Dirty Laundry and a Basket Case

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This year the usually banal affair of local government elections has been transformed into a pivotal and interesting contest by numerous allegations of pro-development corruption throughout NSW – and the past explosive week in NSW politics has only added to the prospect of drama. We’re likely to see even more shaking, some rattling and plenty of rolling, as democracy-hungry NSW goes to the polls on Saturday.

Many predict a backlash against the State Labor Party – as well as the development lobby that has so often been associated with it.

If you had to put a name to the face of "urban development" in the NSW Labor Party it would be Mr Frank Ernest Sartor, who until 7 September was NSW Planning Minister.

Last week, after being dumped from the front bench and losing his treasured Planning portfolio, Cranky Frankie told the media that he felt "a little bit" cheated.

The response from many of the community groups fighting inappropriate development across the State was: um yeah, we know how you feel.

Jill Walker over at the Save Sandon Point Community Picket, writes:

Dear Frank,

So you feel "cheated"???

Well now you have some idea how we at Sandon Point [feel]…

You had no right to deconstruct the Environmental Planning & Assessment (EP&A) Act in your own interests and those of your developer mates. Nor to destroy the Heritage Act and other Acts, then waste more taxpayers’ money challenging the Land and Environment Court Sandon Point court win.

And you had no right to push thru a new Planning Commission Chaired by Gabrielle Kibble last Tuesday when you realised there could be a spill; then say publicly that Sandon Point might well be sent to that Commission in the next round of approvals.

As you are well aware Ms Kibble is also an Administrator at Wollongong City Council after the Iemma Government used ICAC to wrongfully sack the remaining nine Councillors as well as the four corrupt ALP Councillors.

With Frank on the outer, will voters feel renewed hope in the Government or will they want to voice their concerns against Labor and its new baby Premier with metaphorical baseball bats?

This year’s council elections will be characterised by a groundswell of Independents – often loosely aligned with the Greens – competing with the traditionally well funded major tickets.

Councillors Howard Jones and Narissa Bradley of the Kiama Greens believe the abilities of local government have been gradually and deliberately undermined:

Recent allegations that lucrative residential development opportunities were offered by the Minister of Planning to two developers in the Lower Hunter against the advice of the Department of Planning which placed the areas last (ie the least appropriate) on a list of over 90 areas considered, did little to provide […] confidence. The Minister has assured the people of NSW that in excess of $300,000 in political donations to the ALP from the two developers had nothing to do with the decision.

When Minister Sartor added Part 3A to the EP&A Act he provided an opportunity for bypassing not only the Local Environment Plans of local Councils, but most of the other Environmental and Heritage legislation that applied to the rest of us as well. The Minister only has to "be of the opinion that the project is of "regional or state significance" or "essential for economic, environmental or social reasons".

Recently the Urban Development Institute of Australia organised a developers breakfast of champions: At $120 per head, the 90 minute breakfast forum titled "All the Way With Part 3A" advised participants of the "top five tips to getting your Part 3A development proposal accepted". Advice was provided by representatives from the Department of Planning, Town Planning professionals as well as a senior legal figure.

Some candidates in this weekend’s election are running on a platform made of love. The We Love Warringah campaign on Sydney’s northern beaches makes their electorate look more like a holiday destination than the dirty world of bad planning and parking violations. Media "personality" Wendy Harmer has put together a team of candidates who love Narrabeen Lagoon and the Manly league team more than you do.

Further up the coast, the Mayor of Clarence Valley Council Ian Tiley, has gone to bat for the people of the valley against Reba Meagher, the NSW Health Minister. Oops, she’s out of the NSW Ministry too! Nice work Ian.

Of course not all Independents are champions of the community, plying the trade of grassroots campaigning in a courageous battle against the big end of town. On Saturday, voters will get the chance to elect some bigoted morons too. Former Senator Andrew Bartlett writes on his blog:

I was interested to see this report in today’s Sydney Morning Herald detailing a number of candidates contesting the upcoming local elections in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire – scene of the infamous Cronulla riots three years ago – with a campaign message specifically attacking refugees and migrants. Modern day political correctness seems to require one not to use the term "racist" to describe statements that attack others on the basis of their race, but it’s hard to think of a more accurate word.

Perhaps the eccentricities or "local issues" of each council will fire proof the new NSW Rees State Government from voter rage. Either way, it’s not quiet time in NSW politics.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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