Tasmanian Times

Environment

People power …

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!

Earlier:
How PAL is taking over Tasmania

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]
22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Wally

    May 13, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    Good for you Barnaby am looking forward to viewing the website. Can I also ask you for additional information re: how to hit back etc.,
    Seeing Council elections will be popping up everywhere round Tassie, can you or someone oganise a template of questions that we as ratepayers in Tasmania can ask or send to our local council candidates (Re: PAL)who put their hand up as potential Mayors/aldermen/women in local elections?
    If enough ratepayers do this in each our area, it will no doubt send shivers up their spines, and force them to re-think, because lets face it, local council election voting is not compulsary, and if those who put their name forward for local elections have enough enquiries, they will hopefully be put on the spot to give their views and also hopefully reveal their agendas.
    Too many times, council election tally counts are dominated by voters who are prompted by the council mates network club and then they feed off on the apathy of their residents who never stood a chance to see the big picture because either their local coastal newspaper never informed them, or the Free Council monthly newsletter financed by ratepayers never told them. We have this very problem with the Devonport Times, us rate payers pay for its production, but Devonport Council edit what information is allowed to get to the ratepayers. A questionaire that we could send to a candidate for local council elections would be a good start.

  2. Barnaby Drake

    May 13, 2007 at 2:07 am

    Hi Wally,

    We will shortly be opening our own website with a heap of info on how to hit back etc.

    There’s a surprise move coming in the next couple of days, so watch this space.

    Cheers

  3. Wally

    May 13, 2007 at 1:36 am

    Here in Devonport theres a brave independant ratepayer who has a website
    http://www.stebbinsfamily.org/index.html
    that has info about local council wrong-doings.
    I know there used to be the Huon Valley Ratepayers who had a website also,
    are there anymore local rate payers websites that we all need to take a peek at?

  4. David Maddern

    May 10, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    I have not seen any mention of the peoples right under the legislation the Councils operate under for 5% of the people (ratepayers, residents 18 or over) to collect their signatures on a petition forces the Council to a Council arranged meeting to put a motion or more, and if that results in no satisfaction another petition of 5% will force a referendum.

    Seems to me MVC area people could get 50%

    Call Jeremy Ball at Kim Booth’s office and he’ll set you straight.

  5. Shady Deals

    May 10, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Surprise, surprise, Shaun McElwaine (Anonymous Personal Abuse Deleted).

  6. Wally

    May 10, 2007 at 11:37 am

    Here in Devonport our (Patch Of PooP) Council hide behind closed doors to discuss such issues. And the Advocate newspaper wouldn’t even know how to begin to report indepth and informative editorial.
    Congratulations Meander Action Group, keep up the good work.

  7. typingisnotactivism

    May 10, 2007 at 8:33 am

    Barnaby – thankyou for explaining this issue as you have for readers beyond the larger sacrifice zone, aka Tasmanistan, and that’s a great action your crew pulled which sounds like it needs to snowball to every single council meeting in every region.

    I think BPWN has hit it on the head – letters don’t count, petitions don’t count, outcry and logic and science don’t count: answer = hit the bastards in the pocket. If 14000+ people witheld council fees… It’s like Bob McMahon and others have said – what you’ve got IS taxation without representation.

    You may have missed it, but when detention of kids in the desert was being voted on, GetUp! hired a skywriter to fly over Parliament House and write ‘Vote No’. the Tassie alternative would be to take that money for council (or, literally, find a friend in high places) and fly over the Tassie Parliament and write ‘Corrupt’ or ‘ICAC’ or just ‘property of Gunns’ and make sure a helluva lot of mainland media are there to see it happen. Hell, invite Dick Adams, Kerry O’Brien, Phil Ruddock, Malcolm Turnbull, Eric Abetz and throw a surprise party at the same time.

    This boundary thing is insane. Andrew’s thoughts on property rights may be on the money, but there’s also the established principle of transboundary pollution which is that the polluter pays. This has been turned on its head by Chernobyl and the Federal Government regarding climate change, but it’s still a principle of law which parties can and should be held to.

  8. Brenda Rosser

    May 9, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    Similar council meetings occurred in the Waratah-Wynyard Council chambers. Angry residents. Jeering at the inane responses coming from ‘forest’ industry plants on Council. The mayor, the planner and councillors had family and/or business-career interests in the furtherance of the industrial agro-forest industry. The mayor was the local council rep on the dysfunctional Forest Practices Board. He also operated on the Forest Practices Tribunal.

    Couldn’t get the Tasmanian newspapers, the ABC, TV stations to report on these very serious issues in a timely or adequate fashion. We had to create our own media as best we could.

    Residents demanded council place a moratorium (7 years ago) on further plantation development until critical issues were addressed. Council refused.

    What is local government without local representation?

  9. Lilly

    May 9, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Re the monumental backflip.
    I’ve heard that there’s an old Tasmanian custom that all the family (brothers, sisters, uncles, pops etc) should all live together.
    Perhaps some of the MV councillors want to see these traditional customs continue, even though not one of our coucillors would be from a family with such a custom.
    (BTW I admit to being from an old Tasmanian family).

    Surely a family farm must be allowed to have at least two residences.
    The alternatives are that either all the family live under one roof, or the next farming generation leave the property.

  10. Don Davey

    May 9, 2007 at 8:34 am

    Ripper !
    Barnaby , we need you and the organizational abilities at the West Tamar Council meetings , i hear much of the concerns of many but little of outcomes , posts ,of which you have just contributed give hope for people power !
    d.d

  11. Barnaby Drake

    May 9, 2007 at 4:09 am

    continued:—

    Question 10 …………. Next person.

    On insisting on a 300 metre development set-back from the boundary of a property, this is giving the neighbour an unrestricted right to do damage by spraying toxic chemicals and imposes a restriction on the owner from developing his own land. This flies in the face of common law which says that if you cause damage your neighbour’s property, you are liable for that damage. Does this Amendment override a person’s rights in common law?

    Question 11………… Next person.

    Westbury has been singled out as a ‘special enclave’ for development. If development is prevented in rural areas, this must push property values up in Westbury. It is noted that three council members live in this area, and how much will each of them benefit from this amendment, and does this not form a conflict of interest?

    Question 12 ……….. Next person.

    If there is a conflict between this new PAL amendment and the existing LUPA Act of 1993, which sets out to define and control the way in which a council must act towards the environment, which of these two laws takes precedence?

    Question 13 …… Next person

    Can the council demonstrate that it has a support base for this amendment from the members of the community it is supposed to be representing?

    Question 14 ……….… Next person.

    Can the council please inform the public in plain and simple terms what benefits we will get from this amendment, especially rural dwellers and land owners, as opposed to the more obvious benefits for the MIS corporations and Gunns?

    Question 15 …………… Next person.

    Meander Council is not alone in pushing for these amendments, and other councils seem to have similar agendas. How much of this is collusion, and how much coercion from the State government?

    Question 16 ………….. Next person.

    It is noticeable that there is a disproportionate number of Pro-logging members on the council as opposed to those who are against it. This proportion is not reflected in the opinions of the general public, which, judging by this turn out and the number of signatures on the petition, is something in the nature of 1621 to 7. How is it that this council is so weighted in favour of Forestry?

  12. Barnaby Drake

    May 9, 2007 at 4:08 am

    Here is the full list of questions, as requested. Whether there will be any meaningful answers is anybody’s guess.

    We ask anybody who is participating in this scheme, if they are chosen to speak, to please ask the next question on the list. There will be others in the audience who wish to ask questions and not all of these questions will get asked, so please see to it if you can that the most effective ones get asked.

    Question 1. ……. Rod Hutchins.

    Noting that the council has already received over 1400 signatures on petitions and innumerable letters, when will the council declare a date for a public meeting……. and can the council assure us that this will happen timeously and before the council votes upon this act and refers it to the RPDC?

    Question 2…….. Barnaby Drake.

    Is it in the best interests of the people of Meander to have Mr Shaun McElwaine, the same lawyer that advises Gunns, to be advising council on the wording and implementation of this amendment, and does this not constitute a very serious conflict of interest and an indication of where the council is heading.

    Question 3 ……… Kali Ward or next person

    With reference to Appendix B of the PAL Act, ‘Prime’ is defined in the dictionary as meaning ‘first in degree of importance or quality’. Clearly this definition only applies the first three categories of farm land. Why has the council decided to lump all seven categories together and apply the PAL laws to them equally when it is stated that is only there for the protection of Prime Agricultural Land?

    Question 4 …… Next person.

    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?

    Question 5 ……… Next person.

    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?

    Question 6 ………. Next person.

    What criteria did the council use to arrive at this figure of one million dollars undeveloped value, or was this merely a ploy to stop ANY development in rural areas?

    Question 7 ……….. Next person.

    There is a fear among people that if a property is destroyed by bush fire, that these laws would then be applied to rebuilding, and permission could be refused if the site did not conform with the new criteria, thus driving the victims of this disaster off their properties?

    Question 8 ………. Next person.

    By being elected, the council was not given a mandate to serve the interests of business over the interests of the people they are purported to represent. How can the council be considered to be representing or serving the section of this community who currently live in, or wish to live in rural areas?

    Question 9 ………. Next person.

    The ‘Meander Valley working together’ document that was put out after consultation with 100 members of the public in 2004
    contains a statement by the Mayor, ‘Council looks forward to working together with its community to achieve our future Meander Valley,’ and, ‘Working together, Council and community, township and township, everyone with each other, for the benefit of all.’
    Can the council please explain why this policy has been abandoned and explain the glaring differences between their stated policy contained in that document, and their current desire to ram through this PAL amendment.

    Continued.–

  13. Barnaby Drake

    May 9, 2007 at 4:01 am

    This is an extract from another article i have written.

    Small investment land was another encumbrance as far as the timber companies were concerned. How to get rid of it and acquire this land for plantation?

    The answer was simple. Change the planning rules to something that would make it impossible to comply with and thereby prevent the owners from developing or building on it. This would then drop the value and also limit the sale to anyone other than the adjoining farmer or an MIS company. So this was what was done, and at the same time, compensation for any loss incurred was denied.

    The new rules stated that no development would be allowed on land of under 40 hectares (100 acres), and there would have to be a set-back from any boundary of 300 metres. This was to allow for spray drift from aerial crop spraying (plantations) not to contaminate residences. Further to that, and this was the killer clause, property had to have an undeveloped value of ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

    The absolute top agricultural land price is currently in the region of $5000 per acre. A simple calculation gives you the size of the smallest block at the highest price being 200 acres, or 81 hectares – double the stated size for compliance with rule one. Then add the 300 metre set-back, which means a circle of 600 metres round the dwelling within your own boundaries. That is an enormous distance – over half a kilometre, and for what? So your neighbour can pollute your land with toxic chemicals without you having a comeback. If there is not enough room to allow him to pollute, you can’t build, so once more your land is virtually valueless.

    Inadvertently, by making this compulsory set-back rule, they have also officially acknowledged that the chemical spray drift is actually toxic, something, which up till now, has strenuously been denied!

    At the bottom end of the scale, where prices are less than a thousand dollars per acre, you would need a minimum of 1000 acres, or 405 hectares. It is doubtful that any grade 7 piece of land this size, that is also suitable to build on, actually exists in the state!

    So if you want to build your little dream house, look towards the mainland!

  14. Lilly White

    May 9, 2007 at 3:37 am

    I was at the MVC meeting on Tuesday, and it was inspiring to see grassroots people power in action.

    Congratulations to Barnaby, John, Gerrard and others.

    Re 9
    Was it a little negligent of the guvnns people not to slip in an exclusion clause to allow their dupes to build on rural blocks,……. but then, they can always change the rules.

  15. eagle eye

    May 9, 2007 at 1:29 am

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

    Unfortunately the sheeple have been sleepwalking.

    I had great delight in pointing out to a Timber communities dupe recently why he was not allowed to build on the block he had purchased several years ago. Man was he upset, especially after the bagging he has given me about being obsessed about plantations. I dont think he will ever look at Barry Chipman the same again, but.

    Just for those that are reading and wondering, on a 40 hectare block a 300metre setback gives an area to build on of how big? Oh, fuck, you can’t, 40 hectares is 600x600metres.

    This goes beyond fascism, it is bloody fuedalism.

  16. John Hayward

    May 8, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    Even the plantation industry itself, who first dreamed up what has become the PAL policy, must be gobsmacked to see it coming true under the Gunns/Lennon consortium.

    The loggers are already using their MIS lurks to shut out farmers in the competition for all but the best cropping land. Now, with PAL, they are setting up a kind of rural apartheid which will prevent people from building and living on bush blocks.

    This leaves everything under a hundred acres, particularly bush, to the woodchippers, since farmers don’t generally want detached, uncleared small properties on marginal soil. Loggers don’t generally live on plantations and the smaller blocks suit them fine.

    The plantations, of course, are exempt from the planning system as Private Timber Reserves, which immediately exempts them from from the protection which PAL is supposed to provide. To rub it in, plantations are largely exempt from council rates, meaning everyone else pays for their lurk. Their clearance of native bush also drives down residential land values.

    How can anyone get away with this? much less with nominally literate people? Geographer Jared Diamond, when asked two years ago how Tasmania came to be run as a tree quarry, shook his head and suggested we haul out the books on the history of European colonialism in Africa and Asia.

    John Hayward

  17. John Tolhurst

    May 8, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    Thank you, thank you, Barnaby, and your Meander Action Group, for alerting us all to this further attack on our democracy. The one thing that will shift our “Gunnerment” is informed, articulate public protest. Now, can we see a complete list of your tabled questions, and any replies you might receive in due course? and when will the Meander Valley Council elections be held?

  18. Mark

    May 8, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    I think it goes like this:
    1. Various pro forestry interests under the political guidance of an expert “party numbers man” persuade a variety or regional personalities to stand for election. For example, one person from each booth area with a long term association with that area stand for election.
    2. All represent business development and other suitably shallow directions.
    3. The lesser lights direct their preferences to their peers.
    4. Everyone gets a pro forestry council.
    5. Each councillor supports any government initiative on forestry including the ones they don’t really understand.
    6. When questioned by the general public the councillors look confused, avoid the question, seek advice (usually the general manager) and close the meeting for any further questions.

  19. Dave Groves

    May 8, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    Hey Barnaby are you sure you were at Meander council and not West Tamar?
    I reckon you must have the address mixed up because the meeting you were at sounds like a dead ringer for what goes on at West Tamar.
    If you were sure you were at Meander, then we have a serious problem.
    An insidious disease is pervading the sacred halls of community office……known by some as communitius ignorus herdus councillerous pontificus.
    Perhaps a little spray drift will fix the problem…..what is the set back on the council building????

  20. From The Sacrifice Zone

    May 8, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    Love your work, Barnaby, love your work!
    This inspires us to carry out the same kind of people power action with the West Tamar Council, who almost to a man or woman, have the same bland attitude in the face of ratepayer outrage.

    (In our case the issue has been overwhelmingly about the pulp mill in our valley, which the council supports against the wishes of the majority of ratepayers who voted against it in the poll conducted in the municipality in 2005. The mayor’s riposte to this information was something along the lines of those people voting against a pulp mill were ‘misinformed’)

    The PAL issue has also reared its ugly head, and we all know that they are related issues anyway.

    Our presence at Council meetings has been modest in comparison with your 100 – we will have to try and get those kind of numbers along and see if we get a reaction other than bland dismissal!
    Great stuff, Barnaby!

  21. Mike Bolan

    May 8, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    Great strategies for the meeting particularly the organised questioning. Good questions too.

    How come we haven’t worked out that all need to live in towns while our countryside is given over to plantations?

    Since plantations generate virtually no rateable income but plenty of costs (e.g. road upkeep) the town dwellers are going to be socked more rates as country areas devolve into tree plantations.

    So we subsidise the land acquisition, the development of the tree plantation, the water that it requires and the roads and bridges needed to get it out. Now we can subsidise the ratable losses as well.

    Land of opportunity indeed!

  22. Andrew

    May 8, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    1) I have always felt that owning land entitles the owner to build a dwelling on it. This is our heritage under British common law. It appears that this right is being removed by stealth.

    Surely it’s time that ALL landowners get together and force legislation ensuring this right through parliament – otherwise all of us, now or in the future, are going to be screwed by vested interests.

    This could easily become the single biggest issue for the next election, of sufficient concern across the whole Tasmanian political spectrum to either change government or force a backdown. I wonder how many forestry workers realise that PAL will also destroy their dream of home ownership in the bush?

    2) The only rational explanation for 7 out of 9 councillors voting against ratepayers interests is corruption. No wonder Paul doesn’t want an ICAC in Tasmania. Hope they’re not having house extensions carried out by Gunns – once is happenstance, twice coincidence, three times …

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