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Byron Shire
October 17, 2021

Cohen: our Greens councillors have lost their way

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Final Tallowood stage up before Byron Council

The world may be in a state of immense turmoil and uncertainty, but at least we can rely on the inexorable forward march of the Tallowood housing development in Mullumbimby.

Former NSW Greens MLC and activist Ian Cohen. Photo Tree Faerie.

Ian Cohen

Times are grim with hip-pocket elections delivering a conservative government, resultant environmental destruction and social dislocation.

As an environmental activist and a founding Greens member going back 40 years I have always been proud of the fact that we Greens have held the line working with organisations like BEACON, BEC, and a culturally dynamic activist community.

We set the pace of environmental protection and global awareness like few other places on the planet.

I was elected in 1995 as the first Greens member of NSW Parliament. Along with activists from NEFA we protected significant forests and vulnerable ecosystems in NSW.  At a local level the first Green, Richard Staples, was elected to Byron Council in 1995 (not forgetting our ‘green pioneer’ Anudhie Wentworth years earlier). Following that our numbers increased and I supported them standing up to NSW government against inappropriate development.

On the local front with a substantial base to start from many held high hopes that the current generation of Greens councillors would hold the positions so stridently worked for over decades.

The Echo reported a vote of 5/5 split on the subject of the bypass at the last local Greens meeting

The Echo reported a vote of 5/5 split on the subject of the bypass at the last local Greens meeting. Unfortunately I could not make that meeting but I asked for a note to be read out which in part stated that if the bypass and other issues were passed by the current Greens councillors I could not support those councillors in the forthcoming Council elections.  That part was not read out.

I can understand in the atmospherics of that meeting it would not have made any difference. It does not dissipate my serious concerns that I have attempted to convey internally and personally with no success to councillors who seemingly believe they have a mandate to make sweeping decisions when in fact they have inherited a trusted ‘Green’ mantle from the efforts of those preceding them.

The Butler St community market operators have been treated with disdain by some councillors. Residents were vilified but had legitimate concerns and still do. The bypass led to a legal case with half a million dollars spent. Was there proper delegation? Was the court process against a community with grievances justified?

The bypass is predicted to divert 15–20 per cent of traffic flow

The bypass is predicted to divert 15–20 per cent of traffic flow. With 320 parking spaces regularly turning over at the Mercato and staff instructed to park across the road in public areas I’d suggest the potential ‘benefit’ of the bypass will just move the congestion farther out and induce more traffic into the system.

Add to this other potential developments like the Woolworths site with its predicted parking increases and any benefit will be short lived.

This is Greens councillors following National Party politics to facilitate development. Like shark nets that do not work. Both are 1960s solutions.

Beware, when the developers have a win it is permanent. When the community has a win it is only safe until the next government and developer onslaught. Isn’t the bypass a ‘swan  song’ of Don Page?

Oh, I forgot the conditional funding from the state. If the road project goes ahead it links the bypass to West Byron, not to mention the potential development on current railway property.

Cr Michael Lyon has made much of the degraded nature of the environment in the proposed bypass route and seemingly ignores the evidence of a leading local environmental scientist

This land should be public for the benefit of the people, multiple transport options, and environment. Cr Michael Lyon has made much of the degraded nature of the environment in the proposed bypass route and seemingly ignores the evidence of a leading local environmental scientist. Then we get the bio-banking argument, which was a mechanism set up by the ALP in 2008 that legislated to allow significant areas to be ‘traded’, supposedly to maintain and improve biodiversity.

In practice it either fails to properly compensate the areas to be destroyed, or is a Clayton’s gesture as the compensatory areas are often under another form of protection.

I described it as the Bio Bashing Bill. It was and still is a method of subverting protection laws to facilitate development and destruction that previous laws did not allow. The fact that it is now being extolled by a Greens council has me turning in my ‘political grave’.

SEPP 14, which once gave significant protection to wetlands in this state, is effectively no more. I expect that of a coalition government but not the Greens in power locally.

This suggests a sad lack of understanding by our elected representatives and supposed environmental custodians

Cr Lyon has raised the issue that the bypass would not lead to the extinction of the endangered Mitchell’s Rainforest snail. The point he seemingly misses is that such a critical category means that any ecosystem threatened is of significance to the survival of that particular species as it is in danger of becoming extinct by a ‘thousand cuts’. He has, perhaps inadvertently, misconstrued the viability of an important species under our watch. It suggests a sad lack of understanding by our elected representatives and supposed environmental custodians.

Added to that is the mayor’s sweeping statement via a mayoral minute that he has instructed staff to go above and beyond protection requirements in the construction process. As if staff and the construction team are likely to take any notice once the bulldozers roll in.

Regarding the Ewingsdale roundabout sculpture, why do our elected members seemingly have more sympathy for the artist than the community that has to wear the aluminium edifice? When I was in Parliament aluminium smelters used over 20 per cent of NSW’s power capacity purchased at a significantly reduced price. I couldn’t think of a more inappropriate material.

Did BSC follow their own guidelines for the project or did they miss community consultation prior to approval?

Decommission the Tinsel Town representation of reeling gulls and lighthouse

Decommission the Tinsel Town representation of reeling gulls and lighthouse. Or, how about a win-win? Sell the birds separately and fit the ‘bare bones’ with a toll camera. Everyone not registered as a resident of Byron Shire ‘pays to play’ with all funds hypothecated to road repairs and a few rangers.

If certain visitors are not happy they can take the existing bypass, the Pacific Highway.

Other offerings were rejected, specifically, a corten rusted pandanus tree by a local artist at a modest cost in keeping with budget capacity and more in line with community sensitivities. We need to ask why?

The mayor extolled the virtues of a green building design with the Mercato only to deliver watered down ‘Green Aspirations’ and a building more in keeping with the Gold Coast. Has anyone noticed the traffic danger of cars pouring out of the complex as cars reverse out on the other side of Jonson St?  Someone please explain to me how the building adds to the cultural streetscape with the restaurant above looking more like a Mexican bordello?

Byron Council passed a motion years ago to ban backlit neon signs on buildings in the Byron CBD. The current rules define them as undesirable but that is now ignored at Mercato and will probably act as a precedent for the proposal next door.

Essence of Byron is the next monstrosity to come to town and deserves strident opposition and submissions

Essence of Byron is the next monstrosity to come to town and deserves strident opposition and submissions to the Northern Regional Planning Panel.

The arrogance of the name alone should be sufficient to ring alarm bells for anyone with the concept of a tourist destination with an enticing difference.

On current track record we seem to get a better hearing from this state government appointed body than our local council.    

The litany of poor responses from our Greens representatives continues from Council-induced fish kills to plans for a dog-friendly caravan park in Suffolk Park on the doorstep of one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in Australia.

A mayoral response recently quoted to Cr Cameron said ‘You can’t wish the problem away’. It sounds so much like the mantra of the conservatives of yesteryear: ‘You can’t stop progress’.

Sadly the current locally elected Greens seem to have forgotten the core green principle of protecting biodiversity as a priority.

We as a community shall see.

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  1. Mr Cohen forgot to acknowledge my proposal (Letters, The Echo 18 June 2015) for a toll but his christian name doesn’t start with an I for nothing.

    • Tony,
      In psychology all motivation for all people starts with “I”.
      Motivation is selfish for all human beings and that is why we are stuffing up the planet. After we are born we all want five very important needs. These are called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. and they come in Five steps and when we gain the needs we take away from the planet and there are 7.5 billion of us.
      Step 1 is Physiological needs of air, food, water and sex.
      Step 2 is Safety needs to have cover from the weather and to be sheltered from danger and cold and heat. Step 3 is Belongingness and Love needs, grouping together, to communicate and to get on with each other. Step 3 is Esteem needs totally selfish in gaining knowledge and learning and developing our minds.
      Step 5 is to put all what we have learned together to contribute to our fellow man and to teach other what we have learned.
      All that in a lifetime for one person can cost millions of dollars. Multiply that by 7.5 billion and we are depleting the planet fast.
      That is what the Butler Street Bypass is short-sighted expediency.

  2. Well done, Ian, and great to see someone with the balls to stand up to the young’ns in the Party that seem to think they know it all.

    These Councillors don’t realise that us old hands have done this before, seen this happen before.

    We are facing an extinction crisis on this planet at the hands of stupid humans … and you Greens think a by-pass matters a shit in the big scheme of things ?

    I’d expect conservative politicians to talk like the Mayor and Michael Lyon, but supposedly enviro-aware Greens?

    You’ve lost the plot!

  3. Were this crop of “green” counsellors ever committed to anything, or was it a convenience to get political power? There are only two possible explanations for the shitshow we find ourselves in – corruption or incompetence. Either way, they have breached the trust of those who elected them.

  4. Yep, Ian is right on with his comments, the by pass is a structure for 100 per cent eco destruction,

    How any person purporting to be green could sanction the obliteration of wetland and rare coastal rainforest,

    Sadly at least the labour and nats are at least honest about where they stand,

    Community stand up to these liars and hypocrites, blockade and protest the bypass, the people have the power, use it,

  5. Well said Ian. What a disgrace to see so-called Greens supporting this egregious development. I’ll put a lot of the blame on De Natale trying to move the Greens to the mainstream and supporting right wing ratbags like Jeremy Buckinhgham. Even Bob Brown has los the plot and fully supports De Natale. Greens aren’t the party I’ve been supporting for 30 years.

  6. Fear is in the air and those frozen faces of Labor voters and the lower classes stare as they can’t recognise modern Labor today of what they loved in yesterday in the free flowing fraternising of Hawke and Keating. And so those burgeoning beings on the left wing that were once a union, fly in the face of the May 18 election and in their unfettered nervousness they threw their vote away, away to the west in their piddling unrest at the ballot box and did not vote Labor. They did not vote for Freedom.
    But there are others. There are others here among us, and they are good local men and true. Ian. Cohan, do you know him, for he is an environmental activist and an active Greens member always on the hustings working hard going back more than 40 years he has been toiling for green aims and the targets. He with broad shoulders rustles up some mongrel in the crowd now and again around the town here and over there again for he puts his foot in the right direction in looking after the planet. The tree has many branches when it comes to greens. When there is a line in the sand Ian Cohan works with an activist community in the thick of things with BEACON and with BEC. He is the beacon on the hill in Byron.

  7. I’m so tired of the so called Greens, trying to stop advancement. You all use electricity. You all wear clothes and footwear. You use refrigeration and transport. And yet you try your hardest to stop the means by which all these things are manufactured.
    We cant go back to living in caves and wearing loincloths.

  8. Well said Ian, Byron is being trashed on so many levels… fortunately the residents @ Suffolk Park caravan park with Jan’s help had the ‘dog friendly’ ie wildlife killing, decision turned around.. its safe again for all the wildlife we love having around us.

  9. I have always voted Green. I read, in Ian’s article, matters I hope for. I lived here when Anudhi and co were working so very hard to protect our environment. It was a one-in-all-in approach with The Echo our mouthpiece. Times have changed but the environment MUST come first. What saddens me is this. I detect a systemic attack. Like an autoimmune disease, this article and the vehicle (The Echo) are attacking the Mother. We can call out the decisions that could be more green. But I think we need also to look at the entities that are compromising, rather than encouraging or educating. The Echo hasn’t published many of the positive things council have delivered. I used to crave opening the pages but today it doesn’t have the same attraction. I wonder what The founders would feel seeing the paper turn against a hardworking, authentic, caring Green Council. It used to use humour as a weapon. Now it’s judgment. I can’t not speak up for good people who intend to be and do the best that they can. It’s not perfect but what is the alternative? Think about that question. Take as long as you like.

  10. Everyone needs a for-real true grass-roots
    Green Council with guts & foresight. Sit on
    that thought a while. A ‘clayton’s clan’ is
    NOT Green.

  11. The rot really seems to have set in for the elected Greens on Byron SC since the Wanchop scandal.
    Although not a resident of Byron, I have followed with great hope the rise of the Greens party there at the local level. But now, with a majority on Council, the Greens councillors sound and behave like LibLabNat politicians!
    As a long-time strident and active supporter of the Greens who saw them as offering a more equitable way of democratically governing ourselves, this is a terrible disappointment. Seems no less than a prime example of Orwellian pigs that learned to walk on two legs.
    Suggest that any voter who considers themself of the “left” takes a good hard look at the Socialist Alliance party as the only genuine electoral alternative remaining to fight back against authoritarianism, societal collapse and mass extinction (including most humans). And it grieves me immensely to have to write that.

  12. I don’t know you, Mr Ian Cohan.
    But your speech sucks.
    I live here for over 20 years and raised two children in the Shire. We never saw so many good changes for the general population in this area, as we did with the Greens.

    No party is perfect.
    Its up to us to support them.
    Bad rumours don’t help.

    I also worked as Volunteer for the council. And based on my experience, I have to desagree with you.

    I don’t think you for instance, would keep any position in the Byron Shire Council for over a month.
    It’s one thing to fight for a cause within a position in government and a completely different task to move crouds for a fair cause, outside the historical political structure of the local Byron Shire Council.
    Either join the table, or do something constructive to support the party.
    There are no other ways about it you know that.
    Shame on you. I looks as you have lost your own touch with how much more aggressive are the roots and rules of infrastructure versus budgeting.
    If you think that if we loose our Green seat in the Shire you will more transparency and less incompetence you have gone seriously delusional.

    • You obviously don’t know Ian. He has been involved as an important voice on many green votes that have saved lands, forest and species for years as a member of the Greens NSW Parliament. He worked with our resident group in Coffs while I lived there between my life here and we saved vital Creek land from 70 houses being developed.His voice needs to be listened to loud and clear, if we are not to become an extension of the Gold Coast. Mercato did NOT Adhere to any of its Environmental standards and is oversize and ugly. It is build for profit with NO sufficient traffic or parking infrastructure. You may have been here for 20 years but you don’t know the history prior to then, nor what the ethical, environmental SUSTAINABLE precepts we choose to live by. How can you reject what Ian has written, when it’s clearly based on sound scientific facts, Community motivated, snd wanting a sustainable environment that we have fought for since the 70’s.

      • Well, either you didn’t understand what I said, or you think people should just create division within the Green Party.
        If that’s what Ian really wanted you just spported that division.
        So what’s so clever about that again?

  13. Do the Right Thing!!!!
    Compost A Greenie Every Day and Get some Common Sense Back Into Everything.

  14. I visited Byron in may from Brisbane, i was shocked at sll the pot holes arond the town. Byton seems to have gone backwards plus thr toen looked very shabby.

  15. I fully agree with you Ian. This is NOT a Greens Council. Michael Lyon was full of his own arrogance while he subbed as Mayor and had no ability to make the right decisions… Mercato is a monumental disaster and the Hotel will be a another death knell. Submission done and Councillor Cate Coorey stands against it with the BRG.
    Bio-banking is exactly as you say as well. It’s now legislated to successfully take endangered species over the edge to extinction.

  16. Naive Councillors mugged by Developers empty promises and nice architects streetscape impressions could explain many of the decisions including the Byron masterplan. Poor taste and no artistic flair could also explain the Disco Dong council decision. Lack of common sense could explain the bypass decision when less destructive options were available.
    All considered, I doubt I will bother to vote Green ever again, it couldn’t be any worse with the other mobs I refuse to vote for.

  17. Could it be possible that we ‘greens’ have a lot more in common than divides us, and to throw the baby out with the bath water just plays into vested interests hands?
    Our Green dominated Council is still a long way from being LNP styled. Sure, there are plenty of high-profile glitches…
    I would much prefer to see the old Rail Line used for the bypass, and dont really see why if all are in agreement, that this cant still be done before launching into the wetland.
    I agree that every bit of natural habitat lost is a bit too much. The ‘bio-banking’ offset could be better explained. And with the Bypass in place, the centre of town can become a lot more pedestrian friendly.
    I am sure there will be plenty of positives coming from the extra route past town, especially in emergencies.
    Lets be more tolerant and respectful, and realise that once you are in Council, you are not just a ‘Green’, you are a manager for the whole Shire – a big difference!


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