Sunday 24 February 2013

Coal Seam Gas - Do you really trust the Liberals?

The O'Farrell Liberal government has been dragged kicking and screaming to the decision it made this week to introduce a 2 km Coal Seam Gas exclusion zone around residential areas. I said in parliament this week that the decision does not go far enough. The decision made by the O'Farrell Liberal Government leaves 11 Coal Seam Gas wells in water catchment areas south-west of Sydney untouched. Those coal seam gas wells are located within 500 meters of the World Heritage listed Wollemi National Park.

Mr O'Farrell asserted 6 months ago that he had the toughest standards for the Coal Seam Gas industry. It now seems his toughest standards were not tough enough. He is happy to blame the former government for all the problems but will not accept responsibility himself. The people of New South Wales made their decision about the former government in March 2011. The people of New South Wales gave the O'Farrell Liberal Government a mandate to implement all his promises and guarantees. And I suggest he's beginning to fail them. 

If Mr O'Farrell thought the coal seam gas decisions made by the former government were wrong - and he certainly advocated that in the election campaign - why did he, six months ago, allow the renewal of the licences given by the former government? It is only two weeks ago on 5 February 2013 that the Minister for Resources and Energy Chris Hartcher told the Centre for Independent Studies: 

"Coal Seam Gas is no good to us still in the ground. You have to take it where it is. You can't say you don't want to develop it here." 

In November 2011 the Labor Party reflecting on the errors it made in government called for a moratorium on Coal Seam Gas because it had the potential to damage drinking water and compromise food security. The Labor opposition called for the immediate commission of an independent enquiry into the Coal Seam Gas industry chaired by scientific experts to assess the real impact of Coal Seam Gas; and that Coal Seam Gas exploration licences should be suspended before irreparable damage occurred. The opposition was ignored and Coal Seam Gas exploration licences were renewed by the O'Farrell government. 

There has been a widespread campaign undertaken in NSW opposing the exploration and extraction of Coal Seam Gas. The concerns of the community has crossed the complete political spectrum, from farmers concerned about its impact on prime agricultural land, to conservative broadcaster Alan Jones campaigning in support of farmers since 2011, National party MPs concerned about the impact on food and drinking water supporting the farmers, and people in residential parts of Sydney such as in my electorate in the St Peter's area. What has now caused Mr O'Farrell to move so quickly and to cut His Energy Minister off at the knees so comprehensively? There is a Federal election due, and the people in the Federal Electorate of Macarthur are starting to make things uncomfortable for the Liberal party. 

The decision made by the O'Farrell Government has caused outrage in the mining industry who talk about the hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment being affected by this decision. Looking at the Energy Minister's comments on 5 Febraury 2013 they have every right to feel that they were ambushed. Whilst it is the view of the opposition that the decision doesn't go far enough, the opposition wants an independent enquiry of experts not only to make the right decision about the future of the industry, but to ensure a transparent enquiry can provide some public confidence in the integrity of government decision-making process. 

For decades right throughout NSW have governments pursued economic interests at the expense of the environment. In my electorate groundwater is poisoned by carcinogenic pollution for which there is virtually no solution. Hazardous industries were permitted to expand on an uncontrolled basis with environmental concerns being dismissed. My views were dismissed as being those of the parochial local mayor wanting to hold up progress. All the guarantees of environmental protection over the decades have been shown to be just hot air and the public have lost faith in the integrity of the government decision-making process. The public's loss of confidence in the government's decision-making process is in my view completely justified. 

Calling for an independent enquiry by experts into the industry is not just a political attack on the government of the day. It is a genuine call designed to ensure that the Coal Seam Gas industry if is to have a future in this state is environmentally sustainable. It is one thing for the public to have a difference of opinion with the government's decision-making process, it is another when the public don't trust that the government's decision-making process is honest. 

There is no question that New South Wales needs a regular supply of gas, and without it prices will escalate to a level that will impact severely on ordinary households. The industry needs certainty for it to invest its money. We the public need to have confidence that coal seam gas extraction will not compromise our drinking water or food security. 

This is a very significant issue that has to be resolved for the future interests of New South Wales. It has to be beyond politics. It requires leadership. It requires integrity. And it requires intellectual rigour, something that the O'Farrell government seems to be lacking.

Saturday 23 February 2013

Council amalgamations coming your way soon!

With the government introducing a bill in parliament this week to give it the power to suspend councils for six months without a public enquiry it has taken the first concrete legal step to amalgamate councils in the Sydney metropolitan area. Whilst the Minister told Parliament  the Bill was about dealing with councils that misbehaved (the Bill does not say that), there really is no reason, with a Local Government Review due to report in about a month or so, to do anything unless there is an ulterior motive. 

The plethora of local government reviews that the Minister has currently taking place are all being done to justify council amalgamations. I have indicated to the local government industry that they should guard against the "Jeff Kennett Liberal Party Template". In Victoria the councils were sacked and amalgamated. As a sweetener to the people of Victoria Premier Kennett mandated by legislation a rate reduction, and it was game set and match. The sacked councillors and mayors were no longer public office holders, no longer held office or had any logistical  support of an officeholder to mobilise the community, and the Liberals just steamrolled over local democracy. 

In New South Wales the government does not have the legal power to sack councils without a public enquiry. Believe it or not, it was the former coalition government  that implemented an election promise that councils could not be sacked without a recommendation of a public enquiry to protect local democracy. Now the Liberal party has gone full circle, in effect, repealed the very democratic protections that it itself had implemented, to enable it to sack Mayors and Councillors without a public enquiry, and without scrutiny. 

The O'Farrell Liberal government has cleverly laid the groundwork to implement this "Kennett "style attack on local government by implementing local government reviews, asserting councils are not financially sustainable (but it can't name which one), and alleging some massive infrastructure backlog, (which is only minor compared to its own). It has done a deal with Keith Rhoades the President of the Local Government Association and will act, it will assert , at the request of the Local Government industry, and it will all be a "fait accompli".

In Parliament this week through some of its former Liberal Party Mayors and Councillors the Liberals started to lay the ground work to advocate the need for local government reform, and it will be dished up on a plate by Professor Sansom and his Independent Review Panel - all with the support of Sydney's Daily Telegraph.

In my more than three decades in local government I have seen many amalgamation proposals, and attempts by government to implement them. Ultimately those in the Sydney metropolitan area have not proceeded because they are deeply unpopular with local communities. Despite the frequent complaints about councils local communities like democratic representatives to be around the corner. Communities like the Town Hall to be down the road because they feel they have access to local decision-making and will be heard.

In the past local councils under threat of amalgamation have mobilised public opinion. Governments have listened  and  amalgamations have not proceeded. Where there has been a voluntary amalgamation, such as Drummoyne and Concord Councils, that voluntary amalgamation was deeply unpopular, and the local community has not really forgiven the the two councils for making that decision. It's only been the fine work of Canada Bay Mayor Angelo Tsirekas that has provided some unity within the amalgamated Canada Bay City.

This time after more than three decades I can tell when a government is serious. I can tell when all the ground work is being laid, and I can tell when the words "local government reform" is a genuine local government reform or just a sham.

The Local Government Act, 1993 which was an act introduced after 10 years work and shepherded through by a coalition government was a fine piece of legislation. At the time there were a number of failings of which I had drawn to the government's attention prior to its enactment. Those failings related to conservative philosophical positions which have been some of the major problems that have faced local government's structure. For example, contracting general managers, and removing certain qualifications that were required for general managers was always going to be disastrous; the philosophical view of of the conservatives that councils should out-source local services was a major failure because councils are local employers and provide local jobs, apprenticeships and traineeships and the outsourcing of services was a major loss to local communities particularly in rural New South Wales.

The biggest adverse impact upon local government has actually been the Parliament itself which constantly fiddled and meddled with what was once very good legislation, for political reasons or because of simple lack of competence. 

I have no objection to genuine reform that is in the interests of communities. Proper consultation with communities is required and the community should be given a say. The Local Government Act provides a way in which the community can have a say and that is through a council poll or referendum. The government won't want to go down that path because it knows what the result of the referendum will be as do we all. The community will vote overwhelmingly no. To some the thought of a referendum will be, it costs money. Well democracy always costs money, a dictatorship is cheaper is it not?

Local government is not just a local government department providing services. It is actually the third tier of government in Australia that is democratically elected. It should be given the respect of a democratically elected tier of government and changes to the way it operates should be subject to the approval of the people in the communities.

I have expressed this view to Mayors and Councillors of both political parties, and I seem to be a voice in the wilderness. The Conservative Mayors have been given their riding instructions, Labor Mayors think is not going to happen and the Independents and Greens seem to believe that the Local Government Association will protect their interests and the interests of their communities. I wish I was wrong but by the time they all wake up as to what is going happen it will all be too late.

There was some debate in the Parliament this week and I attach herewith the link of what I had to say.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Disabled Access to Redfern Railway Station required urgently

In May last year my predecessor The Hon. Kristina Keneally presented a petition signed by more than 11,000 people to the parliament seeking the construction of a lift at Redfern Railway Station. 

The petition was the subject of a debate in the Legislative Assembly and the government confirmed its support for disabled access to all stations. It did indicate that two thirds of the railway stations on a 307 station network did not have “easy access”; that is disabled access. The Transport Minister indicated to parliament that the government had funded “easy access” to 35 railway stations last year, Redfern Station was not one of them. 

I recently inspected Redfern Railway Station with Geoff Turnbull from REDwatch, and spoke to the Station Master. Redfern Station is the largest station outside of the Central Railway Station.

Redfern is part of the Urban Growth Development Corporation's plan for urban renewal and development. Arising from a number of Government and Council decisions relating to planning, the pressure on the railway station is increasing, and will continue to increase. 

Not providing disabled access to a Railway Station the size of Redfern at the very time government and councils are seeking to encourage increased public transport usage is quite bizarre. 

What really impresses me about the approach taken by the community in pressing for the construction of a lift is the constructive and modest solution they are proposing. 

In an ideal world a railway station the size of Redfern should be completely redeveloped with disabled access. Opened in 1855, a visit to the station looks like not alot has changed other than some add ons. 

I can just imagine the state bureaucracy saying this is 150 year old station and a brand new one is required with wider platforms and complete disabled and preambular access will accompany the redevelopment. No doubt the bureaucrats submitted this huge buget expense to the government and its predecessor and the Treasury had a fit. As a result the busiest railway station other than Central Station does not have disabled access. 

What the community has proposed is the construction of a lift that could be installed between platforms 11 and 12. Those passengers in need of “easy access” could travel to Central Station, where disabled access is available and transfer to another train. In the circumstances a modest, reasonable and responsible request. 

I have written to the Minister and requested her to reconsider the governments position so that funding can be given immediate priority.

As the request I am making on behalf of the community is so reasonable, constructive, urgent and modest, this is in my view the best way to progress this issue.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Randwick-Botany Little A's Zone Champtions! Again!

Last year I said it may be some sort of sporting record – and more than a few national, state and local teams would love to have it in the win column – but our Little A’s have taken out the 2012 Little Athletics Zone Shield for the 40th consecutive time. Now they have done it again for the 41st consecutive time.

The Zone Shield is a competition among six little athletics groups from Sydney’s inner zone. Randwick-Botany Little Athletics, led by their indomitable President Tony Vecellio, went to the Zone Shield and showed why they are the best – yet again. The local Little A’s blitzed the competition. Tony was over the moon on behalf of the Little A’s (and with some justification).

I am proud of all the time and effort Tony and his volunteer team have consistently put into building and strengthening the Little As from year to year. They certainly keep going from strength to strength and the City of Botany is tremendously lucky to have them leading such a great athletic centre. I know that local children and parents also feel this way. 

OLSH College Kensington welcomes in the school year

I was honoured to join with the community of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart College Kensington at mass to open the 2013 school year. Celebrated by Bishop Julian Porteous and held at St Mary’s Cathedral, the mass also marked the beginning of centenary celebrations for the College. 

The pioneering Sisters who founded the College in 1913 would be very proud to witness today’s OLSH community: a College of 870 students and 90 staff and where the College motto “OLSH – a community of the heart, living and learning together” is truly evident. 

I look forward to joining College Principal, Ms Libby Denny, and the extended OLSH College community at events throughout the year to commemorate this wonderful milestone.

Botany Bay BEC hosts Sydney Airports CEO

Sydney Airport: A major employer and economic driver was the focus of Sydney Airport CEO’s, Kerrie Mather’s talk at Botany Bay BEC breakfast this week. 

Kerrie spoke about a recent study by Deloitte Access Economics which found 283,700 jobs are generated – directly and indirectly - from the airport and that the airport contributes some $27.6 billion to our economy. 

I acknowledge that the airport is a major economic generator but I am concerned that for many of my constituents the airport causes gridlock on our local roads which will only increase as employment generated by the airport edges towards an estimated 400,000 jobs by 2033. 

To alleviate some of this traffic, the NSW Government should immediately look at making train travel to our Domestic and International Terminals affordable. This would bring about direct improvements to our local roads and would see this important piece of infrastructure fully utilised, particularly by airport workers, but also by the broader travelling community.

Sunday 3 February 2013

Mobile Office in Kingsford and Pagewood

A big thank you to all those residents who braved the chilly winds this morning to come along and have a chat to me and Botany Bay Deputy Mayor George Glinatsis at my mobile office in Kingsford near Retravision and Mutch Park, Pagewood. 

It was great to get your feedback and to learn of your concerns. Being a Local Member is a two-way conversation. I need your input so that I can do the best job on your behalf. It is also important that we get to know each other so next time you receive my letter in your mail box don’t hesitate to pop along and say hello. 

Some of the issues raised with me to-day included aircraft noise, concerns with Housing Commission maintenance, concerns regarding education cuts, appearance of local area, development and bus time tables. It was a very productive four hours. 

Again, thank you to all those who came along. 

If you missed me today please don’t hesitate to contact my Electorate Office at any time on 96998166 or email me at

I will be holding regular mobile offices throughout the electorate at times outside office hours to enable those who work to have direct access. As I move around the electorate I will letter box each area advising those residents of times and locations.
Ron Hoenig at his Mobile Office, Mutch Park, Pagewood

Opening of Law Term Service at Great Synagogue

Ron Hoenig at the Great Synagogue at the Opening of Law Term 
On Friday evening I joined the Chief Justice of New South Wales the Hon Tom Bathurst, Supreme Court Judges, District Court Judges, members of the Bar, solicitors and Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence at the Great Synagogue in Sydney for the annual service in recognition of the beginning of the new law term for 2013. 

Amongst the many judges, magistrates, barristers and solicitors in attendance was the NSW Attorney General, the Hon. Greg Smith SC, the Hon. Justice Anna Katzmann, Justice Stephen Rothman AM, Justice David Hammerschlag, Judge Michael Elkaim SC, the Hon. Justice Leonard Levy SC, Chief Magistrate Judge Graeme Henson, and Senior Crown Prosecutor Mr Mark Tedeschi AM QC. 

The Law Service has taken place at the The Great Synagogue since just after World War II. It was originally held on a Saturday morning but was move to a Friday night service at the request of the former Chief Justice Jim Spigelman AC. 

This year’s Law Service highlighted Jewish perspectives on the role of judges and the nature of justice. 

One interesting passage that was read “The Pursuit of Justice” referred to G-d cautioning the Prophet Samuel to pay regard to the substance of a Judge: “Do not be influenced by his countenance nor his height nor his statue … While a man may look at the outward appearance, G-d looks at the heart.”    

Rabbi Ovadiya Sforno (born c. 1475 and died in 1550) explains: This means when you choose and appoint judges, select only those who are the most likely to judge with righteousness; even though they might not possess other fitting qualities such as financial security and a noble bearing. Judicial temperament and sense of fairness are of paramount importance, more than a dignified appearance and an imposing presence.” 

Wise words which have travelled through time and still apply to day. 

It was an honour to be part of such a moving and poignant service. 

Saturday 2 February 2013

State Liberals really don't understand local policing

Amalgamating local police commands and police stations would undermine the ability of police to connect with and relate to their local communities, according to Member for Heffron, Ron Hoenig MP. 

As the former Mayor of the City of Botany Bay, I had a close and constant association with the Botany Bay Local Area Commands and all the local police officers. 

I am extremely concerned this close community connection would be lost as a consequence of the merger of the Botany Bay and St George commands.

The community would certainly lose out. 

Probably, only law breakers and criminals would benefit from this misguided decision by the O’Farrell State Government.

As Liberal Police Minister, Michael Gallacher, ploughs ahead with the Government's plan to amalgamate police stations across Sydney, he has indicated that the Botany Bay Local Area Command will merge with St George Local Area Command as part of the first stage of the trial. 

The amalgamation of the Botany Bay Local Area Command is cause for grave concern. This command is responsible for Australia's major gateway through Sydney Airport and Port Botany.

Reducing the effectiveness of the Senior Superintendant overseeing criminal investigations in relation to both these major facilities, will put at risk the capacity of the police to focus on major crime. 

Whilst the Minister has announced that this is not a cost-cutting measure, I do not trust the commitment and ability of the Liberal Government to properly manage the local area command. 

Local police on the beat know where the hot spots are and they play a fundamental role in providing and establishing confidence and reassurance for the local community. 

My experience of the criminal justice system has always shown me that the presence of local police and a local police station with local knowledge is the greatest deterrent to crime.  

People have confidence in their local police, they have confidence that they are being appropriately protected and it is of utmost importance that people continue to feel safe in their community.