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Byron Shire
April 20, 2021

Byron Council’s Greens respond to Ian Cohen’s criticisms

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Byron Greens councillors

Ian Cohen and other activists of his ilk were inspirations and next-generation activists followed their lead. While some of us were successfully resisting the destruction of old-growth forests in Timbarra, Evans Head, and the globally important Dwarf Heathland in Patersons Hill in Byron, Ian had traded in his blockading days for the less photoworthy but crucially important political sphere.

Along with Richard Jones, another local environmentalist-turned-pollie pioneer, and two others, the ‘Gang of Four’ negotiated to conserve tens of thousands of hectares of old growth. That successful negotiation will and should always be honoured.

However, a quick look at the state of our region, country, and planet shows that previous wins happened way too rarely. We cannot simply resist our way to a sustainable or regenerative society and planet. A polarised, adversarial way to making decisions makes winners arrogant and lazy and losers resentful – a vicious cycle and one we need to change.

In response to Ian’s ‘comment’ in The Echo (July 10) Richard Jones wrote, ‘I really don’t share the view that the Greens council has “lost its way”. It’s very hard being in government. It’s quite different from being a protester.

‘Governments at all levels are forced to make unpopular decisions. Some don’t have the courage and fail. As a result we end up with unserviceable deficits. What this council has shown me is that the Greens are now mature enough to govern. They can make tough and unpopular decisions – and I’m not saying I agree with them all. We need to have green governments at all levels to remove these conservatives, on both sides, who are holding Australia back.’

Negotiation needed

Governance is complex and not a position the Greens are used to being in but we are achieving much to be proud of that sits comfortably within our Greens guiding Four Pillars.

One of the pillars is peace and non-violence. Peace is not just the absence of war; it’s empathy and connection to others. In the last term of Council, Simon was imploring two sides of a debate to get out of the trenches and find a way forward, when former Greens councillor Tom Tabart yelled from the gallery, ‘We’re Greens, we belong in the trenches.’ This is what separates current Greens councillors and many previous. Sitting in a trench throwing grenades at the ‘other’ is not peaceful. It’s impossible to move forward and there are no solutions from within a trench, only resistance.

Climate emergency

We agree we are in a climate emergency; we cannot afford to just do what we always have done in the hope of securing marginal and occasional wins. We all need to drop egos and fixed ideologies so we can be open to new and different ideas. We must drop the idea that Greens belong on the sidelines throwing grenades. That doesn’t mean we don’t resist. We continue to resist West Byron, stop rock walls in Belongil; we resisted the Bangalow Food Hub and have stopped or amended many other inappropriate developments.

Listening to people

However, it is true that our focus has changed from a default position of saying No. Just like Damon Gameau in 2040 has perfectly captured, the answers lie in society focusing and enacting possible, positive solutions, which we Greens councillors and so many other progressives are doing in our spheres. That means acknowledging change is before us and understanding we must try and manage it.

Our adherence to grassroots democracy means we Byron Greens councillors do not believe a dozen locals who have had their views promoted for decades are the only voices to which we should listen. They have expertise to share, but so too do many, many others in our community.

We created a community roundtable, bringing the progress associations and community groups together regularly to discuss matters with Council. The citizen jury and community solutions panels foster views from more than just loud voices. The first panel recommended we make infrastructure priorities based firstly around safety for locals and we adopted these recommendations.

For the first time ever, Council is creating a shire-wide drainage program.

As a result we are receiving more feedback and engagement from the breadth of our community in numbers significantly higher than ever before. These initiatives received no acknowledgment from previous Greens representatives. Tellingly, though we are often accused of not listening to our community yet when we do, we’re attacked for not making decisions and leading as we were elected to do.

Ecological impact

Within the pillar of ecological sustainability we’ve drastically reduced use of chemical pesticides and completed the vast bulk of the previous Biodiversity Conservation Strategy. We’re on our way to meeting our emissions-reduction targets before 2025, with solar being installed at all sewage treatment plants, in the Council carpark, and a 5MW solar farm on the horizon.

There’s a new bio-energy facility, an Australian first that will light the way for other councils to follow.

We’ve massively increased the migration paths for our native fish throughout the Brunswick River, and continue not just to resist shark nets but pioneer alternatives.

We’re at the forefront of plastic-reduction initiatives and have implemented green bins that take over 7,000 tonnes out of landfill each year to be used as compost. These initiatives have received no acknowledgment from previous Greens representatives.

Many other sustainable initiatives fall within the Greens pillar of social justice, like working hard to support affordable housing, seeing if we can establish a well-planned, innovative eco-housing and low-cost housing precinct.

We created a sustainable agricultural officer position, supported positions to help our homeless; the rail-corridor feasibility study now shows we could have a light rail shuttle and a bike path – making it potentially the greatest game changer in our Shire’s history. Imagine the benefits of being able to get out of cars, get to our markets in Byron and Bangalow, or to our friends, schools, or workplaces in other towns via light-rail shuttles. We believe this can and will happen soon.

Solutions focused

By focusing on solutions and peacefully working with other levels of government, no matter the colour of their flag, we secured the Mullum hospital site.

We also secured money for the bypass to complete a project 30 years in the making. Far from being ignored, David Milledge’s report was thoroughly addressed point by point during Council’s deliberations and all questions raised by former mayor Jan Barham were put to the biodiversity assessment officer. This can be heard in Part 2 of the audio of Council’s meeting of the 23 May 2019.

We purchased the Education Department land in Suffolk so the community has space to play outside. We’ve taken on Airbnb and the holiday-let lobby and won concessions under the new planning regime from the state government, including obtaining reduced caps on short-term holiday letting (STHL), the only council in NSW to do so. Now Byron hospital belongs to the community too. Worth millions to the government, yet we got it for a dollar along with a $200k grant to help fix it up.

We’ve done more to fix the roads and infrastructure than any previous council, investing over $18.7 million last year and $42.3 million in the 2019/20 year. After decades of neglect, we’ve started the process to bring our infrastructure up to a decent standard.

Most of these achievements would not have occurred without Greens councillors leading the way. Attendance at meetings has always been around 10–20, but we welcome more to come and take part.

There is a place for saying No to an issue; however, there also needs to be a place to say Yes to solutions. We are trying to find a balance. Ian believes we have lost our way. We would contend we’re just focusing on a new way: trying to work with staff, the wider community, state government, with anyone who wants to help find solutions.


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12 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this cogent and we’ll reasoned response. It renews my faith in the idea of a Council that represents all of its constituents and not just the loudest. As you have said – it is just not possible to ‘throw grenades’ AND govern.

  2. Give me a break, Geoff … all very well reasoned out … as they champion a needless and useless project which will continue the extinction so that humans can continue to expand and enjoy quick trips in their autos.

    Not to mention Rural Weddings – much more important than retaining the integrity of our hinterland and its few remaining koalas and other struggling flora and fauna.

    It seems this bunch of Greens is following Adam Bandt and Jenny Leong in championing social causes above environmental ones … not how the Greens of old were able to become a real force in Oz politics.

    When people like Ian Cohen, Jan Barham and myself are attacking the current Greens you KNOW there is something VERY wrong…

  3. Agree with Geoffrey. A Green expansion’s here
    & ‘out there’ everywhere. The 2 big parties
    need to be taken on politically & that includes
    Local, State & Federal governments stuck in
    the past.

  4. Great. Thanks for the explanation team Green. Hope restored. And combining a light rail with a bike trail …..is definitely listening to ALL the community and moving us from self interest divisions to a peaceful, planet friendly, inclusive, accessible to ALL, and mutually beneficial outcome.

  5. Ian deserves the Thanks for his actions in the past , as an activist..

    Whilst making these contributions , Ian was always the ” opposition “. Not, though , the actual formal Opposition. and certainly never as a the ruling Party member. All he could do was to snap at the heals of others in order to influence. Thus he was never in a position to act upon an elected mandate and could only , occasionally , influence decisions.

    He never had to make any decisions as a governing Parliamentary or Council member.

    Times have changed and The Greens are now in a bigger league , having to actually make responsible decisions that concern ALL the residents. Their days of local council protests are over as they cannot actually protest against themselves.. except Ian , of course.

    Times change , Ian.

    • Yes, no governance can please all the people all the time and the old stand-off days of either polarity being unprepared to compromise should be relegated to the past – we’ve had past Mayors resign in abject frustration at the impass in Council where nothing could be achieved.

  6. Can’t say I see this as cogent and well reasoned in the slightest – the first part is couched in such generalities and platitudes it virtually says nothing at all. Far better than continue with all their grandiose ‘big picture’ delusions it would be much more convincing to deal with the concrete examples that have caused so much disillusionment. Just to name a few:

    * Their failure to attempt to hold any line on the expansion at North Byron Parklands
    * Attempting to turn the rail precinct into a three-ringed pop-up circus
    * Overseeing the reclassification of Railway Park from ‘Park’ for who knows what commercialisation of a scarce green recreational space
    * Championing LEP changes to encourage more commercial development of rural land
    * Rejecting any review of the process for the redevelopment of the South Byron Sewerage Treatment Plant and wetlands despite having the obvious pointed out – that the community had been locked out from any information or consultation
    * Needing the conservative JRPP to intervene to maintain the community’s wishes on CBD height restrictions and development
    * Bulldozing (pun intended) a bypass that trampled over the rights of Butler Street residents and ignored obvious alternatives that would be less environmentally destructive, probably much cheaper and much more efficient (eg the rail corridor)

    I’m sure others would add many more.

    Much of what is mentioned as achievements here is laudable but it tends to be non controversial. Not many question the wisdom of drainage and solar car parks. You were all extremely vocal on West Byron but conveniently it was out of your hands.

    It’s in matters where there have been conflicting values and interests that real disillusionment has arisen. Sure conflicting interests need to be balanced but it’s the side to which you tip the scales that really shows the measure of your values and judgement.

    Sorry but many see the citizens jury and community solutions panel as a ridiculously superfluous extra layer of procedure and an expensive smoke screen, designed to deal with the lack of general community trust and satisfaction with Council. The hospital sites are great but don’t wallow in self congratulation; the work and necessary oversight has just begun to create real community benefit from these projects,

    Amongst all the hand wringing about power being hard and everybody being unfair, some self reflection would have been good here and a preparedness perhaps to admit deficiencies and address criticism head on. Discourse that goes beyond evasive and belligerent references to vocal local yokels.

  7. Thank you councillors. In a discussion last night among a number of long term locals who love and care for this region it was raised that there is a ‘Dark Green’ element that is putting at risk the very good intelligent and balanced initiatives that the current council has been putting in place. God forbid we return to the polarised and paralysed council that was a legacy of the Barham/ Cohen stop everything approach. This is a much more balanced inclusive and effective governance model and while I recognise the brave hearts and hard work of The dark greens in raising issues that were ignored by mainstream for too long we really need now to move on to effective action. Richard Jones was spot on and thanks for this thoughtful article which may well fly over the heads of the mudslinging trench warfare greens of yesterday.

  8. The author states that the ‘green’ council is willing to work with anyone who wants to help find solutions, If the reference is to developers from out of town with deep pockets, or artists from out of town who have no feeling whatsoever of what might reflect the sensibilities of the community, I agree completely.

  9. The premise that “..These achievements would not have occurred without Greens Councillors leading the way” is a fallacy and political propaganda. It’s simply nothing more than a “Wolf in Greens clothing.” The brand name ‘Greens’ used to mean something in Byron Shire. Now it’s just another political brand name like the others. Real environmental and community achievement in Byron Shire will only be seen through non-party aligned Independents. You don’t need to vote Greens to be green. Consider the alternatives at the 2020 election and save The Bay from the pretenders.

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