Sending a strong message about inappropriate development at Kurrajong and Kurmond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook

Facebook and the survival of rational democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hawkesbury-Nepean river suffers as HRCC endures cut to funding

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hawkesbury Radio interview, February 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hawkesbury's Local Housing Strategy and the pressure for development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Council Committees and protecting our Heritage

Hawkesbury City Council has no less than 17 different Committees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


The NSW 2020 State Redistribution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have drawn this data from places such as:

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

Helping Bushland Regeneration in Bilpin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you want to get on board, contact HRCC.

 

 


Re-elected as Chair of the Hawkesbury River County Council

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

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

The HRCC covers 3,823sq.km over four municipalities (Hills, Blacktown, Penrith and Hawkesbury). It has responsibility for waterway health through the control of weeds, and increasingly takes a role in terrestrial weed control as well under the Biosecurity Act.

In this last year alone it conducted 3,949 property inspections. With its specialised assets like weed harvesters, and using new and innovative techniques like biological control (Salvinia eating Weevils, anyone?), it plays a major role in caring for our local environment.

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


Warragamba Dam in 1960

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

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

This has been reported in the local media:

My own statement relating to this issue is below:

 

 


Defeated in the effort to ensure fairer Hawkesbury Council Rates

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

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

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

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

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

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


Straight talk about Development

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

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

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

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

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


What are the facts about raising Warragamba Dam?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I've written about this subject many times before:

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

A Masterplan for Colbee Park at Mcgraths Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Speaking to Ray Hadley about Planning Panels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Protecting the Cumberland Plain woodlands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downy Wattle, Acacia pubescens

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

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

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

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

 


Mental health, psychological abuse and health regulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

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


On the opening of the new Windsor Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A brief meditation on human nature

LordOfTheFliesBookCover.jpg

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

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

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

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

In praise of Pelagius

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

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

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

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

So why am I going on about this now?

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

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

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

And Mr Golding? Shame on you.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will continue to advocate for a fairer system.


Be Proud of Cook's Discovery of Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Hawkesbury's Response to the Bushfires

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

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

The breakdown of funds is as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

My original post continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council's Resilience and Recovery website

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

You haven't been forgotten.

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

 


Road upgrade works along March Street, Richmond

The RMS is in the process of beginning works to upgrade March Street in Richmond, largely between the intersection of Bosworth Street (KFC Corner) and Chapel Street.

(hi-res version)

These works will widen the road and involve underground service relocation and unfortunately the loss of many established Crepe Myrtle trees lining March Street. The commencement of works has caused some understandable concern in the community.

The proposed scope of the works is evident from a 2016 RMS Review of Environmental Factors Report:

I share your concerns about the loss of these lovely, established flowering trees, and a related concern about the project threatening a large Plane tree at the intersection of March St and Chapel St which forms part of a significant avenue of heritage trees along Chapel Street (where I used to live). It's a beautiful part of Richmond and the Crepe Myrtles are absolutely stunning when they are in bloom.

It bears remembering that this is an RMS project, not a Hawkesbury Council project. RMS (at best) only liaise with Council about the potential impacts, especially at the interface between State roads and Local roads.

Also, these upgrades are part of a series of upgrades between North Richmond and Richmond that will ease long-standing traffic flow issues until a more permanent fix in the form of a new crossing of the Hawkesbury River is built.

So here's what we know about what can be done. The 2016 RMS report acknowledges the significance of these trees and they undertake to replace them "where appropriate" after the road is widened and the footpath replaced:

In terms of the Plane tree on the corner of Chapel St, Council and RMS representatives held a site visit recently to discuss alternative options to save the tree.

I've made it clear that these trees have value to the community and amenity of Richmond, and that they need to be replaced with mature specimens, not seedlings, if at all possible. Our Council staff will continue to press that point to the project managers, RMS / TfNSW.

If you care for these trees, I would encourage you to make your concerns known by contacting the RMS's project contact managers, DownerMouchel on:
Phone: 1800 332 660, or
Email: [email protected]


Ecotourism, Hindu Temples, and WTF is a Housekeeping LEP?

On Tuesday night, Council resumed for 2020 and half way in, the meeting descended into chaos. A massive thunderstorm killed the power at a crucial juncture, forcing a second postponement, much to the frustration of a full gallery. The meeting had already been held over one week after flooding shut the Hawkesbury's three major bridges. It wasn't an auspicious start.

Before the storm, Council were able to consider several motions of condolence relating to the bushfire emergency that occurred during the recess.

It also approved a motion I brought which sought an extension of the public consultation period about the Pitt Town Hindu Temple proposal, and directs Council's involvement in a public meeting which will go some way to addressing the community's concerns about it. I raised this after representations from members of the Pitt Town community, and the vote was a victory for common sense.

 

Later, what we were debating when the power went out was something called a "Housekeeping LEP", and it's more important than it sounds.

Council's LEP, or Local Environmental Plan, governs what zonings prevail in various parts of our city. This in turn governs what can be built and where.

It was last fully updated in 2012 and is vastly in need of an overhaul. We were promised that it would be totally renewed in this term of Council, but the process has dragged on so badly it will fall to the next Council, elected in September, to get the process done. Part of the delay is the refusal of the State Government to properly resource our Council to do the necessary preliminary work, even though other Councils have received State funds for the job.

This is frustrating for many reasons: Changes to planning law mean that Planning Panels -- unelected, unaccountable and bureaucratic bodies, have taken on the job of assessing Development Applications, which used to be what your elected Councillors did in the chamber. The Planning Panels in turn interpret Council's stated policies such as our LEP (and our DCP - the Development Control Plan, which defines things like the scale, shape, quality, aesthetics and building materials that can be used in constructions), to get a sense of what is permissible or desirable.

That Planning Panels are making these decisions with no formal input from your elected Councillors, while drawing on an ancient LEP which does not reflect our current values and expectations, is not good.

In my opinion, the conduit for executing the community's desire for a particular style or scale of development, via elected Councillors, through their limited input into infrequently updated planning instruments, and thence to the interpretive whim of Planning Panels, is now so torturous and diffuse as to be impotent.

I'll give an example why we need an update: The 2012 LEP made very little mention of Ecotourism. It was there in the LEP dictionary, and section 5.12 even laid out some standards. But the words "Ecotourist facilities" were missing from the land-use tables to permit it in any zonings. Meaning, there is presently no permission for this form of economic activity, one our city ought to be promoting as an appropriate and desirable land-use. Ecotourism ticks all the boxes - it aligns well with the Hawkesbury's tourism strategies, it enables a productive use of land that may be unsuitable for other purposes, it encourages environmental awareness and good stewardship, it confers a halo effect on other parts of the local economy, and an Ecotourism framework in the LEP will regulate the sector, providing checks & balances for near neighbours, and certainty to those wishing to invest in those businesses.

Recognising the interminable process of getting a wholly new LEP, Council conceived getting some of the changes we've put off into a Housekeeping LEP, a kind of mini-LEP update, like a software patch issued between major revisions of an operating system.

Here's a slide from a Councillor briefing we received in February 2017 reminding us that the Housekeeping LEP process began in July 2015.

And here we are, five years later, and we're still no closer. Unbelievable!

Fifty such changes were identified for inclusion, including a provision for Ecotourism.

Sadly, a lack of will and strangulating bureaucracy has eroded even this limited proposal for endorsement by the NSW Minister for Planning. The watered-down Housekeeping LEP falls maddeningly short of what I and my fellow Liberals had hoped for .

We had hoped we could make good on our election commitment to permit Detached Dual Occupancies. But it's been removed from the draft. Ditto a more generous definition of Secondary Dwellings (effectively granny flats). And Ecotourism? Included in an earlier draft, but now recommended for elimination based on an apprehension that the Minister will scuttle the whole thing because of dangling threads. This is not good enough.

Complicating public debate is a protracted campaign by feuding millionaires with Polo properties down on the Richmond Lowlands. One of them opposes both the function centre and the ecotourism provisions of the Housekeeping LEP, citing the risk of flooding on the Lowlands. And while that’s probably a valid point, the only reason you’re reading about this via full-page ads in this week's Gazette and the Courier is because these millionaires loath each other and just want to cause grief for one another.

The simple fact is that even if the Housekeeping LEP is ratified in full, individual DA’s for proposals (say) on the Lowlands would still be subjected to a raft of other merit-based assessment criteria. Flood liability may still rule such developments out, but they would be assessed on an individual basis.

On Tuesday, the Liberals were key to an amendment to direct Council to submit the fuller version of the Housekeeping LEP to the Minister, with Ecotourism included. That amendment then became the motion, and based on the same numbers, was likely to pass.

Then, at the key moment, the power went off.

Will it pass when the meeting resumes on Tuesday night (25th)? Let's see.


Is a Hindu temple appropriate for Pitt Town?

A number of residents have approached me about a development application which was lodged in late November for the construction of a $6.4M temple complex at 95 Old Pitt Town Road, Pitt Town.

The image below should provide some context: In the upper left is the Pitt Town cemetery and in the lower right is Pitt Town Sports Club.

The application as submitted to Hawkesbury council requests permission to

Council's DA Tracker website has the details (use DA0513/19 or the address as the reference). The application has been initiated by a group called Sri Mandir who are based at Auburn. They appear to be a different entity to the organisation who successfully sought permission to build a Hindu temple at Beddek St in McGraths Hill in October 2016. That group is called Sri Siva Jyothi Temple, who are based at Wentworthville.

With respect to the 2016 DA, this occurred during the time when Council was the consent authority. On that occasion I voted against approval, and the public remarks I made as to why are on the public record.

The Hawkesbury Social Atlas shows that at the time of the 2016 Census, the Hindu population of the Hawkesbury was 0.2% (130 individuals), vs 3.5% in the Greater Sydney area.

It would appear that the D.A is for a very ostentatious structure, being multi story and with 67 car parking spaces. The structures are "forward" on the subject block, and close to the road.

The residents who have approached me have expressed a range of concerns about the appropriateness of this development for this site, citing traffic, scale, noise, fire hazard and the effect on amenity. The development sits quite close to Scheyville National Park, as detailed in the Bushfire Assessment Report.

Under changes to NSW Planning, Hawkesbury City Councillors no longer vote on DA's before our Council. These planning powers were removed from many NSW Councils and given to unelected, unaccountable "Planning Panels". I and many other Councillors (Liberal and non Liberal alike) are opposed to this diminution of democracy in our planning laws.

Planning Panels may empanel people with eminent subject expertise in planning matters, but in our democracy, the expertise of public servants must be balanced with democratic accountability to the community.

If a Planning Panel makes an unpopular decision, frequently they have no "skin in the game"-- they can't be voted out by the public, and in some (not all) cases, don't even live in the communities they are affecting by their decisions.

Details about the Hawkesbury Local Planning Panel are at Council's website.

Hawkesbury Council has at least some part to play however. They act to receive and process paperwork related to DA's, and before the Planning Panel meets, will write a staff report either listing the consent conditions that should be applied, or alternatively, recommending refusal and citing the ways in which the DA would be inappropriate in that zone or at that site.

Residents have also expressed concern that the exhibition period, occurring over Christmas, and during a time of significant duress within the community with bushfires, has not afforded people enough time to digest and respond to the proposal. There is also a report (unverified by me) that not all the documentation currently on the DA tracker was made available in a timely fashion.

I think a public meeting should be held so that residents can receive information and understand the implications of this proposal.

As was the case with the McGraths Hill proposal (which curiously has not broken ground on their land since consent was granted in October 2016), I will be happy to support local residents as they seek representation to the Planning Panel, which will meet later this year (date unknown) to consider it.


On the plan to build a new Fire Control Headquarters in the Hawkesbury

Recently at our last Council meeting for 2019, Hawkesbury Mayor Barry Calvert moved a Mayoral Minute to seize on the high profile of bushfires in the Hawkesbury.

In it, he advocated for Hawkesbury to build a new purpose-built Fire Control Headquarters, to replace the current facility at Wilberforce.

I know Fire Control well, having volunteered there for some years in my teens and twenties, under the then Fire Control Officer, Bill Rodger. Situated in the old Colo Shire Council chambers building, it was an ageing, awkward and pokey fit even a quarter century ago. Colo Shire Council was founded in 1906 and amalgamated into the Hawkesbury Shire Council in 1981.

At times of emergency, the place just isn't big enough. Temporary structures have to be built outside, necessitating much to-and-fro.

The Mayor's Minute was endorsed, unanimously. However, the way in which it was presented strikes me as worth further comment.

I think most people supporting such a move appreciate the sentiment behind it first, but then expect it to outlay concrete steps that lead to the desired outcome. A new, purpose built facility is a massive expenditure. Ground was broken in September for a new facility on the South West Slopes and that will cost $6.3 Million.

The Mayor's motion contained no financial commitment to either build, or even scope the ideal location and configuration of a new Fire Control Centre -- both pre-requisite in my opinion to the State government signing on for funding.

In other words, Council needs to budget money to build our case. There's little point in "initiating discussions" (as the motion says) to ask for such a significant financial commitment. Wilberforce may not even be the best location for a new facility -- some addressing the meeting nominated a number of alternatives.

This kind of wishlisting, without appreciating proper process or budgetary considerations, has happened before. As if smelling the wind, one Councillor added a clause to the motion to insist that the Wilberforce Brigade (who are co-located with Fire Control) be "fast tracked" to a new facility "within twelve months". In my opinion, this offers false hope, when Council's budget for the year has been locked in.

Michael Scholz, Captain of the Wilberforce Rural Fire Brigade addressed us and described the inadequacy of the current facility. No one disagreed. But the process of building a new fire shed involves forward planning and budgeting, and a lot of consultation. It can't be done by fiat on the spur of the moment. Two fire shed renovations in the Hawkesbury were held up for several years by spurious Native Title claims.

Our RFS locally have and continue to do a heroic job. There's definitely a case for a new Fire Control Centre. However, we have to now take concrete action: to budget, to scope our plan, to make a compelling case, and to commit to co-funding the facility. In my opinion, only then will our State Government take us seriously.


Pitt Town Road upgrades

Back in August 2017 I joined members of the Pitt Town Progress Association, fellow Councillors and staff on a tour of the Pitt Town area to identify a long list of "action items". High on that list were upgrades to Pitt Town Road that were promised as benefits to the Pitt Town development.

These upgrades consist of the Pitt Town Bypass project, which received a $4.7M boost in the most recent State Budget (and which will be an estimated $8.2M for the whole project), and upgrades to other intersections between Pitt Town and McGraths Hill. I hope the Bypass will have shovels in the ground in 2020.

The most important of these other works is the intersection of Pitt Town Road and Saunders Road. Increasing traffic has rendered this intersection dangerous for some time. I know people personally who have had serious accidents there.

It is pleasing to see these works now underway, but many have asked me why it looks so elaborate, and what all the pipes sticking out of the ground are. I am advised that the pipes mark the location of various underground services such as water and gas.

There will now be dedicated turning lanes when coming along Pitt Town Road, in both directions, for traffic turning into Saunders Road, and for traffic turning into Pitt Town Bottoms Road (towards Lynwood).

Here is a one-page graphic of the works proposed, and below that is a more detailed PDF copy of the plans.

 


Elected Chair of the Hawkesbury River County Council

With HRCC General Manager, Chris Dewhurst, Hawkesbury MP Robyn Preston, and outgoing chair, Clr. Karen McKeown from Penrith Council.

Tonight I was elected as the new Chair of the Hawkesbury River County Council, after serving for the last 12 months as Deputy Chair.
This is a great honour. I am the first Hawkesbury Liberal Councillor ever to be elected to this role.

The HRCC covers 3,823sq.km over four municipalities (Hills, Blacktown, Penrith and Hawkesbury). It has responsibility for waterway health through the control of weeds, and increasingly takes a role in terrestrial weed control as well under the Biosecurity Act. In this last year alone it conducted 2,014 property inspections. With its specialised assets like weed harvesters, and using new and innovative techniques like biological control (Salvinia eating Weevils, anyone?), it plays a major role in caring for our local environment.

Robyn Preston MP - Member for Hawkesbury was elected as my Deputy! Considering she's my boss in another context, this was regarded with great mirth.

I'd like to thank the outgoing Chair, Councillor Karen McKeown for her steady hand over the last year, and our indefatigable General Manager, Chris Dewhurst.


The Vineyard Development area

Recently I completed a trio of short videos that go together in covering issues relating to housing development.

My desire is to touch on larger issues affecting our city and its future growth, but I use the example of the proposed development of the Vineyard area to illustrate them.

They cover:

  • The extent of the Vineyard development in the context of the North West Growth Sector
  • The role of both developers, the State Government, and Councils have in funding and delivering infrastructure
  • The role of IPART, the Government's independent pricing regulator, in adjudicating whether Council's infrastructure plans are economical.

Here they are together.

Part 1: Development and Congestion in Hawkesbury City

Part 2: Who should pay for Infrastructure when housing development comes?

Part 3: Don't let population pressure tear our community apart.


Councillor Zamprogno secures $90,750 grant for Richmond School of Arts Lighting refurbishment

With Hawkesbury MP, Robyn Preston, School of Arts committee member, Ross Wanstall, and President of Richmond Players, Sean Duff

There are a range of grant programs that community groups can avail themselves of in supporting their work.

Hawkesbury Council have their own Community Sponsorship program, recently revamped by Council with clearer processes and assessment guidelines, which groups can access here in the case of facilities, and here in the case of events.

For more major works, the State Government have grant programs like the Community Building Partnership grant program, ClubGrants, and the new MyCommunity grant program. There are also non-government philanthropic programs like the Crown Resorts Foundation.

As part of my work supporting Hawkesbury organisations, I have become adept at identifying and advocating for groups to get funding in this way.

If your community organisation want a hand in securing grant funding, get in touch, because I'd be happy to help.

I successfully initiated and pursued a grant for $25,800 to install a sound system in the Richmond School of Arts building in 2010, followed up by $3,655 in 2015 for a new projection screen for the same building.

In the case of the School of Arts and its anchor tenants, the Richmond Players dramatic society, the masterplan was always to attempt to complete the auditorium refurbishment with a new lighting system.

The old lighting system in that building is old and fragile. The filament lights could only be driven to 80% brightness – if they blew, there were no replacement parts. Once it dies, that’s it.

It was obtained second hand from Channel 9 in the early 1970s, and was old even then. I hear, in the past, the lighting operator John Phipps dimmed the lights by plunging a live coil of wire wound around a broom handle into a bucket of water!

I'm hugely proud to say that this year, a grant I initiated and pursued for $90,750 has been successful, finally allowing this wonderful community organisation, now in its 68th year, to complete the refurbishment.

The pivotal moment was when the State Government launched a new grant scheme, the MyCommunity Grant Scheme, in which the winners would be voted on by the public. I knew there was a large and enthusiastic community of patrons of this space, and of community theatre, who would rally to the cause. They handed our fliers at shows, letterbox dropped the local area, and gained the support they needed.

I'm also very pleased that a number of other local Hawkesbury community groups have secured funding, including for an expanded Men's Shed in the grounds of the Pioneer Village at Wilberforce, for shade structures at Council's community pool at Richmond, and for public-access heart defibrillators for the Wiseman's Ferry community.

Of course this would not be possible without the support of the NSW State Government, and of our local Hawkesbury MP, Robyn Preston, whose office has facilitated information about the grant programs throughout. Thank you, Robyn.


Gazette gives Councillors an attendance report card

Diligence matters. Turning up, listening well, and being across our subject matter.
This is what you're entitled to from me and from your other elected representatives.

I'm gratified I get a "A" in this week's story in the Gazette concerning our meeting attendances record over the last three years.
I would clarify that the meeting I was not at was due to me attending a conference on behalf of Council.

As the story suggests, Chamber attendance is only one part of our duties, and isn't a perfect indicator of our engagement in our work.

Non-Chamber-meeting Tuesdays are for closed Councillor briefings by Staff, and most Councillors are also members of a number of Committees. The list of my Committee involvements are here. Committee membership is an essential part of being a good representative, as it allows us to "deep dive" into particular policy areas and gain a better understanding.

Lastly, when Council hold community consultation meetings around the district, I feel it is important to get along to as many of them as possible. I'm pleased to report that in the most recent round of town-hall meetings, I attended those at North Richmond, Upper Colo, Oakville/Maraylya and St Albans.


We don't need another referendum about Council

At the last Council election we also held a referendum on whether our city should be divided into wards. That exercise – really just the thought bubble of one Councillor -- cost us $24,000 and the idea went on to be soundly rejected by the community.

At our Council meeting tonight we were asked to consider if there was any other change we wanted to put to a referendum for the local government elections that are scheduled for September next year. Would we like 13 Councillors instead of 12? A popularly elected Mayor? To revisit the Wards issue?

I took the view that these suggestions wouldn’t improve the quality of democracy in our city. 

Some of our Councillors made a very conspicuous show only a couple of months ago of rejecting a CPI-rise in the fee paid to Councillors -- a virtue-signalling exercise that would save Council a grand total of $7,132p.a. Nevertheless, tonight the same ones took a shine to the idea of holding another referendum that would cost another $24K (or more) to put to voters, and in the case of increasing Councillor numbers, another $80K+ in pay across the 4 years of a Council term.

I confess, I found that a trifle inconsistent.

So I voted for the status quo. I’m happy to report I was in the majority. I suggest that the money we save by not entertaining thought bubbles like this will be better spent on better roads, parks and services.


Hawkesbury wins in the NSW Budget

The 2019-2020 NSW Budget handed down today by Treasurer Dominic Perrottet makes for encouraging reading. 

For people in the Hawkesbury, it includes:

  • $2M for the planning of the new Hawkesbury River crossing. 
  • $4.7M for the Pitt Town Bypass ($8.2M estimated for the whole project)
  • $31.4M for the Windsor Bridge Replacement Project ($78M spent to date)
  • Another $384K on top of $6.2M already allocated for the renovation of Richmond High School.
  • $56.4M for land acquisition associated with the new Rouse Hill hospital.
  • $99.2 over 4 years spread across the Western Parkland City Liveability Program for the rejuvenation of the town centres of Windsor, Richmond and South Windsor.

This is a good result for the Hawkesbury and sits in the broader context of record spending on schools, infrastructure and services, and ongoing budget surpluses.

This is what good financial management looks like.


Funding for a new crossing of the Hawkesbury River

 

The North Richmond Bridge, built 1905. Photo: The author

June 7th 2021 Update: This morning the Prime Minister and the Premier announced that funding for this project has been lifted to $500 million. The NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that the new bridge will be 6m higher than the current bridge. The funding will be 80% from the Federal Government and 20% from the NSW Government. This is tremendously good news, along with confirmation that the project will not dump traffic into the already-congested heart of North Richmond but rather bypass North Richmond and join Bells Line of Road at Crooked Lane. This map has been circulating this morning as a preferred (note: not final) route.

I note that Susan Templeman the Labor Federal MP has chimed in pre-emptively this morning to claim credit for this announcement. I thought my remarks on that question I made two years ago remain just as relevant today.

Original 2-4-2019 post:

Yesterday, the Federal Liberal government committed $200 million to build a new road crossing of the Hawkesbury River.

This is tremendously exciting news, but some commentary I've seen is misleading about about who to thank and where we go from here.

The need for traffic congestion relief for residents west of the river has been understood and acknowledged for years. A walk through the timeline will be instructive.

In 2011, the newly elected Liberal State government commissioned a study, which delivered its "Long Term Options Report" in September 2012 and canvassed a number of options. These included:

  • Amplifying the current bridge to three lanes and employing a contraflow arrangement morning and evening.
  • Constructing a new two-lane bridge immediately downstream to provide an extra two lanes, either at the same level as the current bridge, or somewhat further downstream and at a higher level to provide 1:20yr flood immunity.

Each of these options would ultimately increase traffic through both Richmond and North Richmond and would require substantial amplification to roadworks between the Bosworth St intersection in Richmond, and the Grose Vale Road intersection in North Richmond.

In 2011, the then Labor Federal government pledged a paltry $2M -- money that did not appear in the budget or the forward estimates until 2015. The then Liberal Macquarie MP Louise Markus drew attention to this, saying

"(It's) another empty promise that may never eventuate. Heavy peak traffic on Grose Vale Road, Terrace Road and Bells Line of Road leading down towards the M7 causes significant congestion around the Richmond bridge. It takes sometimes more than an hour for people, once they reach North Richmond, to cross the bridge to Richmond on the way to work, and the same can happen in the evening."

By August 2014, the Federal Liberal-National government was in position to advance the issue. Louise Markus told the House of Reps:

The provision of safer, more efficient roads to regional Australia is a priority of this government. One such issue needing to be addressed was the Richmond Bridge ... This bridge has experienced significant increased traffic pressure over recent years. Labor failed to deliver on this committed project, but I have fought to see Richmond and North Richmond receive the approved infrastructure that the community deserves. 

For several years, planning by the federal government and the New South Wales coalition government has been underway to cater for increased traffic around the Richmond Bridge. The city-centric previous Labor government short-changed regional Australia by cutting $500 million in regional funding. I am pleased to acknowledge the coalition government has committed $18 million of total funding for the Richmond Bridge and its approaches from 2013-14 through to 2018-19.

Meanwhile, the State Liberal Government got on with the job of using these funds to improve a range of issues affecting traffic flow along Bells Line of Road, with this graphic from an October 2018 RMS newsletter showing the works around the intersection, but which does not show extensive improvements at the intersection of Old Kurrajong Rd / Yarramundi Lane.

By the 2018 State Budget, our local MP and State Treasurer Dominic Perrottet was able to pledge $25 million dollars of State money to do detailed planning for a new river crossing ($7m of which was in the 2018-2019 FY). This is what proper collaboration between State and Federal governments looks like.

I am agnostic on the question of whether the bridge should be a straight duplication of the current bridge, or should be located elsewhere. I’m wary of increasing congestion in North Richmond and Richmond. Council is in the process of finalising a detailed Regional Traffic Study. The process of choosing a site for the bridge and the support roads that will lead to it should be data-driven, as well as acutely mindful of the effects on our heritage towns.

Against this backdrop, the only missing piece, and by far the largest one, was funding for the bridge itself. And it's arrived.

When the announcement was made yesterday, you should realise it has come off the back of a decade of advocacy from Liberal representatives -- Local, State and Federal, as well as a lot of dedicated members of the community.

State Pols

Building the roads and rail of the future helped Premier Gladys Berejiklian to be re-elected and today the Prime Minister is hoping to copy her vote-winning strategy. #9News | http://9News.com.au

Posted by 9 News Sydney on Monday, 1 April 2019

All your Local Liberal Councillors have advocated for the funding for an extra crossing -- especially Sarah Richards, now the Federal Candidate for Macquarie, who has knocked on the door of the State and Federal government doggedly.

These kinds of infrastructure projects are possible when governments balance their budgets and grow the economy. No one argues that they are necessary, but it takes years of planning.

So how did Labor react, after years of neglect on infrastructure? They fell over themselves to say they would match the funding.

It's galling to see this portrayed as some kind of Labor funding announcement, or something that has come as the result of Labor's careful planning for infrastructure and thrift. It's not. And I'll bet that the $200 million dollar commitment is as unfunded and ephemeral as other announcements they have made over the years. Under the last Labor government in NSW, they had six transport ministers, nine transport plans, announced a dozen new railway lines and delivered just one -- the Airport line -- the contract for which was inked under the previous Liberal administration.

Susan Templeman, and Labor generally, deserve no credit for this fantastic announcement. This has come off the back of Liberal advocacy, and Liberal budgetary management. $200 million dollars doesn't fall out of the air, and saying "me too" in its wake with no sign it was ever costed by Labor doesn't represent leadership.

 


Visiting the St Albans Community

Yesterday, The people of St Albans hosted a visit from myself, the Mayor, fellow Councillors and Council staff to catch up about how Council is serving that community.

Far from being overlooked, the "Forgotten Valley" tracing the course of the MacDonald River is one of the most beautiful parts of the Hawkesbury, and the effective provision of infrastructure and services is important to us. Ongoing programs of Council are repairing roads, have renovated the local Tennis Courts, and support initiatives in parks, tourism, and so on.

Locals, including Stephen Brown, President of the MacDonald Valley Association brought a range of issues before us, including renovation of the School of Arts Hall, planning controls on flood-affected land, the responsiveness of Council to inquiries, and the state of road and ferry services.

It was a pleasure to meet the MacDonald Valley community and listen to them.


The Children's Crusade on Climate Change

Today, some schoolchildren around Australia will wag school and march to promote action on climate change.

In discussing this with my 16yo son, I took the opportunity to draw a parallel with the ill-fated Children's Crusade of the early 13th century.

Unarmed, and "led" by the 12 year old Stephen of Cloyes, they bore crosses, banners and an optimistic assumption that once they got to the Holy Land, they could convert Muslims with persuasion and divine intervention.

Of course, they were cruelly deceived. None reached the Holy Land, and many never went home either -- starved, drowned, or sold into slavery.

I suggested that there have always been those willing to exploit the idealism and naïveté of youth, even if the putative cause is a worthy one.

We've also had long conversations about how protest activism, political power, and social change intersect. Do these forms of protest ever achieve their aims? Who turns up to co-opt and use well meant idealism for more cynical political purposes?

My son asked, reasonably, if he could go into the city today and observe the rally, because he wanted to see it for himself and make up his own mind. I thought it was a good idea and he's gone with a posse of other students from his school.

I have no problem with this, because I want my son to be not only politically active in his life, but also to have the ability to recognise competitive virtue signalling when he sees it, and to employ his critical thinking toolkit to evaluate arguments for bias, vested interest, or factual errors.

I suspect he'll see all those things today, and in spades.

When the issue of Climate Change came up this week at Hawkesbury Council, the Greens advanced a motion to hold a workshop locally to discuss our "Climate Emergency".

Passing (for the moment) that the Greens also want to sell MDMA from Supermarkets, it was observed that an identical motion was put to Blue Mountains City Council within the last weeks. It's manifestly part of the silly season of election politics.

I made some remarks and enclose the audio below, with my remarks commencing at 25m40s.

I think all Australians want to be good stewards of the environment. This involves both slowly transitioning to renewable and cleaner sources of power, and strengthening protections for fragile ecologies. As the deputy chair of the Hawkesbury River County Council, I sit on an organisation whose sole remit is biosecurity, weed control and the protection of our waterways.

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that merely changing our lightbulbs to LED or putting solar panels on the roof is the magic bullet that will mitigate climate change. It's an important symbolic gesture, but if we really want to fix the problem, it's not where the main game is at.

 World industrial carbon emissions are 9.8 gigatonnes, with Australia contributing 0.536 Gt, or 5.46% of the global total.

In turn, the 67,000 residents of the Hawkesbury represent 0.27% of the larger Australian population of 24.6 million. On a proportional basis, this means that the Hawkesbury contributes less than 0.0147% of global Carbon emissions -- one part in 6,783.

Like Steven Pinker, I prefer to look at the bigger picture and find reasons for optimism.

The most recent Quarterly Update of Australia's National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, a scientific publication from the Department of the Environment and Energy, points out that Australia's Carbon emissions per capita are at their lowest levels in 29 years, being 34 tonnes per-person per-year in 1990. As of September 2018, they are at 22 tonnes, and falling.

Similarly, Carbon emissions per dollar of GDP was 0.80kg of CO2 per dollar of real GDP in 1990. Today, it is 0.30kg, and falling.

The solution to climate-change and sustainable energy-generation issues largely sits at federal, and international level, through the covenants we enter into with other nations, the initiatives we support to develop sustainable and carbon-neutral sources of energy, and the pressure we put on other global emitters of carbon that simply dwarf what we do in our own community.

The fact is that the single biggest thing Australia could do to reduce Carbon emissions is embrace nuclear power. I don’t see the Greens falling over themselves to endorse that. Australia has the world’s largest supplies of Uranium, not to mention Thorium, which represents the next generation of nuclear fuel whose waste products can’t be refined into bombs.

What Australia needs is reliable baseload power, which is why it is so genuinely difficult for us to wean ourselves off coal. Energy storage technology has not advanced quickly enough for widespread or cost-effective adoption. I hope it will, and again its worth pointing out that Western Australia has the largest deposits of Lithium in the world. We could and should be leading research, development and commercialisation in this field.

In the meantime, Coal will continue to be needed to provide our baseload power. Neglect of generation in this sector is one contributor to the doubling of electricity costs over the last decade. Australia will make the transition to 100% renewables, but it cannot come at the cost of the whole economy. Those who push too hard on renewables fail to understand that only a nation with a strong economy has the ability to invest in renewables in the first place.

However, I think of all the other benefits that would flow from better international action on climate change. These include not basing the tenure of our whole civilisation on the consumption of resources which will some day run out; the advantages of cleaner air and water, especially around our major cities, or not forking out hundreds of billions of dollars to middle eastern countries that hate the West and gladly use the money to fund fundamentalism against us. There are also clear economic benefits in spawning new industries in renewable energy and scientific research. 

Holding a workshop on a so-called climate emergency here in the Hawkesbury will not solve those formidable challenges. It is cynical, competitive virtue signalling at its worst.

And today, we can expect representatives from the Greens, from GetUp, and (probably) Bill Shorten to whip up discontent without a shred of impartiality about the policies of the current government to tackle the problem.


Confronting those who prey on the vulnerable

Those arriving here as the result of the August 2020 VICE story "I lost my wife to a cult" may wish to see this page after you've read this one.

I’ve had a role over the years in raising awareness about cults and their destructive behaviours.

Being interviewed by Ch.9 about cult law reform in Canberra for a national conference in 2011.

Sadly, there are individuals and groups who exploit others, robbing them of their critical thinking faculties, and then their relationships, their money, and finally their dignity. It makes me angry, and it should make you angry too.

Frustratingly, Australian law is ill-equipped to deal with cults. The paradox of our pluralist, postmodern society is that people are entirely free to choose to join groups even when it’s objectively clear that the groups are exploitative, nonsensical, and laughable even while they are sinister.

For a healthy society, the balance between religious freedom and not tolerating those who cynically exploit it deserves to be debated, and refined, every so often. The dilemma was best put by the philosopher Karl Popper, who spoke of the Paradox of Tolerance:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them... We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant."

--The Open Society and Its Enemies, 1945

Far from being an attack on religious freedom, it should be accepted that the most damaging thing for the good works of mainstream faiths are the presence of bad religious actors who poison the well.

There is a pressing need for reform of laws relating to fraud, psychological abuse, health regulation and guardianship of the vulnerable. I have been committed to this fight for many years, authoring submissions on behalf of advocacy organisations to the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council, the federal Department of Social Services over a proposed repeal of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, and the Ruddock Inquiry into Religious Freedom concluded last year. I've appeared on TV, radio and the Press many times to make my case.

To the degree I have a modest role in public debate, I am committed to continue advocating for these reforms and I seek your support.

On Sunday night, a major exposé was screened on the Channel 7 Sunday Night Program of the predations of a cult called Universal Medicine, led by the creepy Serge Benhayon. "U.M" was founded and has a significant presence in Australia, especially on the north NSW coast.

This exposé comes off the back of a recent, and major NSW Supreme Court victory over Universal Medicine. The fight was won by tireless campaigner, Esther Rockett. I am proud to say I made several donations to the fighting fund that led to this victory, over a period of four years.

I recommend the Channel 7 story to you -- it perfectly encapsulates the cult phenomenon, and the need for the community to be better aware of cult tactics. “Dumb” people aren’t the only people who join cults. Smart people at a point of emotional vulnerability in their lives are equally likely to succumb.

If you ever encounter Universal Medicine or any other group showing the same M.O, run a mile. I can put you in touch with community support groups like Cult Information and Family Support (CIFS -- I used to be on the Committee and remain a supporter) who can help.

If you have lost a loved one to a manipulative group, be they religious, new age, motivational or otherwise, there is help out there.


Congratulations to Robyn Preston, successful preselection candidate for Hawkesbury

For the last two months the Liberal Party has been engaged in the process of choosing its candidate for our state seat in Hawkesbury.

I put my hand up. Our media policy restricted me from confirming little more than the existence of my nomination, and I have abided by that rule.

Today, the preselection was held and the successful candidate was Clr. Robyn Preston, from Hills Shire Council.

I have worked with Robyn for many years, starting with a time together in the office of Kevin Conolly, the member for Riverstone.

I congratulate Robyn on her successful nomination, and we will work hard to ensure her election and the re-election of the state Liberal government.

What I had to say to our local party members during the preselection campaign helped me reflect on and articulate a lot of what I believe in as an elected representative on Council.

If you wonder what makes me tick, and what makes me so desirous of being a good local Councillor, then this material may be of interest.

I wish Robyn well. She'll do a great job.

 

Click below for my campaign brochure:

https://councillorzamprogno.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Nathan-Zamprogno-Hawkesbury-Preselection-Candidate.pdf

And here are three of the short videos I produced which spoke to what I believe.


Commissioner rejects appeal on the Avina Caravan Park expansion

The 2016 story about the opposition to the proposal. Click here to read original story.

There has been a major development in the proposal to massively expand the Avina site, and I wanted to give you an update. 

In October 2016, barely a month into this term of Council, concerned residents approached me over the proposed expansion of the Avina Van Village bordering Oakville and Vineyard.

This caravan park has been a fixture within the local landscape for decades, and is permitted under the RU2 and RU4 zoning it sits in, where most other properties in the area are 5 acres or more -- including productive farms.

We have long recognised the utility of a mix of accomodation styles in the Hawkesbury to our tourism strategy. Visitors to our area with a large boat in tow, or a horse float and need for temporary agistment, or maybe even pets that need some space to run about -- they all benefit from the availability of this kind of accommodation.

Unfortunately, some developers see in caravan parks a convenient loophole to push through inappropriate development. The proposal Council received in 2016 was to massively expand the Vineyard site from twelve acres to forty-seven.  247 housing lots as small as 223sq.m were proposed. If this had come to Council as a housing development, it would fail at the first hurdle as completely inappropriate for such a rural lifestyle or agricultural zone.

Bizarrely, the proposal was able to be considered because the proposed structures were regarded as "removable dwellings" -- like caravans. In reality they are houses, on concrete slabs, constructed on-site from prefabricated panels. It stretched credulity to think of them as portable in the same way as caravans. Nor would they have been constructed to conform to norms relating to energy efficiency, insulation, parking or open space required of any other housing proposal. There were also significant issues relating to public transport, road access and public amenity.

Under changes to planning law in NSW, the proposal was assessed by a JRPP -- a Joint Regional Planning Panel. I disagree with planning panels because they remove decision making from democratically elected, and therefore publicly accountable, Councillors. Certainly people approaching me were expecting Councillors to play a role in representing their concerns.

At the planning panel meeting, apart from the mayor (who was on the panel proper), I was the only Councillor that turned up -- on this occasion, to put my view as a private citizen and resident of the area. The JRPP rejected the proposal (unanimously), and I regarded this as a good result for the community.

The developer, Ingenia, immediately lodged an appeal in the Land and Environment Court. Since, I have been approached by people in other areas, like Forster, where Ingenia may attempt a similar playbook: Buy a caravan park, lodge a proposal to massively change and intensify its land-use by proposing an intensive housing estate not subject to the usual controls, advertise it as a "seniors living", propose structures that exploit the loophole of referring to houses as "removable" or "portable" when they are anything but, and then litigate when communities push back.

I am not opposed to some adaptive reuse of land, and I'm not opposed to increasing our area's stock of over-55s living options. However, I do object to inappropriate developments in rural areas that exploit loopholes that really should be closed in our planning instruments.

After a long delay and a failed mediation with Council, the matter was heard in the Land and Environment Court on 29 – 30 October 2018 by Commissioner Susan O’Neill. The evidence heard included testimony from 7 residents affected by the proposal. Hawkesbury Council were the defendants, despite the fact that the decision had been made by a planning panel and despite the fact that Council's own report to the planning panel was to approve the development -- an unwieldy feature of the new laws -- A Council can put a view, be overruled by a Panel, and then have to defend the Panel's ruling in court.

The Commissioner considered these fundamental issues:

•   Whether the proposed development satisfies the objectives of the RU4 Primary Production Small Lots zone under the provisions of the LEP 2012;
•   Whether the scale and density of the proposed development is appropriate having regard to the character of adjoining rural properties and the rural locality;
•   Whether the proposed development should be granted consent having regard to Clause 10 SEPP No.21 – Caravan Parks, with particular regard to whether community facilities and services, including public transport, retail and schools are reasonably accessible to the occupants of the proposed development; and
•   Whether the proposed development provides for adequate physical separation from adjoining land.

Today (7th November), the Commissioner rejected Ingenia's appeal. Click here to read the judgement. It stated

The orders of the Court are:

The appeal is dismissed.

Development Application No. 0685/16 for the staged alterations, additions and expansion of an existing caravan park to accommodate an additional 208 long term residential sites is refused.

(Link to judgement)Hawkesbury City Council won. The development is dead in the water.

This is a pleasing vindication. What do you think?