A peaceful protest outside the real estate office of Byron Shire councillor and Greens party defector Rose Wanchap in Byron Bay has broken up without incident.
Protest organiser Cate Coorey, from the Byron Residents Group, told Echonetdaily ‘about 31’ people attended the protest, a wry comment on the number of people who the group say voted directly for Cr Wanchap at the 2012 council elections.
Ms Coorey said ‘police asked us to clear the footpath but we weren’t really ever blocking it’.
‘Cr Wanchap came out and spoke for about four minutes but she was going over the detail of the Koala Plan of Management and why she’s objecting to it.’
She added she was surprised to see National Party councillor Chris Cubis and Byron Bay business chamber heavyweight Paul Waters also in attendance.
‘They said they were there to protect Rose, but we felt they were trying to be provocative,’ she said.
Mr Waters described the event as a ‘picket’, adding ‘you couldn’t have got into the office if you wanted to’.
‘I’m just one of those people who stands up for the downtrodden,’ he said. ‘I was there to support Rose in her plight. I believe she’s being bullied and I knew she wouldn’t have too many people standing up for her. ‘
He further attacked the Byron Residents Group (BRG), which he said ‘was not representative’ and claimed ‘half of them don’t even live or pay rates in Byron Shire’.
He claimed BRG was a front for the Byron Greens.
‘If they’re going to apply some kind of misguided idea that she should resign, they should apply that to Paul Spooner. He was a former Greens member, who resigned to run as an independent, and subsequently became Labor’s candidate for Ballina,’ he said.
Greens refute claims
Byron Shire Greens convenor Graeme Williams has unequivocally refuted Mr Waters’ claims, saying the bullying allegations were a ‘tactic of the National Party’.
‘I think many Greens members and supporters who’ve worked really hard feel very betrayed by Rose’s sudden and unexpected change of character. I’m not aware of any [bullying] incident and there’s been no formal complaint made,’ he said.
‘I think there’s this tendency, and it’s a clear way to try and target anyone who is disappointed Rose’s change of colour, to label them as a bully. This a clear tactic of those people associated with the National Party: if anyone criticises Rose’s erratic change of political views, they characterise them as a bully.
‘There were extensive efforts to mediate with Rose – many women in the Greens tried to sit down and talk with her. Many still maintain relationships with her. But there’s been no coherent explanation made. Rose, ultimately, has the answer. But the Greens feel betrayed.
‘Clearly the Nats and their allies have a political agenda and they can see she’s aiding and abetting that agenda. They want to keep her onside so that they can push their agenda through council.’
Mr Williams also emphatically denied that the Byron Residents Group was a front for the Greens.
‘I don’t think any of the organisers are current members of the Greens,’ he said.
Wanchap defends vote
Cr Wanchap late this morning forwarded an email that quotes a critique of the Koala Plan of Management by Australian Wetlands Consulting as a rationale for her voting to delay the plan.
In essence, the email claims only two koalas have been observed on the site in recent surveys and just 2.5 hectares on the site have been identified as core koala habitat.
Other reasons given for supporting the West Byron development include that acid sulphate soils are common in other Byron Shire villages, including Byon Bay itself; rates from the new development will generate an additional $2 million a year for council; and that rents in Byron Bay are higher than anywhere else in Australia.
[Original story, 7am]
Byron Residents Group (BRG) are staging a peaceful protest in Byron Bay today ‘to convey our outrage at the hijacking of our vote by Rose Wanchap and at the damage she is doing to our town.’
The former Greens Byron Shire councillor quit the party in May 2014 and has since been voting with the pro-development bloc, effectively handing them a majority in council and pushing through a raft of contentious decisions.
But the group says just 31 people voted for Cr Wanchap as an individual with the Greens Party delivering her remaining votes.
Yet, BRG spokesperson Cate Coorey says Cr Wanchap ‘has voted against the Greens on almost every significant development issue that has come before council’.
But Byron Shire’s mayor Simon Richardson, the lead Greens candidate on the same ticket, has declined to support the call for Cr Wanchap’s resignation, saying only ‘it is up to Rose to decide’.
He added, however he was ‘deeply disappointed’ in her decision to quit the party and cross the floor.
‘I’m just hearing like everybody else an overwhelming disappointment that so many residents who voted don’t feel they have the council they voted for,’ Cr Richardson told Echonetdaily.
‘[The Greens] are extremely proud of our record over 20 years and as a community we’ve stood up to the conservatives who want to take us in a different direction.
‘There is a small but substantial majority of progressive voters and we’re seeing a venting of that disappointment and frustration that a lot of the things we’ve worked for over 20 years many see as in jeopardy.’
He said he did support the view that those who voted for Cr Wanchap were overwhelmingly Greens supporters rather than personal followers.
‘I was in her situation in the previous election when I got 40 [personal] votes and I firmly believed I was voted in as a Green not as “school teacher Simon Richardson”. I saw myself as there to support the mayor and to advocate on a Green platform.
Cr Richardson said unlike the other major parties the Greens don’t direct their members how to vote, ‘but there’s an understanding that on large development matters we do reject things that don’t have due process and are outside community expectations.
‘You are tied to a commitment to green policies and platforms,’ he said.
Can’t be forced out
According to SCU law lecturer Aidan Ricketts, Cr Wanchap cannot be legally forced to resign.
‘Local government isn’t a constitutional layer of government it’s established under state legislation,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘But whether you’re federal state or local there’s no legal impediment to being elected by one party and sitting or voting with another,’ he added.
‘Political parties were latecomers to our democracy. Originally our political representatives were all elected as independents and parties only came later as a way of organising the voting.
‘There is a history of this [in Australian politics] with Senators changing sides – and even in the House of Representatives. Although it may have political and ethical ramifications there’s no legal recourse for it,’ Mr Ricketts said.
Koalas in jeopardy
BRG has described the pro-development bloc’s deferral of the Koala Plan of Management (KPoM) as a tactic to enable encroachment by the controversial proposed West Byron development into core koala habitat, which the plan would prevent.
‘If council’s draft KPoM is adopted, it will make it difficult for the planning minister to proceed with her department’s proposal to clear 4.6 ha of the 12.8 ha of core koala habitat, and allow intensive development in 21ha (70 per cent) of the required 50m buffers, on West Byron,’ Ms Coorey said.
‘It would also require the adoption of measures to limit car speeds, exclude dogs, and adopt koala-friendly fencing and swimming pool guidelines,’ she added.
‘For months now the development bloc on council has being doing everything they can to frustrate council’s attempts to adopt the KPoM, at one stage even seeking funding to round up the free koalas and put them in a compound.
‘On 9 October they again deferred adopting the plan on the spurious basis that they needed legal advice – after spending four years and consulting many experts. It is clear that they do not want the plan adopted before the minister approves West Byron.’
Ms Coorey says that if Cr Wanchap will not stand down she should at least use her vote to pass the Koala Plan of Management.
‘Byron residents elected Rose Wanchap in the belief that she would support Green principles, including providing protection for koalas.
‘In order to protect the koalas of Byron Bay we need to convince Rose Wanchap to stop blocking the Byron Coast Koala Plan of Management and ensure it is immediately adopted to provide adequate protection for core koala habitat and corridors, Ms Coorey said.
The group is calling for a peaceful protest outside Cr Wanchap’s real estate office in Fletcher Street, Byron Bay from 10am on Friday (October 17).