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Byron Shire
January 27, 2022

Tweed Greens campaign launch ‘Keeping Tweed Green’

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Julianne Sandison, Dr Nola Firth, Cr Katie Milne, Bill Fenelon, Joanna Gardner. Photo supplied

Protecting koala habitat, action on climate change, social justice and political transparency are some of the key elements to the Tweed Shire Greens ‘Keeping Tweed Green’ campaign that they are launching on 11 July. 

Former Mayor and long term councillor Katie Milne is stepping down and throwing her support behind Murwillumbah local Dr Nola Firth and her team. 

Lead candidate Dr Smith says she’s truly honoured and privileged to be taking over from Cr Milne, ‘Katie always stood up for the community and she has a deep love and understanding of our absolute dependence on a healthy environment’.

The Greens point out in their press release that ‘During her impressive 13-year tenure Cr Milne proposed over 400 initiatives including declaring a Climate Emergency and setting targets of zero carbon by 2030 and zero waste, steering the work of Council in a more sustainable direction. She also instigated Council’s economic development strategy, a sustainability review of water security and supply strategies, and stopped new water mining activities.’

Tweed Shire Council Greens candidates for 2021 Julianne Sandison, Dr Nola Firth, Bill Fenelon, Joanna Gardner. Photo supplied

Dr Nola Firth is the founder of Hospital Hill Landcare in Murwillumbah and an active member of the Caldera Environment Centre. She vows to ‘improve restoration of biodiversity in our internationally significant environment including water retention and soil regeneration initiatives and enhancing koala protection as well as greening and cooling of urban areas’.  

Long-time Tweed resident Julianne Sandison is also on the ticket. Holding a Masters of Environmental Advocacy from the University of New England, she’s a ‘fierce and ethical advocate for the environment, addressing climate change and upholding civil liberties and human rights including support for refugees and the disadvantaged’.

Joanna Gardner who’s called the Shire home for more than forty years, ‘values our unique biodiversity’ and strongly opposes Gold Coast style development in the Tweed.

‘I will promote climate-friendly sustainable solutions such as water management including dams, droughts and address issues around water mining/extraction’, she said.

With a Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, registered nurse Angie Gittus is an active and highly respected pillar of the community. Her dedicated pedagogical and first-hand medical experience working with vulnerable climate impacted communities across the Pacific, has equipped her with the compassion, insight and experience so sorely needed in council.

Master mariner and active community member Bill Fenelon has thrown his hat into the ring too. ‘I support public transport, bicycle paths, affordable housing and strong climate action’, he says. He also endorses the key principals of the Greens party such as ecological wisdom, participatory democracy, social justice, nonviolence and respect for diversity.

‘We have the exciting opportunity and imperative to transform the challenges of climate change into economic and social benefit for all. We can create many new jobs by supporting industries such as renewable energy and recycling, greening urban areas, regenerating rural lands and restoring bushland and waterways. Improving foot and bicycle paths, and advocating for better public transport and affordable housing will also be part of my vision’, Dr Nola Firth said.

Campaign launch

The campaign launch will take place on 11 July from 3–5pm at the Sheoak Shack Gallery Café in Fingal Head.The event is free entry and COVID safe so everyone needs to book a ticket. Food and beverages will be available at the bar. For more information and to register go The Greens social media page.

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  1. Interesting that there is not a single mention of one of the currently hottest issues in Tweed, the conflict between building the Tweed Valley Rail Trail on the old railway formation versus those who want to keep the tracks just in case trains somehow return. The words “train” or “railway” don’t appear even once, instead using euphemisms like “support public transport”. It appears they don’t want this position discussed by the electorate, hoping they can spring it on us after the election.

    Greens party policy is for the restoration of abandoned regional railways no matter how inappropriately located and decrepit the lines may be. Of course as a minor party, this dream will never be fulfilled because all major parties agree that the funding required would be an indulgence for the benefit of a tiny minority. Regardless, Katie Milne always fought hard against the rail trail despite the majority of the council supporting it. Bill Fenelon is also a long time Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT) executive so there is no doubt where he is coming from.

    If this team gets in control of Tweed we can kiss goodbye to the rail trail project while they start squandering a fortune on the same kind of nonsense Byron Council is pursuing with their Dual Use plans to run converted mini-buses and yet to be developed Very Light Rail vehicles on the old line. The reality of such a plan is that the costs of resurrecting the old line and replacing the dozens of wooden trestle bridges to a safety standard where their use would be permitted would be prohibitive. We would end up with nothing. Byron has achieve zero towards their project, not even clearing the tracks of vegetation, since they spent $300K on an “exploratory” report that made very little sense. Despite no prospect for funding, their next step is to spend $200K on a “digital assessment” of the “unknown number” of decaying wooden bridges on the line to Mullumbimby. Like the clearing, this has not gone ahead because they have no funds available.

    Further delays in the Tweed Valley Rail Trail project will mean further deterioration of what can be salvaged of the old bridges, including the four that are heritage listed along the line in Tweed. The $16 million funding agreements secured with the State and Federal government will lapse, leaving Tweed Council about a million dollars in debt for the work already done towards the trail. Add to that the compensation payable to the company who has been awarded the $12 million contract to build the trail.

    I’ve voted Greens all my life but no longer can, not just because of their opposition to the trail but because they are clearly incapable of comprehending reality, preferring their illogical dogma. People with futile pipe dreams have no place in government.

  2. The Greens have gone very quiet about the train reinstatement leading up to the local elections , surprise surprise!
    In the 1990s the train took 34 minutes from Murwillumbah to Burringbar a distance of 18km and almost another hour to reach Bangalow.
    The CountryLink bus takes 13 minutes from Murwillumbah to Burringbar.
    The Greens seem to have a huge dislike to travelling on buses even though they can pick up workers and the elderly from almost their front door and drop them very close to their intended destination, something that a train can never do.
    Yes the Greens prefer keeping workers in cars by pushing for slow romantic train rides

  3. In my haste to post during my lunch break I wrote that Byron’s proposed expenditure of $200K was to assess the “unknown number” of bridges between Bayshore Drive and Mullumbimby. In fact the $200K was allocated to “digitally assess” just seven of the them. Trail researchers have literally crawled under the dense vegetation along the line finding something like 27 bridges (if I remember correctly). These bridges were all in advanced states of decay. How much would it cost to repair all of them if it costs $200K just to assess the condition of seven? Who is going to pay?

    Any attempt to run any kind of tram or train on the tracks between Murwillumbah and Byron would involve countless millions of dollars more in consultant reports taking years before a single action towards actually doing anything. Meanwhile the steel railway bridge across the Brunswick River that has not had any maintenance in a decade will have corroded away and fallen into the river. Given its proximity to the ocean it may already be beyond recovery. Without that bridge it would game over for a railway from Murwillumbah to Byron.

    Rail advocates should stop trying to hoard the entire corridor and focus their attention on getting something that might actually be plausible, like running the Byron Solar Train to Mullumbimby. Even that would be a monumental achievement. Operating a railway of any kind on the fifty kilometres of line all the way to Murwillumbah is utter nonsense, yet that is the dream Tweed electors would be signing up for by voting Greens in the council election.

    The only way the Greens will stop with their rhetoric will be by making it clear at the polling booth that they need to refocus on reality. The September election is only for a three year term rather than the usual four. It is the best opportunity Green voters will have to send them a message for a very long time.

  4. As your Tweed Greens Councillor and having seen the tenders, all I can say is that there is no physical or financial impediments identified ‘at this stage’ to saving the tracks, and pursuing an Off Formation Rail Trail, delivered on time and in budget.

    A lead planner of the Brisbane Valley and Ipswich Rail Trail highly recommended Council pursue an Off Formation option. He advised that keeping the rail ‘furniture’ intact, eg the tracks, stations, signals etc is considered a superior Rail Trail product. This is because rail trailers prefer a trail that has interesting and diverse experiences, and they factor this into their destination choices.

    Why lose such magnificent track infrastructure when there is a perfectly good / better option? Even if light rail / trams prove unviable we would be losing value added opportunities for other uses of the track such as electric handcars and railbikes etc etc.

    Those wanting to rip up the tracks have never explained why they are so opposed to an Off Formation Trail except their unevidenced claims of increased cost . Even the pleas from around 200 Murwillumbah business owners and 2,000 other petitions for the Off Formation option were ignored by the Conservative and Labor Councillors.

    The Rail Trail debate did seem over once the vote was lost at the June Council meeting but with a new Council election just 2 months away, there is one last precious chance to save the railway tracks ….and have a more authentic rail trail.

    • Cr Milne uses careful wording. “no physical or financial impediments identified ‘at this stage’ “.

      ‘At this stage’ because, in a detail ignored by rail advocates’ claims of “in budget”, the only tender for off formation included a disclaimer component for “uncosted earthworks” involved in building a second formation, particularly in the extremely difficult terrain through the Burringbar Range where the formation is up to six metres high. It also requires extensive soil testing to determine how much foundation at yet undetermined cost would need to be built to support the trail. We know that the formation could support a train so there is no question with the on formation design.

      It also doesn’t consider that the formation is not neatly on one side of the corridor allowing for a trail to be built beside it. The trail would inevitably either have to repeatedly cross the track to the side where space might be available or require the compulsory acquisition and purchase of adjacent land at huge expense well beyond the available budget.

      Electric handcars and rail bikes do not represent a practical option on a single line where there would be no opportunity for overtaking or passing. Moreover, rail bike facilities around the world rarely exceed length of ten kilometres and still cost at least $60 per person for a couple of hours at most. There is no prospect of using extensive sections of the line for such a facility and no solid proposals to do so. I even contacted the proprietor of a rail bike facility concerning the potential of using rail bikes in Burringbar where the trail could be built next to the formation. He stopped responding after a few messages.

      Suggestions of trams, rail bikes or anything else using the track lack credibility. There are no business plans, no comparable precedents to demonstrate the viability and most importantly no prospective financing of the high risk venture capital involved investing millions of dollars on infrastructure that is not owned by the investor and cannot be liquidated in the event of the business not succeeding. Rail proponents are asking that the trail design be compromised just-in-case some billionaire philanthropist comes along.

      Rail trails support the use of readily available equipment that many people already own or could easily buy or hire at very little cost. Bicycles on a path are not beset by intractable problems of passing and overtaking or the cost of highly specialised machines built to run on a line. Moreover they can bypass the missing bridges and be ridden straight off the trail through the towns and villages or anywhere else we would like the riders would to go and spend their money in the region. Also don’t forget that about thirty percent of use users at other trails complete their journey on foot.

      One of the harshest criticisms of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail is the very poor accessibility of the low level crossings where the users must negotiate difficult terrain coming up to and down from the formation. Tweed designers have had the insight to realise a highly accessible trail will be a key factor in attracting users, particularly when Tweed’s population includes so many older people. To this end they sought and received funding to repair and reuse about half of the bridges in the original build. Further funds are to be sought over time to upgrade more crossings until the Tweed Valley Rail Trail becomes a model for accessibility across the world. This includes four heritage listed bridges which can only be reconstructed, not replaced. BVRT received a $3.2 million heritage grant to rebuild the magnificent Lockyer Creek bridge which is now a centrepiece of their trail. It grant was also great injection into their economy.

      The other criticism at BVRT is the lack of original railway paraphernalia because the railway was totally demolished when it closed decades ago. Our trail will retain all of the signals, signs, stations and up to twenty percent of the tracks in the places where the decision has been to build off formation. More than enough to satisfy the visitors that it is indeed a “rail” trail. This is a second factor that will make our trail one of the most successful in the world.

      But it won’t be a success if we compromise the accessibility and maintainability by pandering to a futile dream that trains will someday return. Lets just get on and build the very best rail trail that we can and fulfil the vision of the designers to make it accessible for everyone. A fully funded sixteen million dollar opportunity does not come along very often. We won’t get a second chance at this if we make the mistake of compromising the trail for the sake of the pipe dreams of a misinformed minority.


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