Those concerned with the Eurobodalla Rural Lands Strategy have succeeded in delaying the process and making it an issue voters need to consider when they go to the ballot box for the NSW Election.
“It’s do or die on Saturday,” says Kathryn Maxwell, Co-Convenor of the Nature Coast Alliance.
“If you care about the Nature Coast and you want to see a Rural Lands Strategy that benefits the whole community vote Labor or Green.”
Although coming from a different perspective, Eurobodalla Mayor, Liz Innes agrees that the future of the long talked about planning instrument will be decided in the coming days.
“As far as I am concerned there is only one party that has said they will support our rural sector and that is Andrew Constance and the Liberal Party,” Cr Innes says.
“They are backing a vibrant rural economy, they are backing the people that want to supply beautiful rural produce, the Liberals will sign this document if re-elected.”
The choice for those new to this issue or feeling stuck in the middle perhaps feels unenviable. The development of this complicated and detailed Eurobodalla Shire Council document has played out over almost nine years and is linked to the development of a new Local Environment Plan (LEP) for the shire.
In February, Labor candidate for Bega, Leanne Atkinson announced that a Daley Government would not endorse the Strategy in its current form. It’s a position that is also supported by Will Douglas of The Greens.
In 2018 as Council was finalising the associated planning guidelines ahead of approval by the NSW Planning Minister, a number of community organisations and state government agencies flagged issues during the final public consultation phase.
“If elected in March, a Daley Labor Government will send the strategy back to the council to address the widespread concerns identified in 500 submissions, in a transparent manner,” Ms Atkinson said at the time.
Speaking with Region Media, Cr Innes acknowledges that the level of recent interest has delayed the process, which to her frustration meant Planning Minister, Anthony Roberts couldn’t sign off on the Strategy before the Berejiklian Government entered caretaker mode.
However, in a visit to the region earlier this month Mr Roberts gave the mayor his assurance that the Strategy would be approved.
“The Planning Minister wanted to come down and reassure our rural community, who have worked on our strategy for nine years, that he has been working through the concerns raised by [NSW Governement] departments like the RFS,” Cr Innes says.
“He was very clear in saying that he is now confident in signing it [Rural Lands Strategy] and that the concerns raised by those departments have been addressed.
“And that, if elected, it will be the first document that he signs.”
Government departments and agencies that have been involved and offered feedback include the Rural Fire Service, NSW Fisheries, Office of Environment and Heritage, and Local Land Services.
“In November 2018, 23 oyster farmers and industry investors also sent a statement of concern to the NSW Planning Minister requesting that he reject the Rural Lands Strategy,” Ms Maxwell says.
In his submission on behalf of the Office of Environment and Heritage, Director of Regional Operations, Michael Saxon wrote.
“Given that none of the changes that we suggested in our 2016 submission on this planning proposal have been adopted, we still retain a number of objections to the proposal.”
OEH objections relate to known threatened species habitat and the impacts clearing and incompatible land uses could have on species like the Swift Parrot, Greater Glider, Glossy Black Cockatoo, and Bangalay Sand Forest, as well as significant Aboriginal sites.
Given the level of interest and concern, Ms Maxwell says she is disappointed that Minister Roberts didn’t meet with a broader cross-section of the community so that they could hear of his work.
“We would have appreciated having a conversation with the minister, we have been trying to speak with him for months,” Ms Maxwell says.
“All along some members of the community have been given greater access and included in this discussion more so than others.”
Cr Innes rejects that, “The whole community has had the opportunity to write to the Minister, all the submissions we received were forwarded to him. The minister requested to meet with members of the rural community, so I took the opportunity to introduce him to positive, genuine people.”
“I think it is really important that when you are talking about people lives and livelihoods that you go straight to those who are directly impacted.
“It’s my belief that a lot of the concerns received were not based on valid facts, there has been a lot of misinformation, and much of this is politically motivated.”
Region Media did approach the Planning Minister for comment and advice, his office is yet to respond.
Tilba farmer Amanda Thompson and her family did meet with Mr Roberts.
The Thompson’s are fourth generation farmers in the Eurobodalla and have over 20 years experience with organic livestock production.
Under the banner of Symphony Farm, the family runs a pasture-raised beef, pork, and chicken meat business. Side by side with that is Reedy Creek Eucalyptus Oil; Mrs Thompson, and her family manufacture essential oils and export them to international markets.
Mrs Thompson says she was heartened by the minister’s reassurances.
“We have five young adult children – the fifth generation, who desire to remain in the Eurobodalla and develop long term rural businesses. The new LEP supports a sustainable and diverse agricultural sector,” she says.
“Our younger generation is enthusiastically moving away from conventional farming systems to more diverse, holistic farming principals, producing for regional food systems, engaging their local community.
“This supports a rich relationship between the community and farming families. The new LEP supports a healthy, resilient community!”
Mrs Thompson says her family has been part of that Rural Lands Strategy/LEP process since 2012, “We are very pleased that we were able to bring our experience to the table and contribute to the development of this LEP.”
“We believe that the community consultation process to develop this LEP has been thorough, effective and meaningful.
“The community has been given enough time to familiarise themselves with complex government legislation and procedures and have had time to express their views,” Mrs Thompsons says.
For Eurobodalla voters still confused, perhaps the question is a familiar one when it comes to elections – Who do you trust?
“Every vote will count on Saturday, March 23, there is so much at stake,” Ms Maxwell says, which is perhaps the one point everyone agrees on.