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Committee & Campaign Reports - 2001

During the last 12 months the Centre’s Management Committee, convenors, volunteers and staff were once again actively leading the way or participating in numerous in issues and campaigns.

PUBS Report

by Miriam Verbeek

Bushland issues have continued to be a strong agenda item for SSEC throughout 2001.
The most public activity for retention of bushland in the Shire has been the ongoing disagreement over the siting of an indoor sporting complex on the Shale Sandstone Transition Forest on Alison Crescent, Menai. Having failed to come to a compromise agreement with Council and those advocating the indoor sporting complex be sited on Alison Crescent, SSEC has felt obliged to engage the Environmental Defenders Office to bring the matter to the Land and Environment Court for consideration.

At issue is whether we take seriously the Government’s commitment to retention of biodiversity, or whether biodiversity is to be sacrificed for human occupation. In the Alison Crescent case, bushland is the major but not the only matter. The Menai Precinct Residents’ Association is concerned that the complex will make an already overcrowded roadway even more overcrowded. The Association has contributed significantly towards bringing the issues to the attention of residents of Bangor and Menai by supporting the printing of an information sheet. The Court is set to hear the matter towards the end of the year.

Bushland is high on the agenda of a number of committees attended by SSEC representatives. Adrian Palmer continues to monitor developments in Menai and has attended the Land and Environment Court to try to save regrowth forest on a development on Menai Central. The Centre also continues to monitor a major development proposal on the escarpment in Menai.

In addition, the Centre supports a major initiative in Bundeena and Maianbar to link bushcare efforts by both Sutherland Shire Council and National Parks and Wildlife Service by providing administrative support and webdesign advice to volunteers coordinating the program. At all opportunities, the Centre promotes the efforts of Council’s bushcare team of staff and volunteers.

On the political front, I and other SSEC members have been busy making ourselves heard on several committees concerned with bush in urban areas:

 

Gordon Hocking and I represent the Centre on the Integrated Environment Committee. Among the many issues we continually revisit is the need for a more consistent and strategic approach to caring for urban bushland. Our efforts have led to a review of the tree preservation order – with further discussions to be held. We are still waiting for a strategic plan to be finalised regarding how Council intends to deal with noxious weeds. We greet Council’s GreenWeb initiative with a great deal of hope that it will crystallise a coordinated approach to caring for bushland in the Shire.

I am also Chair of the National Parks and Wildlife Service Advisory Committee. This Committee takes in a much greater area than Sutherland Shire, and it potentially provides a rich venue for gaining better understanding of how to care for and enhance bushland areas in the Shire. This is particularly the case since the Service is increasingly acknowledging the importance of ensuring that the integrity of off-park areas of bush are important to maintaining healthy national parks.

Finally, I am one of the members of the Southern Sydney Catchment Management Board, which has significant potential for bringing about a coordinated approach to the management of not only urban bushland but also the environment in general. We are yet to see whether the State Government and its agencies have the capacity to work together to achieve such an approach. The abrupt dissolution of the Hawkesbury Nepean Trust caused more than a little concern to all Board members. They fear that when put under pressure to make real commitments to the environment, the Government may buckle.

But tomorrow is a new day, and we stay very optimistic.
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Population Report

by Gordon Hocking

Recent debate about the Tampa asylum seekers, and terrorist attacks on America help to focus our attention on the stress now evident in various human populations. Resource scarcity in their home country, compounded by unfair trade policies of the world's rich countries, underlies both the Tampa asylum seeker’s desperate attempts to find a better life in another country, and the extreme violence of the terrorists.

Religious fundamentalism plays a part, too, but religious fundamentalism can only flourish under circumstances of crushing poverty and lack of education.

Sustainable Population Australia's Dr Harry Cohen points out that in Gaza, "As the population has grown, water scarcity has worsened economic conditions and contributed to grievances against Israel. With scarcity of groundwater and an unequal distribution of water between the Israelis and Palestinians, the desperately poor have resorted to seemingly irrational acts of violence."

Brian J Fleay, an Australian analyst of global oil supplies notes that the population of Persian Gulf States had quadrupled since 1950 to about 100 million and could double again by 2025. Three quarters of their people are dependent on oil exports to pay for food imports. Fleay warns that as oil supplies peak and oil revenues decline, up to 100 million people may have to migrate somewhere else by 2040.

"If you look at regions of conflict in recent years, notably Afghanistan, Iraq and Rwanda, they are characterised by high population growth rates," says Dr Cohen. "Rwanda, with an average family size of eight, was pushed over the edge into brutal tribal warfare after drought reduced food supplies in a country almost wholly dependent on agriculture."

Federal Minister Philip Ruddock addressing the Population Forum

It is clear that population stress, manifested in resource scarcity, plays a major part in breeding conflict and terrorism. Fair world trade, adequate levels of overseas aid from rich countries to poorer countries, land reform, and attention to keeping populations within their resource limits are all issues needing to be debated urgently.

The Executive Director of the Business Council of Australia, David Buckingham, told the Australian Population Conference in Melbourne late last year that: “We need to have a growing, dynamic, well-skilled, internationally sophisticated population, rather than one that is shrinking and ageing”.

David Buckingham is concerned that Australia's population may stabilise by about 2050, making it difficult for our economy to keep growing. But Australia, too, must keep its population within its resource limits.

And some of Australia’s leading scientists, including Professor Ian Lowe, Professor Harry Recher, Professor Tim Flannery, Dr Mary E White and Professor Jonathan Stone, are alarmed by Australia’s serious ecological decline. Noting that Australia is a mainly arid continent with low nutrient soils and El Nino-induced erratic rainfall, they claim that ecological reality in Australia requires us to reduce the total ecological load of our present population, if we are to have any chance of achieving sustainability for our children.

Surely Australia should listen to our scientists and allow our population to stabilise. Surely we should listen to the cries of those living in crushing poverty and provide them with generous levels of overseas aid as we assist them to learn to live within their resource base.

A massive shift in our collective understanding of what is a successful society is required if we, ourselves, are to live within our resource base. That shift will require abandoning the growth economy and moving to strong local economies. And we must share the earth with other animals. All animals, including humans (and their economy) rely on a productive, biologically diverse, healthy environment. We must do with less and share our wealth or suffer a world in turmoil.

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Environmental Education

by Phil Smith & Jim Sloan

The SSEC Environmental Education Strategy is to develop trainer packs for professional environmental educators that will be suitable for a variety of venues, from seminars and workshops (1hr to all-day), courses at local TAFE’s or community colleges, local primary and high schools to talks delivered to neighbourhood networks or clubs and business groups.

The Centre continues to develop its collection of educational resource materials and fact sheets on a broad range of environmental issues. Focus for the last year has been on building materials on stormwater, biodiversity, globalisation population and urban development

In January this year, we received a grant from the Heritage Trust to fund a position with a focus on Agenda 21 capacity building. To this end, the Centre co-hosted a Forum in Sutherland on Population and the Environment. It is our intention to hold another Forum on Urban Development in November this year and, if funding continues, two more next year.

Nuclear Campaign Report

by Michael Priceman

The campaign against a new reactor at Lucas Heights is now in its fourth year - a huge stress on our team of extraordinary, ordinary people from the community. Working as People Against a Nuclear Reactor (PANR) the group has kept its core nucleus of dedicated people. At the same time it has gained others, each with different skills and enthusiasms. We received the Pulse of the Planet Environment Award for 2000 for an outstanding contribution to the environment from the Australian Geographic Society and Today FM, and this cheered us tremendously.

New Groups

SPANNR, Sydney People Against a New Nuclear Reactor was formed and it has groups amongst the wider Sydney community. Many are from the ‘younger end of town’ and can act more outrageously than we more conservative folk but we are all working towards the same result. Cooperation between PANR and the major national groups – Greenpeace, ACF, and FoE - is good and we are seen as a knowledgeable organisation

Health and Emergency Planning

At the time of the last NSW State election the ALP promised the Greens an inquiry into feasibility of a health study of the local community. After much foot-dragging it is almost underway. At the same time it promised an investigation into the adequacy of the emergency plans in the event of an accident involving the reactor. This was done by an ex police officer with experience in the field. He found that ”the NSW emergency management services were amongst the best in the world” and that only a few matters needed improvement. Recently three members of the community were appointed, by Council, to the Local Emergency Management Committee. After initially being treated with suspicion, the atmosphere has changed markedly. The ANSTO representative frankly admitted that the plans were “not user friendly, were contradictory and should be revised”.

ARPANSA

The 3 year-old nuclear regulator proved itself to be just another tool of government. Its independence is fatally flawed as it reports to the Minister for Health and his Department which is too closely allied to the nuclear industry. It granted a licence for the continuing operation of the obsolete HIFAR reactor. Its only qualifying comment was that a further application would be required should it need to operate it “substantially beyond 2006, the currently planned shutdown date”.

In the light of the appalling events in New York the attitude of ARPANSA’s CEO is revealing. In his comments that accompanied his approval of the site and in reply to public submission he said, “Of course, it is possible to posit all sorts of simultaneous disasters and suggest superhuman powers to saboteurs or enemies; but that does not help the careful evaluation of a real life proposal." The definition of real life has been changed.

At the same time that it is handing out licences, ARPANSA is still examining and revising its regulatory assessment criteria, its guidelines on intervention in the case of an accident and who knows what else. (It licensed HIFAR before the final report of the third or fourth inquiry on the effects of an earthquake affecting the site. The result of the earlier inquiry was described by some members as being ”overly conservative”. And we thought that this was what nuclear regulation was all about.

At present ARPANSA is examining the application from ANSTO to construct a new reactor. Its intention is to make its decision in February. A lot hinges on the upcoming Federal Election. All parties - except the coalition - have said that Lucas Heights is not the right site, even if a new reactor is seen to be necessary. How the ALP would act, if elected, remains to be seen but there would be intense pressure on it if it were.

The Senate Inquiry into the Contract for a New Reactor – May 2001

The Committee notes that the Government has failed to establish a conclusive or compelling case for the new reactor, and recommends that before the Government proceeds any further it undertake an independent public review into the need for a new nuclear reactor.” Recommendation—Chapter 11, p. 224

This is the position that was taken by the Sutherland Shire Council and by PANR. A summary of the Committee’s findings can be found on the SSEC Web Page

Alternative Technologies

Another area of great importance was that of alternative technologies. We were able to stress these at Senate Hearings. We are grateful that the Committee acknowledged this in its report.

Meanwhile Sutherland Shire Council commissioned a report from the US that examined alternatives to industrial/research nuclear reactors. It found that by investing and developing accelerators instead of reactors Australia could be a world leader in that form of technology. Its benefits would be:
  1. cost, tens rather that hundreds of millions of dollars to build,
  2. provide similar employment opportunities,
  3. excellent prospects for research and training,
  4. better intellectual property opportunities,
  5. minimal radioactive waste, and
  6. the plant could not be used for weapons research.
In summary, we know that the next six months will continue to be frantic and feel confident that we will win.
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The Year on Kurnell Peninsula

by Simon Kimberley

The last 12 months have not been without incident for the Kurnell Peninsula!

Of particular note has been SSROC’s Federally-funded “Botany Bay Program”. One of the Program’s major achievements was in bringing together the many non-government organisations with an interest in the Bay and its rivers. After many meetings during the year, these organisations have now moved to establish a new community alliance for the Bay, Cooks and Georges River. After 18 months study into the Bay, Program Manager Jim Colman, in July, released an excellent Discussion Paper on the Bay’s problems. This followed last year’s Healthy Rivers Commission of Inquiry into the Georges River and Botany Bay which is expected to release it’s Final Report and recommendations to State Government later this year.
On Kurnell Peninsula issues, the Centre has continued its active role with 7 other organisations in Kurnell Regional Environment Planning Council. During the last 12 months attention has been focussed on the development on the old Toyota site at Taren Point, the Sharks’ 650 unit development proposal, and Australand’s 500-dwelling development on the Wanda sandhills.

Indeed the Australand saga took several dramatic turns during the year. Following Council’s rejection of the Australand residential proposal, DUAP Minister Andrew Refshauge intervened and signalled his intention to establish himself as the consent authority for the development. In late 2000, the Minister announced that a review of part of the REP would take place to identify preferable landuses for the Australand site and two adjacent Breen-owned properties. A consultant was appointed and a community Reference Group put in place. After 6 months, the consultant presented a report which recommended mixed land use on the sites including residential. However it was revealed, almost by accident, that the review of the REP had been funded by Australand, information that DUAP had failed to mention at any of the Reference Group meetings. In response, Reference Group participants passed a motion of no confidence in the whole review process. A public protest meeting then followed.

Sutherland Shire Council continued its investigations into the legalities of sandmining in 2001. This culminated in May with a notice being served on the Holt Group in regard to certain sandmining operations in areas which Council believed consent had not been granted. Council via its relatively new Kurnell Campaign Committee also increased the push for the acquisition of private land on the Peninsula for dedication as National Park. To this end, a delegation of Council and community representatives visited Federal Ministers and their Opposition counterparts in Canberra earlier in the year. A substantial grant application for funds to acquire the land was submitted to the Federal Government in July.

Year 2001 also saw completion of the upgrade to the Cronulla Sewage Treatment Plant. Despite concerns over a number of environmental aspects of the upgrade including the clearing of native vegetation, many other significant environmental improvements are anticipated, particularly to water quality along Bate Bay beaches.

During this year the Centre completed a new website on the Kurnell Peninsula. The new site contains information on the environment of the Peninsula and a perspective on the current issues facing the Peninsula. The address is http://ssec.org.au/our_environment/our_bioregion/kurnell

In May the Caltex Oil Refinery resurrected their own Reference Group and as a member of the group the Centre will continue to provide feedback to Caltex and raise issues on the environmental aspects of its operations on a regular basis at meetings during the coming year.
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Transport

by Michelle Zeibots

The last year has seen some very dynamic community campaigning on transport issues for the Sutherland Shire.

Proposals for the introduction of light rail to the Shire and campaigns calling for upgrades to existing public transport services have been launched. Opposition to construction of the M6 motorway has been consolidated.

Thousands of leaflets have been delivered to Shire households outlining the destruction that would be caused if the M6 were built. Thousands more have been handed out at Shire rail stations outlining the urgent need to upgrade and extend public transport services that are over-stretched and operating at peak capacity. Several public meetings have been held and a new action group has been formed.

CARTS—Citizens Advocating Responsible Transport for the Shire—is one of the Centre’s newest committees.

The catalyst for this activity was the call for construction of the M6 motorway. These calls have ridden in on the back of chronic road traffic congestion along General Holmes Drive—a situation that is likely to worsen once the M5East motorway opens. Some people believe construction of the M6 motorway will remove this. If constructed, the M6 would wipe out large tracts of wetlands, hundreds of homes, a part of the Royal National Park and cut the Shire in half.

To counter this move, local residents attended a public meeting organised by Bruce Baird the Federal Member for Cook. Approximately 300 local residents from the Sutherland Shire attended and the push for the M6 was overwhelmingly rejected while improvements to existing public transport services applauded.

Since November of last year, CARTS, Sutherland Shire Environment Centre and EcoTransit Sydney have all cooperated to raise awareness of alternatives to motorway development for the southern sector of Sydney. Most recently the three groups met with Michael Deegan, the Director General of Transport and StateRail. Upgrades for the Illawarra Rail line were discussed as well as development of better coordination between bus feeder services and the main rail trunk route. Alternative uses for the M6 corridor were also raised.

Now that a movement towards practical alternatives has been put into action, CARTS feels it is time to begin the push for removal of the motorway zoning. This will start by calling for the rezoning of the section of the M6 corridor that runs though the Royal National Park.

Local representatives from the National Parks Association are also committed to helping with this aspect of the campaign and a notice of motion has been put to the Nature Conservation Council of NSW to assist with putting pressure on the State Government.

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EMRAA Report

by Lyn McLean and John Lincoln

The past 12 months have seen an unprecedented level of public and media interest about the health effects of electromagnetic radiation (EMR). With it have come enormous opportunities for - and demands on - EMRAA.

In a year of bountiful highlights, one of the most significant was the Senate Inquiry into EMR. In addition to providing a voluminous written submission (in June 2000), EMRAA gave an oral presentation to the Committee in November 2000. The release of the Committee’s Report(s) in May this year, brought invitations for EMRAA to speak on radio and TV and to further increase public awareness of this important issue.

A great deal of media interest was generated also by the release in March this year, of a report by renowned British epidemiologist, Sir Richard Doll. The report considered data from a range of studies and concluded that “taken in conjunction they suggest that relatively heavy average exposures of 0.4 uT [4 milligauss] or more are associated with a doubling of the risk of leukaemia in children under 15 years of age.” EMRAA was fortunate to be involved in the media response to this report (4 TV interviews and 7 radio interviews).

Not long after the Doll report, the “New Idea” ran a three-page article on the link between powerlines and leukemia which featured quotes and tips provided by EMRAA. We were literally inundated with callers requesting information and EMR surveys, with calls continuing into late August, some three and a half months later. The article generated a considerable demand for information and for EMR surveys by John Lincoln (Sydney) and Roger Lamb (Melbourne). John and Roger agreed to provide EMRAA with funds for a new subscription for each home subsequently surveyed and this has resulted in a considerable expansion in newsletter distribution.

During the past 12 months, EMRAA has been involved in the development of two important documents relevant to telecommunications frequencies. The first is the ACIF Code of Practice on the Deployment of Radio communications Infrastructure devised by a committee of which Lyn is deputy chair. When the first draft of this document was released for public comment late last year, Lyn travelled to five states with the Committee to take part in meetings with councils and members of the public. As a result of the public comment received, the document was substantially revised and was re-released for public comment in August.

When registered, the Code will become binding on telecommunications carriers. In its present form, it requires carriers to: locate infrastructure so as to minimise radio emissions and avoid “take into account” community sensitive locations, council policies etc, design infrastructure to minimise radio emissions, consult with councils and communities about all new telecommunications infrastructure, provide information to councils and communities about their facilities and their emissions, establish complaint-handling procedures.

The second document, is the new standard for RF exposure, developed by a working group of ARPANSA, of which John is a member. The draft standard, which was released for public comment in May, is based on the guidelines of ICNIRP (International Commission of Non Ionising Radiation Protection) and will allow the community to be exposed to up to four times as much radiation as at present at some frequencies. This concession is sought by industry to accommodate the 3G technology that operates at higher power.

One of the major achievements of the community/union representatives on the committee has been the inclusion of a precautionary statement in the document. The standard is likely to be adopted, perhaps without a formal vote.

EMRAA has had the opportunity of providing information about EMR in a variety of public forums. During the last year, Lyn addressed a conference of the Consumers Telecommunications Network and both Lyn and John addressed the RF Spectrum conference organised by Professor David McKenzie of Sydney University. We have also addressed a number of groups and public meetings.

EMRAA has been involved in meetings about the proposed NSW Code of Practice on the siting of mobile phone towers being developed by the NSW Dept of Urban Affairs and Planning. In May this year, we organised a meeting attended by councils and community representatives and hosted by DUAP. We are currently in the process of organising a broader forum for Sydney councils in conjunction with Sutherland and Burwood Councils.

Lyn has finally completed the manuscript of her book, “Watt’s the Buzz?”- five years in preparation - which provides a comprehensive review of evidence of risk from EMR and ways of protecting the community. The book is to be published by Scribe, probably in February or March of next year and there appears to be interest, as well, from an overseas publisher.

As we move into the new year of activity, we will do so with a name change that we hope will signify a greater level of maturity and experience. No more the EMR Alliance of Australia, we will be the EMR Association of Australia, an incorporated organisation that will continue to operate under the umbrella of the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre.
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Website Report

by Simon Kimberley

The last 12 months has seen further growth in our internet presence both in terms of content and in the number of people visiting our sites.

The most significant expansion in terms of content was the addition in February, of the second part of the Kurnell Peninsula website. The first part of the site, on the history of Kurnell, was completed in 1999 in a joint project with local historian Daphne Salt. The second section contains information on the environmental aspects of the Peninsula and gives a perspective on current issues.

In the last year we have also expanded the Centre’s general website to include major sections on a number of our campaigns such as urban bushland, population, transport and waste. Our nuclear section now contains 11 info sheets and 12 submissions on the reactor issue. We have, in the last 3 months, also added a section on the Menai B Indoor Sporting Complex issue.

So this takes the number of our websites to 6 listed below:
  • Env Centre – General site
  • Hacking River Catchment
  • Towra Point
  • Kurnell history
  • Kurnell environment
  • EMRAA – electromagnetic radiation
By far the biggest increase in people visiting our sites has come on EMRAA’s site with the Centre’s general site and the Hacking River site experiencing modest increases.

In total our websites now average between 2 and 4000 unique visitors per month.
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McKinn Park

Shire Council Mayor Tracey Sonda, with chairman Clr Bob Spencer at the dedication of McKinn Park, Cronulla in September.

This was the successful culmination of the long campaign by North Cronulla Precinct Committee, supported by the Centre, to save the parkland area at the corner of Hume and Mitchell roads from proposed development.

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