IT could have been a scene from the Midsomer Murders on ABC TV …
A cold night.
Fifty residents rugged up and sitting on pews in the small Battery Point Community Hall in the heart of the historic suburb. There to hear what candidates in the Hobart City Council election had to say at a forum convened by the Battery Point Sullivans Cove Community Association, a meeting chaired by its affable senior vice president, John White.
There are 20 candidates running for aldermen, four from the small, inner city suburb. Plus another resident, a sitting alderman, who is running for Deputy Lord Mayor. I am one of those standing for election as alderman and when my allotted three minutes came, I likened the occasion to the Midsomer Murders.
I thought it would fit the bill … five candidates, a body found behind the hall in the morning and Inspector Barnaby arriving to question everyone on their movements after the meeting. There was a ripple of laughter. The night before, at a similar forum at the Lenah Valley RSL and Community Club, I had predicted blood dripping on the floor. But I was wrong, I said. There was no body- in- waiting.
“Not yet!” quipped a candidate behind me.
But he had a point.
The knives are out in Battery Point.
The day after the meeting, it was revealed that the Battery Point Sullivans Cove Community Association’s committee had approved a motion by Mr White, to give $1000 to David Edwards’ election campaign for alderman. Mr Edwards is president of the Association. The decision was taken after the Association’s annual AGM, where it was not raised, and a week before the forum was to take place.
It’s not surprising that the committee might want to support its long-serving President, but members — who include candidates — might well think they had been denied the opportunity to decide who the Association might support. Effectively, the forum was a charade.
At the heart of the matter is the vexed question of public access to the Battery Point foreshore.
It is a lovely but difficult walk. Why? Because access is impeded by a number of boat sheds and slip rails which are difficult to pass. (One property owner had built steps paved with sandstone on either side of his slip rails, providing a good example of the merging of public and personal interest). Then there are two titles beyond the high water mark, with fences jutting out into the water which are risky to negotiate. Also, another property with a similar fence.
It so happens that several members of the committee are waterfront residents, one of them with a property title below the high water mark. They have every reason to take a personal interest in the issue of public access, and indeed, to join the Association because of it and say what they think. But the office bearers don’t appear to think it necessary to declare this interest when taking a stand.
For example, in a letter to Environment and Planning Minister Judy Jackson in February, Mr Edwards took a strong stand, particularly against comments reported in the press by (Lord Mayoral candidate) Alderman Jeff Briscoe, suggesting that sections of the foreshore had been appropriated by (past) residents. Mr Edwards is not a waterfront resident, indeed, he lives in Sandy Bay, but as president, had every right to defend the legitimate rights of association members. It would have been wise, however, to declare that some members of his committee had a personal interest in the matter but he did not.
Statements that are defamatory
I quote an excerpt from his letter: “It appears to the Association that certain Aldermen are using the Battery Point foreshore issue for their own purposes; they have seized upon populist issues and have embellished their statements with untruths, half-truths and innuendo. This strategy not only lacks basic integrity, is is also extremely offensive and personally distressing to affected residents. A particularly disturbing result has been to incite members of the public and the media, in ignorance of the facts, to make statements that are defamatory of several of the members of this Association, to incite members of the public to trespass upon private land and to create the false impression that the public have rights which do not exist.”
However, the letter also states: ”The Association currently holds the view that, subject to the rights of private landowners, public access to the Battery Point foreshore in its natural form should be supported, but it is opposed to the construction of any significant form of artificial aid to access.”
But with no move by the committee to encourage waterfront residents to make access easier, the public could be forgiven for thinking the Association was opposed to access. And with Mr White’s move to give Mr Edwards up to $1000 for his election campaign, one cannot help speculating that Mr Edwards is viewed as the best line of defence.
So where do I stand on this contentious issue?
I think a low tide walking track — or scramble track — is the simplest, cheapest and quickest solution. There are walking tracks on Mt Wellington of varying degrees of difficulty and I can seek no reason why there can’t be one around the Battery Point foreshore. An agreement should be negotiated with property owners whose titles extend beyond the high water mark. All fences beyond the high water mark should be removed and steps should be obligatory to enable people to cross slip rails. If, however, a built walkway was to be constructed, I would support a low impact boardwalk.
But back to blood on the floor …
Mr White has been reported in the press saying that financial support was offered to Mr Edwards because he has done so much for so long for Battery Point. ‘”If there is a move to support other candidates,” he said, “we would consider it.”
I have known John White for a long time,
We were both members of the Old Nick at the University of Tasmania and performed in the same uni revue, Riot!, I think it was … Our sons played in the same team for the West Hobart Primary Soccer Club for several years …
John, I take up your challenge and make “a move”.
Reconvene the committee. Consider each Battery Point candidate and decide whether he or she should be given Association support. Notify members of the outcome.
If not, I will post my resignation from the Association on this website on Tuesday 11th October – the day the ballot papers are posted to electors.
Margaretta Pos is a candidate in the Hobart City Council election.
Written and authorised by Margaretta Pos, 13 Crelin St, Battery Point, 7004.