The Greens and the 2004 NSW local government elections


Ed Lewis

The Sydney Morning Herald article posted by Luke Fomiati sums up the situation in the NSW local government elections quite accurately, as far as it goes.

Labor is on the nose in local government because, as the state government, it has failed to follow through its urban consolidation policies with:

  • 1. transport and other infrastructure to support the very large developments that have resulted from its policies.
  • 2. stringent building codes, and strict enforcement, to ensure that large developments are not simply future slums.
  • 3. reform of the Land and Environment Court, which gives every appearance of being dominated by real estate interests, and routinely overturns local (including local council) opposition to inappropriate local development.
  • As a result of this, residents all over Sydney, and particularly in the inner areas, are facing large, poor-quality developments with inadequate infrastructure, the main immediate consequences of which are more cars on already near-gridlocked roads, and major problems with overshadowing, poor design and general overdevelopment. This is leading to support for independent candidates in local government, and a strong anti-party sentiment in many councils.

    My experience campaigning for the Greens is that even we are being caught in the backlash against any parties in local government. There is no doubt that Labor is extremely unpopular and surrounded by suspicions that it benefits from large developers’ slush funds. The research produced by Lee Rhianon’s office adds to these suspicions, although everyone has to be careful of the legal implications of explicit corruption allegations.

    Even so, Labor’s residual support and skill at manipulating preferences, particularly through key figures in ethnic communities, will ensure it of strong continuing representation in most councils.

    There is no doubt that urban consolidation is a sensible policy for the Sydney basin. Fringe sprawl cannot continue indefinitely, if only because the physical limits of the Sydney basin are being reached. Further development along the Hawkesbury watershed adds to the environmental disaster that has already overtaken that river. Anyone accidentally cutting themselves in the lower Hawkesbury, or swallowing the water, risks a life-threatening illness.

    Now, because of the near-collapse of its urban consolidation policies, the Labor government of Premier Bob Carr has been forced to swing back to the sprawl option, with an announcement in the last few days of another city the size of Canberra in the Sydney basin, with no plan for transport or other infrastructure.

    The Carr Government’s urban consolidation policies are failing largely because they have resulted in construction of an over-supply of substandard, excessively expensive flats in the inner-city.

    Clover Moore picks up on some of these questions with sensible observations based on studying progressive urban development internationally, and as a result is quite popular despite her reactionary record in supporting the Greiner government.

    It’s also clear that Moore picked up the support of most of the right-wing, anti-Labor forces, particularly in the media, once the forced amalgamation of Sydney and South Sydney councils made a Labor victory all but certain in the merged council. It would be interesting to know what was said between Moore and the Liberal Party after it became clear Kathryn Greiner couldn’t win.

    There’s little doubt that Moore will be indebted to some very unsavoury forces if she wins, which no doubt accounts for her evasiveness on specific policy in the election campaign.

    On the other hand, she has done a preference swap with the Greens, who strongly oppose overdevelopment, so she will have a difficult balancing act. In this context, the Greens’ preference swap is a useful source of pressure.

    My experience is that the Greens often have nowhere to go with preferences in local government. Labor won’t exchange in most cases because they exchange with their own, often ethnic, dummy candidates, the Liberals are out of the question, and many genuine independents won’t preference any party.

    In other cases, exchanging with Labor is out of the question for the Greens, because of Labor’s pro-development policies. This is certainly the case in the St George area, where Labor is the main force pushing the massive Cooks Cove development on the environmentally important Cooks River-Botany Bay remnant wetlands.

    This post probably won’t please Ben Reid (who in any case appears not to be interested in serious discussion, but is merely baiting to persuade DSP members that they shouldn’t consider Bob Gould’s arguments seriously) or Bob Gould, who I think makes some strong arguments against preferencing Moore, which is a useful contribution.

    One final observation to Ben Reid: don’t get too excited about disagreements between myself and Bob. We disagree often, but our collaboration on the Ozleft project will continue.



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