• Tony Bosworth

Group Focus – The Greens – big on solar, standing up for small business, “fair, just, caring”

Greens candidate and current Hawkesbury City councillor Danielle Wheeler is the only councillor to have attended every council meeting this last five-year term, and she has also sat on committees and numerous working groups. And if that workload wasn’t impressive enough, she is always out and about in the community too. Put simply, she is dedicated, hard-working, always across the issues, and never afraid to speak her mind.

The Greens - Group B on the ballot. L-R - James Lukere, Ashley Avci, Danielle Wheeler, Brian Crowther, Rosalind Chia, Karen Kobier

And while some – notably Labor and the Liberals – like to paint The Greens as just another big party, she points out that unlike the majors, the Greens do not impose issues or controls or push their councillors in any specific direction. Green councillors are free to vote as they see fit, based on the issues in front of them.

We asked Cllr Wheeler for her take on the big issues around the Hawkesbury.

She told the Post her group – there are 6 of them and they are Group B on the ballot – “are all passionate about the Hawkesbury".

“We’re a diverse group,” says Cllr Wheeler, “with most of us having worked in the community sector.

“We’re hardworking, evidence-based in our approach to decision making, and committed to the Greens’ values of ecological sustainability, social justice, nonviolent activism, and grassroots democracy."

“We have a strong track record on Hawkesbury Council of working for the community, protecting heritage and the environment, standing up for small business through town centre revitalisation and local procurement, animal welfare actions, and support for women, LGBTQIA people and people with disabilities.”

Cllr Wheeler says, “there is lots of misinformation about Greens policies in the media, and unfortunately, this is often used to scare voters or vilify our members.”

She encourages voters to judge The Greens on their work, and in this election particularly at local level.

Greens’ party policies are written by members across NSW and Australia, based on best evidence, sent to experts for review, debated for months, and ratified by representatives of Greens groups.

“All our policies are relevant to the Hawkesbury,” says the councillor, “because issues of housing and homelessness, domestic violence, environmental protection, heritage conservation, anti-corruption, bushfire and emergency management, climate change, and food security affect us all.”

What is their vision for the Hawkesbury?

“A safe, vibrant, resilient, welcoming community where everyone can thrive,” says Cllr Wheeler. “one that honours our Indigenous and colonial heritage, and looks forward to a future where we celebrate and protect our beautiful natural spaces and enjoy our vibrant towns.

“Fair, just and caring, with good housing, good services, good communities and a good life.”

They have many ideas around how to make sure Hawkesbury Council’s Net Zero Strategy is achieved – the Council is aiming for net zero emissions by 2030, just 8 years away.

“We’re well on the way,” says Cllr Wheeler, “with Council now 100% renewably powered. We can now play a leadership and facilitation role in helping businesses and households transition. Hawkesbury has above average solar uptake, and we can help make that better with education, community buying schemes, and business coop supports. We can also support the Solar in Schools program.

“We need to reduce our landfill and better use organic waste. The Greens will push for Food and Organics (FOGO) waste collection to reduce emissions at our tip and close the nutrient loop, so that farmers and residents can use the resulting compost.

“We need to build less energy-dependent houses and help people retrofit existing houses to be more water and energy efficient and we need to do the same with Council facilities. All our planning documents must be geared around meeting our 2030 targets.

“We need to work with Western Sydney University [through their Richmond campus] to use their knowledge and research. They’re aiming for, and are well on track, to achieve zero emissions by 2030, too.

“We need to advocate for more public transport to get cars off the road, and makes sure any additional developments are within walking, cycling or a bus ride from the train.

We need to plant more trees in our parks and roadsides, encourage verge gardens, increase habitat.

“We need to plant up our car parks with shady trees, and if trees don’t fit, we need to cover those huge expanses of bitumen with solar panels to shade cars and pour power back into the grid.”

“We could do this in partnership with a community organisation or businesses,” she says.

“We can plant food trees and encourage community gardens, water all this from our treated waste water, and make everything cooler, greener and more inviting.

“We need to preserve our riparian zones, bush and wetlands and value them for the huge carbon sinks they are, and we need to replant and repair the damaged sections.

“We need to transition Council’s fleet to electric vehicles, cutting Council’s emissions and fuel costs, while adding to the second hand market in electric vehicles for people who can’t afford a new car.”

As Cllr Wheeler says, “I could go on all day here,” such are the myriad options for reaching a low emissions Hawkesbury and as she points out, “none of this stuff is really more expensive than business as usual. It means doing things differently, with climate action as a key focus. Like the transition to 100% renewable power, much of it will be cost neutral or save money. All of it will improve our quality of life.”

One of the big issues facing the Hawkesbury is potential over development, and Cllr Wheeler says rural lands should be quarantined from sub-division.

“Urban sprawl is a big issue,” she says. “We’ve seen it for the last 30 years, the constant push of a black-roofed Sydney into our agricultural and open spaces, including on the floodplain. It’s unaffordable, locks people into lengthy commutes, turns houses into energy sucking hotboxes, reduces food security due to the loss of farmland, reduces green space, biodiversity and tree canopy, and makes everything hotter, while increasing runoff. It’s a disaster and it drives climate change.”

She points out that during this term of Council, Greens and independent councillors pushed for ‘place-based’ planning in areas like Kurrajong and Kurmond, to make sure any development is more sensitive.

“Unfortunately the Liberal and Labor parties refused to support this,” she says.

“Any increases in density now must be in our town centres, as infill development close to shops and transport. Rural lands must be quarantined from subdivision, with minimum 10-acre block sizes to maintain viability.

And she says any development must meet clear sustainability requirements: light coloured roofs, verandas, shade, space for trees, green space, passive solar orientation, and permeable paving.

As everyone knows, across the Hawkesbury lack of infrastructure coupled with really poor roads are major issues. The Greens say the Council needs to prioritise road maintenance and also make sure developers pay “their way and provide the infrastructure residents need,” says Cllr Wheeler.

“We have several areas where that hasn’t happened, and it means rate payers across the rest of the LGA are left carrying the can.”

“We also have to push back against the State and Federal government idea that we can only have nice things like adequate river crossings if we accept more development. That’s nonsense and we shouldn’t fall for it.”

“Our infrastructure has to be fit for purpose - lots isn’t, like sewage pump-out and many of our roads - it needs to promote active transport, assessibility and safety, and it needs to last, including through natural disasters.

“We can do this without raising rates or cutting services, but it means being innovative, using local businesses to keep money circulating locally wherever possible, accessing grants, prioritising based on needs and use, and managing community expectations into the bargain.

“Councillors have to be responsible: don’t push your pet project so you can post it all over social media at the expense of the rest of the LGA.”

“Respect the working conditions of our staff, and don’t make nonsense claims like ‘we’ll cut rates and increase services”. We should only promise what we can really deliver,” says Cllr Wheeler.

On the $500m Richmond Bridge Duplication plan, Cllr Wheeler says she doesn’t believe any of the proposed routes are very good, “given the price tag”, and says the government should go back to the drawing board.

“The Green Route impacts on residents of Southee Rd without giving them any benefit. It will also ruin that magnificent tree canopy and its heat mitigating effects, as well WSU land and their very important climate change experiment. It then impacts on Norfolk Place residents, and discharges all the traffic onto an already clogged Bells Line of Road creating another bottleneck.

“It provides hardly any additional flood immunity and the intersections are out of scale. It will damage heritage properties and biodiversity, and it isn’t compatible with our unique vistas and their historical links with agriculture and the Macquarie Towns.

“The Purple Route is better, but its impacts on First Nations heritage, Redbank, and biodiversity need to be considered.

“I think the RMS and the State government need to go back to the drawing board. The budget has doubled. They certainly can’t pretend the community is happy with the Green Route.”

And on another big local issue - Warragamba Dam – The Greens are firmly against raising the dam wall.

“We have never supported this project, in any of its forms,” says Cllr Wheeler.

“Flood mitigation in the Hawkesbury requires proper commitment to a multi-pronged approach, not a silver bullet.

“We need better flood evacuation routes that also alleviate everyday traffic congestion, tighter planning controls, a public insurance scheme for flood affected residents who can’t afford insurance, better warning systems, education about flood preparation and recovery, a review of dam levels, and an acknowledgement that the river will flood and that we cannot hold it back.

“And we need the State government to stop releasing land for housing developments on our evacuation routes and soak-away areas in the catchment.”

“Raising the dam wall will give people a false sense of security, destroy sacred Indigenous heritage sites, destroy biodiversity in the World Heritage Listed National Park, put Sydney’s drinking water supply at risk, damage downstream ecology, delay flood clearance, and there is no guarantee it will work. It certainly won’t work if, like previous floods, the flood water doesn’t come from the Warragamba catchment.”

In terms of vote preferencing, The Greens will only be preferencing what they call, “real independents with policies compatible with our own and who we can trust to stand up for the community”.

So, that’s Mary Lyons-Buckett and Pete Reynolds.

And here are some details around The Greens' candidates:

Danielle Wheeler is a research scientist, Roz Chia is well known in the Hawkesbury and is a student, cook and community worker, James Lukere is a youth worker, Ashley Avci is a lawyer, actor and animal rights campaigner, Karen Kobier is a disability advocate and greyhound rescuer, and Brian Crowther is a retired geologist and teacher.

You can find the Greens NSW policies in detail here: https://greens.org.au/nsw/policies

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