As only Fast Buck$ famously knows, money is a raw and brute force, it will buy power and influence and readily dismiss threats to its domination.
Even judicial systems and legislation set up to balance the rights of individuals and the environment against the drive of development can be swayed by formidable financial firepower.
The Butler Street Community Network was formed out of a grass roots gathering of neighbourhood residents and friends some four years ago with at times upwards of 40 members.
Our campaign for a better bypass solution for Byron Bay gathered over 1,000 signatures in a petition to Byron Shire Council, crowd funded advertising and information events and ultimately self-funded an appeal to the approval of the Butler Street Bypass proposal in the Land and Environment Court. The DA received 644 objections and only three in favour from our community.
Council’s tactic to defend its development application was to mount the most expensive Sydney legal team money can buy. Butler Street Community Network by contrast sort legal aid, employed a local solicitors and junior barristers, was supported by pro bono experts, and ultimately self-represented in court.
What we were confronted with was the sheer presence and power of a senior council barrister often referred to as a silk who can command over $10,000 per day pushing a black letter and one sided interpretation of the law.
They arrive in court as a formidable entourage of solicitors, senior solicitors, council’s representative experts, assistants and trolleys stacked high with documents. And the Butler Street crew were there right out of a scene from The Castle, ordinary residents crying out for some justice.
We did our homework, and we presented unrefuted evidence and argument, but the weight of a silk in the room that judges and commissioners are loathed to cross bore heavily against us.
The fact is, if a silk is mounted against you, you are well advised to either mount a silk in defence or retire to the nether regions. But who has that financial resource in our community?
And the cruel irony is council is only too ready to utilise its enormous ratepayer funds against its own ratepayers.
Council’s general manager Ken Gainger is now trying to characterise the Butler Street Community Network as a minority dissident few owners on Butler Street, in it for their own benefit, stacked with cash and only interested in upping the stakes to improve their final payout.
He could not be further from reality. We applaud Fast Buck$ for asking the questions that need to be asked.
How did the outrage of legal expenditure of upward of half a million dollars on the Butler Street bypass fiasco occur? What exactly was spent and who approved the expenditure?
Why after two DAs and a court case do we still only have a fraction of the project approved? How much has been paid to council’s DA consultants GHD who have produced and exhibited two incorrect DAs?
Who will now undertake the Part 5 application under SEPP Infrastructure for the remaining works for a town bypass? Why has Council defended an inferior bypass route which is likely to have significantly higher costs to ratepayers and the NSW taxpayers?
Paul Jones, Butler Street Community Network