Australia's largest cities are urban planning disaster zones.
Two facts in particular bear this out. First is the ongoing housing affordability crisis, which shows no sign of abating. Second is the relentless march of car-dependent urban sprawl, which continues to devour remnant native vegetation and good farming land. You get an eyeful of this latter problem as you approach Perth by plane, by some accounts the second-biggest metropolis in the world by surface area.
One of the responses of the Western Australian government was to introduce Development Assessment Panels (DAPs). These bodies are empowered to assess any planning application worth more than $2 million. While the local council is still required to spend the time and money assessing an application, it can only make a recommendation to the DAP, which is made up of two representatives from the council and three government appointees.
A justification for introducing the DAPs was the claim that NIMBY councils were not complying with their own planning laws and were unreasonably blocking apartment developments, thereby contributing to urban sprawl.
Well, it is true that even modest urban "densification" can provoke fierce resistance from local residents, not least in the posh suburbs. No one complains more loudly about greedy capitalist developers than people with $2 million homes in leafy streets, particularly if there is even the hint that some of the units might be occupied by social housing tenants.
On Wednesday 24 August the Fremantle Council voted 10-1 to drop its annual Australia Day fireworks in recognition of how sensitive this date is for many Indigenous Australians.
It's worth re-stating the obvious. Modern Australia; like Canada, the USA, New Zealand and South Africa began as a colonial-settler state founded on the violent dispossession of its indigenous people. But Australia is the only one of them to hold its national day on the very date that marks the beginning of that dispossession.
It takes a special kind of wilful ignorance and callous disregard not to see why so many Indigenous people find this confronting, and frankly a stubborn racism to keep insisting that non-indigenous Australians get to to decide whether or not Indigenous people should have a problem with the date.
Dropping the fireworks may only be a small symbolic step, but if Australia can't have an honest discussion about its origins then we will never be able to tackle the underlying causes of disadvantage. The Don Dale detention disaster is but one example.
The furious and frantic reaction of the commercial media and other critics shows how much they don't want us to have that discussion. In the short term there is no prospect that their howls of outrage about "political correctness gone mad" will overturn the Fremantle decision, but they sure as hell want to stop it from spreading.
My comment piece on the "Cool fuel" supplement in the The West Australian. Oil and gas industry promotion masquerading as science. Welcome to WA!
"Cool fuel" was the groovy title of the Ed! supplement about natural gas in the 5 April edition of The West Australian that gets distributed to all our schools.
To be sure natural gas is "cool" when liquefied. But nowhere among the topics covered such as "Careers in LNG", "Power to You" and "West is best" is there any mention of natural gas as a significant contributor to catastrophic global warming. No mention of the fact that because of fugitive emissions in the production cycle natural gas is up there with coal.
The closest it gets to acknowledging global warming is when it waxes lyrical about gas being the "cleanest burning hydrocarbon". Then comes this pearl of wisdom, "Natural gas is basically everything we want in a fuel, apart from the fact that it's a non-renewable energy source."
Outraged climate change campaigners contacted the editor to protest this gas industry promotion masquerading as science education. When they asked that the paper explain the real contribution of gas to climate change they were told that this could only happen if it were "unbiased".
Among the messages of support for Fremantle Council's decision to stop doing business with companies that profit from the offshore detention regime I fully expected some criticism. However Anthony Brown's comment piece "Enough" was really just a meandering rant.
For him everything in Fremantle is terrible. All the problems, both the real and imagined ones, are the fault of the council. He chastises us for taking action on on a federal matter but then includes in his list of complaints issues that require state government action. Is the irony lost on him?
Mr Brown's assertion that the Council's endorsement of the No Business in Abuse campaign was ill considered, financially reckless and all about pre-election "jousting" is just nonsense. The decision will not require anyone to pay an "army of lawyers" as he suggests. We will get a report from officers explaining how the City can exit from the relevant contracts in an orderly manner. Furthermore it was adopted unanimously and with little fuss.
By Barry Healy & Sam Wainwright (reprinted from Green Left Weekly)
The Perth Freight Link (PFL) project ground to a halt on December 16 when Supreme Court Chief Justice Wayne Martin ruled environmental approvals for the Roe 8 freeway through the Beeliar Wetlands were invalid.
Incredibly, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) had argued it was not bound by its own policy when assessing and granting approval. This result comes on top of a 2013 decision that the EPA had bungled approvals for the James Price Point gas processing facility.
Premier Colin Barnett's hand-picked EPA has been so desperate to approve major developments as expected by its political masters, it was incapable of even pretending to properly assess them.
The PFL commencement has been pushed beyond the state election due in March next year. This confounds the strategy of Barnett, who, while trying to back-peddle on Stage 2 of the project, was desperate to begin construction of Stage 1 (Roe 8) before the election.
The court decision also embodies the most powerful dynamic of the campaign against Perth Freight Link: people power. The challenge to the EPA was brought by Save Beeliar Wetlands, raising tens of thousands of dollars through crowd funding.
It raises a significant question: how many government decisions are made that fail the test of their own laws and policies, but are never overturned because the affected communities do not have the time or money to challenge them in court?
At its October meeting the council considered a number of measures proposed as part of the Community Safety and Crime Prevention Plan 2016-2020. Included were proposals to promote a "Zero Tolerance" approach to begging and drinking in public places. I voted against these measures. My reasons for this are explained below, based on a statement I wrote in response to a question from the Fremantle Herald about the matter:
I am concerned that talk about "Zero Tolerance" pushes us down the path of criminalizing and stigmatizing poverty without dealing with the underlying causes.
I accept that there have been cases of aggressive or intimidating behaviour by people drinking in public or begging. However threatening, intimidating and menacing behaviour in public is already illegal. The police don't require the City of Fremantle to make declarations about "Zero Tolerance" in order to enforce the law.
On the question of begging it's my understanding that this activity by itself is not illegal, so it's not entirely clear to me what the policy will achieve apart from putting up signs declaring "Zero Tolerance".
The policy also proposes to establish charity donation points to allow people to give to those in need while discouraging "opportunistic" begging. Whether this will work or not I don't know.
Farmers are worried that the proposed privatisation of Fremantle Port will lead to a dramatic escalation in their freight rates. The 800% increase in rents charged to stevedores by the newly privatised Port of Melbourne would be ringing alarm bells.
Closer to home are the disastrous consequences of the privatisation of WA's freight rail network via a secret 49 year lease in 2000 when Premier Colin Barnett was Minister for Transport.
The lease is now owned by Canadian company Brookfield Asset Management, the same company that has the contract to build the new Perth stadium and has secured two sites in the state government's Elizabeth Quay waterfront project.
In 2010 it announced that it would close 720kms of so-called Tier 3 lines unless the state government tipped in $93.5 million of taxpayer’s money to carry out essential capital works. The government refused.
These rail lines carry 92% of grain to the port from the area they serve, between 1.5 and 2 million tonnes each season. This equates to 57,000 to 86,000 extra truck movements per year forced on to our roads. The cost in terms of road accident trauma, extra pollution and the destruction of lightly constructed rural roads that are not built to take road trains that have to be repaired by local councils has never been considered.
By Sam Wainwright & Sue Bolton
The demonising of asylum seekers is an elaborate exercise in racist scapegoating designed to distract Australians from the real causes of anxiety and insecurity in their lives. We need to be absolutely uncompromising in our resistance to this toxic agenda.
National Director of Welcome to Australia and ALP member Brad Chilcott created a stir when he suggested in an opinion piece that supporters of refugee rights in the Labor Party should drop their opposition to offshore processing and just accept that a majority of Australians will never support asylum seekers taking the "ocean route" to Australia.
According to this argument, we need to concede to the Abbott government's latest assault on refugees and international law to neutralise the ability of the Liberals to wedge Labor on the issue. Supposedly we can then focus on a more humane offshore detention and processing regime.
Soon after Chilcott’s opinion piece, reports circulated that Labor's left faction was unable to even arrive at a position on asylum seeker boat turnbacks. Does this mean they've abandoned the fight against mandatory detention and offshore processing?
Community resistance to the Perth Freight Link, a $1.6 billion freeway project proposed by the state and federal governments for the south-west region of Perth is growing at an explosive pace. The strength and depth of this opposition is now so strong that the issue will almost certainly dominate the next federal and state election campaigns.
While the part of the freeway that would cut through the Beeliar Wetlands, known as Roe 8, has long been favoured by the Liberals at state and federal level, its continuation towards Fremantle Port is the product of a classic Tony Abbott "thought bubble", announced without any consultation with the state government, local governments, the transport industry or affected communities.
The consequence of this has been a chaotic combination of secrecy and contradictory information coming from the agencies tasked with starting work on the freeway in early 2016 but who do not yet even have a defined route. The uncertainty as to which residents may find themselves next to a six-lane highway or have their homes compulsorily acquired has added to the sense of chaos and outrage.
I'm sad to report that at its April meeting council voted 6 votes to 5 NOT to reapply for state funding for the Warrawee Women's Refuge. This means the City will relinquish the service and the Department for Child Protection and Family Support will have to find another organization to take it on.
The City founded the refuge back in 1972 and has the distinction of creating the first purpose-built facilities in Australia.
The state government has been cost-shifting by systematically underfunding Warrawee relative to other refuges and expecting us to make up the shortfall.
However the City has also reduced the scope of the service in response, so it's not correct to suggest it was a growing "burden". Some perspective, I think we spent more on Australia Day and ANZAC Day activities this year.
In a letter to the Department the City has advised of its decision, but suggested council would reconsider if more funding was offered.
I think this might be a pretty feint hope and I'm sceptical that a new service provider will be given any more funding than the City receives. However I would be very happy to be proven wrong on either count and report an unexpected happy twist to the story.