Barnaby Drake

It makes one wonder, how a council which is working for the interest of Gunns and MIS and against the interests of the residents has come to be so heavily stacked with so many pro-forestry members!?

Approximately 100 people turned up to attend the council meeting of the Meander Valley yesterday. The Mayor looked stunned at the size of the audience and had to arrange extra seating to accommodate them. He was further perturbed that ABC television was also present. But to say that this was a victory for democracy was far from the truth, although several concessions were forced through.

It was obvious that the audience was hostile, and many comments were met with jeers, and when the Mayor at one stage said that ‘all councillors possessed a conscience,’ there was outright laughter. Almost all the questions asked were hedged and given bland, evasive, non-answers. Anything that had real point got no answer at all or was tabled for a later reply. This avoided the public from hearing anything that would embarrass the council and answers to tabled questions would only be available on the council’s website or in the library at some later stage, not specified. No spotlight here!

The prime objective of the action group was to delay this amendment to the PAL Act until after a public meeting had been called and the ratepayers had been allowed to have their say and make some input. This was clearly not what the majority of the council wanted and we witnessed a remarkable show of squirming and prevaricating in an attempt to stop this, or to render it ineffective by pushing it far out into the future. It took Bob Loone and Councillor Richardson, the only two councillors who seem to have any regard for the public, to drag the Mayor into a grudging acknowledgement that the public had a right to know what was going on and to bring the meeting forward to some nearer date.

One small step for man … !

Prior to this meeting, the newly formed Meander Action Group had devised a series of questions and a strategy to get as many of them asked as possible. There were several volunteers, and each one was given a full list of the questions and requested to ask the next most important one on the list if they got an opportunity to speak. A strategy that worked well, and many of the questions struck the right chord with the audience and resulted in spontaneous clapping and glum looks from the council. Almost all were tabled for later answers.

I personally devised many of the questions and presented the following two myself, which I am sure has not done my life expectancy much good.

‘The council has recently surveyed and revalued all properties in the area. How many, if any, of these properties satisfy all three conditions of, being over 40 hectares, have sufficient room for a 300 metre set-back from all boundaries and have an undeveloped value of over one million dollars?’

‘On insisting on a set-back of 300 metres from a boundary to accommodate spray drift, the Council officially acknowledges the fact that this aerial spray is toxic, otherwise there IS no reason for this set-back. In condoning this, the council could be accused of abnegating its responsibility of ‘DUE CARE’, and if in future this is proved to be cancer forming, for instance, can council members be personally held liable for any damages claims, or will this cost be passed on to the community?’

The first was met by cheers from the audience, but no answer. The second caused a shockwave through council and audience alike. There was an ‘audible’ silence from everyone present while they digested the implications. You could see the Mayor doing his mental juggling act, before he then had it tabled for a later written reply. After that he allowed me no more questions, so I tabled the rest of the list.

One particular point of interest to everybody was when there came a question asking why all categories of land were treated the same under this amendment, and would this stop development on properties that were of no agricultural use at all and were basically bare rock or scrub? After fumbling around a bit, the Mayor then explained that there was still a discretionary clause in the Planning Act which allowed individual applications to be considered separately on their merit.

In a monumental backflip, ten minutes later, he refused this very clause to be applied to an application from a farmer whose family had been farming the same piece of land for well over a hundred years. He wanted to build a small residence on a 5 acre block for his family which was part of his 105 hectare farm in order to give his sister and children a home – the future farmers for this estate, he himself being childless.

Despite previously having been told that he needed to construct an entrance, (an instruction which he had complied with) they informed him that this residence would ‘Fetter’ agricultural land, and amid boos from the audience, he used his casting vote to refuse the application. The remarkable thing is, this amendment has not yet been passed into law, but still the council is already applying it, and appears to have been doing so for some considerable time!

The fact that 14241 people signed a petition and the council received 281 letters was a clear indication of the public feeling, and as there were NO supporting letters, that put the council in demonstrated minority of 14522 to 7. On the council itself, there were only two out of nine members who actually appeared to show any interest in the wishes of the people and the rest were solidly in favour of forestry and a sell-out of the rural inhabitants.

It makes one wonder, how a council which is working for the interest of Gunns and MIS and against the interests of the residents has come to be so heavily stacked with so many pro-forestry members!?

The workings of ‘Democracy’ is a thing of wonder!

How PAL is taking over Tasmania