SSEC logo Sutherland Shire Environment Centre  

Focus 2000

A Word from the Chair

by R.D.Walshe, OAM

Welcome!… With this AGM we approach the 10th year of the Environment Centre. On the 22nd July next year, which is the first year of the 3rd millennium, we will have our 10th birthday.

1991 was a year of recession. Quite a few businesses in Sutherland had gone to the wall. Half the mezzanine floor of Eton Arcade was vacant. We grabbed a room that caught a little sunshine, then noticed its beguiling address: this was Suite 16, Eton Arcade. The bankrupt lady who was moving out said, "You can keep my furniture: I can't afford to shift it." God bless her.

So, what goes on in Suite 16 now? It's a crowded room these days, far too small for what's packed into it, yet orderly and purposeful. Four computers - acquired laboriously over the years - are in service, a meeting is likely to be in progress at the central table, the shelved walls are stacked with clearly marked files, a volunteer is taking phone calls, and a set of pigeon-holes let's you know that sixteen committees - sixteen again - function from here, watching over the Shire's problems.

A conservation message radiates from the Centre: it goes out through individuals, through members who belong to other community organisations, through our quarterly newsletters, our media releases, our media contacts - and it goes out, far and wide, through our computer websites (of which, more later).

Over 20 of our members sit on Council and Government committees. We function as an umbrella under which a growing number of organisations choose to operate and to use our facilities.

We take Sutherland Shire very seriously. This is an extraordinary local government area: for its long Aboriginal occupation; its first landing place for Cook's Endeavour and Phillip's First Fleet; its two great estuaries, Port Hacking and Botany Bay; its share of three of Sydney's six rivers; its remarkable string of beaches; and its four national parks, including the oldest one of all. No other local government area in Australia can boast anything like this…I suppose it made an environment centre an inevitability.

But let's remember too that, along with all our riches, we are burdened by some notable negatives: the nation's only nuclear reactor, the southern hemisphere's largest capacity rubbish tip, the disgraceful exploitation of historic Kurnell Peninsula. And we have a large population, 215,000 and rising fast, creating urban and traffic problems galore. Do you realise that we have 35,000 more people than the whole population of the Northern Territory? (How I wish the Federal Government would take us even half as seriously as they take the cowboy government of the Territory.)

Yet with so much to concern us within the Shire, we've found that we can't stop at the Shire's boundaries. When we speak to Governments, state and federal, we find ourselves speaking of "Sutherland Shire and its associated bioregions". We mean, for example, the whole of Botany Bay with its host of problems, the whole catchments of both Georges River and the Hacking River, the influence of Helensburgh on Royal National Park, the marine area off our long coastline, the air quality of the whole Sydney region, and so on.

Our Projects Coordinator Simon Kimberley, has combined his rapidly increasing computer skills with an artistic streak to compose no less than five influential websites: The Environment Centre homepage, The History of Kurnell, The Towra Wetlands, Hacking River and Port Hacking (in construction), Electromagnetic Radiation.

Fund-Raising: Significant among our Committees is our wonderful band of fund-raisers, numbering 18-20, led by Pat Elphinston and Ruth Zeibots (and till last week, Don Shirley). At the Gymea Streetstall last Saturday, they raised $510. For the 1999-2000 year they have raised $4140.10 - a great effort! We see them as frontline battlers for the environment, who pay the rent and overheads of Suite 16.

Management: Our Management Committee of 8 elected members (often joined by Committee Convenors) have met monthly since 1991. Last week we heard about the Bill Gates' "Three Principles of Management". Did they fit us? First, hire the best people and let them do what they want - OK, we felt we measured up. Second, get staff from far and wide, not just from around the corner - well, we'd scouted Simon from Macquarie University's Environmental Science, and Jim Sloan from the west coast of Canada where he was an expert on waste problems. Third, Gates says: "If all your projects succeed, you've failed!" - he means, you haven't been adventurous, haven't taken risks. Well, we often take risks, often stick (against the odds) to principles, often enter as David into collisions with Goliaths… So we felt, perhaps, we have passed the Gates' test.

May I put it this way. In our nine and bit years, we've gathered a remarkable company of intelligent, dedicated, hard-working environmentalists - all of us here tonight - to serve the needs of the most remarkable local government area in Australia. If there were a slot at the Olympics for Green Teams, could there be any doubt that this team, with your great support, would bring home gold?

Thank you.

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Executive Officer's Report

by Jim Sloan

This past year of entry into a new millennium has been another year chock full of old and new challenges at the Centre. Our activities have been a blend of the frenetic and demanding with the carefully planned and implemented.

We have continued with last year's strategy of pragmatism, good leadership, innovative ideas, and a vibrant community-based action centre. We have welcomed many new friends at the Centre and introduced a number of them into new ways of thinking about our environment. We have challenged all residents in our community to each pledge 12 or more hours of their personal time to enhancing the health of our bioregions in 2000.

For over nine years Sutherland Shire and its bioregions have benefited from the environmental focus of activities provided by the SSEC. The Centre continues to value its working relationship with Council.

As the Cleanup Australia Day photo below shows, one of many sites our members contributed to, the Shire continues to benefit from our activities.
Bob Walshe and John Cox applaud a job well done!

Community Sustainability

On the question of are we a sustainable community, we have to continually ask ourselves if we are meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

For me, this question brings to mind a picture of unending conifer forests, beautiful mountain valleys mostly untouched by human hand, an abundance of wildlife, clean air and fish-filled streams. Sounds fantastic, doesn't it. I have just described the community, within a small rocky mountain valley of British Columbia, Canada, that I grew up in.

In the fifty short years I have been on this planet, within that valley, I have seen over 90% of the conifer forests with all of their intricate and unique ecosystems permanently destroyed and replaced with weak and vulnerable monosystems. Roads have been built over mountains and through even the most isolated of connecting valleys. There has been loss of numerous species of wildlife, even to the point of extinction for some. Rivers and creeks have silted and been dirtied, the salmon have been gone since 1965 and the air is now filled with the pungent smell of pulp and paper mills as they pump their effluent out to mix with both the sweet mountain air and into the once pristine and mighty Columbia River, to begin a thousand mile journey over numerous dams and on to the Pacific Ocean.

I know that it is very unlikely that the children of future generations are ever going to experience any degree of clean air, clean water, pristine forests or wildlife, much less the same degree as I did in my youth. The community of my youth (pop. was 5500) is no longer sustainable, industry has left and a long-term recession lingers on (pop. now is 1500). This community has clearly failed in its responsibilities to future generations.

How can we expect youth of today and future generations to value our environment, if they never have a chance to experience its glory. Decision-makers of the last century ignored social and environmental needs in the pursuit of economic prosperity.

The SSEC is working hard to change this by lobbying today's decision-makers with the message that if we are to achieve a sustainable community, nation or planet, we must:
  • acknowledge that economic, environmental and social issues are interrelated and that these issues should be addressed "wholistically";
  • recognise the vulnerable relationship between the natural and constructed environments;
  • consider the full environmental, economic and social impacts/costs of development on our natural, cultural, historical and human assets and resources.
To achieve a sustainable community, the SSEC is promoting:
  • use of renewable resources and conservation of non-renewable resources while avoiding polluting and wasteful practices;
  • citizen participation;
  • community health and quality of life;
  • design and construction of "green" buildings and housing;
  • creation of "green" businesses, especially those that utilise secondary resources;
  • design of sustainable communities;
  • development of sustainable agriculture; · preservation of the natural landscape
Local initiatives are the umbrella of sustainability. They bring preventive, integrative strategies to bear on crime, health, employment, land use and community values. They help promote sustainability in agriculture, economic development, education, energy, forestry, housing, land use, legislative policy, manufacturing, retail, transportation, urban planning, and waste management.

The SSEC endorses Council's Community Partnering objectives within Local Agenda 21. To us this means that community, community organisations, business and government will work together to implement sustainable practices, policies and technologies.

SSEC Strategies

Our vision is of Sutherland Shire bioregions in which community, business and government work in partnership to bring about a sustainable natural environment and a productive, healthy society based on ESD principles.

Direction and Vision

The SSEC continues to nurture a strong sense of community through education and activism, while helping to protect and improve the quality of the local and regional environments by means of local environmental activism. We continue to raise the profile of our goals within our community and beyond. The Management Committee continues to make the SSEC the focal point for local and regional environmental activism and actively participates in decision-making at all levels of government.

Our LEAF campaign (Local Environments of Australia) is now underway to make SSEC a model in local environmental action throughout Australia. We continue to build on the Centre's web site, as we prepare it to be the primary Australian information-clearing house for local environmental action tips and tools.

Tips? The Centre continues to build a broad base of expertise and we are working towards developing our library of specialised and generic information that could be used via the Internet by citizens anywhere in Australia to make a contribution that will enhance Australia's environment.

Tools? Ways to mount a campaign to clean up, preserve, conserve or rehabilitate the environment. And tools on how to form a group legally, lobby local politicians, pursue local community outreach, raise funds, apply for grants etc., all with an empowerment focus on increasing the effectiveness of the local citizen.

The Management Committee continues to review a wide range of strategic options that will help it meet the challenges in the upcoming years.

Community Profile

Centre staff have prepared a prospectus that will be circulated to publicise the Centre's achievements, explain its functions and goals, promote its policies, fundraise, and encourage community participation in our activities.

Financial Sustainability

This past year the SSEC increased donations from the community by over 100% to $115,000; Grants by over 100% to $22,000; and income from subscriptions, sales and fundraising by 35% to $17,500. The Centre continues to build a strong and stable fundraising team as an import goal within its strategic plan.

Pat Elphinston and Ruth Zeibots have once again successfully achieved their objective of raising enough money to cover the Centre's rent, electricity and a significant portion of the telephone bills. They have prepared what promises to be another fantastic annual dinner and secured a bevy of great prizes for the annual raffle. On behalf of the membership, I salute you both with a heartfelt thank you.

The Centre has continued to move towards longterm financial sustainability as it develops a marketing plan LEAF (Local Environments of Australia Fund, a (sub) Trust Fund with Perpetual Trustees of Australia Ltd). With the completion of an SSEC Prospectus, we are now preparing to launch a corporate fund-raising campaign later this year.

We will also launch another fund raising campaign directed at the local community in October. We will deliver a four-page broadsheet to every household within Sutherland Shire in an attempt to increase our membership to over 500 members and encourage regional residents to leave a bequest to LEAF on behalf of the SSEC.

Future fundraising objectives include:
  • Business Pack - prepare an information and service pack tailored to small and medium commercial business, attracting income and donations.
  • Guest Speaker Seminars - arrange seminars with well-known environmentalists, professional educators and specialist guest speakers that will attract a paying audience.
  • Environmental Info Packs - a variety of topical information packs for sale to the general public.
  • Publish a book - on global environment issues with a local Australian perspective that will help raise community awareness.
  • Project Grants - continue to apply for government and private grants that give the Centre ability to carry out local environmental projects.
  • Kurnell, Birthplace of Modern Australia - in late 1999 we received a grant from the Heritage Assistance Program to help with a history of Kurnell and establish a website in time for the Olympic Games. This website was successfully launched in April this year and can now be found on our website. Its core is the book, by Shire historian, Daphne Salt: KURNELL, Birthplace of Modern Australia, a Pictorial History.

Environmental Law Workshop

In August last year we received a grant from the Hacking River Catchment Management Committee to hold a one day seminar on environmental law in October. This course was delivered by Catherine Wells of the Environmental Defenders Office, Richard Aberline of Sutherland Council, and Kerry Bedford of Urban Affairs and Planning. The workshop attracted 35 participants, including three Sutherland Shire Councillors. All participants felt they found the workshop very helpful and that they had gained a better understanding of environmental law.

Workshops topics were broken into four areas covered during the day:

  • Legal Framework
  • Community Campaigns (community campaigns, rights of appeal, defamation law explained, legal resources available)
  • Planning & Development (how the planning and development system works locally, including a case study)
  • Current State & Local Planning Issues.

Towra Rainforest Restoration Project

Year 2000 saw the completion of the Centre's rainforest restoration project at Towra. Many thanks to Simon Kimberley, our Projects Coordinator, for a job well done, and to Coastcare, Chris Brogan and NPWS for their assistance over the past 2 years.

SSEC Projects underway or planned

  • GVEHO Grant
    In late July last year we submitted a $65,000 grant application to the Commonwealth Department of Environment & Heritage. Once again the Commonwealth declined to support the Centre. We will try again this year, as we have done unsuccessfully for a number of years past. The reason for this perseverance is that the Management Committee feels the Federal Government has been abrogating its responsibilities in funding community groups advocating positive environmental activities. Most western governments recognise the value and cost-effective achievements of local community groups, and fund them accordingly.
  • Millennium Forum Project (Thinking Globally and Acting Locally)
    I n May of this year, the Centre was successful in getting a $20,000 grant to have two delegates attend the United Nations Millennium Forum for NGOs, and develop a series of seminars, pamphlets and booklets on global issues with a local context. The Management Committee felt that the discussions and decisions made at the United Nation Millennium Forum are directly relevant to decisions we are making at home and could lead to better decision making within Australia.
Currently Sutherland, like a lot of other communities in Australia, is facing some tough decisions in regard to major issues such as overdevelopment, population growth, climate, transportation, preservation of urban bushland, wetlands and rivers etc. Too often these decisions are being made without the community being privy to all of the facts. The community needs to be better informed on global environmental and social issues and their impact on Australia.

SSEC Research Officer Project - this project's aim is the employment of a research officer whose duties will be: to update and catalogue SSEC's already useful - and well used - library resources; to provide relevant and current information for SSEC's websites; to organise a number of seminars on current issues and produce facts sheets in partnership with other environmental, government and business groups. To this end, the SSEC has applied for a two-year $40,000 grant from the Natural Heritage Trust 2000-2001. We are hoping for a positive outcome by November 2000.
  • Aboriginal Interests
  • Air Pollution
  • Coastal Issues
  • Community Participation in Decisions
  • Electromagnetic Radiation
  • Energy Conservation
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Greenhouse Issues
  • Loss of Regional Biodiversity
  • Marine Pollution Issues
  • Mining and Use of Uranium
  • Nuclear Issues
  • Resource Use and Population
  • River Issues
  • Soils and Their Conservation
  • Threatened Species
  • Tourism Issues
  • Toxic and Hazardous Waste
  • Transportation Issues
  • Urban Bushland
  • Urban Development
  • Waste Minimisation
  • Water, Sewerage
  • Wetland Conservation
Our completed policies can be found with SSEC's Prospectus (Append 1B). All of SSEC's policies are living documents that change if deemed necessary by the Management Committee as new information or conditions come to light.


This year the only change proposed to SSEC's constitution is to increase all membership fees by 10% in accordance with the GST.

Volunteers and Staff

Once again, the Centre has received strong support from its staff and volunteers to help it achieve this past year's goals. I would like to thank Bob Walshe, Joan Flowers, Shirley Renshall, Ruth Turner, Michael Priceman, Ruth Zeibots, Pat Elphinston, Cathy Baxter, Philip Cremer, Yvonne Roberts, Sandra Getts, Olwyn Tavendale, Terry Harlow, Joanna Lamont, Judith Illes, Simon Kimberley and Miriam Verbeek. Your dedication, reliability and hard work is what makes the Centre's successful office such a pleasant spot.
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