Our home and part of the living room is girt by sea
The environmental policy of “planned retreat” pioneered by the excellent folks at the Byron Bay Council has created a handy precedent for those who find themselves locked in reluctant weekend battle with the forces of nature.
That group of people - often referred to as “husbands” - now has at its disposal a noble excuse for refusing to trim the edges, sweep up the lawn clippings or take out the vegetable scraps.
The next time you get a death stare because you’re entering your third hour on the couch in front of Fox Sports, the handy zen-like rationale is that you’re not bludging but walking lightly on this earth.
Byron Bay Council - dominated by a factor of five to four by Green councillors - is refusing to review its “planned retreat” policy whereby beachfront properties which have been pounded by storms or subjected to erosion cannot be protected by man-made structures. No sandbags, no seawalls.
The idea is that it’s all the will of Gaia, and that it’s rank human impertinence to do anything about it. Except, of course, to lift up your house and shift it a few metres inland.
Despite the inconvenient truth that some of the beachside erosion has been caused by the construction of the council’s own carpark - revenue from which appears to trump any stated commitment to the planet - the residents are effectively being told to either grow themselves some gills, or get the carjack and some mates with a carton of cold ones over and see if they can lug their house up the hill.
There’s a few dozen blocks that are crumbling into the sea but the council is steadfastly refusing to change its policy.
As one resident, Sharon Bourne, stated this week, getting a straight answer from the council on how to respond to the salty deluge was not easy.
“I’ve got a demountable house, but the council doesn’t have a full policy on this. Where would I take my demountable house if I had to move it quickly - the IGA car park?”
In other circumstances this would be just another bit of endearing North Coast weirdness. There’s a couple of things that make it quite serious.
The first is that we have an Australian council - representing a tier of government which probably shouldn’t exist anyway - telling a group of living, breathing rate-paying humans that they should watch their family home be swallowed up by the elements.
That of itself should probably be against the law.
The second is the potential of the council’s actions to pervert policy at the state government level, especially when that government is the politically desperate 14-year-old outfit headed by Premier Nathan Rees.
To its rare credit, the NSW Government has decided to front up for the fight.
The Australian revealed this week that the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change has written a stern letter to the Byron Council stating that ratepayers have every right to defend their homes.
“Any planned retreat policy should allow landowners to continue to use their property while ever it is safe to do so, ” deputy director-general Simon Smith advised. “(Council) should set out potential arrangements that would permit appropriate landowner-funded coastal protection works”.
Stern letters are one thing but it remains to be seen whether the Rees Government will see this blue through.
Their fear - and it’s a fear which has driven some shocking toadying to the NIMBY set on inner-city issues - is that the drift of Labor votes to the Greens will be hastened by strident action against councils such as Byron.
The pragmatic tactical question Labor must ask itself is whether it is prepared to go through with a fight which gives ammunition to the Greens, and further imperils inner-city Labor marginals such as Marrickville (held by Health Minister Carmel Tebbutt, who is married to federal minister Anthony Albanese) and Balmain (represented by one of the few shining lights of the Rees Government, Education Minister Verity Firth.)
Bob Carr holds some kind of record for establishing and expanding national parks during his tenure as Premier. His environmental credentials were only disputed by the maddest of critics. But even Carr was the subject of one of the most deceitful and hysterical campaigns, against him and the former member for what was then Port Jackson, ex-Tourism Minister Sandra Nori, over the modest and limited development of green space in Sydney’s inner-west, funds from which were to have a built a desperately-needed co-located mental health hospital in the area.
Despite his disgust at the lies peddled about the project, Carr was ultimately forced to swallow his pride and scrap the development to save Sandra Nori’s scalp on the insular Balmain Peninsular.
And just as this campaign was a classic bit of bourgeois self-interest repackaged by the Greens as a victory for the little people, the same selfishness is being displayed in Byron with the council’s other current crusade.
Aside from consigning people’s verandahs to the briny, the Greens are also trying to ban homeowners from using their properties for holiday rentals unless they live in their homes for a minimum number of months per year.
This policy is couched in the sham language of “community” and “amenity” when it’s actually a transparent example of gated community elitism aimed at keeping the bogans at bay.
The very people who support it are probably the ones who prattle on about our inclusive coastal lifestyle and how the beach belongs to everyone, how we’re all girt by sea, just as long as you don’t go bringing the wrong sort of people in the area.
Anyway, enough of my yakking. It’s Saturday - not just any Saturday, but the most sacred Saturday of the year - and in a show of solidarity with our fragile planet, I’d urge you all to think globally and act locally with a planned retreat to the couch to watch 12 hours of Aussie Rules while the garden creeps ever closer to the living room.
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