Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Premier not convinced on rail cut

Newcastle Greens
24 March 2010

Newcastle Greens today welcomed the NSW Premier's indication that she was not yet convinced of the need to cut the Newcastle rail line.

The Premier, Kristina Kenneally, made the comment in an interview on local ABC radio station 1233 this morning, prior to her meeting with the community-based pro-rail Save Our Rail group and the developer-backed anti-rail Fix Our City group.

"The community will be very pleased to hear that the Premier has not caved in to the powerful vested interests who have been directing vast resources to the anti-rail push, and we urge her to resolve this issue in a way that maintains and improves the current rail infrastructure and services to Newcastle station," Newcastle Greens rail spokesperson Councillor Michael Osborne said today.

"Ms Kenneally's chances of leading a Labor government to re-election next year will partly depend on the credibility she is able to muster between now and then on public transport, and on her government's ability to distance itself from the influence of developer interests.

"The Newcastle rail line issue has both of these elements, and provides an opportunity for the Premier to win back some of the public support she and the state Labor government have lost on such issues in the recent past," Clr Osborne said.

Referring to the Premier's comment during her 1233 interview that she believed there was a way of resolving the rail issue, Councillor Osborne urged her to look seriously at proposals advanced by the community to reintroduce safe, controlled pedestrian access at various points across the rail line, and to landscape the line to improve its appearance.

"These improvements can be done at a fraction of the estimated $650million cost of cutting the line," Clr Osborne said.

"Throughout this debate, the community (including The Greens) have demonstrated that the arguments advanced in favour of cutting the line are based on misinformation and dodgy figures," Clr Osborne said.

"No government that really cares about a sustainable future for our city could support cutting a rail line that would be covetted by any other city in the world, simply at the behest of vested interests.

"Any professional, objective analysis of the proposal to cut the Newcastle rail line will show that taking such a proposal to Canberra for federal revitalisation and infrastructure funding assistance would simply make Newcastle a laughing stock.

"Scarce revitalisation funding must be directed where it is really needed, and where it can do most good," Clr Osborne said. "To divert it into cutting rail infrastructure would be scandalous, and a sure sign of a government in policy and electoral free-fall.

"As Newcastle deals with the challenge of traffic congestion, peak oil and climate change, we will need our rail lines and services more than ever. The Premier should be looking at funding genuinely worthy transport projects, such as funding a safe, connected cycleway network in Newcastle and funding the proposed Glendale interchange.

"We congratulate the Premier for offering hope to the community that she might be prepared to put people before profits on the long-running question of the Newcastle rail line," Clr Osborne said.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Council secret meetings

Newcastle Greens
22 March 2010

Greens councillor Michael Osborne today condemned the latest Newcastle council workshops to be held under the council’s secret meeting policy.

Cr Osborne said he had been advised that two unadvertised councillor-staff workshops scheduled tonight will discuss Newcastle’s new standard Local Environmental Plan (LEP) and council’s 2030 Community Strategic Plan.

“These secret workshops demonstrate that the council is now deliberately thumbing its nose at the public demand for more open and accountable city governance,” Cr Osborne said.

“It’s hard to imagine two council policy issues in which the public interest could be greater than the council’s long term community plan, and the city’s primary legal planning instrument,” Cr Osborne said.

“Ironically, the planning and reporting legislation that mandates council community strategic plans (such as the 2030 plan) is meant to be based on maximum community participation.

“And both councillors and council staff know how much interest and concern there is in the local community about the revised LEP.

“Information and discussion on these matters should not take place behind doors locked to the community and the media.

“I know many people in the community who would be interested in what both councillors and council staff would have to say about these issues, and there is absolutely no excuse for depriving them of access to this information.

“This is yet another abuse of council resources, and yet another act of arrogance on the part of a council that drifts further from its rhetorical claims of openness and transparency with every turn of the key that locks the public and the media out of every secret workshop.”

CAN bring Clive Hamilton to Newcastle

Climate Action Newcastle have organised for Australian author and public intellectual Clive Hamilton to present their 2010 Annual Lecture.

The lecture will be at 7pm on tomorrow night (Tuesday 23rd March) at Newcastle City Hall, King Street Newcastle.

Clive is a renowned public intellectual and academic who founded and directed the progressive think tank The Australia Institute from 1994 to 2008. He is the author of many excellent books including 'Affluenza', 'Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change' and his latest book 'Requiem for A Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change'.

The last year has seen a surge in climate scepticism and apathy. Clive will discuss what is behind this phenomenon, and why we don't actually have to take climate change lying down!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

A night of jailhouse blues

A great celebratory fundraiser was held last night to help pay fines & court costs of over $10,000 for the 23 climate activists arrested for stopping a coal train at Sandgate last December.

Terrific people, a great venue, terrific music and a fun auction, with many thanks to all who helped bring it together (especially Greer and Geordie!).

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Council Secrecy

From today's editorial in The Herald...

Newcastle council workshops go behind closed doors

From The Herald...

Newcastle council workshops go behind closed doors
16 Mar, 2010 03:00 AM
FROM museum and art gallery redevelopments, to reviewing skate parks and hosting rock concerts in city parks.

These are just some of the topics discussed behind closed doors in Newcastle City Council workshops.

Critics of the civic sessions that exclude the public and media say most of the subjects canvassed are in the public interest and should be discussed in open sessions.

But others say the workshops are an informal way of sharing information, and are not for decision-making.

The Herald has obtained a list with details of most of the workshops that have been held during the incumbent council's term. It covers October to December 2008 and February to December 2009.

Only one of the 48 topics discussed in 28 behind closed doors meetings is marked confidential.

This workshop related to an organisational review.

The remaining forums covered a wide range of topics, including matters that attracted much public debate, such as last year's Fat As Butter concert and a review of city skate parks.

Cr Michael Osborne has been campaigning to let the public and media into workshops.

He said the list showed that, apart from the confidential organisational review, all other sessions should be open.

"Certainly the public interest argument, a lot of these topics have high public interest," Cr Osborne said.

The council's city engagement director Martin Coates said the sessions were a forum for sharing information only.

"There's no decisions made at workshops," he said.

"We're doing nothing that's outside [Division of Local Government] guidelines."

Monday, 15 March 2010

State Greens call for Newcastle rail reassurance

Newcastle Greens
15 March 2010

The weekend state meeting of the NSW Greens in Newcastle has called on the NSW Government to reassure the Hunter community that it will maintain and improve existing rail services to Newcastle station, and not succumb to vested interests lobbying to remove the city’s vital public transport infrastructure.

As the date for the state government’s long-awaited report on the Newcastle rail line approaches and vested interests step up their political pressure to cut the city’s rail line, the Keneally Labor government must make a clear commitment to maintain and upgrade the current rail line and service to Newcastle station, Greens MP and transport spokesperson Lee Rhiannon said.

“The Greens call on Premier Keneally to put people before profits, and not to condemn Newcastle to a car-dependent future for the sake of self-interested developers,” Ms Rhiannon said.

“The NSW Labor government is already on the nose for its failure to adequately plan for and provide public transport infrastructure and services. It can ill-afford another transport policy debacle.

“Retaining and improving Newcastle’s rail transport infrastructure and services will provide a sound basis for the revitalisation and future sustainability of the Newcastle CBD.

“Greens analysis of figures provided by the Government’s own Hunter Development Corporation shows that retaining and improving the rail line is a vastly superior option to cutting it.

“The recent announcement of a major university campus development in Honeysuckle demonstrates more than ever how vital the rail line will be to the city’s future.

“A rail line is essential to deal with the thousands of students who will require transport to a campus that will extend from at least Civic to Wickham,” Ms Rhiannon said.

Ms Rhiannon, who heads The Greens NSW Senate ticket for the forthcoming federal election, also called on the federal government to confirm that any federal infrastructure funding assistance provided to Newcastle will be used to expand and improve the city’s rail system.

“Federal funding for the Newcastle CBD should go to initiatives that will both revitalise Newcastle and deliver improved public transport.
“Worthwhile projects would include narrowing and landscaping the rail line, and installing safe, controlled, at-grade pedestrian crossings between Wickham and Newcastle stations,” Ms Rhiannon said.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Greens support people's blockade of Newcastle Harbour

The weekend state meeting of the NSW Greens in Newcastle has supported the people's blockade of Newcastle Harbour on Sunday 28 March 2010 to highlight government inaction on a shift to renewable energy production.

Now, more than ever, we need to be turning up the heat on the coal industry, and their friends in government. The export coal industry is Australia's single biggest, and fastest growing contribution to the global climate crisis.

Newcastle, already the world's biggest coal port, is opening a major new coal export terminal over the course of this year, bringing the export capacity of the Hunter Valley coal chain to an incredible 178 million tonnes of coal per annum. That's the climate change equivalent of 30 Bayswater Power Stations. Within ten years, the coal corporations plan on exporting more than 300 million tonnes of coal per annum - a tripling of current export capacity.

Tripling coal exports means tripling coal mining. As Newcastle coal exports boom, more precious bushland will be razed, more waterways polluted, more communities ripped apart as the transnational coal companies carve their way westwards into the Liverpool Plains. The profits will be exported, but the devastation will stay here in the Hunter. The catastrophic effects of climate change will hurt all around the world.

This madness has to stop. The climate crisis is deepening, and time is fast running out. Politicians are failing to take action against the rampant coal companies, so we have to do it ourselves.

Hundreds of people will be doing just that in Newcastle on 28th March, and we'd love you to join us. We'll be taking to the harbour in a big way, occupying the world's biggest coal port with a mass of people, and demanding:
  • an immediate ban on the expansion of the coal industry in Australia,
  • a swift phase out of coal, replacing all coal industry jobs with jobs in renewable energy and other sustainable industries.

State Greens call for Council Code review to protect democracy

Newcastle Greens
14 March 2010

The Greens NSW, meeting in Newcastle today, called on the State Government to review the system of local government Codes of Conduct to ensure they are not misused to suppress democratic rights.

“Greens councillors around NSW are being subjected to code of conduct complaints for activities such as releasing information to communities in the public interest, and for engaging in protests,” NSW Greens Local Government spokesperson Sylvia Hale MLC said.

“In some cases, these councillors are being subjected to detrimental findings by conduct reviewers who are often not adequately trained to make such judgements, and who often approach them from a corporate or managerial perspective, without giving due consideration to democracy.”

Ms Hale called on the state government to review the Division of Local Government’s Model Code of Conduct (which is binding on all councils) to include provisions that affirm the democratic role and rights of councillors, and to remove or amend provisions that might be used to prevent councillors from performing such a role.

“The community is entitled to expect elected representatives to defend democracy, and council Codes of Conduct should facilitate, rather than constrain, their ability to do this,” Ms Hale said.

The state meeting expressed support for Newcastle Greens Councillor Michael Osborne, who is being investigated under Newcastle Council’s Code of Conduct for his involvement in a climate change protest in December last year.

“Cases like this risk bringing council codes of conduct and local government itself into disrepute,” Ms Hale said.

“The Model Code should be revised to make it clear to General Managers that complaints of this nature against councillors should be simply thrown in the bin, so that council resources are available to properly investigate matters that really do threaten democracy, such as relationships between councillors and vested interests.”