A limousine delivering NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian to a media conference in Byron Bay on Tuesday (August 21) had to pass through a barrage of West Byron protesters.
This reporter was not so lucky, being blocked by police until eventually escorted into the conference by organisers.
The brouhaha was ostensibly to launch Enova Energy’s microgrid in the Byron Arts & Industry Estate but it also coincided with the bid by Northern NSW parliamentary secretary Ben Franklin (Nationals) to contest the state seat of Ballina at the next election.
As soon as the launch was over, the premier was peppered with a range of questions, from West Byron, koala habitat and rental affordability to her position on the challenge to PM Malcolm Turnbull.
Most she managed to carefully sidestep but there was one point on which she was clear: she believed sitting Ballina MP Tamara Smith (Greens) has been ‘ineffectual’ in the role, meanwhile lavishing praise on Mr Franklin who was standing beside her.
The premier also revealed she did not believe the West Byron development would go ahead as currently planned, attempting to sheet home the blame for its approval to the former Keneally government.
‘I appreciate the concerns about the West Byron Bay development, that’s unfortunately been an ongoing issue for many years. I understand the independent planning process will now seek resolution of that matter,’ she said.
‘I completely support the community’s concerns, as does my parliamentary colleague [Ben Franklin] about over-development. There’s no doubt the scale of that development is beyond what the community’s expectations are and I’m always very active in speaking up against things that I see are too big to impose on the community – and think that is one of them.
‘I’m very pleased to say that when these concerns have been raised in other parts of the state, the independent planning process has actually put a stop to these major overdevelopments.’
Bed tax ruled out
Responding to a question from BayFM presenter Jim Beatson on bed taxes, premier Berejiklian said she had had ‘a fantastic discussion with your mayor about those issues of… short-term accommodation and rental accommodation’.
‘Obviously the locals need to be supported, especially during those times of the year when many tourists come to Byron but you need that right balance.
‘We discussed some really positive opportunities today, which both Ben and myself will be taking forward.
‘There are lots of other opportunities instead of putting a tax on people,’ she said.
Asked about how she felt going into the state election in the shadow of a federal leadership spill, the premier said, ‘what we need to do as a government is always focus on our citizens’.
‘I think the office of prime minister generally speaking is one that has diminished over the last decade. Nobody wants to see a constant change of leadership. It does concern me and disappoint me – and I think that’s a community sentiment.’
But the premier stopped short of stating her support for Malcolm Turnbull, saying only, ‘I always defer those matters to our federal colleagues. It’s not for me to add to the commentary.’
Seat of Ballina
When asked what she thought the chances were of wresting the seat of Ballina back from Greens incumbent Tamara Smith, she said, ‘I think what communities want is strong and stable leadership, and I know that local members who are active… who advocate on behalf of their communities, actually receive things for their communities.’
Ms Smith, she said, had been ‘ineffectual’ in the role adding she thought Mr Franklin would be a far better representative.
‘When you talk about Ballina and Byron, and when you talk about potholes and other infrastructure issues that need to be addressed, none of that can be achieved unless you have a strong government,’ the premier said.