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Interview with Bruce Robertson

Interview with 104 year old veteran Bruce Robertson at RAAF Richmond

It was a rare privilege to sit and record the memories of Bruce Robertson earlier this week with Kathryn Gene from Pulse 89.9FM Radio.

It’s hard to encapsulate just how much Bruce's extraordinary 104 year life has taken in.

He shook Charles Kingsford-Smith’s hand and chatted with his crew after Kingsford-Smith led the first trans-Pacific air crossing in 1928 in the "Southern Cross".

He trained with 30 Squadron, right here in the Hawkesbury at RAAF Base Richmond.

As a wireless operator, he was the first to detect and raise the alarm when he heard Japanese Morse Code signals of the mothership submarine off Sydney Heads as it launched two midget submarines into Sydney Harbour in May 1942.
Via Townsville, he deployed to New Guinea and was present at the battles of Kokoda and the Bismarck Sea, relaying vital intelligence of the battles as they unfolded.

Bruce is literally older than the Air Force he joined –– which is a timely reminder that the centenary of our own RAAF Richmond base is next year and deserves an open day and an air show.

Recording and editing this has been a true thrill, and both Bruce’s remarkable memories and his wisdom for young people today (towards the end of the video) make for the best ANZAC day treat I can offer you.
Many thanks to Kathryn and to the staff of RAAF Richmond and to the Sergeant’s Mess who offered their hospitality.

Interview on local radio Pulse FM with Kathryn Gene


On Monday Pulse 89.9FM Radio presenter Kathryn Gene interviewed me on air about local issues in her segment ‘In Topic’.

Ranging from the state of our roads, recovery from floods, the pressure for development and the upcoming Council elections, check out this video in case you missed it.


The Hawkesbury River Flood of April 2024

A rare “rain bomb” again plunged the Hawkesbury-Nepean River and the communities that live and work along its banks into crisis between April 5-7, and another flood washed through the area.

 

 

Now the waters are subsiding, we have a sense of the scale of this flood compared to others occurring in 2021 and 2022.

Date Flood height (Windsor guage)
April 2024  9.4m
Oct 2022  7.384m
Jul 2022 13.9m
Apr 2022 9.07m
Mar 2022 13.714m
Mar 2021 12.912m
Feb 2020 9.225m
Feb 1992 10.82m

The “1:100” level (badly named, better described as “the height of a flood that has a 1% probability of happening in any one year” is 17.3m at Windsor. the 1:200 level is 18.5m.
The famed 1867 flood, the worst since European settlement, was 19.68m. Other historical flood heights are listed here.

Here is a time-lapse of the total flood event I compiled by scraping individual images from LiveTraffic.com‘s webcams around the district. I owe a dept of thanks to the technicians at the LiveTraffic website for helping me with this project.


It remains frustrating that the NSW Government went to the last election pledging to scrap the raising of Warragamba Dam, the one mitigation measure certain to reduce the frequency or height of bad floods. What measures they would pursue as a replacement was vague then and shambolic now. They gesture vaguely to levies as a solution, but have done nothing in the year since they were elected to articulate, develop or fund a solution.


Fixing a local eyesore - the Telstra phone exchange in Richmond

The Telstra phone exchange in the main street of Richmond was automated in 1972. Previously, the manual exchange had a staff of 30 women plus 2 male night attendants.
If you've walked by there recently, you'll see it's now an overgrown eyesore, with weeds spilling over the fence and choking what would otherwise be a pleasant space. People are telling me that it was so lovely once it won awards and people got their wedding photos taken there. A rockery and a wooden arbor are still inside.
Given that we've completed some beautifications along the main street, I don't think it's too much to ask Telstra, who posted a $2.1B profit last year, to clean it up, or even turn it into a mini-park.
Then, something wonderful happened. After I wrote to Telstra corporate, I actually got some action!
By Wednesday, I had a response from Corporate to promise that something would be done, and that they’d call me to discuss the long term future of the site, which used to be so pretty, I’m told it won garden awards. the next day, workmen attended despite the rain and cleaned up the site. Then, I received a phone call from the head of property maintenance at Telstra. They apologised for letting it slip off the radar, have committed to undertake maintenance on a monthly schedule, and are very, very open to granting permission for it to be a community garden. What they’ve asked for is a concept design. We need to find a landscape gardener prepared to draw one up. I’d also like to engage the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to sponsor. No one is more surprised than me, and I’m happy to praise Telstra for doing the right thing and for reacting so quickly!

Launch of the "futureofthehawkesbury.com" website

This year is a Council election year.

The biggest question facing us is this: What do you want the future of the Hawkesbury to be?

We want the Hawkesbury to thrive, with vibrant town centres and well maintained roads. We want to look after our heritage and our environment. But the biggest thing Council will ever take a position on is how many more houses will we build in our city. There are developers who want to build thousands more houses in our city, on both sides of the river.

You shouldn't believe that more urban sprawl can’t be avoided, or that if we share our views, we won't be heard.

So I'm launching "futureofthehawkesbury.com", a new website. Its job is to host surveys and petitions to gather the widest ever spread of your views about roads, development, the environment, child-care and other matters on which Council can make a difference.

In late 2020, Council debated our housing policy. We know the suburbs along the south-eastern boundary of our city (like Oakville, Vineyard and Maraylya) are on the front line of the pressure for more development. Look at what's happening along Windsor Road, and on the eastern side of Boundary Road.

The pressure for yet more areas to be subdivided is splitting our community. I recognised that some are in favour of subdivision, and some against. In that debate I said the simplest and most courteous thing we should do, and especially in those suburbs, is ask everyone what they want the future to look like. I was voted down. More recently, I re-floated the idea of a comprehensive survey asking what people's views on development were, and it was clear I wouldn't have the numbers to pass it in the chamber.

I have my theories. Those against development worry that even asking the question opens a can of worms. Those for development worry that a properly comprehensive survey will prove that a majority of Hawkesbury residents are against it.

But the website is about more than that. If there's an issue you think Council is neglecting, and you want to prove that the community are united in demanding action, sign one of the petitions we're kicking off with, or suggest your own.

This September will be the most consequential Council election in the Hawkesbury's history.

Watch this one-minute introduction, and then head on over to the website. Be engaged, and be heard.


The Sydney ant-hill – A modern tragedy

Should the Hawkesbury become part of the Sydney ant-hill?

The March edition of the Hawkesbury Post contains a text version of this article. This video version is intended as a richer, shareable version.

Hawkesbury Post - March 2024 - Nathan Zamprogno Opinion piece 'The Sydney Ant Hill - a Modern Tragedy'.

As a high school teacher, I like to run a lesson about an obscure concept called ‘the Tragedy of the Commons’.

It starts with buying milk at the shops. There you are in Coles or Aldi. Two bottles of milk sit next to each other, one with a use-by date five days from now, and another with ten. You know that you’d easily get through either bottle before the due date, but you do what most people would do, and reach for the freshest milk regardless.

Economists have long known that this is how people behave. Understandably, people make decisions that are best for themselves in that moment; the broader good of society isn’t on their mind.

The problem comes when everyone makes those ‘best for me’ decisions. In our example, perfectly good milk just a couple of days older gets left on the shelf until it ages past its use-by, spoils, and is thrown out.

I offer my students this metaphor as a stimulus, not merely to give them a complex about buying milk. I encourage them to find connections between the story and larger, more serious real-world issues. When we over-fish the oceans, power our society with resources we know will someday run out, overuse antibiotics, or sacrifice agricultural land for housing without regard to the sustainability of these choices, then we are playing out the same ‘tragedy of the commons’ on ever larger stages. Our individual decisions remain rational and yield us short term ease and comfort. But they are collectively bad for our descendants because the bill is generationally deferred.

This is never more obvious than when we consider Sydney’s boundless addiction to urban growth.

Former Labor Premier Bob Carr famously declared that Sydney was “full” back in 2000. Since then, Sydney has grown by another third. That’s over 1.3 million people. Carr’s successors in the current Labor government manifestly no longer share his assessment, secretly targeting a range of suburbs for massive new growth and unprecedented densification. Are we next?

The risks of fire and flood strongly bracket what kind of growth the Hawkesbury can endure. Hawkesbury Council’s housing policy suggests we could build more medium density housing around our major centres of Windsor and Richmond.

However, State Planning Minister Paul Scully is sending conflicting messages to us, writing on the one hand to our Mayor to enjoin us to do our share in creating 377,000 new housing commencements by 2029, and yet warning us that a new Floodplain Evacuation Study places strong constraints on how much development the Hawkesbury can sustain. I think we need much clearer guidance about what is being expected of us.

Many of you now face a daily multi-hour commute, plus an annual toll bill running into the thousands just to get to work. The alternative is to brave our rail line which lacks a promised connection to the Metro at Schofields, offers no express trains, poor parking, and which has had no upgrade since electrification in 1991. Already-approved housing developments will only exacerbate this problem – lamentable considering we are still catching up on the infrastructure necessitated by the last decade of growth.

Worse, the Hawkesbury’s youth are being squeezed out of their ability to remain in the communities that they grew up in and feel an affinity for, increasingly unable to afford to either buy or rent. Many are forced to move away, increasing social isolation and losing the benefits of family support.

Council could do more to ease this by implementing affordable housing mandates in new estates, diversifying our housing mix, and permitting more generous granny flats and secondary dwellings on house blocks under one title. I have supported such changes, but progress has been far too slow.

However, the biggest factor in this squeeze, and only grudgingly admitted by politicians, is Australia’s level of migration.

A post-COVID surge saw a record-breaking annual 615,400 arrivals to mid-2023. After accounting for departures, deaths and births, overseas migration represents 77% of Australia’s population growth (data: Federal Centre for Population Projections).

Astonishingly, in NSW the figure is closer to 98% (data: .id research, Dec 2023). Read that again: 98% of all the pressure for new housing, associated infrastructure and congestion in Sydney comes from overseas growth. Think about that when you’re stuck in traffic, and for heaven’s sake, think about it when you vote.

Governments at every level have had this infatuation with ‘growth at any cost’ since the end of World War 2, spurred by some economists, developers and their lobby groups. For example the Urban Development Institute talks incessantly about the need to unlock land supply, fast track approval pathways, lower infrastructure co-contributions while increasing the density and height limits on tenements.

All these factors affect the supply side, yet they studiously ignore the demand side caused by migration. They ignore a fundamental truth – No growth is limitless. In biology we call a body that seeks to grow without bound ‘cancer’.

Sadly, Labor and Liberal governments have been happy to march to this tune. They claim that housing unaffordability is the price we pay for the stimulus to the broader economy, and to the construction sector in particular. These and other concerns like balancing the intergenerational ratio of taxpaying Australians to retirees and pension recipients are valid, but if there are winners and losers in such national tradeoffs, too many of the losers seem to be concentrated at the outer fringes of our major cities, where we suffer congestion and crushing cost-of-living challenges.

Skilled migration should be a part of Australia’s future, but 615,400 arrivals – most of whom gravitate to Australia’s major cities, is too much. It would be prudent to reduce migration until the infrastructure backlog is addressed, and proper incentives formulated to encourage new arrivals to settle in Australia’s regions.  It’s disgraceful that despite this elephant in the room, successive governments have never set a population target, or properly investigated what Australia’s ‘ideal’ population or rate of growth should be. Every study you’ll read merely attempts to reactively model the low, medium and high growth scenarios that ‘might’ happen because there is no population policy, and never has been.

If you drive through the ‘instant suburbs’ that have sprung up near the Hawkesbury, we see a style of development that is neither pleasing to the eye, nor representative of anything we should seek to emulate. Tiny blocks, no eaves, no trees, black roofs. Nevertheless, I have a growing folder of examples of realtors hawking nearby greenfield lands in the Hawkesbury to developers, tantalising them that these lands too will inevitably be rezoned and absorbed into the Sydney anthill, yielding much profit to their investors. Beleaguered landowners are faced with an invidious choice; be taxed off their land when speculation triples their land value (and therefore their rates), or give in to land-bankers who don’t care about the erosion to our sense of community.

Hawkesbury residents deserve more agency in determining the shape and scale of development in our city, rather than be carried along in the current of a fatalistic belief that more urban sprawl can’t be avoided, and will continue forever. In such a historic and beautiful area, we deserve better, and we owe better to our successors.

That process starts by ensuring that the elected representatives in our Councils and Parliaments are not in the pockets of developers.

Like the dilemma facing you in the milk aisle, our ‘tragedy of the commons’ is our addiction to unfettered growth. It might serve a logical, beneficial short term goal, but it is gradually undoing the threads of what it is that makes the Hawkesbury such a pleasant place to live.

The video version contains video courtesy of Sustainability Population Australia

 


Sealing Packer Road, Lower Portland

Council a step closer to honouring its pledge to seal Packer Road

Back in 2018, Council applied for (and got) a "Special Rate Variation" that put everyone's Rates up by a third.

I voted against that rate rise, as I have voted against every tax hike proposed by Council since I was elected in 2016. However, I did agree that a list of proposed capital works – improvements to local roads among them, was absolutely necessary so that the ratepayers could see where this extra money was going.

Among the proposed projects that would be funded was the sealing of Packer Road, a key east-west road linking the Putty Road travelling north from Wilberforce, and the river communities of Lower Portland, Cumberland Reach and Sackville.

Locals have long anticipated the sealing of this road, citing its heavy use, status as a flood evacuation route, and parlous condition, which has sadly included injuries and fatalities over the years.

Planning work commenced, including a budget variation of $100,000 in the December quarter of 2020 to scope and plan works. The road was listed in Council's capital works budget for 2020-2021 with a cost of $2,226,000.

 

COVID hit, along with fires and floods between 2020 and 2022, and Council's plans were greatly affected.

I took explicit support for the sealing of Packer Road to the December 2021 Local Government Elections:

Fast forward to early 2024, and users of Packer Road were entitled to know where this was up to. Finally, the matter came back to Council on February 13th and everyone was hugely concerned to find that Council staff were now recommending that the project be dropped, due to a significant increase in the cost of the project from $2.2M to over $4.7M (source: Item 4.5.3, Feb 2024 business paper)

This brought a spirited response from the local community, with many of them writing, calling and attending the Council meeting.

I am very pleased that Council on this occasion rejected the advice of staff and formalised our commitment to sealing Packer Road, despite the increased cost. I believe it is important for Council to honour its promises. Sadly, with limited resources, other worthy road projects will now be deferred, which I successfully amended be the subject of a workshop with Councillors and staff.

Here is a sampling of the debate before the Council chamber as we discussed this:


Potential map of housing changes (Hawkesbury)

The NSW Government's push to build 8 story flats in your suburb

A map of the Hawkesbury areas potentially affected by the government's proposed changes to housing.
A map of the Hawkesbury areas potentially affected by the government's proposed changes to housing.

 

The NSW Labor government is targeting a range of suburbs for massive new urban growth and unprecedented densification. They’ve announced a proposed policy of massive flat-building to meet a target of 377,000 new homes by 2029.

For those who wonder what the proposed rule changes could look like in the Hawkesbury, check out this map, presented to Councillors at a recent briefing.
We discussed this at Council last night and voted overwhelmingly to oppose this.

Here’s what the changes propose:

Three zones are identified: “Town Centres” (most of our larger suburbs); “Commercial Centres” (Windsor and Richmond), and all train stations (6 in the LGA).

If the new rules pass, Councils would lose the right to refuse new flat developments of up to 21m (up to 8 stories) within 400m of such zones and 16m (5 stories) within 800m. “Cookie cutter” designs from an approved “Pattern book” would enjoy expedited approval, tending to favour bland sameness in designs built to maximise profit.
Some buildings would only mandate 0.5 car spaces per dwelling.

Worst, these rules would summarily override Council’s LEP and DCP controls.

This is spectacularly rotten policy that fails utterly to understand the character of the Hawkesbury. Residents have told us for decades that our semi-rural outlook is a key factor in our charm and desirability as a place to live and work. The State government has failed to provide enough detail for us to respond to their demand for a detailed response. For example, the interaction of the proposed policy with known constraints in our area caused by flood, flood evacuation and fire risk has not been explained at all.

Former Labor Premier Bob Carr famously declared that Sydney was “full” back in 2000. Carr’s successors in the current Labor government manifestly no longer share his assessment. Yes, there is a housing, and housing affordability crisis. But I’d prefer the government was more honest about admitting that fully 98% of the pressure for housing growth in NSW comes from overseas migration and not from the organic growth of our own populace. This is something I will have a lot more to say about soon.


Upon leaving the Liberal Party

MEDIA RELEASE

Tuesday, 5th September 2023

PDF version of this statement
PDF version of this statement

MEDIA COVERAGE UPDATE: This story has received some coverage in the Press and I am gratified that it has been so balanced and supportive.

Mayor behind Liberal Councillor’s dumping (Sept 5th)

Zamprogno finds support, two more councillors publicly attacked by McMahon (Sept 8th)

Liberal Party move to expel Councillor over Grose River Bridge (June 22nd)

 

This week I was informed that I had been expelled from the Liberal Party, an organisation I have been a member of and servant to for 32 years.

This follows a years-long orchestrated campaign of bullying from a minority within the Party.

People in the Hawkesbury expect their Councillors to be focused on the issues, such as the condition of our roads, how high their rates are, and in making the Hawkesbury a pleasant and prosperous city as we continue to recover from multiple disasters. They expect their Councillors to work together as a team for the benefit of all. It is frustrating to have to deal with petty attacks and I resent the distraction.

However, what has happened raises important questions about integrity.

The motion to expel me was forced before the State Executive of the party by Hawkesbury City Mayor, Sarah McMahon, who used her position as Vice President of the NSW Division to bypass the State Director Chris Stone, who had previously declined to act on McMahon’s complaints, finding them to have insufficient merit to place before the Executive.

 

Throughout my adult life, the Liberal Party has been an easy ideological home because I support the Party’s principles of individual rights, efficient and competent government, supporting small business, and a generous view of Australia’s history and destiny.

Leaving is therefore a bereavement, but also a relief. It no longer places me in the position of having to defend the indefensible. I am a schoolteacher by vocation, and the subject of my Masters degree was the teaching of ethics and critical thinking. Because of this, I find myself unable to walk past the standard of conduct that I see by some in the Liberal Party.

 

I am troubled that the evidence tendered by Clr McMahon as justifications for my expulsion from the Party included statements I have made in the Chamber and elsewhere about planning matters before Council, where Councillors should enjoy a free vote to judge matters on their merits, without threat of punishment. This includes the Seniors Living Development in Vincents Road at Kurrajong, a Planning Proposal brought to the chamber by McMahon's developer boyfriend Matthew Bennett and his family. Clr McMahon had already declared a significant pecuniary interest in that matter, and she and two other Liberals recused themselves with declared conflicts of interest when it came to the Chamber.

My stances on these planning matters are specifically cited by Clr McMahon as reasons for me to be kicked out of the Party.

 

Further, it seems clear that Clr McMahon’s motivation was in part to pre-emptively assassinate a rival. I had been asked by respected figures within the Party to contest the Liberal preselection for the Federal seat of Macquarie and I was considering my position (nominations have not yet opened). The party has retreated after two disastrous elections where Clr McMahon was gifted the candidacy twice, both without a preselection or an endorsement meeting of local branch members – a breach of the party Constitution. She was the “Captain’s pick” of Scott Morrison. The swing of 7.58% to Labor in Macquarie at the last election was double the national swing against the Liberals, and easily the worst swing in any must-win marginal seat in NSW.

 

The attentive Labor MP Susan Templeman has presented a more articulate candidate on both occasions, and is in the process of making this a safe Labor seat. I lament that voters in Macquarie have been left with such poor alternatives.

 

Fortunately, I have my own story to tell. I was elected to Hawkesbury Council on the Liberal ticket in 2016 and re-elected as an independent in late 2021. When I sought to remain as a member of the Liberal ticket, I was summoned to a meeting of the elected Liberals in May 2021 to discuss arrangements. When I arrived in the Mayor’s office, I was shocked to see the property developer Matthew Bennett present, and who proceeded to direct the meeting. I was told that any support I would get was conditional on me withdrawing from one of the winnable spots on the ticket, to make way for then-Mayor Patrick Conolly, who had neglected to tender his nomination paperwork on time and would therefore be excluded from standing by the Party unless a vacancy was created. Bennett also spoke of providing funding and providing manpower to other ‘friendly’ tickets to support the Liberals in the new Chamber, and spoke as one who was active in making those arrangements.

 

Being a team player, I agreed to withdraw from the #2 position, decreasing my chances of contending in a crowded field, and guaranteeing Conolly another term. After I signed the paper, the promised support was withdrawn, I lost the preselection for the remaining spots I contested, stood as an independent, and watched the Liberals spend the money that I had raised on their own campaign. This included the proceeds of a February 2020 black-tie dinner I hosted at Hawkesbury Racecourse with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as our guest. Councillor Conolly later became a co-signatory on the complaint sent to the Party to have me expelled. Such are the rewards of loyalty.

 

At that December 2021 Council election, I neither gave nor received preferences from the Liberals. I was re-elected on a full quota – a resounding endorsement from the community. I’ve worked hard over the last seven years to be a diligent Councillor. I remain confident of my ability to represent the people of Hawkesbury simply by being myself.

I have no current ambition to contest the Federal election as an independent or so-called ‘teal’.

 

Where I dissented from my Liberal colleagues in the Council Chamber, it has always been in the defence of sound Liberal principles. When three out of the four Liberals voted to see the Wilcox house and farm demolished as part of the Grose River Bridge project, I was prepared to defend that family’s property rights (13/9/2022, 31/12/23).

 

When I was the only Liberal opposed to the adoption of the disastrous Rural Boundary Clearing Code, I believed that being a good Conservative is entirely compatible with being a good Conservationist, and that we should look after the environment (25/1/2022, 8/2/2022). There is now evidence that Developers are indeed now using the Code to clear-fell lands for reasons other than management of bushfire risk, placing Koala habitats at risk.

 

When I was the only Liberal to defend the retention of Council’s Heritage Committee, and the others were hell-bent on dissolving it, I believed a majority of voters, including Liberals, agreed with me about the importance of our local heritage (10/11/2020).

 

When the four elected Liberals voted against me to rescind a policy I had passed that would cause Council to report annually and at the end of the term about Councillor’s expenses, attendance at meetings, briefings, committees and workshops, it was in support of the principle of integrity and accountability in Government.

 

I remain comfortable with each of these positions, and feel a majority of people are behind me. If this is what it means to be a Liberal on Hawkesbury Council, many might suggest that I am better off out than in. What can I say? I was trying to lead from within.

Sadly, a lack of leadership has created a toxic tone in our Chamber and in the Macquarie electorate Liberal branches. Three other Liberal Councillors (Clr Brendan Christie, Clr Daniel Myles and former Clr Chris Van Der Kley) have also been pushed out of their positions in the Blue Mountains (evidence 1, evidence 2). The Liberal Party was unable to man all its Blue Mountains booths in the March 2023 State election for the first time. I spoke to each of those men within the last month. Each tell me the toxic culture has the same factional source.

 

Clr McMahon opines a lot about bullying, but she is the worst bully of all. I can’t fathom the insecurity shown by someone who creates fake Facebook pages (evidence 1, evidence 2, evidence 3) just to defame other Councillors or members of the local Press. Or the lack of leadership shown in wasting the time of the Police, sending them to someone’s house because someone emailed a professional complaint or wrote a critical journalistic article.

 

It is necessary to state that bad behavior is confined to a small number of individuals in the Party. I have many friends and supporters, including Senators and State Parliamentarians. I have always been non-factional, even when it is to my disadvantage. I continue to support our State MP Robyn Preston whose integrity, friendship and unwavering support is appreciated.

 

For Hawkesbury people who vote Liberal, but who value fairness, our rural heritage, and don’t want developer entanglements in their politics, I offer you an alternative. I remain a good Liberal at heart.

To my Chamber colleagues, I make an appeal for integrity, accountability, and inclusiveness.

For the many people who have expressed support for my increasingly independent worldview, I offer my thanks. I will continue to do my best.

 

Councillor Nathan Zamprogno MTeach BArts JP

All media inquiries to 0412 141 811   /   nathan@councillorzamprogno.info

(outside of school hours 8-3 please because I’m a teacher).


The Windsor Paddlesports Club Grant saved after hanging by a thread!

Update, February 2024. I am now informed that the State Government has not extended the time to acquit this grant, and that the funding is now lost. This is a very disappointing outcome.
Due to inaction by Council, a $801,218 grant to build a clubhouse in Macquarie Park (on the river opposite the Terrace in Windsor) for Paddlesports and Dragon boating was hanging by a thread.
In July 2020, Robyn Preston MP announced a generous grant on behalf of the Coalition Government through the NSW Sports Council. It took years of applications made by Windsor Paddlesports Club Inc. to secure a grant for a flood-resilient building that would provide watercraft storage, change room facilities, amenities and a kitchen. The grant was made in conjunction with partner groups like the Pink Finss Charity and the Pendragons Dragon Boat Club (who need to travel to Penrith or even Lithgow to scratch their itch). Imagine how it would adorn our river to have dragon boating visible from the Terrace!
A concept drawing of the proposed Windsor Paddlesports clubhouse
A concept drawing of the proposed Windsor Paddlesports clubhouse
The DA was lodged and duly passed. Both Labor Mayor Barry Calvert and Liberal Mayor Patrick Conolly appeared for photo opportunities to extol the benefits of the new facility. Necessary steps to progress the project were to grant landowner consent (Council + Crown Lands’ responsibility) and for the works to ‘commence’ – crucial for ensuring the deadline of the DA would not lapse.
Hawkesbury Mayor Barry Calvert appears for a photo-op
Hawkesbury Labor Mayor Barry Calvert appears for a photo-op
The club held a groundbreaking ceremony in May 2022 where our State MP did not mince words, congratulating them for getting “shovels in the ground” at the “commencement of construction”. In reality, Council forbade the club from doing anything more than survey and peg out the site. They were told to wait for the ‘Plan of Management’ of the Park, which arrived in the Chamber at our August meeting.
Hawkesbury Liberal Payor Patrick Conolly appears for a photo-op
Hawkesbury Liberal Payor Patrick Conolly appears for a photo-op
Worse, it appeared Council wanted to argue about whether ‘commencement’ had truly occurred, when the DA was set to expire the day after the meeting, Wednesday 9th August. The clock has been run out. The grant is due to expire in a matter of weeks, and my fear was that the new State Labor Government are looking for excuses to squash grants issued by their predecessors.
When I raised this concern in the Chamberat the meeting, it was pleasing that no one in the chamber wanted this to fall over. Everyone saw the risks of having to lodge a brand new DA or to give the State Government any excuse to withdraw the funding. Representatives from the club told us last night that despite repeated requests and obvious urgency, 'landowner consent' from Crown Lands / Council has still not been given. So in this instance, Council has failed the community. Watch the video linked above and hear how disappointed the club is at their dealings with Council.
This debacle is a symptom of a wider problem we’ve seen before: Worthy community groups secure grant funding from the State or Federal government, but need to engage Council for planning permission, or landowners consent, and then Council lets them down. Just look at the mess an earlier grant for a new Hawkesbury Men's Shed devolved into. That funding was lost.
As it stands, the project was shown to be at significant risk, and the club was being pressed to provide legal advice at their own expense to justify that commencement has indeed occurred, which was the only thing that will keep the project alive
UPDATE:
A week later, the following advice was received by the Paddlesports club from Council:
Welcome news!
Welcome news!

I am also informed that (belatedly) the Council has confirmed the necessary "landowner consent" from Crown Lands.

The grant is not out of the woods yet, as there remains the question of whether the facility can be built within the grant monies pledged.

I will continue to advocate for a good outcome for the community.


Should development be allowed on our floodplain?

 

Two stories appearing recently in the media criticise Hawkesbury Council for approving DA’s on flood-prone land.

I have been flagging concerns over the statistical inevitability of another serious flood for a decade before my election to Council in 2016.

My support for raising Warragamba dam has always been paired with a demand for more stringent controls on floodplain development. There is no value in capital works for mitigation if we succumb to the temptation to lower the 1:100 limit or intensify urbanisation in areas subject to flood or flood evacuation risk.

The current ‘1:100’ dwelling-height limit of 17.3m at Windsor was introduced in the 1980s. 5000 dwellings already lay along the floodplain below that limit. They were built before flood-height controls existed. Some are in the most historic areas of Windsor and Pitt Town. Others lay low along the river at locations now perceived by everyone (including insurers) as high-risk, like caravan parks.

North Street in Windsor is home to some of the most historic houses in Windsor, but it lays below the '1:100' flood limit.
North Street in Windsor is home to some of the most historic houses in the district, but it lays below the '1:100' flood limit.

Some of the approvals reported in the media may be for the reconstruction of dwellings in that category and where an ‘existing use right’ is asserted, even though any new dwelling would never be approved under the current standards. Whether to permit a rebuild is a fraught issue.

Other approvals may be for new development on land that is partly below and partly above the 1:100 limit, and where the floor height of development is confined to the land laying above the limit. It’s legitimate to debate about whether this policy should be readdressed, but flood height controls are not at the discretion of Council; they are State-mandated standards that our Council follows.

‘Buy-backs’ like we’ve seen in Lismore should be on the table, and it’s frustrating that a policy offered in one area of the state is denied to ours where there is arguably greater risk.

Another solution would be to permanently change flood-height controls from the 1:100 limit to a higher one, such as the PMF (Probable Maximum Flood) which is 26.4m at Windsor.

However, we must ask at what cost these measures come. Government policies send signals to insurers. Many residents in established and historic areas of our most beautiful towns are now paying insurance premiums of tens of thousands of dollars and face invidious choices: living uninsured, going broke, or selling up at reduced value, when their houses were duly approved under the laws of the day.

Raising the flood-height limit or buying-and-demolishing existing properties would potentially raze some of our most beautiful, historic and heritage-listed suburbs. The height of the PMF is literally over the roof of the Macquarie Arms Pub in Windsor, meaning if the PMF was the applicable standard, none of Windsor would exist. This is nonsense. None of these outcomes are good enough.

Council’s response includes the adoption of a range of documents, including the recent Local Approval Policy for Caravan Parks (2023), a Flood Policy (2020, amended 2021) the Schedule of Flood Related Development Controls (2021), a Flood chapter in our new DCP (pending), and the Regional Flood Mitigation in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley Policy (2011).

Fundamentally, Council must adhere to the current legislative framework which has been gazetted by the State Government. Council is over-ridden by State policy on many fronts. If the State Government changes the development standards relating to flooding requirements then Council will ensure that future development in those areas will adhere to those requirements.

In my opinion the new State government have abandoned Hawkesbury residents by failing to declare what mitigation measures they intend to fund now raising Warragamba has been ruled out  –  the second such time Labor has done so since 1996. The NSW Premier Chris Minns has even refused to visit the Hawkesbury to explain when and how he will fulfil pre-election promises on measures like levees, and Hawkesbury's Labor candidate Amanda Kotlash even voted against a motion brought by the Mayor to ask the Premier to visit, which is crazy!

It remains undisputed that if the dam had been raised already, 80% of the 600+ dwellings that were inundated in the recent floods would have been spared completely owing to the flood-peak being 3.4-5.3m lower (p66 of the report). If alternative strategies can’t confer the same or better degree of mitigation, they should admit it and return to raising Warragamba Dam as the best option.

(p68) The blue column shows the level of reduction of buildings affected if Warragamba Dam had already been raised before the March 2021 flood. 75% or more of the damaged houses could have been saved.
(p68) The blue column shows the level of reduction of buildings affected if Warragamba Dam had already been raised before the March 2021 flood. 75% or more of the damaged houses could have been saved.

VIEW Club – a worthy local voluntary organisation

If you want to know why I'm such a community-oriented person, just look at my Mum, Helen. She's been a 'do-er' all her life and for 13 years she's also had an association with The View Club, a leading women's national volunteer organisation. VIEW provides an opportunity for women from all walks of life to meet regularly, establish lasting friendships and help disadvantaged Australian children through supporting the work of children’s charity, The Smith Family.
Yesterday, Mum screwed up the courage to be interviewed by Kathryn Gene from Pulse 89.9FM Radio, and did so well she may want my job!
VIEW are a very worthy organisation and they are keen for new members. The local Richmond-Windsor Chapter meet on the 2nd Wednesday of the month at the Richmond Club.
Contact Trish Carter on 0417 010 619 or email richmondwindsor.viewclub@gmail.com to get involved.

Fix the bloody potholes!


An essential part of every local Councillor's job is to listen to local residents when they flag roads in need of repair. After locals in the suburbs of Oakville, Maraylya and Vineyard raised concerns with me about roads in need of attention, I went around on the weekend to document them for myself.
I raised these with Council staff for action, and got the following update
Roadworks performed in Oakville, Maraylya and Pitt Down around July 2023
Roadworks performed in Oakville, Maraylya and Pitt Down around July 2023

 

You can report potholes and other hazards at Council's website at this address. In the video I talk about recent funding announcements for roads, and Council's Customer Service responsiveness standards for road maintenance.
 

Council just squashed debate on protecting Koala habitats and investigating excessive land clearing

 

At Council tonight, a motion was brought to look at whether a land-clearing policy introduced 18 months ago has resulted in excessive felling of wildlife habitats including for Koalas. Disappointingly, some Councillors not only rejected the initiative, but moved to gag debate and prevent their colleagues from representing their community.

It is my belief that it is possible to be both a good conservative and a good conservationist. I am disappointed that some of my colleagues do not share this view.

This is what you need to know about what happened.

I have commented on this matter before when it came to Council in October 2021, and again in early 2022 when the new Council rammed through the land clearing policy against the advice of experts.


Windsor Mall - Our obligation to get things right

With founders of the Windsor Experience Action Group (L-R), former Mayor Wendy Sledge, Gai Kelly and Darren Pead.

I have been raising concerns about the state of Windsor Mall for some time, including interviewing Darren Pead as a representative of the newly created 'Windsor Experience Action Group'.

In March 2018 Council became a signatory to the Western Sydney City Deal and were pledged $15M of State+Federal money towards ‘Liveability’ programs including town centre renewals if we brought $3.75M of our own money to the table. It was and is a good deal.

Sadly, the quality of the public consultation and proposed outcomes from upgrading Windsor Mall have left many, including myself and Councillors Sheather and Djuric, with concerns that we’ve missed the mark. I coined the term “Westfield-isation” to describe a plan that was not reflective enough of the unique heritage of Windsor. Early iterations of the plan dispensed with the gas lamps, rotunda, water-wheel and suggested street furniture with little charm or grace.

 

A hilarious early rendering of how the Windsor Mall renewal might look. No thanks.

The area covered by the plans stretches from the Thompson Square dining area all the way to the railway station. This is a once-in-a generation opportunity and we need to get it right. Windsor deserved better.

Too much of the budget was consumed with replacing paving – and although some parts of the paving badly need attention, the opportunity cost was an ability to spread the budget down George Street, replace awful asphalt paving elsewhere, and add gracenotes to the precinct such as historical medallions, restoration of the lamps, and street furniture that better reflect our heritage.

The design group came back with a plan for the mall that included bland street furniture and was tin-eared about the unique heritage of the precinct.

To revisit the plans carries a risk. The grant has a deadline and to ask for variations means the deadline may pass. However, our Federal MP Susan Templeman has spoken about this in parliament and my gut tells me that asking for time to get this right will yield the concessions we are asking for.

Clr Sheather brought a motion at our last meeting to revisit our plans and the business paper shows this will be discussed at next Tuesday’s meeting.

I hope a majority of our colleagues will support varying the scope of works to deliver a better outcome.

This week I was pleased to meet with Windsor business owners Darren Pead, Gae Kelly and former Mayor Wendy Sledge to discuss these matters. The Windsor Experience Action Group now boasts 69 members.


Hawkesbury floods of October 2022 - Time lapse videos

Here is a compilation of time-lapse footage of nine different locations around the Hawkesbury district, showing the effects of the October floods that struck us recently. Each location has had up to a week's events compressed into under thirty seconds, comprising ~64,000 frames run together.

 

Shown in order are:
• Wiseman's Ferry Road looking towards Cattai Public School
• Yarramundi Bridge near the confluence of the Grose River
• Sackville Ferry
• Webbs Creek Ferry (west side)
• Windsor Bridge
• North Richmond Bridge
• Wisemans Ferry (north and east)
• Webbs Creek (east)

 

I took images from Live Traffic NSW's cameras at key locations and mapped them to flood-height information from the Manly Hydraulics Laboratory and the Bureau of Meteorology.
In some locations, gaps caused by low light or missing images are removed.

 

I think this is an original and fascinating way of seeing the effects of what turned out to be a mild-to-moderate flood on different parts of the district. Of interest is the 'double dip' in several locations and the increasing effect of tides as you get further downstream.

 


St Albans, Lower Portland, Lower Macdonald and Colo deserve better of Hawkesbury Council



Every part of the Hawkesbury is important and deserving of effective representation and services. But the Hawkesbury is a big place, and residents of more remote areas sometimes feel like they aren't being heard. I get to all parts ofour beautiful district as often as I can.

On the weekend I joined the Mayor and six other Councillors on a ~200k road trip to visit the communities of St Albans, Lower Macdonald, Lower Portland and Colo, to listen to locals and to hear their concerns. We learned a lot, took took many notes, and we will be returning to those communities regularly.

This video details our trip to those communities and what we learned.


The broadcast of the news program, A Current Affair is referenced in my video, who have drawn attention to the lack of telecommunication services in the Macdonald Valley despite a significant permanent population as well as many tourist accomodation facilities. The ACA story is below:



From the town of Windsor to the House of Windsor–will the Australian republican debate be rekindled?

From the town of Windsor to the House of Windsor – Will the Australian republican debate be rekindled?



On the same day the nation mourned the passing of Queen Elizabeth, republican protesters in Sydney and Melbourne burned the Australian flag, chanted “I’m glad the b*tch is dead”, and marched behind banners demanding "Abolish the Monarchy".

 

This is not who we are. In fact, amidst an outpouring of gratitude for the Queen's life of service, support for Australia remaining a Constitutional Monarchy has surged.

 

Talking about whether institutions and symbols continue to reflect our values and loyalties is healthy. But we must not become like other countries who have become so partisan in their politics they have lost their ability to talk constructively to one another; where the media, the judiciary and the pulpit become trenches in the culture war.

 

As for myself, Sarah McMahon - Mayor of Hawkesbury, Councillor Les Sheather and Councillor Shane Djuric, we attended a moving memorial service for Her Majesty at St Matthews Anglican Church Windsor NSW.

 

It's an oddity than when stories about the Royal Family trend, we attract attention by association, through the novelty of our town bearing the name of the reigning House.
When the 1998 referendum on the republic was counted, 56% of the citizens of Macquarie (which includes the left-leaning Blue Mountains) voted "No". I played a small part in that campaign with Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, which I describe in the video.

 

The overwhelming respect accorded to the late Queen and our new King makes me think there will be no Australian republic soon, perhaps ever.

Update on the Grose River Bridge project – the Wilcox Home saved – for now

 

This week’s Council meeting ran to 1am. One of the most significant items considered was the revised Voluntary Planning Agreement associated with the Grose River Bridge project.

 

Many would know of the controversy caused by the baffling insistence of the developers that the road linking Grose Vale Road and Springwood Road plough through the home of the Wilcox family, despite the presence of empty land on either side.

 

The motion before Council was to approve the VPA, condemning the home to demolition. I moved an amendment that called for more work to explore a road alignment that saves the house. I am pleased that this passed by 7 votes to 5.

 

 

I have lamented the poor handling of the Grose River Bridge project since my election to Council in 2016:

 

The Debacle that is the Grose River Bridge Project (2022):

 

Further delays to the Grose River Bridge should make you cranky (2021):

 

About the Grose River bridge and the Redbank development (2017):

The following day, I gave this interview to local Radio station Pulse FM and their presenter Kathryn Gene:

 

I’m also pleased that Councillor Shane Djuric‘s notice of motion to preserve the gas lamps in Windsor Mall also passed with my support. I interviewed Windsor businessman Darren Pead a few months ago about our town centres renewal program and about that issue particularly.

 

Who voted which way, is in the first video.


The debacle that is the Grose River Bridge project

When the Redbank developers promised they'd build a bridge across the Grose River back in 2012, they said the bridge would be completed by the time the development had sold 641 lots.

It's now ten years later, the Redbank estate has sold over 700 lots, and not a single sod has been turned. Most of the blame lays with Council, who inked a weak planning agreement with the developers, and who then changed their mind about where they wanted the bridge and approach roads to be built when the first location was recognised as a poor choice.

I've had a lot to say about this before, and last week Council faced the latest twist. Finally, a revised route and agreement has been placed on exhibition, but some, like the Wilcox family reported widely in the media, are facing a heavy cost.

I am not satisfied that we have explored every option to both get the project back on track, and to spare homes from unecessary demolition. Public submissions on the new VPA are invited now.


Should we lower Warragamba Dam instead of raising it?

Last week Council met for the first time since the July floods. The Mayor advanced a motion that calls on the State Government to change legislation regulating the operation of Warragamba Dam to permit the Dam to be lowered in times of likely high-rainfall which will provide a degree of flood mitigation ability.

I supported the motion, but I want to be very clear that lowering the operating level of the dam is not a substitute for raising the dam wall, which remains the best way to properly mitigate floods. Lowering the dam level might have taken 20-60cm off the level of the flood. Raising the dam would have taken off 3.5 metres, based on the smaller March 2021 flood.

As I say here, climate change will deal us times of greater variability of weather in coming years. Longer periods of flood and longer periods of drought. The reductions being sought by some at our meeting last Tuesday would have let the whole dam run dry prior to the end of the last drought in February 2020. That's just as irresponsible. I see a lot of people advancing positions in the teeth of scientific evidence they're wrong, and that's no way for us to get to the best solution.

Whether to raise or lower the Dam was also the subject of an excellent story this week on Channel 9's A Current Affair.


The Australian Local Government Assembly - What Hawkesbury can learn from a bigger picture, especially as it relates to natural disasters

 

Just before the floods overtook us all, I attended the Australian Local Government Assembly (ALGA) down in Canberra, an annual conference that pulls together the 537 local governments around Australia.

Our focus is the bigger picture of local government as it relates to the nation as a whole – a perspective that I believe my colleagues often misunderstand because they express little interest in the subject. Only Councillor Lyons-Buckett and Councillor Wheeler have been regular attendees with me over the last six years.

Presciently, a lot of what we heard about was about the increasing cost of natural disasters, and the disproportionate burden placed on Councils in the repair and cleanup.

The evidence is clear: Local Governments are the most disadvantaged tier of Government in Australia. Councils directly take in only 3.5% of all taxation revenue levied across all three tiers of government, and yet Local Governments are responsible for 24% of all public assets and service provision, not to mention planning how our communities can grow and thrive. The balance has to come from a patchwork of grants and programs from State and Federal governments which are neither predictable over time, and which have slipped further and further behind costs as the years have passed.

I'm a believer in the principle of subsidiarity – that decisions consequential to how we live are best made by those who are closest to those effected by any policy. So, I am happy to join my voice to my colleagues in calling to other tiers of government to set things right, both as a crucial reform, and as a nation building exercise.

The video above is my report about what I learned – I pushed through a reform to Council which demanded Councillors give an account to you after they are sent to conferences to prove they were paying attention (the Labor and Liberal Councillors have disappointingly since rescinded that accountability measure). And below I give a small selection of further data gained from conference presentations:

The first relevant figure is that the support given to all Local Governments from Federal taxation revenue has about halved over the last 40 years. It used to be about 1% of all Federal Taxation revenue and now sits at about 0.55%. This includes Roads to Recovery funding and Federal Assistance Grants.

 

The only revenue Councils can levy directly are through Council rates. In NSW this is constrained by the infamous "Rate Peg" - This year Councils were asked to raise rates by only 0.8% when inflation and costs were rising at a rate above 5% p.a. As a share of all taxation revenue raised in Australia, we've slipped badly despite millions of dollars of cost-shifting to Councils.

Meanwhile, government expenditure per capita has ballooned over the last decade, while the Local Government's ability to invest has remained static. We know Council's get a lot of flack for poor service and potholed roads, but in objective terms, we have been squeezed and squeezed and run an increasingly frugal outfit.

 

This conclusion is backed up by International data which shows that Local Governments in Australia are very poorly resourced compared to other nations. The above graph comes from a New Zealand study (thus the emphasis), but Australia is there, all the way over at the right, and small fraction compared to many other developed nations.

 


Local government however remains easily the most trusted tier of government in Australia, and especially among young people.

Lastly, I want to turn to what we heard about the increasing costs of natural disasters, especially in the light of what has just struck our community, again, with catastrophic effect.

We received a briefing from Deloitte which shows starkly what we have been through begins to look like when extrapolated to the largest scale.

Natural disasters are costing our economy $38 Billion in each and every year, and those costs are expected to rise to more than double that within 30 years – both as a result of climate change but also if we fail to adapt, mitigate and improve the resilience of our communities to disaster. The Hawkesbury is clearly at the coal face of this challenge. We were told that 97% of all natural disaster funding is spent after disasters have struck, and yet only 3% of funds are spent proactively to mitigate those events (such as raising Warragamba Dam!) or in building resilience into our communities and infrastructure.

 

Australia stands to realise a $380BN economic dividend resulting from proactive resilience-planning and climate-adaptation initiatives, and potentially create over 73,000 full time jobs (by 2050) if we begin to act now, in sectors as varied as manufacturing, transport, construction, services and the retail sector.

I attended a briefing from the National Recovery and Resilience Agency. Unaware at the time of what was about to visit us, I pleaded with them to address all the deficiencies in disaster preparedness and response we've just seen again.

I said that since 2020, we have had the worst bushfires in history, a pandemic, and multiple floods, the last of which was the worst in 44 years.

In March, 800 houses on our floodplain were flooded, but 25,000 could be at risk in a worse one, and that this is statistically a certainty over time.

I pointed out that the agency has made a $50m pledge in the 2021-22 “National Flood Mitigation Infrastructure Program” to fund 37 different projects around the country, and yet not a single dollar is earmarked for spending in the Hawkesbury-Nepean – the largest unprotected floodplain in the nation.

I told them that after floods in 2020, 2021 and March 2022, the State government had promised landowners fronting our rivers a streamlined process to perform urgent remedial works to stop their homes, sheds and farms from slumping into the river. Over a year later, we're still waiting despite Council pleading with State ministers, and the inability of landowners to act because red tape imposed by the State government has had catastrophic effects.

Those landowners tell me it would be both cheaper and faster to perform the works illegally and cop a fine than to go through the red tape of commissioning reports in aid of mandatory DA’s that may well cost more than the works those reports are asking to perform. It's not good enough.

I will continue to fight for these urgent reforms, and invite you to follow me on social media for regular updates.


July 2022 Hawkesbury floods

The Hawkesbury-Nepean flood of July 2022 – the worst since 1978

July 5th 2022 represented the worst day of flooding in the Hawkesbury in 44 years.

This flood exceeded 13.93m, beating both the March flood (13.71m) and the 2021 flood (12.91m). You would have to go back to 1978 (14.5m) to see a worse flood. The 1867 flood was 19.6m. A "one in a hundred" flood is 17.3m, each measured at the Windsor gauge.

I toured the district, commiserated with locals, and took note of what I saw. This video represents the waters as they peaked. Councillors are being briefed daily by Council staff and we're proactive in guiding the response to the emergency.

I am reminded yet again how magnificently we stand by one another in times of trial. Our community is strong, and the only way we can get through this, is together.

 

There is one common misunderstanding that's worth clearing up, because I hear it very frequently. 

Warragamba is not a flood mitigation dam. It was built as a water storage dam in 1960 and legally cannot be deliberately operated at below 100% capacity in the sense of dumping water overboard in anticipation of a rain event, or permanently operating it at a lower capacity. This is unlike other city dams like the Wivenhoe Dam in Brisbane which has a permanent 'air gaps' to act as a buffer in times of flood. Wivenhoe's water storage capacity is 1160 gigalitres but its air gap is a further 1967 gigalitres. IN other words, two thirds of its capacity is a flood buffer.

Warragamba's current capacity is 2031 gigalitres, and the plan to raise it by 14m will add about 1000 gigalitres of emergency storage.

Some have argued that the water level could be drawn down from 100% as the result of a long range forecast for rain, anticipating an East Coast Low for example. Others argue the permanent level of the dam should be lowered and that this is equivalent to the kind of mitigation that raising the dam would confer.

However, this would not confer a sufficient degree of mitigation to be worthwhile. And here's the analysis of flood hydrology that proves it:

Flood height reductions with various mitigation strategies – Hawkesbury – 2021
Flood height reductions with various mitigation strategies – Hawkesbury – 2021

If the dam level had been drawn down just before the 2021 flood, the resulting flood height would have been only 20cm lower.

If the dam was permanently kept lower by as much as 5m, it would have made a 60cm difference. Any more and Sydney's drinking water would be imperilled. Had the water supply been lowered by 5 metres in 2016 for example, the dam storage would have dropped to around 26% in February 2020 at the end of that drought – a critically low level, even lower than during the Millennium drought when the storage reached 32%.

If a raised dam had already been in place, 500 of the 600 houses flooded along the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain would have been spared since that flood would have been 3.5m lower. And in the events of still-larger floods, the degree of protection grows further.

Only raising Warragamba dam will confer the necessary degree of mitigation. I commend this Infrastructure NSW FAQ and also the NSW Government's post 2021 flood report for more information.


How the community rallied to clean up Pitt Town creeks after the floods

Two months ago I raised the terrible condition of Bardenarang Creek at Pitt Town after the March floods. Friendship Bridge there marks a significant historical site – the place of first meeting between Europeans and Aboriginals in the district in 1791.

Plastic sheeting and debris filled the creek and it was well beyond locals or Council to fix unless there was a significant collaboration of manpower and pooled resources.

It's heartening to see that help has arrived in the form of Disaster Relief Australia, who have combined with Hawkesbury City Council and the Pitt Town Progress Association to resource a four-day blitz on a substantial part of the creek. DRA are a Veteran-led volunteer organisation who help communities in distress at times like these.

I've long been a student of what resilient communities look like, and behold: A local residents group with volunteers and heavy equipment ready to help, Council ready to co-ordinate with skip bins and portaloos (and thanks to Council officer Phillip Bow for his role), and a group like Disaster Relief Australia who bring know-how and corporate philanthropy from the likes of NAB, Allianz, & Salesforce (and many others) contributing manpower and funding. This is the way.

We can only hope that we will not have to repeat this whole exercise again in the coming weeks as the threat of new floods loom over us. Some in our community have been knocked down more than once. Only with help like this can they continue to get back up.

On behalf of the Hawkesbury community, thank you to you all for your heart to help, for your muscle, for your smarts, and for your coin.


Long-delayed road sealing program gets underway

 

Recently residents of Vineyard and Oakville witnessed the welcome sight of the dirt sections of Old Stock Route Road and Brennans Dam Road being sealed. Finally!
 
These works are being funded in part from $250,000 allocation from the Commonwealth Community Infrastructure program, and topped up with Council funds resulting in a $560,000 spend. I had been agitating for this since my election in 2016.
 
There's more to do – these works don't encompass the Commercial Road approach (another $450K – I'll keep at it).
 
These works are engineered to be resilient to the periodic inundation this road suffers from. Scour protection works protect the creek, flood gates will be installed, and concrete rails will mitigate against the road edges breaking away.
 
The works were supposed to be completed by Christmas. COVID and floods delayed it, but I'm so pleased to see it finally happening!
 
I note in passing that the two Councillors who voted against this project both stood for re-election last December, and neither got back in.

 


Sky News Australia special report into flooding on the Hawkesbury-Nepean River


As I have been saying for years, the Hawkesbury-Nepean River will flood again. It’s a statistical certainty.

I am heartened a major news outlet like Sky News Australia have recently run a four part investigative series on the subject in June 2022 on their Sky Weather channel. What they had to report should concern everyone in the Hawkesbury, Penrith, Hills and surrounding communities subject to flooding. I’ve stitched the stories together (each is about ~7 minutes long) and have uploaded it to one video, shown above, owing to the poor navigability of Sky’s site and the likelihood this content will be harder to find over time.

In the first part, we are told that Climate modelling shows the risks of a major flood, similar to that seen in 1867 is higher now than ever before. This is backed by research conducted by the CSIRO in 2007 and by the University of Sydney in 2021.     
These scholarly pieces find their way into the mainstream media through Sky’s story or articles like this one from the Guardian, or this one from the Sydney Morning Herald which warns that the “La Nina” phenomenon that presages increased rainfall on Australia’s East coast is likely to return.

Being prepared involves many things: Planning codes that discourage development on the floodplain. Functional and maintained evacuation routes. Community education.     
But the biggest ‘bang for buck’, the thing that would best improve our safety on the floodplain, is to raise Warragamba Dam.

I have heard many people argue that the solution is as simple as lowering the water level in Warragamba dam, either permanently or in a ‘just-in-time’ way when we know a significant rainfall event is on the way.
This is no fix. Because the valley Warragamba Dam sits in is shaped like a wineglass, the lower levels hold much less water. Lowering the level would have only a tiny fraction of the mitigating effect that raising the dam would. This excellent brochure from Infrastructure NSW explains why.

The need for Government to commit to this project is urgent and growing. We have a strong moral duty to act, and I am fatigued by people who do not share the risk my community endures telling us that it isn’t worth doing.
Successive floods in 2020, 2021 and 2022 have left many exhausted and anxious, especially compounded with the effects of bushfire and pandemic.

This week I learned at the Australian Local Government Association conference that the annual cost of natural disasters to Australia is $38 billion a year. That cost could rise to between $73B and $94B p.a by 2060, depending on the approach we take to mitigate risk, adapt and build the resilience of our communities. My full report on my visit to Canberra to learn more about this is here.
Deloitte - increasing cost of natural disasters analysis
Deloitte Access Economics analysis delivered to local governments around Australia showing the increasing cost of natural disasters over coming decades.

 

Deloitte Access Economics - the increasing frequency of natural disasters in Australia
The increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters over coming decades.

However, raising Warragamba Dam is a necessary part of a larger strategy. In the Flood Emergency Plan our Council adopted in 2020, the maintenance of effective evacuation routes was listed as a critical priority.

I raised the lack of action at a meeting with the National Recovery and Resilience Agency at the same conference in Canberra. They have funded $50M towards 37 projects in a national Flood Mitigation Infrastructure Program. Not a dollar of that fund is spent in our catchment. I gave them an earful.

In the Sky news story, Pitt Town Progress Association President Peter Ryan and Secretary Vince Rayfield showed Sky news the parlous state of Pitt Town’s only escape route if the worst comes to pass.
Thankfully, the State Government has allocated $5m to a Flood Evacuation Road Resilience program in this week’s State Budget. Look in the Infrastructure Statement.

The 2022 NSW State budget allocation for flood evacuation routes. $5Million. A good start.
The 2022 NSW State budget allocation for flood evacuation routes. $5Million. A good start.
However, I would like to add some caveats. Although I applaud Sky News for furthering the debate, some of the aspects in their presentation require more nuance: Not only would lowering the permanent storage level of the present dam endanger Sydney’s water supply, but as I’ve said, the impact it would have on flooding is not enough. When the 1:5 probability February 2020 flood began, the dam was at 42%. It lowered the resulting flood by about 3m. But in the event of a 1:100 flood this wouldn’t have been enough to prevent major damage. Worse, if we had implemented a policy of reduced capacity on the basis of an imperfect forecast, there are times within the last decade when the dam would have been nearly empty, such as 2016.

Pre-flood drawdowns have a similar disadvantage: If water had been released when the East Coast Low that caused the March 2021 flood was on its way, it would have lowered the flood by about 30cm. This Sky News story misses that point.
Only raising the dam will confer a significant mitigating effect. That and implementing planning codes that prevent inappropriate development on the floodplain.


The family home flooded because they live next door to development

James and Nadine lived in Harkness Road in Oakville, squarely in the area we call Vineyard Stage 1, a location of intensive subdivision caused by the North West Growth Sector.

The Vineyard Stage 1 subdivision area
The Vineyard Stage 1 subdivision area

Their home was nearly, but not quite at the top of a hill. The developers over the road had already razed the houses that had stood there since the 1970s – family homes that had stood on acreage properties at the crest of that hill, and had eaten into the land like you'd take the top off an egg.

Prior to the bulldozers arriving, rainwater drained off the top of the hill equally in all directions. But since the excavations began, the hilltop opposite was now a shallow, muddy basin. But that basin now had a spout, and the spout was pointed squarely at James and Nadine's home, which sat at the bottom of a sloping driveway.

When the rains came in March 2022, that water filled the basin, which had been constructed with no sedimentation control, and poured out of its lowest point – the spout opposite their home. A muddy slurry ran through their home to a depth of some inches. James and Nadine's property were ruined, and they estimate the damage into the tens of thousands of dollars. Recent arrivals to the home, they had not yet taken out insurance.

This story is a tragedy. It parallels that of many other Hawkesbury home owners on lower land whose houses were also flooded out by the rising of the river to 13.7m at Windsor, a height not seen since March 1978.

The earthworks had knocked the top off the hill like you'd knock the top off an egg, creating a shallow basin with a spout.
The earthworks had knocked the top off the hill like you'd knock the top off an egg, creating a shallow basin with a spout.

But James and Nadine's story is distinct in two respects. The first is that this house had stood there for decades, and the elevation in Harkness Road meant the property had never flooded before. It was well above the riverbank properties that flooded in early 2021 and March 2022.

The second reason, and the reason James and Nadine have engaged me to advocate for them, was the substandard response they had received from Hawkesbury City Council.

James and Nadine never wanted to go public with their story, until months had elapsed and they came to the conclusion that publicity was the only way they could get answers to their questions.

 

Timeline:

First week of March - rain event, home flooded.

Second week of March - Council contacted seeking help

25th March - Clr Lyons-Buckett and myself contacted about non-response from Council.

28th March - I attend the Harkness Road property and record video, part of which is in the main video above and which was sent privately to Council staff to lay out the problem clearly.

12th April - Clr Lyons-Buckett and myself speak directly to the General Manager after a Council meeting to ask for a response. One is promised.

20th April and 13th May - Having had no response from Council, Councillors are again asked to chase the matter. I speak to our Director of Planning by phone.

13th May - An email from the General Manager to James and Nadine says "I’ll follow this up with my team and get back to you as soon as I can."

June 3rd - James and Nadine decide to go public given the complete lack of a satisfactory response from Council.

June 14th - The Hawkesbury Post makes a media request directly to Council. It is not answered by date of this publication (June 21st).

Three months without a satisfactory answer. This is not good enough.

As a Councillor, I pledge to represent residents when they have issues with Council. I'm not here to defend Council when the level of customer service they deliver is not up to standard.

Who wears the liability here?

  • Is it the developers? They've now written to James and Nadine and told them all communication needs to be through their insurers.
  • Is it the contractors? The excavations they performed allowed water to pool on the site and pour through a home that had never flooded before. When I visited the site in March, no sedimentation controls were present. When I visited on June 3rd, I could see they had belatedly been installed.
  • Is liability with Council? Were there conditions of consent that were not enforced.

I have been calling for reform within Council, especially in the area of our planning, compliance and enforcement divisions, for some time. This story just underlines for me how chronically under-resourced Council is in this area. I get more comments from ratepayers about this than many other issues.

I am bringing this issue to a wider audience because even as a Councillor I have been unable to get timely answers to my questions. Let's hope this does some good.

 


Talking with Hawkesbury Business Owner Darren Pead about Windsor Mall

Darren Pead is committed to the economic health of the Hawkesbury, running Guy Stuff, Lollies 'N Stuff and Delicious Desserts – all in Windsor Mall.

He’s also passionate about how we present and promote our town centres, balancing renewal with enhancement of our wonderful heritage.
Council has spent the last three years developing a strategy for renewal in our town centres as part of our participation in the $18.75M Western Parkland City Liveability Program.

A hilarious early rendering of how the Windsor Mall renewal might look. No thanks.

Darren has travelled the world to look at how other historic townships put their heritage front and centre, and asks if we’ve gotten the mix right.

Embedded path medallions could be innovative wayfinding to guide walkers on a Heritage Trail linking Windsor Station to Thompson Square.
An example of a historic precinct done right - Temple Street in Boston

Recently the community has affirmed it wants the rotunda and the gas lanterns preserved and restored in Windsor Mall, but Darren points to the huge proportion of the available budget being lost to just one aspect - uprooting and relaying all the paving, when repairs to the existing paving (badly needed - no argument) could unlock millions to get better value from the project as a whole.

I don’t want to see wrought iron seating replaced with sterile, Westfield-style bland street furniture.

The most recent iteration of the town centre renewal plan suggests bland, modern street furniture unsuited to a historic precinct.

A heritage trail could link Windsor Station to Thompson Square with medallions embedded in the pathways and an extension of heritage-styled lanterns down George St.

Darren and I would like to see the plan - otherwise excellent, given one more pass by Councillors to ensure that the money is spent where it will do the most good.
We sat down and had a chat this week and it makes for a fascinating conversation.


The sorry state of historic Bardenarang Creek, Pitt Town

Pitt Town local Gordon Douglas was on the phone with me, as he often is. "Nathan, have you seen the state of Bardenarang Creek since the floods? It's terrible!"

That afternoon I went to the famous Friendship Bridge on Pitt Town Bottoms Road to see for myself, and saw the reason for his concern.Repeated floods have left the creek in a very sorry state, with tattered plastic sheets from local farms spectrally draped in all the trees and choking the waterway.

The site has significant historic importance too. This was the site of the very first meeting between europeans and the Darug Aborigines in 1791. When I helped locals pull tonnes of rubbish out of that creek at a Clean Up Australia event a few years ago, I saw local pride in caring for our environment. But this is beyond the ability for volunteer groups to remedy due to the volume of debris and safety concerns.

I've raised this with Council staff to see whether creek-cleanups like this can be scheduled into our ongoing flood recovery works.

JUNE 2022 UPDATE

There has been a wonderful response to this issue, with the community rallying to clean up the creek. The Pitt Town Progress Association, Council and volunteer relief organisation Disaster Relief Australia.

Read about it here and see the follow-up video below:


Hawkesbury Council Rates 2022

Are you paying too much in Council rates? News from the 2022-2023 Hawkesbury Council Budget

Hawkesbury Council's rating system is broken and unfair. However, there are developments I'd like to share with you.

For context, I've been advocating for reform of our rating system since I was first elected to Council in 2016:

There are many causes for the problem, ranging from distortions in land value caused by our proximity to nearby development, but two key changes introduced by the previous Council had a huge impact.

The last Council, under Mayor Lyons-Buckett and continuing under Mayor Calvert, introduced a 'Special Rate Variation' that drove everyone's rates up by a third, when the relevant rate-cap was (mostly) tracking inflation. It bears remembering that three of the Councillors who voted for that rate-hike were not returned when they stood for re-election in December.

That Council also changed the rating formula that varies the mix between a flat-fee (called a 'base rate') and your land value, moving the base rate from 50% to 30%. This has made distortions between land value and household income more acute. I'm pleased to report I voted against every such rate-hike in the last chamber.

Emphasising land value is a recipe for volatility (since it's the Valuer General who sets land value, not Council) and unfairness when land value becomes unrepresentative of a suburb in a way I'll explain below.

The 'base rate' used to be set at the maximum the legislation allows, at 50%. The last Council reduced it to 30%, making the system less fair.

In calculating your rates, Council should be mindful of the principles in the Council Rating and Revenue Raising Manual, a document put out by the NSW Government through the Office of Local Government. Particularly, the principle articulated by the economist Edwin Cannan a century ago:

But the same document warns Councils that placing too much emphasis on land value in calculating rates is 'at best only an approximation' for:

The new Council elected in December 2021 resolved in January to model changing the 'Base Rate' back to 50%. That's a move that I support. Those figures will be on public exhibition soon and the budget will be adopted to take effect July 1.

The common criticism is that people on acreage properties are rich and can easily afford higher residential rates, but the data reveals a different story.

The Hawkesbury Social Atlas displays a range of statistics about our area, including median weekly income broken down by suburb:

One analysis could be to compare median household income to median rates within the same suburbs to get a sense of fairness.

Weekly income and annual rates are figures with roughly the same magnitude (say $1000-$3000). It's not as though a ratio of one is a magic number – it's arbitrary, but it does allow for a comparison that factors in both rates and the 'ability to pay' principle.

Caveats: Such an analysis is just a guide – comparing the median-this to the median-that doesn't account for those that lay on the outer edges of those bell-curves. I know pensioners on below-median income sitting on land that just happens to be close to development that they loath and want no part of. Go and talk to them about what it's like to be taxed off the farmland that they and their parents grew up on.

Nor does this analysis touch on the other factor mentioned earlier – the relative access to services. Many residents of outlying suburbs live on dirt roads, and are far from the centralised services they are subsidising with their rates, while enduring other disadvantages. Setting rates with blunt tools isn't a science, as much as I wished were otherwise.

But this at least attempts to address the equity issue that is frequently raised by my colleagues in the chamber when they speak openly of 'rich acreage landowners' vs 'poor suburbanites' in built-up suburbs.

Here is what that comparison looks like for some suburbs under the current base rate of 30%:

Here's what that means: Suburbs above a ratio of one are relatively advantaged, meaning that the rates they are charged are low compared to median household income in that suburb. Suburbs below the ratio of one are disadvantaged, meaning that rates are relatively expensive compared to income. In a fair system, one measure of fairness would be our ability to drive rates in suburbs towards the same ratio.

Now, here's what those ratios would look like for the same suburbs under a base rate of 50%:

Those suburbs who are paying not just double the average rates, but double even after factoring in relative income, move towards fairness. And other suburbs move in a modest way towards paying their fair share, and again, even after accounting for income.

If you want the raw figures, without adjustment for income, here is the preliminary modelling on a per-suburb basis for 2022-2023 rates in a range of Hawkesbury suburbs with a range of base-rates. These aren't final but will probably reflect figures which will be put on exhibition soon. Again, the base rate is 30% at the moment, and I'm advocating for it to move back to 50%.

A change to a 50% base rate is not a complete fix. It's cold comfort for residents in Oakville and Maraylya, enduring increased traffic from development and potholed roads being told that instead of paying well more than twice the rates as elsewhere, they'll now be paying only slightly more than twice even accounting for income.

Worse, the pensioner rebate on rates has been stuck at $250 for years and no longer keeps pace with our desire to give older people a hand, and Council has not addressed this in this year's budget. But any move towards fairness is a positive step.

Could we do more? Council can't set the base rate above 50% as that's limited by legislation. IPART released a long-delayed report into Council rating structures

Hawkesbury Council predicts it will take in $44M of rating income over 2022-2023 from 24,615 residences, 625 farms and 1617 businesses.

In 2016-17 that figure was $30.5M over 23,370 residences, 582 farms and 1509 businesses. In other words, Council revenue from rates have risen by 44% when the cumulative inflation rate over the same period was 11.6%

I’d say most Hawkesbury residents are prepared to pay rates that contribute to the common good, but their sense of a fair go is offended when they consider that some suburbs are paying two or three times the amount of rates of other suburbs with comparable income and access to services.

I'll continue to advocate for a fairer go while ever I remain on Council. If you don't already follow me on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube, please consider doing so for updates.

 

 


The Hawkesbury-Nepean River Floods - March 2022

July 2022 update. It's flooding again. Again.

I have been talking about flooding on the Hawkesbury-Nepean river for many many years. If you've arrived at this page as the result of a Google search, please consider these resources:

• My more recent video and post about the July 2022 floods, with some very striking video

All my output on this website about flooding

My Facebook page, where I regularly post updates during times of flood, as well as other content relevant to residents of the Hawkesbury.

My YouTube channel. This link should prioritise my videos about flooding. Please subscribe.


Original March 2022 post:

Flooding has again struck our community for the second time in 12 months.

This flood has risen to 13.7m (as measured at Windsor - which tends to be the benchmark), beating last year's flood of 12.9m making it approximately a 1-in-20 year event.

This video was taken when the waters still had about 2 more meters to rise.

I'm indebted to the excellent Hawkesbury Flood Statistics facebook page for making excellent real-time data available about river heights and closures.

Here's their summary after the waters subsided:

 

 

 


A New Accountability Measure - Report cards on Councillor Attendance and Expenses

Click here to see the video.

May 2022 update.

I am disappointed to report that this reform, which I successfully passed in February, has since been rescinded by a rescission motion brought by the Labor and Liberal Councillors working together. Clearly they are disinterested in accountability of this sort, despite how warmly it was received by the community when I got it through before. They did not articulate any clear reasons why they felt there was new information  that caused them to change their minds. Perhaps they realised that their attendance, expenses and whether they could demonstrate they got value from the conferences the Council pays to send them to made them feel uncomfortable. Further details of this reversal are here. I will continue the fight.

 


Original March 2022 post:

You're entitled to expect that your elected Councillors turn up to as many meetings as they can. It’s a critical part of our job.

Sadly, I've seen that this hasn’t always been the case. When the Hawkesbury Gazette sought figures on Councillor attendance in 2019, it found fragmented data. I was acknowledged as having among the best attendance records of any Councillor.

I resolved to do what I could to improve accountability.

Legally, Councillors can only be censured if they miss multiple formal Chamber meetings, but in my opinion that accounts for only about a third of what Councillors do. Data is either not collected, or not summarised relating to attendance at briefings, workshops, committee meetings and community consultation sessions.

So, I moved a motion at our Council meeting on February 8th that will cause a report card on Councillor attendance to be presented annually and before elections which covers a wider range of meetings and events that Councillors attend.
In the course of debate, the motion was widened to encompass reporting of Councillor expenses and to demand proof that Councillors got value and shared the knowledge they got out of any conferences we attend, and I thank Councillors for the constructive input that improved the motion.
I was surprised that some Councillors opposed this sensible measure of accountability.
This video summarises the debate, but if you want so see the full remarks of the other Councillors, they're here.

Condolence Motion for Dick Petrikas of Tennyson RFS

We lost one of the Hawkesbury Community's greats recently with the passing of Dick Petrikas from Tennyson, at the age of 83.

Dick ran his business on Tennyson Road selling all manner of farm equipment for over 50 years. He spent 43 years as Captain of the Tennyson RFS from 1976 to 2001 and further 14 years as Deputy until semi-retirement in 2015.

Dick, his mother and sisters fled their ancestral home in Lithuania towards the end of WW2.

Travelling by rowboat, they were intercepted by fisherman and ended up interned in a migrant camp that was eventually liberated by the British.

The family decision to emigrate to Australia instead of Britain was apparently sealed by the impression the family gained of Australia from watching Chips Rafferty movies.

They arrived at the Migrant Hostel in what is now Scheyville National Park, just up the road from where I live, in 1948 and the rest is history.

Dick and his family have been fixtures in the Hawkesbury Community ever since. Dick’s business traded with Colo Shire Council and Hawkesbury Shire Council.

He was awarded the National Medal in 1993 and had since added two clasps for his extraordinarily long service.

Dick could be proud that his whole family went on to become contributors to the Hawkesbury community in their own right in the RFS, SES and elsewhere.

I acknowledge Dick’s wife Julia, and their children Chris, David, Merien, Greg and Steve.

I enjoyed speaking with Chris, who is himself decorated with the Australian Fire Service Medal to put together these notes.

Dick left behind 11 grandchildren, 8 great grand-children and more are on the way.

We’ve lost too many of our local greats recently, with the passing of Aub Voller, then Albert Newton, Peter Speet, Lionel Smith and now Dick Petrikas.

I invited my fellow Councillors to join me in a moment’s silence to mark Dick’s passing.

This video also shows the remarks made by my colleagues Councillor Les Sheather and Councillor Mary Lyons-Buckett.

 


Professor David Flint AM and The Hon. Philip Ruddock AO

Celebrating 70 years of Her Majesty's reign

 

Professor David Flint AM and The Hon. Philip Ruddock AO
With Professor David Flint AM and The Hon. Philip Ruddock AO

I was honoured today to be invited to the official service to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Accession of Her Majesty the Queen, with Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of New South Wales and other dignitaries, held at St James' Church in Sydney.

What an absolutely extraordinary life our Queen has had. She has reigned over the life of both our nation and the wider Commonwealth with grace and wisdom. She has been served by fifteen Australian Prime-Ministers (and coincidently, fifteen British ones).

I support the Monarchy because at its best it represents selflessness in service to others, and the modelling of ideals that rise above the rude acquisition and preservation of political power. I also laud the Royal Family’s patronage of over 3000 organisations pursuing voluntary service, or charities, or good architecture, or the Arts, or environmentalism (in some cases, years before such causes became mainstream).

The miracle of our Constitutional arrangements is that the Monarch, custodian of all those powers which are often used to oppress people elsewhere who suffer under authoritarian regimes, are guarded by a figure who by custom and precedent will never use them.

The idea that a government can only govern so long as it has the support of the people? The principle that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to laws? The idea that the justice system should treat everyone fairly and equally? These are principles that are safeguarded by the Crown. That’s the reason why when you walk into a Court you see the Royal Coat of Arms rather than a State crest. The Crown upholds our rights.

I feel suspicion when people seek to replace the system that has given us peaceful and democratic government for centuries on a whim, or in the service of empty symbolism, or to politicise a realm that is refreshingly absent from it. Australians have and will continue to reject that.

But I am hopeful that all people, Republicans and Monarchists alike, can unite today and celebrate Queen Elizabeth for what has unquestionably been long life given in service to others.

I’m pictured here with the Hon. Philip Ruddock AO and Professor David Flint. Thanks to the Speaker of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly The Hon. Jonathan O'Dea for taking the photo!

Long live the Queen!


On ABC Breakfast Radio about Warragamba Dam (again)

This morning I was interviewed on ABC Sydney's Breakfast show by James Valentine (whom, I recalled, I used to watch on the 'Afternoon Show' as a kid). The well-worn subject was whether to raise Warragamba Dam. I appeared before on the same subject in 2019.
 
Why the renewed interest? The release of a report by the IUCN - a UN environmental body, critical of the Government's EIS for the project.
 
And here's why it's frustrating to participate in public debates like these. Intermittent headlines from this group or that denouncing the project, but which usually turn out to be less than they appear on further scrutiny.
 
The EIS for the project runs to over 8000 pages. It's an extraordinarily detailed document that took three years to develop by scientists and experts.
 
And this report from the IUCN - a body that employs a thousand people and has an annual budget of $200M?
Four pages. Two of which are preamble and recapitulation in the conclusion.
 
I don't accept the argument that the 0.05% of the World Heritage Area enduring temporary inundation will be damaged by the project. Nor do I see the project as a stalking horse for unfettered development on the floodplain. I support the project because there are 140,000 people who live and trade on the floodplain, and I don't want them to die, or see their houses flooded, possessions ruined, or livelihoods destroyed.
Recently, Hawkesbury Council voted to reaffirm its traditional support for raising Warragamba Dam, and I am pleased that the complexion of the chamber has changed to permit that - as much as I disagree with my fellow Councillors on other issues. And it remains stubbornly true that this project should and will go ahead, barring a change of government at Federal or State level.
Our valley will flood again, and we should be prepared.

Hawkesbury Council rejects critical flood safety measure – Again!

Our community has known we have to 'Live with the River' since the time of settlement. Our relationship with the river and the inevitability of floods mean we're forever torn between the blessings of rich soils and the river's deadlier moods. My own ancestor was killed in Windsor in the flood of 1809.

But human ingenuity has given us the ability to dam rivers, and we're now told that raising Warragamba Dam by 14 meters will reduce the frequency and severity of flooding here by 75%. That it would reduce the number of homes flooded by 5000. That the damage bill would reduce by $3,000,000,000. We need that. If only we had it in March – it would have spared 500 homes and reduced the flood height by 3.5m.

The new EIS is open for public comment until the end of November. Here are all the EIS documents, and I strongly suggest you start with the Executive Summary, given that the whole EIS is 8092 pages long. Council would be completely negligent on behalf of our community, who endure the highest risk of flooding in Australia, if we didn't make a submission. Submissions run until the end of November. You should consider making a submission (look for the link in the top right corner)

I'm appalled that a majority of Councillors are so wedded to their ideology that, at last night's meeting, they voted even that down. The video above summarises what happened at the meeting.

That's right - they voted down even putting forward our own community's concerns in a document to the State Government.

I know not everyone agrees on this issue, but this is reckless and treats the 600 families whose homes were flooded out in March with contempt.

And yes, this absolutely should be an election issue.

I have of course been very, very active on the subject of flooding over this five-year term of Council: Here's a list of all my videos and motions before Council on this subject.


How much land clearing should people be able to do for fire safety? The Rural Boundary Clearing Code

The Rural Boundary Clearing Code

The commentary here is in reverse chronological order. If you're interested, I suggest watching the videos in the order shown here.

February 2022 third go-around, and things get worse.

The "Rural Boundary Clearing Code". It came to Council for the third time last night.

Why is this so contentious? It might strike you as an obscure decision about land-management policy. But it disguises a far more important principle, and it's very much at stake in this new Council, so it's important to know what this is about.

Some people feel the massive bushfires we endured demonstrate we should allow people more freedom to clear their land for fire safety. Some people worry (and we were shown proofs) that this threatens habitats and that fire safety will be used as an excuse for some to just clear their land for other reasons. Others worry that the Code just won't do what its authors intended because of our local conditions.

All of these concerns are valid.

Passionate, honourable disagreements are why we sit as a Council of twelve to work through these issues. The solution is to consult the community and experts in the field, get informed, and then make considered decisions. Almost every policy Council adopts follows this process.

But not, apparently, this one.

This has been rammed through without any consideration or consultation – and especially with the RFS, who reminded us tonight of their own well-developed plan to improve fire safety. They're white-hot about the disrespect this lack of consultation represents. And that's why I've differed in my opinion with my Liberal colleagues, with whom I usually agree on other issues.

The issue is why we would adopt a policy with such far-reaching consequences for our land management – which has enormous implications for endangered species like Koalas, and on which opinions differ sharply concerning whether it will actually improve fire safety at all – without any consultation with the local RFS. And no resourcing of Council to do compliance and mitigate against mis-use of the Code. And without any thought of how Council should help landowners navigate their eligibility and be good stewards of their land. And without the ability to even measure the impact on tree-cover across the LGA when that could easily be remedied with new off-the-shelf mapping tools.

Frankly, it makes the rhetoric of people who frequently say they respect the RFS, and like to make much of saying they support Koala habitats, more than a little hollow. Worse, in the meeting tonight, debate was axed which cut off Councillors who were yet to speak to the chamber, despite having their 'zoom hand' up for half an hour. That was wrong. When we disagree, we shouldn't silence people just because you may not like what they might say. It's no way to run a respectful chamber, and I disassociate myself from those who use it as a tactic.

Look, ultimately it may be best if we adopt the Code. But we can't know because we haven't asked the right questions. And that's our job, so I don't apologise for speaking out. 

The above video represents my remarks, but the full video of the Council debate is something I recommend you watch.

January 2022 - The new Council reverses its previous position and rams the Code through

Last October some of my colleagues tried to ram through the adoption of the "Rural Boundary Clearing Code", which would allow the clear-felling of up to 15,800 hectares of rural land where landowners assert such clearing is needed to improve fire safety.

I think that Council has a moral obligation to look at this area, given the loss of 65 homes in the Hawkesbury in the fires.
But balancing community safety with protection of the environment is challenging. It takes leadership, and nuancing the various issues and views, not ramming something through without consideration of the consequences.

That attempt last year failed.
Firstly, we had conducted zero formal consultation with our local RFS.
Secondly, it was clear that we needed to resource Council to measure the effects of this policy with geospatial mapping tools, provide guidance to landowners about the torturous eligibility criteria, and ensure we could conduct basic compliance and enforcement. We had no knowledge of a single other Council taking up the voluntary adoption of this code and what that experience looked like for them, and many local experts told me that they were either opposed, or took a "yes, but" approach contingent on these basic precautions.
I advanced an alternative motion to get Council to conduct that consultation and resourcing, and I got it passed. The report would have come back to Council this year.

However, the complexion of the Council chamber has changed, and on Tuesday my Liberal colleagues again tried to ram summary adoption of the code through. This time, they had the numbers.
So that's it. No consultation. No resourcing for partnering with landowners. No resources for mapping, compliance or enforcement.
Oh, and no takebacks. Once we're in, we're in for good.

I think of this as a massive slap in the face for our local RFS, who are free to be for or against this, but who would have at least been accorded the courtesy of being *asked*. So much for the oft-claimed respect for our RFS.

I've always claimed that it's possible to be a good Conservative, and a good Conservationist. It's a pity that this looks nothing like that.
Environmentally conscious voters in the Hawkesbury, and if I might suggest, across the seat of Macquarie ought to keep their own counsel about whether this looks like the kind of representation they want

In favour of the summary adoption of the code was:
Mayor Conolly, Clr. Richards, Clr. Reardon, Clr. Veigel, Clr. Sheather, Clr. Dogramaci. Passage was ensured with the casting vote of the Mayor after a 6-all deadlock.

Original October 2021 commentary:

At last night's Hawkesbury City Council meeting we considered a thorny question: How much should landowners be allowed to clear their land to protect themselves from bushfires?

There 's a lot to consider. In NSW there's already a mechanism for hazard reduction, called the 10-50 rule. But the government inquiry held after the terrible Gospers Mountain fire in 2019-2020 recommended that new rules be considered.
What came from that process is the 'Rural Boundary Clearing Code', and the on-line tool people are supposed to use to work out if they're eligible to clear under those rules.
Balancing community safety with protecting the environment is challenging. It takes leadership, and nuancing the various issues and views, not ramming something through because you want to make an election issue out of it.
I am glad that my alternative motion gained support and was seen as a better way forward.

Granny Flats: You deserve more choice | Hawkesbury City Council

I want to talk about granny flats and dual occupancies, because the way that Hawkesbury Council currently treats them is insane.

A dual occupancy is just a fancy way of saying there are two houses on the same block of land, but under one title, one owner.

It’s not like a subdivision because there’s no rezoning, no sale, or separation of the ownership of the land.

There are two kinds of dual occupancies: Detached, where there’s two, separated full-size houses on the same block, and attached where two dwellings are connected in some way, like a Duplex.

Detached and Attached dual occupancies

I live in an attached dual occupancy here at Oakville with my family, where we have two houses which are connected by a covered walkway.

And here’s the crazy thing: At Hawkesbury Council, detached dual occupancies are forbidden because of, wait for it, flood evacuation risks. And that's regardless of whether you’re in Bilpin or Oakville, well out of harms way of a flood. But put that covered walkway in, and everything’s peachy. Totally fine. Permitted.

Detached dual occupancies are already permitted (with constraints) in many other Councils, like PenrithHills, Cumberland, Parramatta, Northern Beaches.

But it gets worse: People often get confused between Dual Occupancies and “secondary dwellings”.

Secondary dwellings are much smaller, only up to 60 square meters- which is little more than 1 or 2 rooms, and must be close to the primary dwelling. We call them “Granny flats”.

Example floor layout possible with a 60m^2 limit

Now if you want to build a granny flat in, say Bligh Park, or Hobartville, in any of these residential zonings, on a block that’s under 800 square meters, apparently that’s fine.

A Google Earth image of an average residential block in Bligh Park, which is zoned R2/R3. Block Size ~700m^2. Granny flats: permitted.

But if you live in one of these zonings in a rural area, like a five acre block, 25 times the size of a house block in Bligh Park, the answer is no. You can’t. It’s not allowed.

A Google Earth image of an average residential block in Maraylya, which is zoned RU4. Block Size ~24,457m^2 (~6acres). Granny flats: NOT permitted.

This makes no sense at all.

During this this term of Council I have been the strongest advocate for reform of these rules, but I’ve been stymied by a lack of support among the other Councillors.

I’m seeking your support to continue this work through your vote in the upcoming election.

Let me explain why this is important:

For a balanced community, the Hawkesbury needs a mix of housing types. I’ve argued that dual occupancies confer a range of social benefits.

Your ability to put another dwelling on the land that you own could allow you as parents to give a leg-up to your kids to build a home, or get equity in the market, or to continue to live in the communities that they grew up in, or to enable grandparents to care for their grandkids.

On the flipside, it might allow you to look after your parents in their senior years with a degree of independence, but still close to those they love, sharing the burdens of property maintenance or the costs of living.

The way that my family lives exemplifies this: I live in a multigenerational household, with toddlers, teens, adults, seniors, spaniels and cats living together in a joyous chaos.

This 2020 article from the Sydney Morning Herald on multigenerational households really resonated with me.

I’ve heard this described as a very European way of living. It’s not for everyone, but for many families it makes a lot of sense. For some, it’s an economic necessity.

But ultimately it’s about choice. Your choice.

Studies show that one in five households are multi-generational, and that figure is growing (Source: City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Dept of Built Environment). And 40% of people in their twenties are still living at home (Source: Australian Institute for Family Studies).

To me, it’s an example of how something obscure – good planning laws, can strengthen our communities by empowering Council to plan for diversified housing choices with far less impact on existing services and infrastructure than full blown subdivision.

Others support secondary dwellings because it represents a form of affordable housing, which we badly need more of.

Lastly, we can’t ignore the fact that many acreage areas are and will continue to be subjected to development pressure. Iam.no.fan.of.overdevelopment.

But dual occupancies may represent a kind of happy compromise between the status quo, and the wholesale rezoning and carve-up that developers want to inflict on us.

Many people I speak to want a sensible solution like this, but I challenge you to find another Councillor that can point to a public statement they’ve made in support of it.

And you and I probably know someone in the area with a clandestine granny flat that’s offending nobody but against the rules.

In February this year, Hills Shire Council next door took advantage of a change in State rules, something called the ‘LEP Standard Instrument’ to apply for, and get, a more generous definition of Granny flats.

As a result, Hills landowners can now build granny flats that are still modest, but larger than before: whichever is the larger of 110 square meters or 20% the size of the main dwelling, up from 60 square meters.

Examples of granny-flat floor layouts possible under a more generous 110m^2 limit.

I’d like Council consult and consider doing the same, using a place-based approach that’s sensitive to all the factors and constraints, like land fragmentation, loss of agricultural capacity, emergency evacuation, local roads & infrastructure and the protection of the environment.

As I said, I’ve tried to drive reform in this area and so far I’ve failed.

Our best hope is the detailed work Council has done this year in revamping our LEP and DCP – our two fundamental planning codes, but progress has been been painful and slow.

I’ve pushed for these proposals to be put into the new codes for public comment, but it’s the next Council that will sign them off.

I’d love to hear your views. What do you think?


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.