Byron Shire Council loves to be different. We are the rebels in the pack who like to do things our way. Whether it is changing Australia Day or clocking up the biggest legal bills at the Land and Environment Court, we don’t care. But being different does come at a cost.
Council voted (6 to 3) to move Australia Day ceremony forward a day to January 25th. This will probably have majority support being a progressive shire, and will most likely be on the right side of history. It provoked the ire of PM ScoMo – “Shut up, salute the flag, and eat ya sausage sanga, you bunch of hippies.”
Personally, I like Peter Fitzsimmons plan. He is the current chair of ARM – Australian Republic Movement. We should forget about fighting over Australia Day and concentrate on the republic. Folding the Oz Day problem into the new Republic Day, yet to be chosen, will be a fresh start and include everyone. Except monarchists who will be dead soon anyway. This will be a lot more enlightening than going in circles with the present culture wars. Go to the ARM website and get behind the plan to become a republic by 2022.
BSC is also planning to fiddle with how we do politics. Is this a desire to innovate or are they just sick of all the carping and complaining they get? They have already had a small experiment with the newDemocaracy model – asking for a citizen jury to prioritise an infrastructure spend – and it seemed to work.
The newDemocracy Foundation is a way of circumventing the logjam of modern politics by using citizen juries. At present, we have an unholy trilogy where local councils fight developers who fight a contingent of specialty agenda activists. No one ends up winning and the losers are the public. Citizen juries are normal people, without vested interests and agendas like developers or activists. They are presented with relevant info, the pros and cons and overview of an issue. They are then allowed to come to an educated decision that helps the governing authority decide.
Council is now calling for volunteers to join their next citizen jury to help solve some pressing issues. You need to be available for six evenings between now and December and you will be paid $400. Contact 0467 066 185 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Affordable Housing – again
Council’s recent decision to reject the Saddle Road subdivision and the Brunswick Eco Village proposal was unfortunate. Many people have been working towards this and it was a grassroots, innovative and sensitive proposal to house people in a sustainable and economical way. Byron Shire needs to be a leader in this field and not automatically treating all development as “bad” development.
Many proponents felt that the councilors were not given all the relative information and the decision was made prematurely. The 70 potential residents of the BEV thought it was unfortunate to be lumped in with the wider development proposal. Any future possibilities now need to be included in the future Byron Shire Residential Settlement Strategy. “Future” in Byron Shire is usually a very long way in the future.
A story I heard nicely illustrates council situation with this issue. A professional person I know was part of a contingent from Byron Council attending a planning conference in Grafton. Byron Council staff was annoyed to be going to daggy old Grafton – after all, what could we learn from them? The seminar was on ways to tackle affordable housing. A young woman in her 20s from Grafton Council got up to give her report. She had been with the Grafton council for 18 months and was just completing her forty-second affordable house in the shire. The Byron staff got back in the car still full of themselves that they had nothing to learn. Even though BSC has failed to deliver one affordable dwelling in the decades it has been a pressing issue.
Being different and unique is certainly a good branding exercise for Byron. Even without the politics, many residents take pride in being a black sheep and not running with the pack. But this contrariness does come with a downside.
State and federal governments tend to feed their own – especially if its a marginal seat. Byron votes green locally and in NSW State elections, and Labor federally. Since it is not marginal and there is no desire by anyone to shower us with largesse or pork barrelling – an unfortunate side of modern politics. But even if we did have local members in government, they would still look at us with disdain and annoyance. Basically, we are hard to deal with.
It would be easier to support Byron Council setting its own agenda if it was capable of concurrently keeping the ship of state afloat. It is justifiable to be arrogant and snub our noses at other LGAs when all is well with the three Rs – Rubbish, Rates, and Roads. Even having enough money to pay councilors a decent pay (they are well below the median) so we can attract and keep competent people to do a difficult job. That would be a good start.
A good example of Byron Council’s ineptitude in making the economics work is the backstory to the “Employment Lands” issue. We have run out of commercial or industrial estate land. Some small businesses are being forced to decide not to settle here or move away for lack of workspace. It is not like they did not see it coming. Established local businesses like Byron Bay Cookie Company, Brookfarm Muesli, Stone and Wood Brewery, Salumi Smallgoods, and others have been hammering council for years to approve a new, larger industrial estate so these businesses can expand, stay in the region and keep their local employees.
A few got together and tried to make it happen on private land near the present Bangalow Industrial Estate. This was probably a bad idea as the town of Bangalow rightly responded negatively to more heavy truck movements through their town. Wrong location. Council presently has an employment land strategy on display. They are looking at expanding existing industrial estates at Billinudgel and Mullumbimby, rezoning new land at the Gulgan Road and Bangalow highway exits. The land needs to be close to the highway to work. Let’s hope they get it together and we can keep our iconic businesses local.