Tuesday, 13 February 2018
Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:52): The proposed Yerriyong motorcycling complex is not just another local development in New South Wales. It provides an insight into the appalling activities of the Liberals in the Shoalhaven area. Why was the former member for Gilmore, Mrs Ann Sudmalis, able to secure almost $10 million in grant funds for the Yerriyong motorcycling complex when the development had not been given consent? Why was the then mayor of the Shoalhaven, Mrs Joanna Gash, Liberal Party stalwart and long-term friend of Mrs Sudmalis, pushing a development on land she was warned from the outset had significant environmental sites? Why did both Sudmalis and Gash continue to pursue this project on such an inappropriate site? Has Sudmalis made any attempt to seek changes to the Commonwealth threatened species list or legislation?
The people of the Shoalhaven deserve answers to these questions. Why has neither of them ever apologised for the reputational damage they've inflicted on Mr Alan Stephenson, a recognised orchid expert? Mr Stephenson is not a member of the Greens. This is a classic case of Sudmalis and Gash not owning their own mistakes, pretending to be the victims of some sort of environmental plot and blaming the Greens—or 'Greenies', as they call those whom they scapegoat.
The Yerriyong motor complex saga started when Shoalhaven City Council tasked a subcommittee with advancing the issue and finding land. In 2012, Gash, then the federal member for Gilmore, was elected mayor. She was determined to deliver the project to help tout herself as an economic saviour for the Shoalhaven. Much fanfare and positive press was given to those who got behind her idea. Shoalhaven City Council's economic development officer was tasked with finding the land. The officer ruled out some cleared land east of the proposed site. This land was considered too hard because of compulsory acquisition and high-voltage powerlines. The Crown land, despite the fact that it had some environmental constraints, was considered an easier target. This land was also touted as a cheaper option, at $500,000, compared to approximately $7 million for the acquisitions. As a comparison, Bathurst city council has compulsorily acquired millions of dollars' worth of cleared farmland to build their racing complex, as they perceived it as having such a high economic worth. The deal cooked up for Motorcycling New South Wales at the Yerriyong land was for the council to remain the owner and Motorcycling New South Wales to pay a $5,000 per annum lease.
According to the Environmental Defenders Office, New South Wales has probably the worst environmental legislation in history. The laws do little to protect the environment. However, despite these poor legal protections, and $1 million spent on studies of the Yerriyong motorcycling land, Motorcycling New South Wales was unable to secure definitive approval. The organisation then walked away from the project. This was early last year. Then the blame game really started.
Orchard specialist Alan Stephenson was thrust into the centre of the controversy, as he had located additional threatened species on the land in question. After being requested by the Parma Yerriyong Community Group to review the consultants environmental work, a single orchard was not the only show stopper, with many other species identified, and over 500 hollow-bearing trees also assessed.
Remember, Gash had been warned that the site she favoured had environmentally significant sites, but Gash did not heed the warnings. Instead of owning her own mistake, it was easier to blame Stephenson and try to undermine his expertise. After Gash's criticism, Stephenson received all manner of personal threats, including death threats. The former Gilmore MP joined the pack of blamers and also got stuck into Stevenson. Neither Gash nor Gilmore has ever apologised for not just their words but the hate they helped to incite towards Stevenson and his family.
Less than six months after the formal withdrawal by Motorcycling New South Wales from the proposed Yerriyong motor complex, Gash teamed up with her arch political enemy, Mr Greg Watson, to try to revive the motorcycle complex project on the same site, despite multiple warnings about the environmental limitations. Sudmalis waved her flag in support. Just two months earlier, Gash and Watson had been at each other's throats with serious code of conduct complaints pertaining to the local government election of 2016.
By the time Watson and Gash teamed up, there were no financial backers for the motorcycle complex, the grant from the Commonwealth had expired and the money redistributed to other Gilmore projects. It also became known that the New South Wales state, and the required government biobanking certificates, could cost in excess of $10 million to purchase, and Shoalhaven City Council, it would appear, would be expected to be the sponsor.
Instead of owning their mistakes and apologising to the community, to Mr Stephenson and to Motorcycling New South Wales for persisting with the wrong location, Gash, Watson and Sudmalis continue to make out that they are the heroes. They are inciting anger and engaging in environmentalist bashing. They might think they are on a win-win but, sadly, the community are the ones who are losing.