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Gladys to make NSW great! (or “bugger the koala, give me a martini”)

By David C. Paull   

After her calls to “make New South Wales great”, it was a very telling move by the newly elected Premier of NSW, Gladys Berejiklian to remove two departments (or offices) and place their functions entirely under two new ‘super-departments’. Effectively there are only eight departments now in NSW, a remarkable concentration of power by any Australian standard. And no hint at all that this priority move was on the books prior to the recent election, given the surprise shown my departmental managers and staff.

Uncertainty still clouds the implications of subsuming a government department under a consent authority umbrella with senior and junior ministers, though the chain of authority would indicate the new environment and energy minister Kean would be without an independent voice and would more likely have to toe the line when it came to development approvals.

This is pertinent with a number of high-profile mining and gas approvals poised for approval or rejection in NSW currently before the Department of Planning, now re-named the Department of Planning and Industry. This new amalgam of ministerial interest, bringing together potentially conflicting pieces of legislation, is what the Berejiklian Government means when it says it is ‘streamlining’ or making things more ‘efficient’. But if considered with the history of legislative and policy reforms over the last eight years, particularly in relation to the environment, planning and development, these things have been said before. The Office of Environment and Heritage is a large department containing the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). But this agency has been subject to repeated funding and staffing cutbacks over the last eight years such that the total budget has decreased by $80 million in two consequent budgets by the Baird Government.

As such the capacity of the NPWS to properly manage its current estate has been compromised, leaving open a number of private operators to start making a few bucks. Leaving the environmental managers short-staffed is a tactic which results in the agency open to more criticism for being poor managers, and so the cycle continues.

But the NSW Planning department specialises in legislative and policy hocus pocus in order to roll out the mining and housing development with the general intent to increase approval turnaround speed and reduce issues.

A crucial moment in the development approval process in NSW was the Warkworth Coal Mine Expansion, which was knocked back in the Land and Environment Court for a variety of social and environmental reasons, with the local endangered community a key issue. The NSW Government’s response was swift, to deprive the public of ‘merit appeal rights’ in the court by the establishment of a supposed ‘independent planning commission’ which would hear the merits of any major project provided there was enough objectors. ‘Independent’ of course but still under the same Planning Minister. Several iterations since the commission was first established has seen the scope and recourse for public input reduced. This is still the case in NSW.

Another bold move by the Planning Minister of the time was to put economic considerations clearly above social and environmental ones when considering development applications. However the howl of indignation, from the public and commentators saw this policy eventually rescinded. In fact, there are other ways to manage the environmental issues for any project, particularly for mining, being so intrusive in the environment.

  • Development of an offset policy which would not deliver improved outcomes but provide something a bucket developer could throw money at;
  • Legislative, administrative and policy flux through a series of new guidelines and rules and organisation re-structures in the environment area over the last eight years. Gladys recently announced.

Of course, the Berejiklian Government has substantially changed the environmental laws in NSW in a significant overhaul in 2016, dropping the Threatened Species Conservation Act and the Native Vegetation Act resulting in much weaker assessment and environmental protection powers on private land in particular, with a massive expansion of the self-assessment system and clearing loopholes. This is all at a time of course of serious declining biodiversity and land condition across the state.

An issue Planning has spent some time on is how to bring the triple bottom line components (environmental, social and economic) together into one measure of relative value. In theory, this would add robustness to the approval process and make them less susceptible to legal challenge. However the method adopted was the use of ‘choice modelling’, a type of cost-benefit analysis where, rather than ascribe an intrinsic value to a matter, say a particular creek, in terms of environmental services it provides, this method gives a dollar value only to public perceptions of environmental and social outcomes. Perceptions obtained by the use of community surveys.

Offset policies have been a failure in terms of delivering real environmental gains, as this has never been substantiated. It is the general consensus within the scientific community that rather than delivering good outcomes, offsets have only been successful at turning public perceptions to one of acceptance for significant environmental loss.

The pattern however seems to be clear, reduce accountability for environmental impacts and any legal recourse the public may have. One has to ask the question, is the government gearing up for an onslaught of unpopular development? New onerous changes to trespass laws have also been flagged by the Liberals, another worrying sign of impending social turmoil.

But is this really a war on the environment? To do so would imply a co-ordinated and substantial effort over many years, something ingrained in the culture that would allow such deliberate obfuscation of their public responsibility. Recent whistle-blower resignations have rocked the Planning Department and points to the fact that all is not well in the Department. Despite calls for the department to be investigated for some of its dodgier approvals which have surfaced, there is nothing in the recent announcement of this significant restructure in the bureaucracy by Gladys to suggest that anything will be scrutinised.

As whistle-blower revelations have suggested, there is a lot to hide. From my own dealings with the Planning bureaucracy there were certainly individuals who seem to have been taken with the idea that the aim of planning is to ignore and white-wash impacts and consideration of the environment as much as possible. As a regulatory officer with OEH (2013-15), a source of contention which kept being raised to me more than any other were threatened species and ecological communities, as one Director in the Planning Department, said to me at a meeting with Glencore over their Bulga Coal Mine approval; “endangered communities, they don’t matter that much do they?”

Well, apart from being enshrined in legislation, these things certainly do bother the hell out of mining executives. I remember one mining exec telling me he would like to ‘gauge the eyes out’ of an ornithologist for having the temerity to report seeing a couple of Regent Honeyeaters (Money-eaters as he called them) on his mining lease. This complete disrespect for the environment (and our human rights as a consequence) is not pretty to encounter first hand, but even less pretty seeing it reflected in the dealings of the public consent authority.

Another way of understanding this issue is the fact that the approach in NSW (and Australia more generally) of reducing the operation, size, power and effectiveness of that part of the bureaucracy dealing with the environment, has also been undertaken by the Australian Government with a 30% reduction in the federal department work force and a privatisation its functions, and also the US Government with significant repeal and winding back of important environmental protections and functions since the Trump presidency began. Co-incidence?

It is more likely that these patterns reflect a growing ‘libertarian’ or ‘neo-conservative’ trend in some western democracies, one that advocates for less government, less regulation, less taxation and less democracy. The taxation objective they have achieved with the biggest corporates paying no or little net tax today. But it is the twilight years for the fossil fuel sector, and this is the end game, however they’re not ready to lose their grip on the old ways of making money just yet. So, with a climate disaster looming, only two things can save our society from disaster for everyone in my view. (1) start a just transition to renewables and (2) end the grip of big money over our political institutions. They are not mutually exclusive and need to be done tomorrow. Our environment cannot wait.

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10 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    This cover up of intentions by the Liarbral Notionaal$ misgovernment and their crony developers also occurred in the Office of Local Government following the 2016 appointment of Administrators to local councils that had been force amalgamated against the will of the ratepayers.

    The following local government elections in 2017 saw four (4) former Administrators unconstitutionally elected as civic officers DIRECTLY from their position as Administrators. The Crown Solicitor’s Office backed this unconstitutional election result. Meanwhile in one council the financial abuse of Councillor allowances by the Administrator was swept under the carpet by OLG administrators.

    The Gladly Back-flip-I-can LNP misgovernment has little interest in “making NSW great again” (note the Trumpery plagiarism) but instead appears to be preparing to enrich the property developers continuing the over-development of Sydney rather than the decentralisation of government jobs to regional urban centres to balance economic development across the whole state of NSW, not just Newcastle Sydney Wollongong.

  2. Lambert Simnel

    The koala would have more brains. Useful like a shirt pocket on jocks.

  3. Jon Chesterson

    As far as the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife are concerned, they can go to hell. They are a malicious, calculating, opportunist, pseudo government departmental and illegal operation ripping off private landowners and the people of NSW who will steal your land off you with the consent of NSW government and the Land and Environment Court and local liberal council re-zoning policies. I paid a substantial sum for a plot of land 30 years ago in Shoalhaven to one day build and own a home, like a thousand other migrants who were duped by the private property company in league with the local council. Along came the FNPW twenty years later and they have lied, cheated and used every legal and financial trick in the book, bullying and coercing the small private landowners, to forcible buy it from them for less than one tenth what we paid for it 30 years ago; and the plots they acquire go to the NSW Government allegedly under their management, circumventing the 1992 NSW Just Compensation legislation. Despite a long and protracted class action in both State and Federal Courts, they have lied, cheated and bad mouthed us to get what they want. This is an organisation I have no respect for and I would happily see it be liquidated or broken up into something that genuinely looks after our environment without exploiting ordinary Australians like us. There is no separation of power between this so called Foundation and the government of NSW, when they both stand together in court against us, send their letters, demands and propaganda to us on the same letterhead with both their logos, where the money they acquire goes unaccounted for, and no doubt partly into the coffers of NSW government along with the property ownership, the land they have bought off those who are too poor to defend themselves and their rights in court. Screw them and the NSW Government!

  4. Kronomex

    I’m sure most of NSW is rapt as they look forward to another four years of ruin and corruption.

  5. Greg Poole

    John Chesterson, I empathise with your situation. In my youth 45 yrs ago I witnessed Gov’t compulsorily acquire my Great Grandparent’s acreage property at Doonside, amalgamate with others, & then sell off to Developers earning the big bucks the owners should have accessed, & then letting the developers earn the 2nd tier of massive $’s with subdivision.

    Later on my role of landuse planning consultant I was asked by the progeny of a doddery old major dairy farming client whose property I subdivided at Cobbitty to examine records dating back 60 years or more in the press & Gov’t Gazette @ the State Library re forced resumption of thei major dairy farm called Stanhope Park nr Parklea (in Sydney’s West) without fair compensation or payment at all for a number of years which prevented acquisition of another property after the family was evicted. In short, I found enough information to verify the family’s claim but not enough continuity in information & the failing mind of the elderly father to be able to recommend proceeding to the Supreme Court to enable fair compensation. The property, again sold off in chunks to major land devt corporations is now the suburb known as Stanhope Gardens.

    What I am saying is that Improper Gov’t dealings have been occurring for many years & emboldened by that success, today’s gov’ts have really sharpened their skills at misleading & fleecing the wider constituency.

    Gov’t today at all levels have simply become a boy’s club with same modus operandi by both LNP & Labour parties. This is why there is no such thing as a true opposition to keep the bastards in Gov’t honest anymore.

    When political & self interest trump (yes, how appropriate!) societal & environmental well-being & security then we have a major gailure of the Westminster System of administration where adversarial contest, once thought healthy, becomes a refuge for mere political point scoring in positioning for the next election, rather than getting on with the job of true representation of the public will & needs.

    It appears getting elected provides an automatic mandate to do whatever they want with impunity once in office.

    While enployed for 17yrs as an agricultural specialist I witnessed the covert eviction of all agriculture from Greater Sydney. Few gov’t advisory officers exist anymore & what do simply exist to ward off any enquiry that might reveal govt intent, actions or being brought to public account. The ranks were decimated to pave the way for wholesale residential & industrial development of the most fertile & rainfall reliable land with convenient & close proximity to the major Sydney market – partic for highly perishable, time critical produce such as fresh chop leaf vegetables. This trend continues with the NSW govt extension to the Warragamba Dam wall under the false pretexts of flood safety & increased water capacity whereas the real intent is to continue residential development of the Riverstone/Hawkesbury floodplains & alluvial sand extraction of the highly valuable (for vegy cropping …& unfortunately bloody turf farms) of the Hawkesbury river near Windsor.

    Whilst in the employ of NSW Agriculture I kicked off an evaluation of the total collective valuation of the remaining agriculture in the Greater Sydney Basin. The results were astonishing & a major potential embarrassment to Gov’t who promptly began dismantling the THEN independent voice for agriculture by getting rid of their advisers in Sydney & also across most of NSW. The reason was that they had never done the sums & the total GCP of remaining agricultural production in the Sydney Basin exceeded the value of the two most productive agricultural production regions in NSW!!

    Near all research stations were hastily closed & established professional officers with coastal farming expertise banished inland. One, a proud & widely recognised agronomists at Windsor with specialist coastal pasture & farming expertise, after giving objective advice that a complete herd of cows were killed overnight – NOT by toxic weeds, but polluted water in South Creek was sent to Tamworth wherr he had no inland expertise or farmer network & committed suicide.

    I recall with dismay official press releases by my Department at the time that the cow deaths were caused by guess what?..toxic weeds! This lie was a major discussion point around the morning tea table at Windsor office of NSW AG let me tell you! …& there is more to tell in terms of wholesale tortoise deaths in South Creek that have occurred since that have not been made public because the NSW EPA does NOT do it’s job because NSW Govt so strongly favours business over the environment, animal welfare or even human well-being or health!

    So the whole purpose in relating my experiences here is to indicate that all Gov’t Departments are mere puppet extensions of Gov’t & no longer a source of ovjective independent advice or arbiters that can be trusted in ensuring compliance or alerting the public what is going on.

    The miscreance, malfeasance & doctoring by Australian govts at all levels needs to be urgently exposed to the gullible, naive & subsequently vulnerable public.

    I remain TOTALLY ASTOUNDED that the NSW state Liberals have been re-elected given their treatment of the public purse, selloff of public assets, deliberate overcrowding, ideology of DEVELOPMENT AT ANY COST, declining resource security, loss of greenspace, biodiversity & habitat & our futures. …all to benefit big corporations & business which are allowed to earn billions without paying ANY tax.

    WAKE UP AUSTRALIA – you are being sold a pup!

  6. New England Cocky

    @Greg Poole: “It appears getting elected provides an automatic mandate to do whatever they want with impunity once in office.”

    I agree, and the NSW Public Service does the bidding of their political masters.

    The forced amalgamation of local councils in 2017 created Administrators to sort out the accountancy books of the amalgamated councils and re-structure the council organisation structure to a more economic model.

    Our experience was that the Administrator rorted the Councillor’s allowances by changing the rules using his powers as Administrator, then passing those changes for his personal benefit at the next “Council” meeting.

    Subsequent investigations showed that the Administrator had used the mayoral car for personal business driving to his home on the coast at a cost of about $26,000. The OLG did not want to know about this rorting.

    Greater efficiencies were sought by appointing “expensive consultants” who recommended the appointment of 38 middle managers who were redundant upon appointment.

    The Administrator was unconstitutionally elected to Council Office Holder (Alderperson) and the Crown Solicitor’s Office defended the right of the OLG to allow this election.

    Now the council has killed about 15 head of cattle by failing to provide water during the January heat. The police are dragging their heels in this confessed animal cruelty matter.

    It is time to return to an egalitarian society where everybody gets “a fair go”.

  7. SteveB.

    As a conservationist for over 40 years up here in QLD, I feel great sadness at the re-election of the Lib-Nats. The decline in NSW’s natural environment is now set to continue at the hands of these nature-hating conservatives. This proves that nearly half of the NSW population simply don’t care about nature and native wildlife.

  8. Phil.

    Conservatives from Kangeroo Island to Tim Buc Too. Know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

    I haven’t met one yet who wouldn’t sell his own mother for the right price. These same conservatives, who preach the rule of law and order who make you believe are pure in thought and deed, are the same fuckers trying to get your sisters, daughters, and some times your wife’s legs back behind their ears trying their best to impregnate them with a belly full of arms and legs. The same pricks who sell you a car that’s been around the clock three times with the speedo wound back or, sell you a house with rising damp and enough white ants to eat through the Amazon jungle what’s left of it. Failing that, getting our kids hooked on the religions most conservatives are subscribed to only if it’s for their own social climbing. Of course most conservatives who have been charged with bestiality want their money back.

    To save the planet from these conservative cretins means war and that war is only being delayed until the left grows a set of nurries. The time for talk, long winded diatribes, platitudes, procrastination and listening to so called over educated buffoons who in most cases can’t tell the difference between their arse hole and their elbow, is over. Don’t ever get the impression I hate conservatives, it’s beyond hate, I despise them with every fibre of my existence. Rant concluded.

  9. Josephus

    Seems the planet is better off without us. So much for the composers, artists, activists- the greedy and the stupid will win. The value of everything but no values.

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