Review of NSW Crown Lands: Disaster for the Environment

A good example of Richmond Valley Council's handiwork.  Sick tree?  No. A replacement for it?  No.

A good example of Richmond Valley Council’s handiwork. Sick tree? No. A replacement for it? No.

The opportunity to comment on the NSW State Government’s proposed changes to the management of Crown Lands closes tomorrow, Friday 20 June.advertisement for crown landsVWD attended a meeting called by Richmond Valley Council at the Evans Head Surf Club at which there was discussion of a Plan for the Evans Head Silver Sands Holiday Park, a Reserve Trust once managed by Council.

Around 150 people attended the meeting chaired by the Mayor Cr Ernie Bennett and run by a senior officer of council.  A few councillors attended too.

The meeting was appalling, somewhere between watching paint dry and a briefing on how not to make a presentation.  Council demonstrated unequivocally, in the view of VWD, poor preparation and delivery, and a failure to demonstrate that it fully understood the  issues.  Council kept telling us not to ‘shoot the messenger’ when clearly the messenger should have been metaphorically shot for what VWD regards as sheer bloody  incompetence.

Council revealed  it had already prepared a response regarding the Silver Sands Plan which ratepayers and residents would get to see when the business papers were released by Council just four days before the Council meeting on the 24th.

But council’s response would be sent off before the next council meeting, and before the community  had had a chance to make a formal response to council’s submission.

Yes, you read correctly, it had already prepared a response before it held the community meeting, which begs the question ‘what was the purpose of the public meeting and why wasn’t their submission made available beforehand?’

VWD takes the view that the purpose of the meeting was to give legitimacy to their submission, a submission which didn’t go to council for approval before it was submitted.  Council could then say if asked: ‘ah, but we held a public meeting’.

And it served another purpose and that was to make  it look as if council was doing something for a very vexed issue to soothe the brow of an agitated community.  People are pissed off about having to move the tennis courts for a great amount of money which they can’t afford, and are concerned that their access to the river will be severely restricted as has happened elsewhere at Brunswick Heads.

And there is perhaps another take on why council called the meeting, a cynical view VWD knows, but one which needs to be canvassed, and that is that council agrees with the plan for the Silver Sands but needs to make it appear that it doesn’t so that it doesn’t continue to lose public support.

Who knows!  Council is such a secretive lot it’s hard to know what’s going on.

There’s no doubt  council had more than ample time to prepare a draft of its comments and put it on exhibition for public comment before making a submission.

The submission should have been up on council’s website well before the meeting of the 19th of June so that residents and ratepayers could have discussed it at the meeting.  The fact that it wasn’t should make us all very suspicious, very suspicious indeed.

Knowledge of the Review of Crown Lands  Council was asked a specific question about the Review of Crown Lands mentioned earlier in this story but appeared to know nothing of  it.  There was a lot of secret whispering at the front  but council eventually confirmed that it had not made a submission to the NSW government, a breathtaking admission to make in public.

Council is a Trust Manager of Crown Lands.  Local government and local government reform figures prominently in the proposed new management approach to the management of Crown Lands.  And yet not a word from Council.  Have any of the councillors or senior staff actually looked at the review?  Probably not.

LIPSTICK ON A PIG   VWD guesses that Council is too busy ‘rebranding itself’ to pay any attention to mundane policy issues such as the management of Crown Lands.  New hats, shirts, etc. have been on show for the past week or so.  Mmmm, really important stuff! Where did the funds come from and why? And when did council formally agree to this decision?

Council keeps telling us it doesn’t have enough money to do the basics yet it has sufficient funds to create a new image for itself while slugging us with new rates with cumulative impact of 39%.

In the view of VWD rebranding is  a costly exercise not unlike putting lipstick on a pig!  No amount of re-branding will fix council but it does take the plebs’ eyes off the ball.  A distraction.  A ‘bread and circuses’ moment.  Gotta make those public relations employees pay their keep.

The Review of Crown Lands Management

There are lots of problems with what the NSW  government wants to do with the management of Crown Lands but probably items at the top of the list are:

  1. Crown Land being handed over to Local Government to manage, a disaster in waiting.  Local government often doesn’t have the resources or expertise for management of many sites, particularly from an environmental perspective, and may be driven by financial short-term gain to try and solve perennial funding short falls. Nothing like the sale of the family silverware, the environmental things we value the most, to fix a shortfall in the budget.  Following the community meeting described above, local government demonstrated with abundant clarity that it is not up to the task of managing Crown Lands.   It can’t take even enough interest to respond to a very brief document.  And the NSW government wants to hand over lands to them to manage!  VWD doesn’t think so.
  2. Failure to recognise the significant environmental values of Crown Lands and the wide range of ecosystem services they provide on a landscape scale to our society including clean water and the rate at which water is released, a critical issue for sustainability.  The fact that the NSW government fails to recognise this important issue tells us that it is either not up to the job or is too busy pandering to developers who have no interest in such impediments to their carpet-bagging activities.
  3. The sale of ‘free-holding’ of Crown Lands.  Goodness knows what deals have been done to flog off various pieces of real estate with the public the last to know.   Richmond Valley Council is about to give away an entire aerodrome for $2.5 million.  Need we say more about leaving council in charge of the Crown Land  silverware.
  4. No reference to the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development, These fundamental principles enshrined in Coastal Policy must be part of the assessment and management of Crown Lands yet they seem to have disappeared.  The principles include ecologically sustainable development, proper pricing so that the real environmental costs are included and not treated as if they are free, inter-generational equity meaning no mess left for next generations to clear up as has happened to us from mining interests.  And finally the precautionary principle. This  principle urges caution about what we are doing and to not take steps without first fully checking out the consequences of our actions.  Absence of evidence is not a good reason to go ahead with something.
  5. The notion that somehow the ‘free market’ will solve all our problems.  If we would only just recognise this principle and hand over our valuable Crown Lands to the market place, all our problems would be solved!  Oh dear.  A ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ in waiting.

Crown Lands covers millions of hectares including significant areas of high conservation value.  In central and western NSW this represents a significant proportion of the remaining native vegetation within some catchment areas.   The potential loss of these areas to private sale has significant ramifications for fragile and vulnerable catchment areas and ultimately the river systems and their productivity and their survival.

VWD is deeply concerned about the potential handover of the State Significant Dirawong Reserve at Evans Head to Richmond Valley Council.

Part of Dirawong Reserve at Evans Head, a Reserve of State Significance from the point of view of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and Environmental values Environmental

Part of Dirawong Reserve at Evans Head, a Reserve of State Significance from the point of view of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and environmental values.  The Trust was established by the community and run by the community.  Trust members include a lawyer, accountant, farm manager, chemist, animal welfare carer, engineer,  former head of a business school and neuroscientist with expertise in native fauna.

Richmond Valley Council doesn’t have an environmental bone in its body and it can’t manage properly the Crown Lands entrusted to it now. You only have to take a look at the way in which it is managing one of the  coastal Trust areas at Evans Head to know it doesn’t have a clue about managing the environment.

Picture of many of the thousands of mother-of-millions plants on one of the Reserves at Evans Head it 'manages' at present.

Picture of many of the thousands of mother-of-millions plants on one of the Reserves at Evans Head Council ‘manages’ at present.  Almost good enough to put in a flower show.

Take a look at the extensive weed infestation for a start.  Despite repeated spraying by council the weeds keep coming back and many of the native plants are now gone.  In fact such management has turned some areas into a weed paradise where once this wasn’t the case.

Council's sprayed this asparagus weed while at the same time spraying the base of the tree.  The spray will probably eventually kill the tree but the asparagus grass lives on.

Council’s sprayed this asparagus weed while at the same time spraying the base of the tree. The spray will probably eventually kill the tree but the asparagus grass lives on.

Other management practices by council such as spraying on and around watercourses and removing vegetation from drains so that water escapes more quickly create more problems than they solve.

Many of the sprays have implications for the micro-critters that live in the soil which are important for health and survival of native plants.

Don't you just love the irony of this Richmond Valley Council sign!

Don’t you just love the irony of this Richmond Valley Council sign!  “Keep our estuary healthy”.  The sign is  not near the Evans River Estuary and herbicides have been used to kill the weeds around the sign.

But more than that the clearing of waterways destroys habitat critical for many plants and animals and increases the burden of silt and other materials in the Evans River Estuary which is already threatened by such processes.  The clearing of drains and waterways leading to the River creates conditions for rapid runoff and erosion and silting up of and pollution of the river.  The oil and water which runs off the nearby road will run straight into the river.

The let her rip approach to runoff is a sure guarantee of crap running off into the river.  The picture shown is of a drain recently cleared by council

The ‘let her rip’ approach to runoff is a sure guarantee of crap running into the river. The picture shown is of a drain recently cleared by council along Ocean Drive at Evans Head.

And then there’s the issue of rubbish and dumping:

European cultural heritage in a council-managed Reserve Trust

European cultural heritage in  the council-managed Reserve Trust

No,  Crown Lands must not be handed to local government particularly governments such as Richmond Valley Council.

Psychological Effect of Handing Crown Trusts to Local Government

The handing over of Crown Lands to councils from competent, comunity-based groups effectively disenfranchises the community and will lead to poor environmental and economic outcomes.  The community will no longer take ownership of its environment and will move to ‘I couldn’t give a stuff attitude’.   When you disempower the community for an economic imperative, watch out.  Volunteering will dry up and  leave a legacy for our children that won’t be palatable.

Overall it is pretty clear that the proposed changes to Crown Land management are just simply a mechanism to take away community control and put it in the hands of local governments which are already unable to do a good job of management because of lack of competence and resources.  The new changes will lead to an unnecessary sell off a public assets and restrictions to public access to foreshores and other areas we have taken for granted for too long.

The NSW government policy is an introduction to the restrictive American philosophy of ‘user pays’ and redistribution of wealth with serious consequences for the environment and the services it provides.

The government is stuck in a discredited economic paradigm 20 years out of date and has no regard for environmental matters. We are all going to pay for it dearly.  IMG_8654




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