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An ambush on the ailing Noosa River

It was an ambush by the banks of the Noosa River and no prisoners were taken.

The post-truth, conspiracy-laden politics in front of a cheering public gallery mob could have been played out in Tennessee. But this was Noosa on Thursday night.

At the heart of it was an ailing Noosa River. Beneath the surface and down to the benthic layer at the bottom of the river all is not well with this life force that our shire depends on for, well, its existence.

Managed – to use that word loosely – by a disinterested and disconnected web of state government departments and bureaucrats, the river’s health is going backwards.  Noosa Council has no real say in any of it, despite its obvious proximity and interest.

The lack of any coordinated plan for our river – and our inability to break the impasse – had become a national embarrassment for Noosa and its environmental credentials.

So, after years of our Council watching frustrated from the sidelines, planning staff this year formed what appeared to be an ‘elegant’ solution. Creating a conservation park would not affect boating or commercial and recreational fishing rights in any way, (that would still be allowed and managed by the state) but it would at least allow Noosa Council a place at the table when our river management is discussed.  The proponents believed it was about as radical as a morning swim.

In September Council officers recommended the Conservation Park idea be raised, discussed and perhaps eventually put out for consultation and feedback.

This is central; they simply proposed that the concept be floated, discussed publicly and openly ahead of a long and complex process required to actually make it happen, if at all.  This was to be the first, tentative step on a long journey to manage and repair the river.

But wait, this is Noosa, where environmental politics is a blood sport.  

A month earlier the tactically ‘innocent’ vote of Cr Joe Jurisevic had given the Women’s voting block, the LNP old guard, the fired up Boating and Fishing Alliance and a rump of angry conspiracy theorists an entire month to plan this month’s ambush and to orchestrate their small but noisy campaign.

That came to pass on Thursday.

OUTFLANKED AND AMBUSHED

The Boating and Fishing Alliance were vehemently against anything that might involve managing the river.  They have embraced the current bureaucratic dysfunction and stagnation as their best friend.  

What happened next was what Donald Trump’s former right-hand man Steve Bannon called “flooding the zone with shit”, a familiar tactic to drown out facts and common sense.

One of the two petitions, both based on misinformation and scare-mongering, said it simply; “We 100% object to Noosa Council managing the Noosa River. Ever. “

As they marshalled their forces over the last month, they were supported by loud conspiracy theorists suggesting this was a plot to take away their access to the river and their fossil-fuelled motor boats, and worse nonsense that is not worth repeating.  Some of the theories put forward in online petitions and on social media were described by one Council observer as “batshit crazy”.  

Some of the LNP old guard smelled a political opportunity, as did the Mayor and her ‘Business As Usual’ faction on Council.

As reported elsewhere in Noosa Matters, the three anti river-repair Councillors were well organised. (after all, they had spent the last four years opposing the world class scientific effort to install Oyster Reefs to filter our river water)

The ‘Environment’ faction of Councillor blokes were not organised. It’s not in their nature. Staunch allies Councillor Lorentson and Mayor Stewart (with the usual support from Councillor Finzel) had set a trap. They needed one of their opposition taken off the playing field.

With a series of prepared questions they drew a tenuous, some would say preposterous, link suggesting Councillor Stockwell had a perceived Conflict of Interest because, years previously, he had given planning advice to Healthy Land and Water, a not-for-profit group that was one of many to submit its views on the river plan.  It may not stack up logically, ethically or legally, but in the heat of the meeting it was enough for them to exclude Cr Stockwell. This was achieved with the casting vote of the Mayor.

It was the local political equivalent of a head-high, gang tackle.

Some watching the meeting wondered why the ‘environment’ faction didn’t see this coming, and were not prepared with their own questions about whether the Mayor had any conflicts of interest herself.  But the Council blokes were outflanked and unprepared for this brand of politics.  

The Boating and Fishing mob in the visitors’ gallery were audibly delighted at the whiff of blood.  This was better than a day at the footy.

A VOTE TO ABANDON RIVER MANAGEMENT 

With Cr Stockwell out of the room and the numbers tied at three-three, the Mayor again used her casting vote on Councillor Lorentson’s motion to abandon the entire matter for the NEXT Council to deal with in July next year, if ever.

Let’s be clear, this was not a vote for public consultation or transparency.  It was the exact opposite. A guillotine vote to end any discussion, any progress on the river in the life of this Council.  

Noosa Council staff must be tearing their hair out in frustration.  Certainly they are angry at the lies, misinformation and conspiracies swirling around them and weaponised by some Councillors.

One long-time Council observer described the meeting as the worst and most cynically run they had seen since the 80’s.

There are several perks to being the Mayor.  One is the power to run the Ordinary Meeting of Council.  Another is the power to use a casting vote, after helping to exclude a Councillor likely to vote against you.  And another is the power to put your name and spin on the Council Media Release claiming the vote allows for “further consultation”, (in fact it prevents that) and that it “is certain to produce a better outcome for the community”.  Sure.

Read the Mayor’s Media Release here.

The river that runs past the Council chamber is the victim of this ugly breakdown in local politics.  So too is the level of discourse in Noosa.

The battle lines are being drawn as we approach the March 2024 Noosa Council election.  

The ‘Business As Usual” faction of Councillors know there are angry votes and donations to be gained, and an election platform if they can spin this issue on its head, with a smirking mantra of ‘transparency’ and ‘consultation’ when of course they mean the opposite. They want no debate, no consultation, no river plan.  Just Business As Usual.

We have witnessed an embryonic idea that should not be a threat to anyone derailed before it could even go to public consultation by a small, organised mob, social media conspiracy theorists, some cynical backroom LNP players and a few opportunistic Councillors. Welcome to Noosa 2023.

Next March they’re determined to finish the party political takeover of Council that began four years ago.  What’s to stop them?

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    As quoted from the above article: ‘the three anti river-repair Councillors were well organised.’
    The ‘Environment’ faction of Councillor blokes were not organised. It’s not in their nature.’
    This is the most pathetic, ludicrous excuse I have ever heard of. They bloody well need to get it ‘in their nature’ if they want to achieve anything, ever! It’s called Politics, boys, look it up.
    Get yourselves organised and play them at their own game. In advance. Or seek advice from others who’ve come before – eg. Noel Playford, Tony Wellington.

  2. Avatar

    The late inclusion in the plan of the Conservation Park concept (for consideration) with no definition of the intent / impacts of a Conservation Park created an information void that invited the fear, uncertainty & doubt-fuelled speculation, amplified by seemingly pre-existing distrust of council.

  3. Avatar

    The appalling display of the female councillors last Thursday evening forced me to ponder, who has contributed most to our Noosa Shire this term? The female lobby shows little respect for their staff and carefully considered decisions.
    The idea of a Conservation Park has built in community consultation. What are their supporters afraid of? It’s everyone’s Noosa River and we all want the cleanest and healthiest river possible. The plan is stalled once again.

  4. Avatar

    Building a balanced approach to Noosa’s future development needs more engagement from residents . Better coordination and communications from like-minded candidates for next years elections would be a big help. It seems likely that the pro-development lobby will be well organised!

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