By Luis Feliu
Tomorrow’s Tweed Shire Council election is shaping up to be a two-way fight between a consortium of National Party backed groups and a loose alliance of community-inspired groups, all vying for control of the seven-seats up for grabs in local government.
Pre-poll voting closes tonight (Friday) for the election, postponed from September due to the sudden death of a candidate, with thousands of voters going to the polls tomorrow.
They will decide the shire’s future, and this election is seen as crucial to its built and natural environment for years to come.
It’s a shire with a history of state intervention over undue outside influence on development.
At stake is who gets to shape that direction.
Many locals are strongly opposed to ‘develop at all costs’, or inappropriate and unsustainable (Gold Coast style) development, while others want to see further expansion, despite mega housing subdivisions now in the pipeline set to house tens of thousands of extra residents.
One of the big issues over that future, which oddly hasn’t come up during this campaign, is the contentious longtime push by National Party aligned faction for a new multi-million dam at Byrrill Creek, despite a community working group opting for expansion of the existing Clarrie Hall Dam to secure future water supply for the shire.
So will this election be in effect an under-the-radar referendum for a new dam?
The Greens, Country Labor and the ’real’ community independents are opposed to the dam and many people thought that had already been decided but the issue surfaced at a campaign chamber of commerce meet-the-candidates meeting at which candidates were quizzed by the Nats on where they stood on the dam.
The dam issue is likely to come up in the future, depending on which groups gain the majority on council, despite strong and long opposition to it and expert opinion against new dams.
Veteran Cr Warren Polglase and his Nats colleague, Carolyn Byrne, both leading a group, are big dam supporters, so is former Tweed mayor and National Party aligned group leader Kevin Skinner, who was very vocal about the issue in his one-year term.
The Kingscliff-based Jayne Henry and Dot Holdom groups are also closely affiliated with the Nats, as is the Murwillumbah-based business group led by Pryce Allsop. Preferences are expected to be shared among these groups.
The other contentious issue facing the shire, which has been a sleeper till this week, is coal-seam gas (CSG) mining and exploration.
‘Nauseating’ CSG spin’
The gloves came off when a Liberal candidate sidled up for a photo opportunity with state coalition’s energy minister (and fellow Liberal) Anthony Roberts to assure people there would be no CSG in the Tweed in the future.
But community candidate and longtime anti-CSG campaigner Michael McNamara seized on the ‘spin’ (published in a local Murdoch news outlet), describing the assurances by the Liberals as sickening and ‘about protecting an unpopular Liberal candidate’.
Mr McNamara said the minister’s assurances to Lib candidate James Owen that the Tweed would be protected from CSG made him ‘almost puke’ and was ‘a load of tripe’.
‘This is the same minister who went overseas spruiking the future of the CSG industry in NSW,’ he said.
‘This is the same minister who defended the inclusion of CSG in the draft North Coast Strategic Plan as an “oversight”.
‘The only way to ensure that the Tweed, and the broader Northern Rivers, is safe from CSG is to enshrine that protection in legislation,’ Mr McNamara told Echonetdaily.
The issue on the misuse of the term ‘independent’ has also raised its head again in the Tweed poll, with some saying it’s used to hide the real agenda of the Nats and other conservatives aligned or preferencing them.
One Echonetdaily reader and keen observer of local politics said ‘when you hear the words “fiercely independent”, “proudly independent”, etc, take a deep breath, the majority of these so called independents are National Party aligned’.
This election campaign has seen a record 15 groups nominate and total number of candidates climb to a record 76.
Order of the Tweed council ballot paper:
1. Group A: Polglase, W (Independent)
2. Group B: Cherry, C (Independent)
3. Group C: Henry, J (Independent)
4. Group D: Milne, K (Greens)
5. Group E: McNamara, M (Independent)
6. Group F: Owen, J (Liberal)
7. Group G: Holdom, D (Independent)
8. Group H: Allsop, P (Independent)
9. Group I: Longland, B (Independent)
10. Group J: Skinner, K (Independent)
11. Group K: Bagnall, G (Independent)
12. Group L: Byrne, C
13. Group M: Cooper, R (Independent)
14. Group N: Byrnes, R (Country Labor)
15. Group O: Sharples, K (Independent)
The four individual candidates are:
1. Andrews, Dion (Independent)
2. Hudson, Suzy (Independent)
3. Das, Mathuranatha (Independent)
4. McKenzie, James (Independent)
(See previous election stories at https://www.echo.net.au/2016/09/nats-renewed-bid-win-majority-tweed-poll/ and https://www.echo.net.au/2016/08/groups-fight-control-tweed-council/)