OPINION: Community concerns are still being ignored

2012 will be remembered as the Year the State Government Sidelined the Community.

The government has released a number of glossy policy documents throughout the year and, despite the promises, in each case they have ignored the concerns of the community.

Does anyone remember the Coalition’s “Contract with NSW” released before the last election that promised that the community would be given a greater say and that planning powers would be returned to the local community?

It seems Premier Barry O’Farrell has forgotten such promises after less than a year.

After so-called ‘‘community consultation’’, the government released their “Upper Hunter Strategic Regional Land Use Plan”, a document very similar to the draft, despite vocal community protests that coal mining and coal seam gas interests were being prioritised over the public interest.

The policy ignores community concerns and fails to protect our agricultural land, our rivers and our native biodiversity.

After extensive community consultation, the NSW Planning System Review (lead by two former NSW ministers Tim Moore and Ron Dyer) listed recommendations to restore public confidence and community participation in the planning system.

Despite community concerns, the government’s policy response proposed to reduce community participation.

Later in the year, the government announced plans to change the funding guidelines for the Public Purpose Fund (a fund from the interest on lawyer’s trust accounts) to cut funding to the Environmental Defenders Office.

For nearly 30 years, the EDO has been providing independent legal advice to the community on planning matters. In many cases, the EDO has been supporting the community against the government bureaucracy.

It would be a travesty if the government took away the community’s only accessible source of independent legal advice at the same time that it was reducing community participation in the planning process.

Community concerns were ignored because a deal had been done with the Shooters and Fishers Party to cut the EDO funding and allow amateur hunting in our national parks in exchange for their support for the privatisation of our electricity assets.

Community protesters from across the state have converged on Sydney twice in 2012.

Clearly people are “not happy Barry”, but the government continues to ignore the concerns of the community.

The production of a quality Renewable Energy Action Plan could have been a great opportunity for the government to listen to community concerns and address its responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for NSW.

What was produced would be better described as a “Renewable Energy Inaction Plan”.

The document fails to accurately assess energy demands, fails to make any clear commitments for renewable energy production and fails to outline how the government will make NSW more attractive in terms of “grid connection fundamentals”.

Despite the urging from our local community, the government has refused to commit to facilitating investment in the Hunter so that we get a fair share of the 6000 jobs that the plan states could be created in NSW “through construction, installation, manufacture and operation of renewable energy technologies”.

Instead, the O’Farrell government is pushing through extreme cuts to TAFE funding, the educational institution best placed to train a workforce to produce the renewable energy future.

Community concerns were again ignored because it seems a deal was done with the Victorian and Queensland conservative governments to cut TAFE funding and play politics with the Federal Labor Government.

The government recently passed legislation to privatise Port Botany and Port Kembla via a 99-year lease, an arrangement likely to see increased costs on goods that pass through the ports to fund the private profits.

The concerns of the Botany and Wollongong communities were ignored in the process.

Is the Port of Newcastle next on the hit list?

The community was sidelined after another deal was done with the Shooters and Fishers Party, this time to reintroduce duck hunting in NSW.

Then, just before Christmas, the government released its vision for revitalising Newcastle.

A plan to cut public transport infrastructure making it harder for people to visit our city, while at the same time giving property developers the right to build bigger and fatter buildings in the Newcastle CBD.

The glossy plan is  on exhibition until March 17, 2013, and the government is asking for public comment. What they do with it, is anybody’s guess.

Unless the government seriously listens to the concerns of the community and changes direction, 2013 will be the Year of Community Confrontation.

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