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May 9, 2021

Departing shots at Byron Greens from founding member

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Happier times: Byron shire mayor Simon Richardson, left, with former Byron councillor Tom Tabart. Photo supplied
Happier times: Byron shire mayor Simon Richardson, left, with former Byron councillor Tom Tabart. Photo supplied

‘More sorrow than anger,’ is how former councillor and Greens party member Tom Tabart describes his parting words on the Byron Greens as he leaves the area for Geelong in Victoria.

Tabart portrays a largely disengaged Greens membership with Greens councillors uninterested in participating in monthly meetings. Greens policy positions on contentious local issues are also being stalled by the mayor, he claims.   

The Greens, along with other left -leaning councillors, won a thumping majority at the 2016 Council election.    

Tabart told The Echo, ‘All three Greens councillors are still very much under mayor Simon Richardson’s influence,’ he says, ‘as they have virtually no background in council realpolitik. General manager Ken Gainger runs them like a clockwork train.’ 

With claims of around 200 Greens members, Tabart says the monthly meetings are ‘lucky to get 20 regulars, who think mayor Simon Richardson is wonderful because of his media presence.’

‘The older hard-core members are largely engaged with state matters and organising elections. They would really rather not know what Simon and his three novice followers are up to – at the last group meeting no councillor attended.’

Tabart says along with himself, Chris Harris Jones, former MLC and mayor Jan Barham, they have been ‘blindsided by general disinterest and the mayor’s filibustering’ over their attempts to introduce policy positions for the Byron Greens.

‘It looks like this will now flounder,’ he said.

A draft policy supplied to The Echo by Tabart included positions and recommendations on the Byron Shire sewerage plants and re-use issues, holiday let/Airbnb, the Myocum tip, North Byron Parklands and Byron traffic management issues.    

The document reads, ‘The absence of effective community engagement policies has been highly problematic in Byron… In other cases, community opposition to the proposed outcome has been ignored, as in the case of the Brunswick Heads Caravan Parks and Yelgun (Parklands).’

‘Council is currently reviewing its community engagement policy and the Greens should engage with this process and adopt its own preferred policy.’

Greens beginnings

Tabart says he came to Byron in 1992 on a yacht and lived in Bruns harbour for a year.

‘Byron Greens were founded in 1993 by Ian Cohen, Jo Faith, Jan Barham, Sandra Heilpern, Duncan Dey, Richard Staples, the odd other and myself after the ’93 federal election. Jo Faith was our first candidate.’

‘The Byron, Ballina and Tweed Greens all came from this start.

‘Until the end of the Barham term as mayor, the group ran on a reasonable consensus model regarding policy, and then Simon became mayor.’

Asked if Tabart’s assessment was an accurate portrayal, mayor Simon Richardson told The Echo, ‘I won’t comment on every one of Tom’s attacks as I respect his work on behalf the Greens over many years, though I have a different interpretation of things.’

‘I believe however, that regardless of his consistent criticisms of me, pretty much since day one as mayor I have remained respectfully silent; his dismissal of councillors and seemingly every Byron Greens member except a couple who agree with him should be defended.’ 

The Echo also asked the mayor that given the Greens are now a year into the council term, ‘are you comfortable with all decisions made thus far, including whether they were transparent, fully informed and included community engagement?’

He replied, ‘The great work, commitment and passion our Greens members have for this shire has been unwavering. From our group’s birth to our present.

‘In fact, since we moved meetings to Ocean Shores, our attendance at meetings is generally consistently higher than when I first joined a decade ago. The diversity of our members is greater; our membership has grown significantly over the last five years and our members’ willingness to roll up our sleeves with actions to match our words has also grown. The Byron Greens are a group of wonderful people with a wonderful commitment to our community, our shire and our planet.

‘I do share far more sentiments of Tom’s than a passive observer may believe. For example, I share his desire for council to develop a better community engagement policy and I’m stoked to be able to share that we will shortly achieve this.

‘I convened a community policy development group to work alongside the council to literally go over every line of our previous two policies.

‘[We kept] the best components, and established [better and] clear directions for staff to know what types of engagement are required for each type and level of activity.

‘For example, what communication and engagement should be done for a development that is significant on a shire level, right down to one that is insignificant even in a localised part of the shire.

‘This has been worked upon by community leaders and representatives from across the Shire and both the community and Council will benefit from this work. 

‘I also am incredibly proud and impressed by the stellar work done so far by my fellow Greens councillors.

‘They are tackling some hard issues with courage, intelligence and love for Byron Shire at the heart of each decision. I sat next to Tom Tabart for my first four years on council and learned a lot from him and my respect for his efforts on behalf of our shire remains intact.

‘I wish him well on his next stage of life in Victoria.’

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  1. I have zero political affiliation but must say that regarding the present council under Simon Richardson, I feel as many many people do now, that Tom is spot on in his evaluation of Council. Council disgracefully moved to marginalise and diminish those of us who’ve spoken the truth and assisted the Community in its battle with the Holiday Parks Trusts we’ve fought with for so many years.

    Councillors should be truly ashamed of what they’ve done in regards to Brunswick Heads and stop listening to their Mayor if he is at fault. Mr. Richardson appears often with his kind words garnering support and pats on the back, however when it comes to doing the right thing Council, under Richardson it seems, often do anything but the right thing by the community.

    They did not, at the eleventh hour, support Brunswick Heads at all. As we pass 20 years of fighting for land here, council folded and handed over our land to the State government. Many of the promises that the lands Trust made to Council and that Simon quoted as being good for us into the future took but weeks to be reversed by the Trust as soon as Council gave up and handed our park land too them. How could you be so gullible?

    Here is a test for you and our Councillors, If North Coast Holiday Parks Trust was at all interested in doing good for Brunswick Heads, ask yourselves, why after well over ten years have they not yet renovated the Torokina toilet block? This single point should be enough for anyone, even with a tiny bit of smarts, to understand that the Parks Trust has not and will not be doing the right thing unless they are forced to do so.

    The Torokina amenities block has great bones for renovation but beware this is not The Block reality tv. The Trust may well bulldoze it and give us a fibre board box instead, because it’s the cheap way out. That was their original plan in case you haven’t been following the good fight.

    Don’t count on Council supporting this either, unless they change quick smart, because they’ve been mislead into thinking that the Trust are good guys. What happened to the people that we voted for? Seems to me they’ve become, metaphorically speaking, too fat and lazy to stand up against the State.

  2. Mayor Simon Richardson promotion of community engagement is appalling. I, along with other community representatives, spent a considerable number of voluntary hours into the development of this document. However, when it came to putting it into practise in relation to the caravan park in Brunswick Heads, nothing could have been further from any adherence to the intention of this document. Mayor Richardson capitulated on Council’s resolutions 9 August 2012 on the contentious operational boundary issue for each of the caravan parks. Instead, he led the outgoing Councillors to backflip on 25 August 2016 and give invaluable foreshore parklands to the NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust. The subsequent legacy of the Greens and Hunter to future generations is a disgrace. The Mayor would argue that the document isn’t yet policy and on that technicality he would be correct. However, he and I are fully aware of the intention of that document and so, in my opinion, in his public position as Mayor, he failed to live up to it.
    So, former Cr Tom Tabart’s parting criticism of the Byron Greens is credible.

  3. Wishing Tom Tabart well in his next stage.

    His letters in the Echo have always been informative and have given us a greater perspective on many issues over the years.

  4. Best wishes to Tom Tabart and commiserations as the old guard of idealistic activists makes way for more boring conservative neo-Greens. Just what the world needs now – another party that puts the $ before the environment, development ahead of community and shows no commitment to Greens ideals of social justice, fairness or equity in regard to affordable housing, paid parking or street camping.
    We’ll miss you Tom though the Victoria Greens will gain a real live super-hero, the founding father who kept the dream alive for 25 years, while poor Byron slips further into decline, just another tawdry playground for the mega rich to trash.


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