11 September 2019

Voters to make the final call on Eurobodalla Rural Lands Strategy

| Ian Campbell
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Labor candidate for Bega, Leanne Atkinson and the Shadow Minister for Primary Industries, Mark Veitch at a recent public meeting they held to talk about concerns with the Rural Lands Strategy. Photo: Supplied.

Labor candidate for Bega, Leanne Atkinson and the Shadow Minister for Primary Industries, Mark Veitch at a recent public meeting they held to talk about concerns with the Rural Lands Strategy. Photo: Supplied.

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.

NSW Election Day in March 23. Photo: Ian Campbell.

NSW Election Day is March 23. Photo: Ian Campbell.

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.

Brohdan Thompson, Mayor Liz Iness, Minister Anthony Roberts. Other side of the table, Heath Thompson, Amanda Thompson, Cheryl Blessington (Nathan Blessington there but not in photo), Member for Bega Andrew Constance, Graham Thompson, Huon and Sarah Thompson. Photo: Supplied.

Brohdan Thompson, Mayor Liz Iness, Minister Anthony Roberts. Other side of the table, Heath Thompson, Amanda Thompson, Cheryl Blessington (Nathan Blessington there but not in photo), Member for Bega Andrew Constance, Graham Thompson, Huon and Sarah Thompson. Photo: Supplied.

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.

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The mayor’s dismissal of public comment as “politically motivated” is curious and smacks of hypocrisy. I have raised the issue of political motivation with the Mayor recently in the context of the Mayor’s frequent promotion of the local liberal MP in local and Council media. I have received no real response from the Mayor apart from the dissemination of advertising material and a dimissal of the issue with a baseless claim the Mayor was subject to an angry and aggressive attack. The issue raised with the Mayor was whether it appropriate for the Mayor to be promoting the Liberal party and/or the local Liberal MP in the lead up to a state election where every seat counts. I also asked the Mayor whether her public promotion of Constance was part of her lawful functions as defined in sections 226 & 232 Local Government Act. These require the Mayor to “represent the collective interests of residents, ratepayers and the local community”. Assuming for present purposes the Mayor’s public promotion of the liberal party in official Council media is lawful, surely the Mayor is obliged to show her hand and disclose to the electorate where her political motivations lie. The Mayor’s public statements in relation to Constance recently are concerning and include:
* “I am so proud of Andrew”
* “No member of Bega has ever delivered as much”
* “Oh I could not agree more” (in answer to “we need him to be reelected so we can keep the region improving”)
The Mayor’s public statements are clear examples of politically motivated rhetoric.
The Local Government Act can be viewed here https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1993/30/chap9/part2/div3/sec232

Dallis Tanner8:28 am 22 Mar 19

I don’t support access to wetlands for livestock. They are the final filter system between land and water and cattle etc must be excluded to protect water quality.
We should also change the law in NSW to ensure boundaries leave a buffer zone between properties and waterways. Currently boundaries can be mid stream, giving stock access to streams. Cattle defecate in water and stir up mud and they remove filter plants along creeks and rivers, leaving bare earth that can enter waterways in rain events.
I know because I grew up on a cattle property.

Sandy Wilder5:08 pm 21 Mar 19

I wonder what diversity of our community were invited to the recent visit (in photo) of Anthony Roberts NSW Minister for Planning?

And I wonder what is happening to our democracy when I witness Mayor Liz Innes aggressively interrupt speakers at community forum in council meetings; speakers whose knowledge she doesn’t want to be considered in the decision making about the proposed radical changes to our Eurobodalla land use and changes which will have heavy environmental and climate change impacts.

A few people benefit short term and our shire compromised longer term.

As students around the world have clearly signalled last Friday with their schoolstrike4climate, we ought to be doing every possible thing we can to address the urgency of the climate warming. Eurobodalla council will be responsible for increased Greenhouse gas emissions and other serious impacts.

Ou world weather system is getting more dangerous by the day.

Young people who are aware of the climate changes see their future threatened. Listen to their leader Greta Thunberg …


Minister Constance, and NSW Liberals have so far not accepted the concerns of DPI Agriculture, Local Land Services, DPI Water, DPI Fisheries, OEH, and large sections of the community. Minister Constance’s professed concern for farmers is at dramatic odds with rural industries wellbeing. DPI Agriculture and Local Land Services both state many parts of the Proposal are incompatible and inconsistent with primary production or rural industry expansion. DPI Water basically state … where are you getting the water for all these increased land use developments. Our rural owners have been conned by our council that it is all about helping farmers when it will cover prime agricultural land with developments and make rural living conditions worse. All this was pointed out by DPI Agriculture and Local Land Services and has been ignored/not accepted by council. . If implemented in its current form, it would devastate the Eurobodalla Oyster Industry, our 2nd biggest industry behind nature coast tourism.

I do not think enough attention was drawn to the vast number of zone transfers in the Council documents which hid the changes under the umbrella of a “Rural Lands” strategy. The strategy greatly expanded the list of potential land uses across the entire shire’s existing RU1, RU4, B1, B2, B3, B4 and IN1 zones – not just “Rural Lands”. I would suggest all this was very misleading/deceptive during the public “consultation” process and helps explain the strong public backlash once the extent of changes became apparent.

It is totally galling that the council can state “significant changes to land use patterns are not expected as a result of the Rural Lands Strategy or proposed amendments to the LEP” (in 12 March 2019 Carbon Audit ESC response). If the council really thinks this, …. then why the hell push this RLS so hard and for so long and by just a few people if it is not going to make much of a difference? Council has got to be kidding that more than a 170% (when 1(a1) to RU1) increase in number of possible land uses on rural land spread through 23% of the shire is not going to make a difference to land use patterns. Why do the RLS if no significant changes to land use patterns really is the case? By the ESC own assessment, “The use of open zone tables proposed for the RU1 and RU4 zones provide for additional agricultural, tourism, residential and community activities in rural areas” (Volume 1:Appendix 1, p31)

Time to vote differently this time. We can always vote a government out in a few years but we will NEVER be able to take away these vast number of ADDITIONAL land uses that are in this planning proposal.

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