Council has a great idea which enjoys the support of all councillors - to devise a "strategic plan" which will guide "Shaping The Shire to Year 2030".
Admirable too is the effort to involve the community in surveys and seminars that seek to generate "wishes, hopes and dreams".
Beyond the visionary, a draft Guide issued in February asks for attention to trends that may affect the Shire's future. For instance, declining global environment, ageing residents, changing work patterns, the gulf between rich and poor, and of course continuing technological change.
Indeed! Watch all those. I suggest, however, that we will get straight to the heart of the probable FUTURE if we ask, "But what has shaped the Shire's PAST?"
Let's be clear about that relatively unplanned past, 1788 - 1999, as we plunge into planning the 30 years ahead.
TWO MAIN FORCES
While many forces - economic, social, cultural, political - have obviously played a part, the hard truth remains that the urbanised shape of the Shire has been chiefly determined by two forces, population growth and urban development. They are closely related and they have impacted harshly on the natural environment, green and marine.
The Europeanisation of what became the Shire in 1906 was led by three gung-ho developers, James Birnie, John Connel and Thomas Holt. They cut down trees in great numbers, made a couple of roads, built houses and a few businesses and invited others to come in. Population began to grow.
When I and other ex-servicemen entered the Shire around 1950, population had grown to 50,000. Note that! To 50,000 in 1950. A useful marker. And just 50 years later that 50,000 has jumped to 206,000 - more than four times! Hence, growing evidence of deterioration in the Shire's environment, its quality-of-life.
Today those two forces of change-for-the-worse, population growth and urban growth, are swelling as fast as at any previous time. We are locked into a building boom. No wonder the terms "overdevelopment" and "traffic congestion" spring readily to lips.
So let's ask coolly, amid our dreams of a bright future, "But does the Shire have any hope of achieving a better quality of life while these two radical change-forces thrust unchecked ahead?"
I can't see it. Not while Council is divided on party lines between a pro-development majority and a powerless minority which sometimes seeks a slow-down.
The Nunber One dream among people I talk to is of a Council that will reach consensus about, first estimating a broad Shire Optimum Population and, in light of that, second, using its planning codes to slow the overheated rate of urban construction - especially by refusal to extend the present unit-building zones and refusal to allow any high-rise above 3-storeys, and by steering construction into house and villa building, these, even so, governed by high standards.
True, that would bring some conflict with State Government's draconian "urban consolidation" (pack-'em-in policies) but the community would resolutely back Council in any conflict.
I have space only to comment briefly on three other issues which this rich Shape the Shire to 2030 document must face up to.
Community Participation. The document is strong on "community participation in decision-making". It rightly says, "both representative democracy and participatory processes are important in modern democracy". But today the representative side (Council) has nearly all the power while the participatory processes barely exist and only function at the seldom invitation of the elected power, e.g. by responding to a survey or sending in a suggestion.
We must look to Council to ground its ideal of participation in regulations that put a right and a means of participation in people's hands, independently of an invitation from the Council-or-the-day ... Who will suggest a how-to?
Nature's Gifts. The Shire has great natural endowments - its two bays, two rivers, four national parks, and many beaches. At the same time, however, it has four major environmental liabilities - the nation's largest rubbish tip, its largest oil refinery, its only nuclear reactor/nuclear waste storage, and the devastated Kurnell sandhills region.
That all this exists within a single Local Government Area is remarkable! It thrusts a vast responsibility onto our Council. I believe the Shape document should speak of our positive endowments, but not in a way that could look proprietary to outsiders; rather, in a way that says we feel a trust - feel a STEWARDSHIP - towards these great assets.
It could add that we will ourselves spend what we can and volunteer where we can to maintain these natural endowments while also doing what we can to clean up the environmental liabilities. On the other hand, it must add, our stewardship will oblige us to campaign for recognition by State and Federal politicians of an all-Australian responsibility for the endowments that geography has located within Shire borders - plus the rehabilitation of the "Birthplace of Modern Australia", our much-abused Kurnell.
What is "Council"? The draft Shape document says Council will coordinate implementation of the document and will "pursue other stakeholders to follow the key directions". Splendid if that is the intention of the present Council! But between now and year 2030 eight more councils will be elected. Can ways be found now to commit all of them to maintaining the 1999 momentum? That would seem to require a degree of consensus not to be found in the present party-divided Council.
The extreme party strife of recent years shows no sign of abating. We can but call on our Councillors to strive charitably for more reasoned argument, less party barrow-pushing, less vitriol, and more efforts to reach consensus. If the present and the eight future councils can't progress along that path then the future of the Shire looks clouded. All around the world, party politics is being trenchantly criticised. The ghost is abroad of Roman historian Livy who, 2000 years ago, wrote: "The struggle betwen parties is and will always remain, a worse misfortune for the people than war, famine, plague or other manifestations of God's wrath". Can we Shire people, by implementing this hopeful document, prove Livy wrong?