letter withdrawing the DA, the applicants offered this stinging commentary to Council:

"It is with disappointment that we note that a lack of transparency from Council in relation to Council’s sewerage capacity issues and a lack of response from Council officers (who are too busy) in relation to the proposed on-site waste water system - which have prevented us assisting to achieve a satisfactory resolution of this development proposal."

I offer no commentary on the merits of the proposal, except to note that all applicants to Council are entitled to prompt and professional service within "best practice" assessment timeframes. If they didn't get it, I'd want to know why.

But my broader point is that, when decisions that shape the character of our neighbourhoods are taken away entirely from your elected Councillors and given to planning panels, the community ends up poorly informed (did you know about this?), and decisions are taken that you can't require anyone to be accountable for, and that's not good enough.


The NSW Productivity Commission White Paper and Local Government

The recently released NSW Productivity Commission report released by the NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet

Being a good local government representative means understanding the landscape that Councils inhabit, and the way we interact with other tiers of government. So, it's well to pay attention when the State Government announces potential shifts in policy.

Constitutionally, Local Government does not exist. This is despite a decades long campaign, which I support, for constitutional recognition. There was a failed referendum in 1988. More recently, the Labor federal government promised another in 2013, which I believe would have passed with bipartisan support, only for them to welch at the last minute.

I've always believed in the principle of subsidiarity, which suggests that decisions in government should be taken by the level that is closest to the people affected. In my opinion devolution, rather than the endless accumulation of power to higher or more centralised authorities, is not only more efficient, more democratic, but also more consonant with classical Conservative principles of government.

However, any administrative or regulatory function held by government has to be paid for. Unfortunately, 'cost shifting' has moved the responsibility for a huge amount of regulation, infrastructure, planning and service delivery - previously provided by other tiers of government, on to local Councils like ours, and thus to our ratepayers, without the ability to pay for it. A 2018 LGNSW report concluded this cost NSW Councils (and again, ratepayers) over $6.2 Billion of extra costs between 2006 and 2018. Hawkesbury Council estimated the cost to us was $6.9 Million in one year alone.

So against this backdrop, I was interested when this morning NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet launched the NSW Productivity Commission's 'White Paper' into rebooting the economy. I tuned in for the Treasurer's speech. The report makes for interesting reading, and I'll pick just a couple with relevance to Councils like ours.

One graph in it shows how the 'rate peg' has suppressed local government income since it was introduced in 1993.

This presents a mixed picture. In my time on Hawkesbury Council, I have been strong on ensuring Council lives within its means. I opposed the rate rises the dominant ruling block imposed on the community, as well as the changes to the rating formula that concentrated the rating burden unfairly on particular ratepayers.

But it also shows that this government policy has deprived Councils across the state of the ability to grow their revenue to pay for cost-shifted responsibilities in anything like the way Councils have in other states, to keep pace with inflation, population growth, or rising regulatory or infrastructure costs. The White Paper suggests that the rate peg should be abolished, or at least varied to allow Councils to better account for population growth.

The recommendation from the Productivity Commission's White Paper

No one wants Councils to overcharge their ratepayers. Equally, most people agree the State government cost shifting to Councils without providing the revenue to pay for it is unfair. Any policies flowing from the White Paper will need to ensure that abolition of the rate cap doesn't act as a green light for Councils to just jack up their rates. I think most people in the Hawkesbury don't think Council is doing the best with what they are already collecting.

The white paper also suggests that Councils should to abide by principles of 'competitive neutrality', when it engages in commercial conduct that may disadvantage other local businesses that operate in the same domain. The example it cites is Councils that run Child Care centres. As it happens, there are nine different child care centres operating in Council owned properties around the Hawkesbury, who enjoy a substantial subsidy. This report presented to Council in October 2018 says it best:

The white paper makes this recommendation on p169:

My own view is that the various childcare centres around the district are worth supporting, and the 'subsidy' of facilities run from Council properties (effectively, an opportunity cost to Council in terms of foregone revenue) provides a direct and valued support to the community. I believe Council addressed the issue of centres taking an unfair advantage over their fully commercial competitors when it inked an agreement to ask those providers to contribute to a multi-year 'building renewal fund' to acknowledge the benefit they received from operating from Council properties, amounting to $1.5M over the life of the agreement.

I am glad that the NSW Government has been so effective in supporting our State economy during the worst economic dislocation for generations. This White Paper is not a policy manifesto, nor is it legislation. It's the start of a conversation, and a very timely one about how to continue economic reform and streamline co-operation between local government and the State.


Oakville Oval needs an upgrade

Oakville Oval is one of 23 different playing fields, and one of the 215 parks and reserves around the Hawkesbury.

I've been a user of the oval all my life. I remember attending Oakville Public School sports carnivals there as a boy, kicking about kerosene-soaked fireballs when I was in Oakville Scouts (probably an OH&S nightmare now), and now witness my nephews play there as a soccer uncle.

Given the amount of use by the community, I feel Oakville Oval is looking a little tired and needs some care and investment.

Upkeep and development of our sporting fields is managed by the Hawkesbury Sports Council, who maintain two and five year plans for all local Ovals. In preparing those plans the Sports Council seeks submissions from sporting clubs and users of specific ovals. I was surprised to learn that, at the time the last plan was drawn up, no responses were received from the clubs that use Oakville Oval. I strongly encourage them to make a submission for the next round that will be called for the 2021/2022 financial year, and will be reaching out directly to make that appeal.

Council is aware of the increased use of the oval particularly during winter sports and the increases in parking and traffic. We've all seen the cars spilling on to the road, and the 'car park' is really just an abandoned gravel depot that turns to mud in poor weather.

The Sports Council advise that other suitable ovals in the area are used in conjunction with Oakville Oval wherever possible to spread the sporting community’s needs across the city.

Shipping containers used as storage at Oakville Oval

I've always thought that using shipping containers to store equipment like rollers, goal posts and nets is ugly and less optimal than lock-up colourbond sheds on slabs with roller doors. However, I am informed shipping containers are considered a better alternative due to their sturdiness and they deter vandalism due to their locks and wall thickness. If you have a different view, please let me know.

Currently there is one shelter area at the Oval and some seating available around the canteen building. Due to the high level of use for various sports there isn't much room to install further shade areas without impacting on the current uses. There is also damage from the shade trees occurring to the on-field area in front of the containers as this area gets no sun. I am told that planting of additional trees might only compound this problem.

Hawkesbury Sports Council have planned to upgrade the irrigation system this year due to the field having to be returfed each year due to increasing use by the soccer club. Following the recent floods and damage to other grounds, the Sports Council has voted to place on hold all capital works until such time as the financial effects of the flood is clearer.

The Sports Council assigns its works program across all sports grounds and prioritises these as required. Where grant or other funding opportunities become available Council and the Sports Council will seek funding for upgrades, including the car park area. In addition, Council is currently planning for the development of Fernadell Park in Pitt Town. This development is subject to funding however, once developed, it will provide additional fields that can be used by the local sporting clubs and reduce demand on Oakville Oval.

Council will ultimately prepare a full masterplan for this and other reserves. I will be continuing to call for a long term plan, and sustained funding for improvements, on behalf of the residents and users who gain enjoyment and use of Oakville Oval.

Canteen and amenities at Oakville Oval

 


The Hawkesbury Floods, March 2021

Some times it must feel like our community can't cop a trick. Devastating fires, pandemic and two floods, all within a 16 month period.

Yet again, out of the distress and destruction of property has arisen the real spirit of our local community, which has rallied magnificently. The response of our SES, Police and RFS have been truly heroic, and they deserve our respect, as do those who just help because it's the right thing to do. Neighbours help neighbours. It's the Hawkesbury way.

I tried to document the effects of and responses to flooding by visiting as many places and people as I could. These videos have apparently reached over 111,000 people on social media.

Since the waters have receded, I've been honoured to be present variously at the visits of the Governor General David Hurley, The Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Minister for Roads Andrew Constance.

It has also brought the need to raise Warragamba Dam back into focus.

The plan to raise the dam is about the safety of the community – the 134,000 people who live and trade on the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain. It isn't about development, or Sydney's drinking water supply. Nor should the debate be unduly focused on the temporary inundation of uninhabited bushland around lake Burragorang, for a week or two, once or twice a century.

The Resilient Valley, Resilient Community flood risk study released in 2017 explains 75% of our flood risk comes from the Warragamba catchment. It also points out that raising the dam would reduce the severity or frequency of bad floods by the same proportion – 75%.

Floods have already been averted or reduced by Warragamba, under certain circumstances. Severe rain events that began at the time of the early 1990s flood, when the dam was depleted to about 46% capacity, lowered the subsequent level of waters of on the floodplain by over three meters. This is the kind of 'accidental' mitigation that needs to be built into the dam permanently.

It really disappoints me that some of the commentary from people opposed to the project is so dishonest. This recent article in the Blue Mountains Gazette, and the comments of ex-Minister Bob Debus should anger everyone at risk of flooding, especially because he, like other opponents of the dam raising are usually high and dry and out of harms way. Our community in the Hawkesbury bears the brunt of this risk. I've pointed this out on many occasions.

Over the last fortnight I have stood with many people who have lost their homes and possessions because of Mr Debus' inaction in the 1990s, when there was a plan to raise the dam by 23m. The Labor government's decision not to treat this as a bipartisan issue and scotch those plans, which were shovel ready when Bob Carr was elected in 1995, is partly responsible for the damage this flood has caused.

The Canberra Times, 15-9-1995 announcing the Labor government abandoning plans to raise the dam.

Mr Debus says raising the dam won't prevent all floods. But wearing a seatbelt won't prevent all car accident fatalities. Backburning won't save every house in a bushfire. But only an idiot would argue against doing what we can.

Imagine if the present floods had been 3 meters lower as a result of being able to hold back 1000 gigalitres of that water for long enough to allow them to drain away.

When Mr Debus only notes the quarter of floods that result from rain in other tributaries, he's misleading you. And he's wrong to state that permanently lowering the dam levels by 10m is the same as raising them by 10m, because of the tapered shape of the dam. The bottom 2cm of a wine glass holds much less than the top 2cm.

And pre-emptively reducing water levels in the dam, which every armchair expert has advocated over the last fortnight would (literally) be a drop in the ocean.

The topical unit is the 'SydHarb' - A Sydney Harbour's worth of water, or about 500 gigalitres. Warragamba can hold 4 Sydharbs, and the dam raising project will add another 2. I was talking about this a decade ago. Lowering the dam to levels that would imperil Sydney's drinking water supply to create a buffer would have taken weeks, and would account for maybe 0.2-0.5 Sydharbs.

In comparison, the inflow of water resulted in a Sydharb *per day* topping the dam for 2-3 days. If we could have absorbed two days of that inflow and let it out over a week or fortnight, many of the grieving people who have lost their homes, goods or livelihoods would have been spared.

Lastly, Bob raises the debunked-a-thousand-times canard of development on the floodplain. The 1:100 flood height buildong controls will not change. Not a single square meter of land which is presently sterilised by these controls would be opened up for building in the event of raising Warragamba. And the only time any flood has exceeded the 1:100 level in the last 222 years was in 1867, showing this is a reasonable safety measure. The sad fact is that the 5,500 houses built below the 1:100 level were built before those flood height controls were implemented.

Damn you, Bob Debus, for your reckless conduct as a Minister - when you actually had a chance to do something about this, you sat on your hands.

I spoke to the media on several occasions to represent our at-risk community

Print stories: Central News (18-11-2020), ABC (27-3-2021), AAP (23-3-2021), and TV as below:

It concerns me that in each of these cases, the voice of the community at most risk is not emphasised in balancing the costs and benefits of flood mitigation.

An excellent book I have at home on the history of the construction of Warragamba Dam in the 1950s is subtitled "Thank God there were no greenies." I worry that an inability to soberly judge the necessity of flood mitigation will eventually cost lives, when a flood bigger than this one finally comes.

Nature has given us a warning. Are we wise enough to heed it?

 


Is your energy retailer denying you a smart meter?

In October 2014, the then NSW Minister for Energy Anthony Roberts announced a rollout of Smart Meters for all NSW homes and businesses. He said:

“The market-led rollout of smart meters is the NSW Government’s next step in putting the power firmly into the hands of electricity customers.”

The 2014 announcement.

Seven years on, this market-based approach has resulted some of our larger electricity retailers dropping the ball badly. I'm singling out Origin Energy, who have annual revenues of $15 billion and over 4 million customers.

This is embarassing. In Victoria, they completed their rollout of Smart Meters by 2004.

Overseas, the UK is well along in a rollout of 3 million smart meters. The EU's goal is to provide smart meters to 80 per cent of consumers. France has committed to install 35 million meters as part of a $A19.7 billion spend, and the the Chinese government are deploying up to 380 million of them.

This isn't good enough. With a Smart Meter, you can monitor your energy consumption using a smart phone app on a much more granular level.

I badgered Origin to give me the Smart Meter the scheme promised 7 years ago, and they grudgingly did so as a one off.

The precedent neatly set, watch this video to see how you can demand the same. Yes, they probably will be annoyed, but it's time they did the right thing.


A big win for Oakville residents

After nearly five years of banging on about the shocking state of our local roads, I was very pleased at Councils meeting of 30/3 to be able to negotiate additional funding to FINALLY SEAL Old Stock Route Road and Brennans Dam Road at Vineyard.

Most of this is new money, and was absolutely not on the table before.

Some additional commentary:

• Unfortunately this does not yet seal the Commercial Road approach.

• The culvert will have some drainage and scour works done, but will remain a single-lane crossing for now.

• I couldn't get the whole package of works through tonight, both because of our inability to complete the whole project within the deadline of the Commonwealth grant (31 Dec 2021), but also because I could not get more than this through the Chamber (for now).

• Further stages to fix Commercial + widen the culvert have been costed (~$450K) and I pledge to return to these ASAP.

• Yes, this road floods. Regularly. However, when natural disasters strike we get 100% coverage from the State Government to restore these roads but only on the basis of a 'no betterment clause', meaning we can't use disaster relief funds to improve a road beyond it's previous state. If however we improve it now, future damage will be covered to this new better standard. Some of the drainage works will help prevent road erosion against future flooding.

THANK YOU to my Hawkesbury Liberal Team Council colleagues and other Councillors who voted for this, especially those who reversed their previous opposition. Not everyone did...


Sending a strong message about inappropriate development at Kurrajong and Kurmond

At Council's meeting this week, I supported a motion to end the ‘Kurrajong-Kurmond investigation area’ process.

I believe the proposed rezoning and adoption of the 'Structure Plan' would have encouraged the lodgement of further subdivision proposals. I felt it would have sent a message to landowners or developers that we were encouraging subdivision west of the river.

The motion Council passed abandons either rezoning or the Structure Plan, adding that Council 'Not encourage the lodgement of additional individual Planning Proposals within the Kurmond- Kurrajong Investigation Area for rural residential development.'

The motion ensures already-lodged planning proposals will be granted due-process, and continue to be assessed against relevant criteria.

A 2017 survey of Kurrajong and Kurmond residents showed that only 32% of residents supported developing the whole investigation area.

Although it is true that anyone can submit an unsolicited proposal at any time to subdivide their property, they will still be assessed against increasingly strict criteria of both our LEP and the Greater Sydney Commission's residential strategy.

Two Councillors recused themselves because they or their families, live or own property in the subject area, including Liberal Sarah Richards.

Extraordinarily, the Greens and Independent Councillors voted not only to adopt the structure plan, but to have Council prepare a planning proposal to rezone the land identified in the plan.

We encourage those with an interest in the debate to listen to the Council webcast.

https://soundcloud.com/user-423594224/item-30-cp-update-on-kurmond
 

Facebook

Facebook and the survival of rational democracy

So after two days of Facebook gaol, my Councillor Facebook page, the Hawkesbury Liberal Team page, and the Hawkesbury District Independent Magazine page are back up, after Facebook purged thousands of Australian pages including charities, public health sites and not-for-profit groups.

However, at time of writing, the worthy Hawkesbury Post, The Hawkesbury Gazette, and the Hawkesbury Visitor Information Centre, which is a Council page, were still off-line.

What utter stupidity. Facebook can't even be consistent about what constitutes 'news'. Business students will one day write essays about how a $745B multinational trashed their branding in a stroke by citing this episode. It was a stunningly dumb move.

Here's what it boils down to. Many people choose to view their news through Facebook – for some it's the main way they keep informed. Spain and Germany enacted similar copyright reforms in 2014 – seeking to charge aggregators for the value news sites conferred them.

In that case it was Google who removed news from their site. Immediately, there was an overall 20% reduction in news consumption. People were less informed – a poor outcome.

Now, ask yourself: With social platforms only making belated and cosmetic efforts to remove inflammatory and misleading content, if there's suddenly no professional journalism or fact checking in people's feeds, then what's left?

That's right. Facebook becomes even more of a sewer. Less fact, and more garbage.

I'm not convinced that the Federal Government's proposed Media Bargaining Code is the right solution, but I am convinced that they have picked the right fight.

We have to recognise that in our system of open democracy, the role of a free and viable Press serves a critical role to hold the powerful to account. The 'fourth estate' provides a shared sense-making dialogue to society that helps us parse truth from flim-flam, scare-mongering and misinformation.

The eyes of the world are on us to hold our nerve – not unlike Australia pioneering plain packaging for cigarettes against a barrage of spurious lawsuits from the tobacco industry. We won that fight, and other countries followed our lead.

I've provided further remarks to the Hawkesbury Post. The link is here. And if you feel strongly about supporting smaller news media outlets, who seem to be locked out of the benefits of the Federal scheme, then make a donation to one here.


Hawkesbury-Nepean river suffers as HRCC endures cut to funding

 

With HRCC General Manager Chris Dewhurst next to our expensively repaired, but now defunded 'Weedosaurus'

As the Chairman of the Hawkesbury River County Council, I believe Hawkesbury residents get great value out of our association with it, which goes back to the HRCC's founding in 1948. HRCC looks after the health of our waterways. Ratepayers from the four member Councils contribute around 50%, which is ~$190K per year towards its operations. The rest comes from a variety of State and Federal grants.

In November, Local Land Services, a mid-level bureaucracy installed by the NSW Government to dispense funding, abruptly cut the funding that we were using for operational works (such as weed clearing on the river using our 'Weedasaurus', pictured above), by $238,000. Before LLS, we dealt directly with the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and had a wonderful working relationship with them.

This will result in us laying off skilled staff, and potentially even having to sell the Weedasaurus, which would be frustrating given we only had it repaired and refurbished with $130,000 of Federal money after it pulled its mooring and sank near Penrith weir in the flood of 2020.

We have Olympic and Paralympic rowers training on the river now for the Tokyo Olympics. They are counting on us to keep the river free of weeds. Taxpayers expect better co-operation between tiers of government. How ridiculous to have the Federal Government generously fund plant and equipment only to find that the State Government drops the ball with operational funding.

I am calling on the State Agriculture Minister, Adam Marshall, to intervene.


Hawkesbury Radio interview, February 2021

This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Garry Cotter at Hawkesbury Radio 899 to talk about my personal opinions on a wide range of issues.

The fate of a concrete recycling plant continues to be of concern to residents of Ebenezer, and I had an update concerning an upcoming planning panel meeting, along with remarks about the deficiencies of Planning Panels generally.

As a member of Council's Civics committee, I congratulated our Australia Day award winners.I put on my hat as the Chairman of the Hawkesbury River County Council and raised a concern that key aquatic weed control activities are at threat because of a bad funding decision by the NSW Government.

I spoke about some very recent changes to a proposed 580 lot subdivision at the Jacaranda site (off Kurmond Road at Glossodia).

Finally, I spoke about the ongoing pressure for development in the Oakville, Vineyard and Maraylya areas, and efforts I've made to consult with that community.

Timecodes:
0:00 Concrete Recycling Plant, Ebenezer, and Planning Panels
8:06 Australia Day award winners
10:01 Hawkesbury River County Council, State Government Funding fail
16:34 Council Committee Restructure and the Heritage Committee
21:24 Proposed Development at Glossodia -Jacaranda
28:00 The Pressure for Development in Oakville, Vineyard and Maraylya


Hawkesbury's Local Housing Strategy and the pressure for development

On Tuesday, Hawkesbury City Council adopted our long-awaited Local Housing Strategy.

This document sets out how we will meet our housing targets over a timeframe of several decades.

Although this has implications for our whole city, the Liberal Councillors felt it was important to address a gap in the document.

The south eastern part of our City – the suburbs of Vineyard, Oakville and Maraylya, sit adjacent to some very aggressive urban growth. The ‘North Western Growth Sector’  is breathing down our neck across the county line in the Hills District, and has spilled into our own patch as the release areas named ‘Vineyard Stage 1 and Stage 2’

This pressure is tearing our community apart. Some are in favour of development, many against.

The one thing we can’t do is… nothing. I was disappointed that the Housing Strategy document said little about either the necessity, desirability, inevitability or show-stopping constraints of future development, other than remarking that the not-yet-finally-gazetted Outer Sydney Orbital corridor will continue to hang over us until that matter is definitely resolved. 

I have strong opinions about this, but they matter less than seeking to understand what the majority view in those suburbs truly is. Some individuals or groups might claim to represent a clear majority, but I don’t think they do. I have a responsibility to represent all those views, and I take that seriously.

So, we moved a form of words that sought to survey and consult with the residents of Oakville and Maraylya to ask them what they wanted. Nothing more. Certainly not a decision to develop or not.

Your Liberal Councillors voted for that consultation. All the others, including Labor and the Greens, voted against it.

This video only contains my remarks, but I encourage you to listen to the whole meeting podcast (item 247, 8th December meeting) when it comes out to hear from my Liberal colleagues and the others.


Council Committees and protecting our Heritage

Hawkesbury City Council has no less than 17 different Committees.

They’re a mess – some have been around since Noah. Some have forgotten the reason for their creation. Some took it upon themselves to re-write their own terms of reference. Some are chaired by Councillors, some are not. Some take in members of the broader community as voting members, some not.

Some of the committees do good work, and enrich the decision making processes of Council. Some… not so much. Each committee requires staff resources to prepare agendas, minutes, and convene meetings.

A proposal was advanced at tonight’s Council meeting to restructure our committees for the first time in decades. It was a great idea – it streamlines the number and remit of committees, taking on detailed feedback received by a Council review over the last year.

It ensured that our committee meetings were public and open to public address (they aren’t now). That agendas are pre-published, and that documentation was available in a timely way to Councillors and the public alike.

It promotes the importance of existential threats like floods and bushfires to become the concern of the whole Chamber – not just a subcommittee.

I agreed. Many times I’ve been in a committee meeting and thought 'I wish all my colleagues were hearing this'.

I disagreed on one critical point – the proposal, as it was moved, sought to abolish our Heritage Committee.

Our Heritage Committee, which I’ve been a member of for four years, carries a disproportionate weight for Council. HCC doesn’t employ a full-time Heritage Officer. The members of this committee are a rare and special fraternity of heritage wisdom, including scientists, heritage architects, historians, and planning experts. We’re very fortunate to have them give their knowledge to us around the year, completely gratis. Put it this way – if we had to pay for their advice, we couldn’t afford it. The work this committee does fills a huge gap that would be impossible to fill if the committee was dissolved – and the motion before me sought to do just that. It sought to amalgamate its function into a committee with no community representatives and which shared billing with Waste and Environmental Sustainability – fairly poor bedfellows.

So, when the vote came, and despite my support for committee reform generally, I voted for a deferral so we could talk as a group of 12 about a better outcome that both permits reform, and protects our unique Heritage (and this committee). I expect the matter will come back to Council before Christmas.

Picture: Summer Noon, Hawkesbury River; Arthur Streeton, 1896.

 

Here are the remarks I made to Council when this came up:


The NSW 2020 State Redistribution

Every two elections (~8 years), the NSW Electoral Commission re-draws the boundaries of seats in our State.

This is done so that each seat in the NSW Parliament has a roughly equal number of voters (generally within 10% of the average of 57,193). Demographic change and urban growth cause population distortions in some seats (like Riverstone and Camden, which are oversubscribed by about a third).

It is important to note these are changes to the NSW State seats, not Federal seats relevant to a Federal election.

The process is undertaken by the Commission, which is a statutory authority and forbids gerrymandering, which is a very stark contrast to the broken and corrupt systems used abroad.

This process can be painful for elected MPs, as suburbs they represent are transferred to neighbouring seats (or, heaven forbid, weaken their margins or necessitate the reallocation of party branches into or out of their seats.)

But it affects voters as well, as the MP they are used to may no longer represent them, or it may change the complexion of an electorate, so it's worth paying attention to it.

The Commission has just released the draft boundaries they want to employ for the next State Election due in 2023, and they are now on public exhibition. You're welcome to give feedback until the 23rd of December 2020.

Many people find this process confusing, so I thought I would offer an guide, and provide some resources for people who like to play with Google Earth.

The above link will take you to a ZIP file which decompresses to a Google Earth .KMZ file that can be double clicked if you have the free Google Earth program for MAC or PC.

My visualisation allows you to toggle the old and new seat boundaries, the strength of the two-party-preferred vote in individual polling places, and suburb names, allowing you to explore the changes across NSW.

I'm offering this video and downloadable map layers in an effort to help people understand this process. I've confined my more detailed analysis to a few seats in north and western Sydney.

I have drawn this data from places such as:

https://www.elections.nsw.gov.au/redistribution/Proposed-boundaries-and-names

https://datasets.seed.nsw.gov.au/dataset/nsw-administrative-boundaries

https://pastvtr.elections.nsw.gov.au/sg1901/la/home

This analysis is like other ones I have done in the past like:

https://councillorzamprogno.info/a-map-of-the-hawkesbury-nepean-river-and-its-tributaries-and-catchment-boundary/

and

https://councillorzamprogno.info/2018/05/31/a-google-earth-overlay-of-the-oso-m9-and-blor-castlereagh-corridors/

Helping Bushland Regeneration in Bilpin

I was pleased to launch the Blue Mountains Shale Cap Forest Project at Bilpin today, as the Chairman of the Hawkesbury River County Council

The Shale forests stretching across Berambing, Bilpin and Mountain Lagoon are State listed endangered ecological communities, even more threatened in the aftermath of the fires. They are typified by an unusually rich diversity of plant, insect, and vertebrate species.

People forget that the Hawkesbury has more of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area within its boundaries than the Blue Mountains LGA.

My first paid job as a teenager was at Dutch's farm at Mountain Lagoon. I still remember being captivated by the size of the huge Angophoras fringing the property. It's satisfying to now lead an organisation working for their preservation.

This initiative is funded over a multiple years to identify and map the ecology, educate and incentivise landowners, provide on the ground help to assist in bush regeneration, conduct weed control, and track progress.

The project will aim to found a dedicated Bilpin Landcare group to carry the work forward, and the locals who attended today were curious and positive about it.

This grant (over $100K) is the first-time a private property engagement that focuses on conservation and land management has been done on this scale. Over 400 private properties have been contacted covering over 2,835 hectares in the Hawkesbury.

It's also great to see this is a team effort between Blue Mountains City CouncilHawkesbury River County CouncilHawkesbury City Council, the Hawkesbury Landcare NetworkGreater Sydney Local Land Services, and the NSW Environmental Trust.

If you want to get on board, contact HRCC.

 

 


Re-elected as Chair of the Hawkesbury River County Council

I was honoured this week to be re-elected as the Chairman of the Hawkesbury River County Council for a second, one year term.

This is a great honour. I am the first Hawkesbury Liberal Councillor ever to be elected to this role, let alone re-elected. It's been a challenging year, with most of our meetings still occurring via Zoom. Balancing the welfare of staff with maintaining on-the-ground operational capacity has not been easy.

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 3,949 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.

I thank outgoing Deputy Chair, Robyn Preston MP - Member for Hawkesbury for her work with the Board, and congratulate Hills Shire Councillor Samuel Uno for his election as the new Deputy Chair.


Warragamba Dam in 1960

Being cavalier about community safety -- elected representatives should support Warragamba flood mitigation works

Recently, the Federal Member for Macquarie, Susan Templeman MP has made remarks opposing the raising of Warragamba Dam for flood mitigation purposes. I am disappointed that any elected representative of a floodplain like ours would oppose such a crucial safety initiative.

This has been reported in the local media:

My own statement relating to this issue is below:

 

 


Defeated in the effort to ensure fairer Hawkesbury Council Rates

Last night the Mayor moved a Mayoral Minute to try to make our rating system fairer. We failed. The vote was defeated 8:4.

Some suburbs in the Hawkesbury are suffering under Council rates that are anywhere between 50% higher to 300% higher or more than other suburbs.

This is despite those families having similar incomes and similar access to Council services.

The point I made was that the guidelines laid down for fairness in rates requires us to be mindful of both the 'Benefit Principle' and the 'Ability to Pay' principle. Rates should be proportionate to both.

Unfortunately, our area is suffering from a good deal of land speculation caused by our adjacency to the North West Growth Sector, something I've written about and made videos many times before.

Let me encourage you to listen to the Mayor Patrick Conolly and myself as we make our case. My remarks are from 2:20 in.


Straight talk about Development

I was with Garry Cotter being interviewed at Hawkesbury Radio and the subject turned to development in Sydney generally, and the Hawkesbury in particular. How can we balance the destruction of urban sprawl with Sydney's need for housing?

On reflection, I thought this two-minute segment sums up where I'm coming from.

Where do your other Hawkesbury Councillors stand on this and other issues?

Do they ever publish? Make videos? Do interviews? Speak publicly?

You're entitled to know where your elected representatives stand on issues. If you want my view on an issue that isn't already written about on this site, just ask.


What are the facts about raising Warragamba Dam?

In any given year, what are the risks of your house burning down, you getting sick, or you crashing your car?

Low, I hope. These events have a low probability, but serious consequences. So we weigh the risk, and take out insurance.

So it is with our floodplain. There have been 124 floods in the Hawkesbury-Nepean since the 1790s. We had one this year (a baby -- between 1:5 and 1:10 probability), and worse ones are a statistical inevitability.

The NSW Government 2017 report, Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities says that the damage of a bad flood could be between $5 billion and $7 billion dollars, considering that 134,000 people live and trade on the floodplain.

In a bad flood, 90,000 of those people would need to be evacuated. 12,000 homes would be inundated.

The report also says that this risk could be reduced by 75% if Warragamba Dam is raised by 15 meters, saving lives and slashing $5 billion from the damage bill. A wise investment, I think.

The cost would be that, in those rare rainfall events, a fringe of land around the current high waterline of Lake Burragorang would be subjected to temporary inundation, amounting to 0.04-0.05% of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Crucially, preliminary modelling suggests the most sensitive areas of the catchment, like the Kowmung River and its tributaries, would not be affected at all.

There is a lot of misinformation put about concerning the Warragamba Dam raising project. That it's a stalking horse for development on the floodplain. That it will ruin a world heritage site. That it's about increasing Sydney's water supply.

These claims are not true -- even though these issues are important. The project is about protecting life and property. I observe that most people who are opposed to the project don't live on the floodplain. They live elsewhere, high and dry. They endure no risk to themselves, their families, or property. They are entitled to their views, but have no stake in the outcome.

The attached video is an interview I did recently when I was approached by someone doing some academic research from my alma mater, the University of Sydney. I summarise many of the points I frequently make about the project, and Hawkesbury Council's attitude towards it.

I've written about this subject many times before:

https://councillorzamprogno.info/2019/07/04/interviewed-on-abc-sydney-radio-about-warragamba-dam/
https://councillorzamprogno.info/2018/04/06/hawkesbury-council-should-support-the-raising-of-warragamba-dam/
https://councillorzamprogno.info/2018/03/27/appearing-on-the-abc-news-about-raising-warragamba-dam/
https://councillorzamprogno.info/2018/04/11/425/
https://councillorzamprogno.info/a-map-of-the-hawkesbury-nepean-river-and-its-tributaries-and-catchment-boundary/

A Masterplan for Colbee Park at Mcgraths Hill

Colbee Park in McGraths Hill 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.

Despite near constant use from the Oakville United Soccer Club, the Oakville Raiders Baseball Club, the Hawkesbury Hornets BMX Club, frequented by dog-walkers and near the pleasant wetlands of Killarney creek, the park also suffers from limited parking that turns into a quagmire with a breath of rain, insufficient seating, has little shade, an open drain that cuts the park in two, and buildings so inadequate that sports clubs have had to use shipping containers to stow their club’s gear. The baseball club lost all their uniforms and gear when it flooded earlier this year.

Hopefully, this can begin to change. Council will consider the exhibition of a new masterplan for Colbee Park at our next meeting.

The plan includes upgraded fields, new play equipment, better parking, proper amenities and storage for clubs (including a female change room), seating and shade structures, a Pump BMX Track, and a footbridge over the Creek for nearby Arndell school.

The only thing missing is funding to make it happen within ten years. I’ll keep advocating on that front.

The draft Masterplan can be seen as attachments to our Business Paper for our Council meeting of 8/9/20 (Item 170), at this link.

I’ll let you know when the plan is open for public comment. If you’re a user of Colbee Park, I encourage you to have your say.


Speaking to Ray Hadley about Planning Panels

This morning I was invited to speak to Ray Hadley on Sydney Radio station 2GB about two issues.

If the streaming link above for the audio does not work, try this direct .mp3 sound file link.

The first issue is the prospects for two Development Applications that have been lodged for a concrete recycling plant at Ebenezer.

Both DA's are problematic for a number of reasons, including the loss of tree cover, noise and dust within 700m of a local primary school, the excessive fill proposed, some land use conflicts, and the increased burden on road maintenances from truck movements. Many Ebenezer locals have contacted me with their concerns.

However, this particular application draws our attention to a much broader issue, and that's the role of planning panels.

Prior to 2017, most DA's were voted on by elected Councillors. Less contentious ones were processed by Council staff under delegated authority, and only state significant developments were sent to external panels.

In 2017, the news was full of rare bad apples in local government, like Salim Mehajer, whose corrupt behaviour tainted the reputation of Councils as fair judges of development proposals. So the State Government revoked the ability for all Sydney Councils to vote on DA's and mandated that all DA's are to be assessed by independent panels of unelected bureaucrats.

There are five Sydney Planning Panels and four Regional Panels. Matters go to a Local Planning Panel if there are more than 10 public submissions, if it's Council's own DA, or if a matter requires advice. Matters go to a Regional Planning Panel if the value of the proposal is over $20 million, if it is State Significant Development, or "Designated Development'.

Unfortunately, I think the pendulum has swung too far, and democracy has been eroded, even though the impulse -- to reduce corruption, reduce red tape, and stimulate the economy, is a worthy one.

The key here is to strike balance. Programs like "Yes Minister" incisively reveal a productive tension between the public service and elected representatives. Public servants are a professional class, and may have institutional memory and significant subject expertise in an area.

However, appointed delegates to Planning Panels may also be people who do not live in the area in which their decisions affect people, are less connected with local sentiments, and are not truly accountable -- they 'have no skin in the game', and if they make an unpopular or incorrect decision there is little democratic remedy.

When I make a decision on your behalf, I have a vested interest in listening carefully to your concerns. If I get it wrong, you get to vote me out, and that's as it should be. This balance between the mechanistic letter of the law and the democratic prerogative of elected representatives usually works well.

People approach me and your other Hawkesbury Councillors regularly expecting that we will represent their concerns on development applications, which is a fairly core function of Council. We have to disabuse them of our ability to influence or vote on matters of public interest, because of this change, even though most Councils are run well and can be fair judges of the merits of an application.

Some among my colleagues argue that Council's role is to set the frameworks for development, such as our Local Environment Plan (LEP), Developer Control Plan (DCP), Local Strategic Planning Statement (LSPS), Residential Land Strategy, Rural Land Strategy, and so on. But Council's process for updating these documents, which is ongoing, has been interminably slow, and has us relying on outdated documents that are sometimes years old. Our DCP, for example, dates to 2002!

I feel I'm in good company in seeking a review of the extent of planning panels, joining Liberal Councillors in other Councils in branding this an over-reach.


Protecting the Cumberland Plain woodlands

Update: 9th October 2020. I have made a submission to the State Government on the Conservation Plan. Read it here.

This week the State Government placed the Draft Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan on exhibition for comment.

This is a significant document for a number of reasons, although it has some failings which my submission to the Minister will seek to remedy.

The Cumberland Plain is a generic term for the (mostly) flat geographical area laying between eastern Sydney and the Blue Mountains, encompassing Western Sydney from the south near Wilton to the north including the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain. The forests and grasslands it used to host have been significantly fragmented by urban development, and previous attempts to create woodland corridors or "green lungs" for Sydney have been eroded over the decades, which I've written about before, and explained in a video.

The first thing to observe is updated maps relating to the location and extent of the M9/OSO road and infrastructure corridor are a part of the plan, and now formally exclude areas north of Richmond Road. This is heartening, but our community will not have certainty until the final extents are gazetted, which is in my opinion, signficantly overdue.

While we're on the subject of corridors, the Draft EIS offered alongside the RMS proposal for the M9 included maps which purported to show the extent of Cumberland Plain Vegetation (of various types) along its path.

However, these maps were greatly at variance with other maps, such as NPWS maps, which showed significantly greater coverage.

I pointed this out at the time, both in an article and a video showing exactly how the extent of Cumberland woodland has been underestimated. I also created a Google Earth Overlay comparing the two.

The northern extent of the proposed M9 corridor (as at 2018, not now) downplaying the extent of woodland in the vegetation study created by Transport for NSW.

The green areas above represent “Threatened ecological communities” and the hatched areas represent “Cumberland Plain Priority Conservation Lands”.

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

Looking through the 3256 page Draft Assessment Report in the new plan that has been released, it would appear that few actions to update vegetation coverage maps have occurred in the Hawkesbury, in favour of study areas closer to the Aerotropolis closer to Badgerys Creek. I would have preferred that a Conservation Plan incorporating the Hawkesbury took at least some time to update the relevant studies to snapshot the state of the Cumberland vegetation in  the Hawkesbury. Instead, the focus is overwhelmingly on the southern areas subject to more intensive development.

Downy Wattle, Acacia pubescens

One representative example of this is the treatment of an iconic species prominent to the Hawkesbury, such as the Downy Wattle (Acacia Pubescens).

A 2003 NPWS study showed 116 known populations of the species, with just over half of those known populations containing fewer than 20 stems. There are sites in Windsor Downs, Mountain Lagoon, Pitt Town and Scheyville are the major sites in the Hawkesbury LGA, and yet the draft Assessment Report instead targeted study areas on Penrith, Badgerys Creek and Wilton.

Considering the State Government’s use of maps in their planning that are seriously out of date, or which disagree with other data, I hoped the Government would take the opportunity to do new work to establish current coverage and biodiversity threats to what’s left – especially in those areas of the Hawkesbury that will be likely subject to the greatest development pressure within the time horizon of the plan (out to 2056), like Vineyard, Oakville and Maraylya.

Submissions have been extended to 9th October 2020. I encourage you to make your views known.

 


Mental health, psychological abuse and health regulation

I'm putting this post here to welcome those who are arriving at my site as a result of being quoted and linked in the August 2020 piece on VICE titled "I lost my wife to a cult", which is, sadly, the story of what happened to my own family.

It's a tragedy, and painful to recount, and something I've tended to be private about with respect to my role as an elected Councillor. I consented to participate in the story because of my desire to raise awareness of an important issue.

I believe most people expect government to have laws against the exploitation of the vulnerable. For myself, I am committed to that fight.

In recent years, Australia has conducted a debate on religious freedoms. We live in an open, pluralist society. It is fundamental to our national character that freedoms of belief, association and expression are respected.

But how do we deal with those who abuse the sense of purpose and hope that many find in faith, and use the cloak of religion to commit objectively evil acts?

It is not a rising tide of secularism that represents the worst threat to mainstream religions -- believers that keep to social norms and who do genuinely charitable work in our communities. Rather, it's a minority of "bad apples" that exploit the respected place of religion in our society.

Our laws discern a difference between belief and conduct. If you commit an assault, or perpetrate a fraud upon another, we accept these as clear breaches of a moral code and the law will bring you to book.

But if you lure someone into a cult, suppress their critical thinking faculties, change their name, poison them against the affections of their family, and rob them of years of their life, then the law, presently, is silent. It is an act equally as violent as a physical assault or a fraud -- and indeed, often combines elements of each.

Back in 1998, the Australian Standing Committee of Attorney's General formulated something called the Model Criminal Code. It was aimed at harmonising laws between the Commonwealth, the States and Territories. The Model Code contained a proposal to introduce an offence of Psychological Abuse, both to account for cult abuse and some aspects of domestic violence.

Despite the objective merit of the proposal, and my personal advocacy to the then NSW Attorney General in 2012, no Australian State ever saw fit to adopt it into their statutes.

This has been an area of advocacy for me for many years.

Further reading:

My other piece, Confronting Those Who Prey On The Vulnerable.

Older pieces on my other (personal) blog about cults.

My presentation to the national conference of the Australian False Memory Association. The first half of the video elaborates on the story appearing in the VICE piece linked at the top. The video from 26m00s on describes my political advocacy in this area.


On the opening of the new Windsor Bridge

I was privileged to have a sneak peak of the new bridge before it opened with Robyn Preston MP

The new Windsor bridge opened to traffic this weekend. This is a major milestone, and the project has dominated local politics for a decade.

After so much Ill-feeling and unnecessary delay, I think this is a project the whole community should be proud of, and I say this as a local representative who felt very much caught in the middle by those passionately advocating for and against.

I didn’t entirely agree with those who thought of this project as a rape of Windsor’s heritage. But I did agree that building a replacement bridge in the same location condemned a very historic square to another century of heavy traffic, when it offered a wonderful opportunity to build a bypass. I said then and still say that this was a missed opportunity.

"Slated for demolition"... except it never was.

I also disagreed strongly with those who put out misinformation — saying for example that heritage buildings around Thompson square were “scheduled for demolition” when they never were, and the protesters knew that. They also said that historic brick barrel drains that had been covered up over a century would be destroyed, when in fact the project afforded the chance to do some unique archeology and then cover them back up, just like they have been all this time. We now have a documentary record and a host of artefacts we never would have otherwise had. Piers for the new bridge were moved so that they didn’t disturb the drains. 

Some wonderful archeology was uncovered by the project, which never would have been investigated otherwise.

Nor did I see overwhelming merit in retaining a narrow, inadequate bridge whose visible structure was an ugly concrete deck added in 1924. The oldest part of the bridge, best able to be described as having heritage value, were the iron pillars driven into the river bedrock in 1874 — some of which will be retained in the construction of a viewing platform (which the protesters opposed!) 
These things inflamed passions and tested friendships needlessly.

Of course, any protest started by people who care deeply about heritage or local amenity also attract carpetbaggers — people who care less about the issue, but who beadily seized an opportunity to create political friction for their own ends.

For years, I saw protests in Thompson Square with unsavoury types loitering around the edges — leather clad union thugs, federal politicians who had nothing to do with the project, Greens activists, even the late Jack Mundey, former BLF tsar and Communist Party candidate (but otherwise the saviour of The Rocks — see, people aren’t all bad).

It became a circus. At the last election, at least three people gained election to Hawkesbury Council on the back of this tide of protest, only to spend the last four years sticking their heads in the sand, opposing reasonable collaboration between Council and the RMS, and almost guaranteeing that the community input they sought election on would rarely reach the right ears. It’s been very frustrating. 
I think many people who genuinely care about heritage have been used.

It’s worth noting that today's opening of the new bridge isn’t the end of the project. I’m hopeful that the completed landscaping will reunite the sundered halves of Thompson Square caused by the cutting dug in 1934, greatly expanding the useful space to the public, and underlining that Thompson Square has been a changing and evolving space since the beginning.

The opening of the old bridge, 4th November, 1874. This bridge shares only certain elements with the present structure. The whole top deck was replaced in 1920.

I’m confident that once everyone sees the completed project, people will reconsider whether all the noise and hand-wringing were worth it.

Hawkesbury, enjoy your new bridge. Maybe your great-great grandchildren will fight to preserve it as a piece of the area’s heritage in 2166, the year in which it will be as old as the current bridge retired at. 

This video, courtesy of Robyn Preston MP - Member for Hawkesbury is a fascinating record of the bridge's construction.


A brief meditation on human nature

LordOfTheFliesBookCover.jpg

I know this might not be about local government, but indulge me a little. If Government is about ordering society, and societies are made of individuals, then their innate temperament, good or bad, are worth meditating on. Imagine electing people to high office who never think or write about that, or who couldn't articulate an opinion either way. Yes, imagine that...

Many moons ago, I read Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ and felt glum afterwards. People at heart are nasty, Golding said. Either as a society or as a species we’re only a few missed meals away from barbarism. Isolate people and just watch them forget education, rationality and courtesy, and descend into animals.At that time, this view was consonant with my religious faith. I recalled Jeremiah’s lament that all human hearts are ‘desperately wicked’, and I nodded, regretfully concluding the novel backed the Bible’s assessment of human nature.

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and ...

The first blow to that view came when I read of a 4th century Church heresy called Pelagianism. Poor Pelagius, an ascetic monk, didn’t believe in original sin, and felt human beings aren’t all that bad after all. They might even have some virtue, if they were allowed to exercise free will. Jesus, Pelagius said, came to set a better example, rather than acting as a propitiatory blood sacrifice to an angry god. Might people, he wondered, instinctively behave decently towards one another without needing a goad (or a god)? His inclination to that view makes more sense when you remember that Pelagius was British.

In praise of Pelagius

Of course, Pelagius didn’t prevail, because Augustine insisted that people were drenched in Original Sin and were innately horrible, only to be one-upped a millennia later by Calvin who said we inherited a “hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature diffused into all parts of the soul… For our nature is not merely bereft of good, but is so productive of every kind of evil that it cannot be inactive.”

John Calvin quote: Original sin, therefore, appears to be a ...

But because, perhaps like you, I knew many kind people whose kindness did not spring from religious faith (and worse, know many whose cruelty springs exclusively from it), this dismal view of human nature never quite gelled with the evidence of my own eyes. So I always thought of myself as a tiny bit Pelagian -- a little heresiarch, and that streak of defiance never left me.

And now I read a real-life tale, which I’m astonished I’ve never heard before, about a group of adolescents marooned on an island for over a year, Lord-of-the-flies style. Except that they looked out for one another, and got along, and all came home safe and well as a result.

So why am I going on about this now?

Because we’re living in a peculiar and disturbing time. We could all do with a little affirmation about our ability to be good ; to look after one another especially while we’re going through a trial like a pandemic. I see a lot of human nature in my role as a leader in my community.

So listen to me: People are, with small exceptions, decent, and want to help one another. Be encouraged.

This story renews some of my faith in humankind, which three millennia of dogma has tried to tread down. Look around you. Our community is making a valiant effort and enduring enormous sacrifices to protect vulnerable people. Because it’s the right thing to do. Jeremiah was wrong. Calvin was wrong.

And Mr Golding? Shame on you.


New land valuations give little relief for rates in most Hawkesbury suburbs

Residents around the Hawkesbury should be receiving their latest land valuation letters from the Valuer General. I got mine this week.

I'll be making a more detailed analysis when some details crystallise, but since it's already been mentioned on social media, let me get some data out to you.

Every few years, the VG revalues your land. It has nothing to do with the improved value of your property (that is, with your house and other structures), but is used by Council to calculate your rates. This Council voted to turn the knob up on the formula which magnifies swings in land value on your rates. I and my fellow Liberal Councillors opposed that as unfair and this remains our view. I've made several videos and posts about this in the past, if you want a reminder.

https://councillorzamprogno.info/2017/08/27/video-blog-hawkesbury-council-rate-rises-and-the-valuer-general/
https://councillorzamprogno.info/2017/08/10/are-some-hawkesbury-residents-paying-too-much-tax/

For example, speculation caused by development near the NW growth sector caused land values in Oakville and Vineyard to soar in 2017, and the Council rubbed salt in the wound by applying for a staged 31% rate-hike (the SRV) which is still flowing through to you.

Here are three tables from Council's new 2020 analysis of the effect of the new valuation on rates, by suburb.

Hawkesbury Council's preliminary analysis of the effect of the new valuation on 2020 rates.

It shows that land values in Oakville have relaxed -7.26%, the biggest suburb drop in this round. However, given land values spiked 130% in the 2016 Valuation (206% in Vineyard, 66% in Maraylya, and 44% in McGraths Hill), this is little relief.

A slide from a 2016 briefing on the effect of the previous land valuation round from 2014 to 2016.

If this were the only factor, the average Residential rates in Oakville would drop $710p.a in the 2020-2021FY.

BUT, since the latest stage of the SRV is also going to be applied to your next rates bill, most of the gains are eroded.

So, the average rates in Oakville in 2020-21 will be $3598pa, down from $3905 this year, a saving of only $307.

These figures need to be taken with these caveats:
Average figures are only that, and your own situation may differ.
• I've asked Council staff for more granular data including median rates, and I'm still waiting for them.
• These per-suburb figures are not final, as the VG has indicated some variations may occur in areas affected by the fires. This will affect the balance between suburbs and therefore the proportion each of us will pay.

Some people's rates in Oakville and elsewhere doubled (or worse) in 2017, and this new land valuation will give you very little relief. You're right to be angry. The current Council delivered a quadruple-whammy to you by abolishing the Rural-Residential category, increasing land value as an input to the rating formula, spiking everyone's rates by 31%, all at a time of rampant land value property speculation, which appears to be continuing.

I will continue to advocate for a fairer system.


Be Proud of Cook's Discovery of Australia

Today marks the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook's landing at Botany Bay.

It was the crowning achievement of an astonishing feat of navigation, and the greatest historically consequential event in a voyage of scientific and geographical discovery. It was the prelude to the birth of our nation.

Today, I'm taking the time to reflect on this achievement. I think all Australians should be proud of what Cook did, and even given the astringent and surreal times we are presently living through, I am unhappy that the event is passing without the fanfare it deserves.

I was a schoolboy in 1988 and Australia marked the bicentenary of the landing of the First Fleet. It was a yearlong and open-hearted celebration of what Australia has become -- a youthful, peaceful, democratic, pluralist, secular, lawful, compassionate, innovative and good-humoured country. These are things it is genuinely worth being proud of. I think that the quarter-millennial anniversary of Cook's discovery is almost as important.

Celebrating Cook's landing at Botany Bay does not imply that our nation is without faults. We recognise the deep and abiding connection of Australia’s first inhabitants to the land. But recognising significant anniversaries like this are about looking at how far we've come, and it’s worth remembering that one of the Australian virtues birthed with our nation is an aspiration to treat all people equally and with dignity. We shouldn't wallow in recrimination, cast accusations, or judge our forebears by the different standards of today. This message, of tolerance and national pride, is one I have been sharing for many years.

If you feel less acquainted than you ought with this important event in our history, then permit me to invite you to read Joseph Bank's own diary from the days around the landing in April 1770. It's more vivid than Cook's account, and is a captivating read.


The Hawkesbury's Response to the Bushfires

I thanked RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons for his leadership during the crisis.

June 8th update:
The total value of the funds received from the Commonwealth and State Government in relation to bushfire assistance to date is now $1,737,477.

The breakdown of funds is as follows:

• $1.3 million from two Commonwealth Grants of $1 million and $300,000
• $437,477 from the NSW State Government via the following grants:

Bushfire Community Resilience and Economic Recovery Grant: $250,000
• Bilpin Orchards Clean-up Grant: $187,500.

The Funding was provided to Council to “lead the local recovery efforts as it sees fit…”
Council has provided the Office of Local Government with a Program of Works detailing how the collective funding received will be utilised by Council. Further reports will be provided as required to the Office of Local Government and the Commonwealth.

• The $1.3 million from the Commonwealth Government is to be used for:
a) Infrastructure: $85,000 (e.g. clearing dangerous trees, replacing signage, communications towers, water infrastructure etc)
b) Waste, Environment and Planning: $420,000 (e.g. removal of fire damaged vegetation, trees on private property, illegally dumped rubbish and contaminated waste, expert planning advice etc.).
c) Health and Wellbeing: $560,000 from the Commonwealth and $100,200 from other known sources (e.g. recovery projects in Colo, Bilpin and St Albans, psychological support & counselling, supplementing Step by Step funding, funding additional outreach worker and community development worker etc. )
d) Business, Tourism and Industry: $85,000 from the Commonwealth Government (e.g. utilising local businesses for goods and services, 1-1 support for tourism, promoting local businesses, business recovery coordination etc.)
e) Disaster Recovery Officer: $150,000

• The $437,477 from the NSW State Government is to be used for:
a) Infrastructure:$125,000, ((e.g. clearing dangerous trees, replacing signage, communications towers, water infrastructure etc.)

b) Waste, Environment and Planning:$187,477 ((e.g. removal of fire damaged vegetation, trees on private property, illegally dumped rubbish and contaminated waste, expert planning advice etc.)
c) Health and Wellbeing: $50,000 (recovery projects in Colo, Bilpin and St Albans, psychological support & counselling, supplementing Step by Step funding, funding additional outreach worker and community development worker etc.)
d) Business, Tourism and Industry: $200,000 (utilising local businesses for goods and services, 1-1 support for tourism, promoting local businesses, business recovery coordination etc.)

My original post continues:

Our Hawkesbury Shire was one of the more severely affected areas in the recent bushfires.

Over 160 days of continuous fire operations, at the peak of the campaign there were 2500 to 3000 personnel on the fireground daily, together with multiple air tankers, helicopters and other aircraft.

The Gospers Mtn fire now holds the record as the largest fire in the world from a single ignition point. Adding the fires that merged into it, it consumed over 1 million hectares -- about 7% of the whole State. It had a perimeter 1380km long and was larger than 31 countries.

Statewide there were 2,400 houses lost (but, it bears remembering, over 15,000 houses valiantly saved).

Here in the Hawkesbury, 540 rural property holders were impacted, with 65 homes destroyed, 30 homes damaged, plus 55 outbuildings.

Little did we realise, as the smoke (literally) cleared, that within a month we would face a flood, and then a pandemic.

These events may have felt at times that they would overwhelm us. It is important for leaders to remind everyone that the victims of the fires have not been forgotten, and that a range of initiatives are underway to respond to their needs.

Hawkesbury Council's submission to the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements submitted this week has highlighted both the praiseworthy and the "could improve" of our response.

It praises the local knowledge of brigade personnel in the Hawkesbury RFS, the coordination of out of area resources including resources offered from other states, international help, and from the Australian Defence Force. It acknowledged the success of our Community Engagement Protocols; reinforcing State and Local level combat agency information over multiple communication channels.

On the "could improve" list was a focus on telecommunications. Black spots in signal coverage and the loss of landlines from fire and tree damage to overhead cabling affected our emergency response capacity and has been a longstanding issue. Work needs to be done to make cellular towers and exchange points more fire resilient.

On this front, there is already good news, with the Federal Government's Mobile Black Spots program recently announcing new funding for three new cellular towers in the Hawkesbury, at Central Colo, Colo and Putty, and community input requested for the next rounds of the same program. I encourage you to make a submission by the deadline of June 19th.

Another significant lesson is the need to ensure that our fire defences are supported by the provision of modern and spacious headquarters to manage emergencies and provide logistical support. The need for a new, purpose built  Hawkesbury Fire Control Centre is a fight I've written about before, and which I will continue to advocate for.

The Federal Government has announced significant funding for tourism in the Hawkesbury (yes, tourism will recover after Covid-19!) through the Regional Tourism Bushfire Recovery Grants scheme.

Applications remain open for the Federal-State government’s Small Business Bushfire Support Grant. The grant provides up to $10,000 for businesses that have been indirectly impacted by the fires and whose revenue has declined by 40% (relative to the previous financial year).

At a more local level, Council is continuing to assist with the cleanup effort, especially in Bilpin, at Colo and in the Macdonald Valley.

52 inspections have been undertaken with 31 properties deemed to be eligible for clean-up assistance, with 12 properties already completed. Inspections and removal of dangerous trees are ongoing.

Property owners seeking to rebuild are being provided with a concierge service, and Council is developing a ‘Rebuilding and Repairing Buildings Damaged by Bushfire’ factsheet, which will be available through Hawkesbury Council's Bush Fire Recovery Page.

Council's Resilience and Recovery website

If you've been affected by fire or flood, it must feel like other more recent events have pushed you out of everyone's minds entirely.

You haven't been forgotten.

As (hopefully) the impact of COVID-19 subsides, we can return our focus to getting the Hawkesbury back on its feet after both the fire and the flood.