No real future in duplicity

With the Newcastle by-election out of the way – where more than one in five voters didn’t vote – it is clear a large segment of the community still doesn’t accept the Liberal Party’s tokenistic ‘‘act of atonement’’ as a means to purge itself of shameless cronyism and bribery, yet remain rightly sceptical about whether or not the Labor Party has shed its culture of self-serving opportunism and corruption.

Representatives from both the major political parties will continue to squabble about mandates in relation to matters affecting residents but the reality is the  conflict has not been between the two major political parties. Rather it’s the war both sides have waged against ordinary citizens over many years, rendering them powerless, without influence on policy and unable to participate in any meaningful way. Sadly, grassroots wilt has set in.

In 2011 Meredith Burgmann – an admirable member of the Labor Party – wrote about the 1970s green bans in Sydney that were prompted by ‘‘a massive building boom caused by unregulated overseas investment pouring into Sydney’’. She noted, ‘‘Union green bans saved The Rocks and Woolloomooloo from being turned into a forest of high rise ‘executive suites’; they saved Glebe from being trifurcated by two major expressways; saved Centennial Park from being turned into a giant sporting complex; saved Victoria Street, Kings Cross from destruction; saved Surry Hills from high rise; saved Ultimo from an expressway and saved the Opera House fig trees from becoming a car park. Individual buildings saved by green bans include the State Theatre, the Pitt Street Congregational Church, and the Colonial Mutual, National Mutual and ANZ bank buildings in Martin Place. Bans also saved historic buildings in Bathurst, Wollongong and Newcastle.’’

Jack Mundey,  the leader of the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation, said a cabinet minister and chief developer in the Woolloomooloo area attempted to bribe him. Fortunately for the generations that have followed, he wasn’t a paid politician and had the strength of character to resist. Today only the ignorant and aesthetically challenged would label Mr Mundey and people like him as ‘‘anti-progress’’ as opposed to visionary.

More than 40 years later the federation’s courageous legacy continues in Newcastle heartland. The battle to save the Laman Street figs was fought and lost.  Activism against the truncation of the rail line at Wickham on Boxing Day continues with direct action now being proposed as a last resort. The Newcastle Inner City Residents Alliance has formed to defend the existing 24 metre height limits. And the Stockton Centre is set to close  because “people with a disability should be living in more home-like accommodation with greater access to their local community”, conveniently sidestepping the inconvenient truth – as one reliable source who worked on the proposal told me – that in 2008 the land was earmarked for housing. Perhaps GPT may be able to shed some light on this?

Hugh Thomson, campaign manager to former MP Tim Owen, revealed in an email to Mr Owen on  September 22, 2010 the degree of rent-seeking that has been taking place in Newcastle. He said, ‘‘Another issue for you to be mindful of, though not a policy, is planning difficulties.  Simply because they’re loyal liberal supporters, it’s worth bearing in mind that our developer friends (both big and small) have immense trouble with ‘government agency integration’.’’

And if young people voted or mattered more than developer or business interests, Mr Thomson may have been less inclined to point out in that same email that ‘‘…Irrespective of people’s views on the railway between Wickham and Newcastle, with less than 4per cent of Novocastrians (excluding 16-19 year olds) using public transport, clearly what we have at the moment is not meeting the public’s needs …’’

What’s not meeting the public’s needs at the moment are political parties that form cabals with certain developers and business groups to further their interests at the expense of the community.

 Their long campaign to cut the rail line may eventually succeed, notwithstanding community opposition and the illusory ‘‘public consultations’’ and calls for submissions  made not an iota of difference to what was a foregone conclusion.

So a vast amount of public money will be spent ripping up public infrastructure that once removed can never be replaced, and the primary beneficiaries will be the financial profiteers.  The rest of the Newcastle and Hunter community will be left to chug up and down Hunter Street in buses instead of having a four minute train ride from Wickham to Newcastle.  And so will the tourists and international visitors Newcastle Council is trying to promote: the general manager’s newsletter sent out with your last rate notice confirms that aim but doesn’t refer to the railway into Newcastle being cut just weeks before the Asian Cup games are held. What impeccable planning.

The misconduct and lies of our elected representatives revealed in the recent ICAC hearings is just the tip of the iceberg.  As a community we don’t want our city’s  future dictated by self-interested ‘‘businessmen’’ and their political cronies and sold  on to us as a con job.

We want decisions made on the basis of what’s truly best for the people of Newcastle and we know that better than anyone.

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