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About Sutherland Shire's election earthquake: 3 LAB - 1 LIB

  • Shire of entrenched Liberal MPs - yet it turned down three out of four of them!

  • Shire of entrenched Liberal Deputy Leader Ron Phhilps - yet it turned him down for a Labor newcomer!

"Disaster" . "Devastation" . "A Caning" . epithets used by the Leader newspaper to explain the Liberals' "most disastrous result in Sydney's south since the Wran era" (30.3.99). The seats of Miranda, Menai and Heathcote lost . Even in blue-ribbon Cronulla, "there has been a considerable loosening of [the Liberal MP's] stranglehold".

How account for this?

How else but by a community revolt against OVERDEVELOPMENT, the factor which tops all the rest. And quite extraordinarily - everyone agrees!.

Election campaign scramble to board the "Overdevelopment" bandwagon
  • Liberal Party: "Shire residents are entitled to be told the truth about overdevelopment." (election leaflet).
  • Labor Party : we call on Council to "work with the local community to stop over-development." (election petition).
  • Liberal Shadow Minister Debnam: "neighbourhoods.are under real pressure from overdevelopment, sewage overflows, choked roads, inadequate public transport" (election leaflet).
  • Labor Planning Minister Knowles : announces an Inquiry after observing Shire developments which he describes as "mind-blowing" ( Leader , 18.3.99).
Election Post-mortem: Yes, "Overdevelopment"!
  • Senior Liberals: "Community concern about the explosion of medium and high-density housing in the Shire and St George, under Liberal-controlled councils, was a major reason." ( Leader , 30.3.99).
  • Labor's Barry Collier: ".overdevelopment was the major local issue" ( Leader , 30.3.99).
  • Liberal's Ron Phillips: ".attributes his downfall to community concern about overdevelopment in the Shire" ( Leader , 30.3.99).
Why, then, were all warnings ignored?

For three years prior to the March '99 election, community groups had warned of profound community disquiet over "overdevelopment":
  • At Council's Housing Forum, March 1996, the Environment Centre called for a "search for measures to check perceived overdevelopment".
  • Since then, Environment Centre and CRoSS (Combined Residents/Precincts of Sutherland Shire) have several times called on Council to lead a council-and-community campaign of resistance to State Government planning pressures which "unreasonably conflict with the community's interests/opinions" (9.5.96).
Yet nothing effective was done. Certainly Council never enlisted community support in a campaign against State Labor planning directives which push for "urban consolidation".

"If our Liberal Council and Liberal MPs had taken such timely action," said CRoSS Chairman Neil deNett, "it would have cut the legs off Labor's largely opportunist anti-overdevelopment campaign."

Why didn't they?

"They didn't, because they really favour unbridled development - they love the current building boom and hope it will go on forever - so they found it convenient to say tut-tut to State Government, to blame it without conviction, without serious resistance." So say members of North Cronulla Precinct Committee who have been most active in fighting Council-endorsed development around Cronulla (such as Northey's 14-storey hotel).

What is Overdevelopment?

It is a community's perception that its quality-of-life is being eroded by crowding - by excess of buildings and vehicles, which cause congested roads, difficult parking, noise/air/visual pollution, overstressed services/infrastructure, loss of trees/greenspace/urban bushland, all attended by rising vandalism and crime.

What Must Be Done About It?

Urban growth always, everywhere, reaches a point where further growth begins to erode quality-of-life.

At that point a community which loves its neighbourhood or region is obliged to assert what must be seen as a fundamental right of residence: its right to decide if it wants to grow further.

So, as the 1999 State election has starkly shown, the Shire community has decided we are already overdeveloped, overpopulated, overbalanced and now slipping downward in quality-of-life.

Blame for our plight needs to be justly apportioned:
  • Labor State Government is to blame for its draconian "urban consolidation" policy;

  • Liberal Shire Council is to blame for its de facto compliance in implementing that policy.

Council and Community, very actively, need to put together the growth control tools which will clamp the brakes on overdevelopment (our planners, if asked, know how to do this). Council needs, accordingly, to come up with an Equilibrium Planning Policy.

It is not good enough that the three Liberal Mayors of Sutherland, Kogarah and Hurstville will go off to protest to the Labor Planning Minister. That will simply provoke party-political pointscoring. These councils need to work closely, equally , with their communities in devising a united front against excesses of "urban consolidation".

Put it this way. With everyone now agreed on the reality of overdevelopment, let's put party-bickering aside and unite - Labor and Liberal, Council and Community - in devising those growth control tools.

Background Notes
  1. The "urban consolidation" policy of State Government did not change in its essentials when Liberal Planning Minister Webster handed over at the 1995 election to the present Labor Planning Minister Knowles.

  2. The present Liberal Council in winning office was strongly critical of its predecessor's Local Environment Plan (LEP), the instrument by which State Government directives are implemented locally. It set about a long process of revising the LEP. Many community observers feel that its draft revisions would not have made much difference - that overdevelopment would have continued. As if to confirm this view the Liberal Council has recently shelved its attempt at revision, and so it continues to use the Labor LEP of which appeared to be strongly critical.