There’s a new phenomenom sweeping the state of NSW, Australia. It all started March 26 2011 after the election with a statement by the incoming premier Barry O’Farrell “We’ll govern for all.” Since then the O’Farrell government certainly has left its mark on the state, and many members of the public have felt the effects of Barry’s ‘governing for all.’ With job cuts and scale backs as well as back room deals with gun lobbyists and developers on the agenda, the public are reeling, wondering who or what could be next on the chopping block. So get ready for it NSW, you’ve been “O’FARRELLED!”
Yes, it’s been a trying year for the state, some would even argue on our Australian way of life, as big bad Barry and his Liberal government, who swept to power in a landslide, have gone about their methodical prescription to change the face of NSW in so many ways. Before he’s through will we even recognise our great state and its constitutional form of democracy? Who knows…
Recently, the regional town of Grafton felt it, they’ve certainly been “O’FARRELLED!” as their historic jail has now been scaled back in service from a 250 bed centre to housing just 60 remand prisoners with the loss of over 100 jobs for the tight-knit community. Many townsfolk bravely stood night and day to form a road block outside the 119-year old fortress in order to stop the trucks coming to take the prisoners away to newer, ‘cheaper to run’ prisons such as Cessnock. As realisation crept in that they had finally lost their battle and the police lines moved in to break up the picket, protestors simply turned their backs, a potent symbol of how the O’Farrell government had turned their backs on the town’s own plight.
While finances are at the top of Barry’s agenda, not much consideration was given to the employment the jail achieves in a regional town like Grafton, which has, by this event, experienced ‘it’s darkest hour’. What will those 108 prison guards do now in times of rising unemployment, we all wonder. When he said back in 2011 “We’ll govern for all” he obviously didn’t mean them.
But Grafton is not the only one to be “O’FARRELLED!” in recent times, that much is clear. Public servants, you are running scared. Nurses, teachers, emergency services, researchers, you’ve all been “O’FARRELLED!” along the line with pay freezes and lay-offs en masse under the government’s wage reforms. Public sector wages would be capped at 2.5 percent per annum, despite the CPI rising by 3.6 percent, leaving a shortfall of 1.1 percent. Over 35,000 public sector workers rallied in the Sydney Domain on September 8 2011 to protest against the attacks on public sector jobs, wages and conditions announced by Barry O’Farrell, which included a decision to axe several thousand public sector jobs. 67,000 teachers carried out a 24 hour strike on the same day.
Earlier this month it was announced that Community services workers will be cut by 968 positions over the next four years and the health department could lose more than 3600 over the same period, in a move that NSW Public Service Association Assistant Secretary Steve Turner said was “clear the Government doesn’t care about our most vulnerable children and their families, regarding their proper care as just another number to be slashed on the budget sheet.” Opposition Leader John Robertson was scathing of the cutbacks. “Sacking nearly 1,000 community services workers at the same time one in five reports of children at risk are not being followed up is nothing short of a disgrace” he said. “Cutting 968 staff from the department responsible for protecting the most vulnerable children in NSW will only see more children falling through the cracks… The latest job cut figures confirm that almost 8,000 jobs will be lost from hospitals, schools, fire stations, road safety and community services under Barry O’Farrell.”
Retail workers, you too have been “O’FARRELLED!” with the premier de-regulating trading on Boxing Day, meaning your hard earned holidays are being eroded and trading continues during this festive and traditional public holiday period.
Workers compensation laws too, have been “O’FARRELLED!” in a big way. Items such as weekly benefits beyond 2.5 years, medical expenses beyond 12 months, journey claims, claims to spouses killed at work, and legal costs are all in the target of Barry’s cuts, in effect altering worker’s rights immeasurably. The Workers Compensation Amendment Bill was rushed through the NSW Parliament in under 72 hours and was reported just 11 days after it was established. Any genuine inquiry would have taken at least 6 months, says MP David Shoebridge’s office. The committee received 353 submissions and held public hearings over just three days. Unions and workers of NSW were rightfully outraged.
Privatisation has been a big spinner for Barry too. Sydney Ferries, you’ve been “O’FARRELLED!” Soon you’ll be run by a foreign company Veolia Transport and let’s wait to see what that entails. No doubt job losses, route changes and ticket price hikes for the iconic ferries in a bid to bring down running costs.
And state electricity, why you’ve been truly “O’FARRELLED!”. Barry did a deal with the Shooters and Hunters party to gain their support to sell off the state’s power generators, passing that bill through and at the same time “O’FARRELLING!” our state’s National Parks, many of which will now be open to hunters blasting their guns in wilderness areas – great job Barry. 40 percent of National Parks land coverage including those with World Heritage Listing such as Barrington Tops and Dorrigo will be open up to hunters. “Barry O’Farrell’s shown today that he’s prepared to break every promise that he’s made to get a deal up to get this through,” opposition leader John Robertson told reporters. “A premier who promises not to allow hunting in national parks is about to allow a shooting spree to open up in some of the most pristine parts of the state,” he said.
Inheritance believes this is political wheeling and dealing on a whole new level, trading one totally unrelated law to get another one through parliament. Where is the consultation, where is the study? And regarding the power sell-off, expect electricity prices to soar even further. A similar sell-off in South Australia skyrocketed bills up to 30 percent.
Now the NSW Govt has become a joint sponsor of “Shot Expo”, a weapons show, along with gun makers Winchester and Beretta. The Greens MP David Shoebridge said ”It’s just astounding the Game Council is using taxpayers dollars to co-sponsor a pro-hunting event with weapons manufacturers. This state government has no limits on how far it will go in promoting a pro-gun culture, including joining with death merchants to plug guns and hunting. NSW has run down hospitals, broken public transport and thousands of public servants being sacked, but the O’Farrell government still has the cash to promote gun ownership and hunting.”
Great way to spend our tax dollars Barry.
The State Records office, you’ve been “O’FARRELLED!”. In a little publicised event, the public Reading Room, Formally located in the Rocks, central to the public need to conduct research within its premises, has now been shut down and moved to the outer west suburb of Kingswood. So if you live anywhere near the centre of the city, you will now have to travel 40km away to gain access to the State Records, to a site with no public transport. It’s a real slap in the face for the history of our state.
NSW Fisheries, you’ve had the “O’FARRELL!” treatment too. The Cronulla Fisheries Research Centre is being forced to close against its will and broken up with up to 150 local job redundancies following. This is a world class facility with experienced researchers. Protests were held outside parliament after reports that bureaucrats tried sneakily to reclassify it to avoid the need for presenting a business case, and petitions of 18,600 names couldn’t even warrant a meeting with Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson. Now THAT is arrogance. Sutherland Shire councillor Phil Blight made his statement to the protest “It’s a centre of excellence, perfect for the research and management of fish stocks and shark monitoring. It has the facilities, the tanks, the laboratories, the storage areas, the freezers, an extensive marine library – all the things that will have to be built again at Port Stephens or Mosman or wherever the staff are to be sent. It makes no sense.”
View this web link http://www.savecronullafisheries.net/
Debate rages within the department and public as to the benefits of breaking up such an institute but in the end O’Farrell won out, as he always seems to do. Why oh why Barry?
And now, planning laws in the state of NSW, you are being completely “O’FARRELLED!”. This could be the most dangerous and damaging “O’FARRELLING!” to the people of NSW yet. Barry and his planning minister Brad Hazzard have released their green paper aimed at ‘cutting red tape and de-politicising’ planning and speeding up the system, when in fact it would be taking powers away from local councils and removing the rights of residents to have their voices heard when it comes to opposing DA’s. This instead would go to a panel of non-elected representatives including independent certifiers, and so long as the DA passed basic criteria, public consultation and the right for individuals to make submissions would be void. The possibilities for corruption are rife, allowing developments through without public input and moving the process out of local hands, as has been demonstrated with private certifiers in the past, where developments have been built that did not comply. While we certainly have had issues regarding council’s attitude to heritage preservation in the past (and continue to do so), at least in theory they are meant to represent local constituents and should try to do so – tell us Barry, who are these new panels there to represent?
The opposition and the Greens call this a developer free for all, whereby the O’Farrell government is effectively creating a ‘tick and flick’ system of planning. With housing affordibility and population growth key drivers in this debate, pressures are immense from Canberra and indeed developer lobbyists who are trying to maximise their opportunities to build as big and as high as they can in the midst of this population boom. With land running out on the urban fringes and public transport not keeping pace with the growth of the city (yes, Barry), so-called ‘infill’ development within existing areas is on the agenda, as it can be cheaper and larger scale than greenfield sites. We, the residents, who are mostly AGAINST over-development, and the councils who, as stated, are meant to represent us, are in their way. So taking us out of the equation is good for the economy, good for the state, and most of all, good for Barry, and the developers who will run riot once these laws are passed.
Make no mistake, this is about boosting housing densities and giving developer groups free reign. The Sydney Morning Herald broke a story in January 2012, which outlined government strategy to ask developers where they would like new greenfield sites to open for them, earning praise from developer lobby groups such as Urban Taskforce and the Property Council of Australia. “While supporting the positive moves for greenfield sites, the Urban Taskforce believes a similar leadership role is required for the even harder supply problem of urban infill sites,” the chief executive of the Urban Taskforce, Chris Johnson, said. ”The government could call for expressions of interest for infill sites and then set up a special approval approach.”
“You’d like to see a similarly efficient process for urban renewal opportunities – there is still overwhelming demand within the existing footprint,” said the Property Council of Australia CEO, Glenn Byres. Planning Minister Brad Hazzard sent an ominous warning to councils. ”The desirable course is to work with councils, but at the end of the day the state government and I, as Planning Minister, have the capacity to rezone without their concurrence,” he said.
With the heritage office of state government already reduced to a shadow of its former self in the name of the “Heritage Branch”, lumped in as an offshoot of the planning department, this doesn’t bode well for us in the game of heritage preservation. Rather than expanding to keep pace with the extent of new planning laws, the heritage branch is shrinking and becoming virtually toothless in its powers. We could effectively see whole areas of Sydney changed radically to accommodate more and more high rise, high density development, and the increasing traffic, pollution, and congestion that entails. Not to mention the continued disappearance of gardens and backyards within our cities and suburbs. But what should be lamented most here is the loss of community input, the trampling down and cheapening of public view, of what we, the people want for OUR planning future. To deny us that right, is not what you were voted in to do, Mr. O’Farrell, the man who claimed “to govern for all” and “put planning back in the hands of the people.”
Americans made a big issue of getting angry over having their Olympic uniforms made in China, it made for lively debate in congress and became world news headlines (ours are also made in China but no-one seems to care). So how will we, Australians, now react when our very public planning rules are being turned on their heads by a dictator-like short term Premier and his developer-friendly goals suited only to appease the big end of town. We as citizens are being systematically stripped of our democratic rights, we should be up in arms over this.
Democracy, NSW, 2012, you too have been “O’FARRELLED!”.
Be concerned, be very very concerned…