Friday 27 February 2009

NIMBY's of Stoney Creek - part 2

Barron River MP Steve Wettenhall didn't like the Stoney Creek NIMBY's when I spoke to him about the proposed Youth Centre last year. Nor did I.

I wrote about this clash of cultures last June.

The State Government were going to build the facility, a badly needed Youth Intervention centre in Cairns, for up to 50 teenagers, in the idyllic community of Stoney Creek, across the Karumunga Bridge.

Wettenhall held two public meetings to tell the locals about the Youth centre, although it is disputed about the type of community consultation that took place. The MP was determined to deliver the facility, however the second meeting, forced by the local close-knit community, only allowed people to attend if they had written a submission.

Some never heard about the consultation process, even though leaflets were distributed around the community. Wettenhall later admitted there was an "error in some of the delivery".

However, as soon as the election was called this week, in one of his 22 press releases, Wettenhall says he will now 'represent' the locals of Stoney Creek and recommend to not go ahead with the project, even though he still believe it should be built.

The Minister of Corrections has jumped in as well, and announced that the facility will not go ahead at that site. Amazing the things this Labor Government seems to be able to do in 'caretaker' mode.

The study I did at the time of the debate last year, led me to believe that there would have been little disturbance to the community. There was concerns about 'hundreds of extra vehicles' and 'offenders running through the neighbourhood', all spread to put fear around. I chatted with Steve Wettenhall and the Government agencies involved, about various objections at the time. Having worked in youth education before, I agreed with him that there would have been minimal to nil disruption to the surrounding residential community.

The youth that were to be placed there were going to be of a very low risk, and the outdoor setting, once transformed, would have been magnificent environment for education and training. You only have to hear of the huge crime rate in our city that we need a facility like this urgently.

So this afternoon I wandered around the posh streets of Stoney Creek Estate, where there is wide skepticism in the community of the flip flop. Jackie, who didn't want her last name printed, said that although she and her neighbours were pleased with the latest decision, they see it as an election stunt.

"Yes, we saw it for what it is, when all along our MP has ignored us and not even allowed us to speak at the meetings," she said. "Now as soon as an election is coming along, they change their mind. He won't get my support for not advocating and listening to us in the first place."

Another resident of Stoney Creek, who lives 500 meters from the old Scout Camp, where the youth facility was to be built, is cynical about the political announcement.

"It's clearly time for a MP to go when he only reacts to the will of the community when he knows his job is on the line," he told CairnsBlog.

However, LNP's candidate for Baron River, Wendy Richardson says that the proposal was never properly discussed with the community. "Here we are, three weeks before an election, and the MP says he still believes it should go ahead, and at the same time, changes his mind."

At last June's community meeting, the residents voted to have no confidence in their MP. I wonder if they would now, after this election turn-around.


Anonymous said...

The good burghers of Cairns, pneumatic Cairns Post in hand, love to beat that law and order drum. Who could gainsay that, with some young people occasionally coming to the attention of police, "someone should do something"?

The Stoney Creek episode shamefully illustrates that when the good burghers talk about "someone" doing something, too many of them really mean "someone else".

The youth intervention centre proposal was run out of town in Mareeba on an argument that mixed up town planning issues with speculative property price issues. Supporting this, fears about "importing young criminals" was mixed up with fears about speculative property prices. So much for the argument against.

Tablelands Local Member Rosa Lee Long could have lead on this issue, but she did nothing to assist the at-risk young people in her electorate, and the rejected project came down the hill to Cairns.

Steve Wettenhall built a legal career promoting access to justice and has been a consistent advocate of preventative social policy. Steve would easily have anticipated local community opposition, but he took the advice of the technocrats that Stoney Creek was an excellent site for a preventative youth facility.

As you would expect of any decent Local Member, Steve lead on the issue, demanding and getting a community education and consultation effort from the Department of Communities and meeting with local people on many occasions, putting the sensible view that the proposed facility was desperately needed for Cairns young people, and that the facility would have no effect on the residential amenity of the Stoney Creek locals.

A year later it is apparent that, for whatever reason, Steve has not been able to win the argument.

At that point, it is open for him to ignore his local constituents and press ahead with the facility. Had he done so, he would have been pilloried for arrogance and for trashing his representative responsibility. Instead, in the only credible tradition of representative democracy, Steve stepped away from the project, recommending its demise to the government and getting an immediate sign off by the appropriate Minister.

In a no-win scenario, maybe its better to be pilloried for a "backflip" than for arrogance, but what concerns me is that the "backflip" criticism is being run at all.

Steve made the effort to be fully informed on the issues, he advocated a strong and ethical personal view, he provided community leadership, and he remained accountable to his constituency. That is exactly what I want from my Local Member.

I love to criticise political figures myself, sometimes gratuitously, but let's not debase the best of what they have to offer. The only way to avoid a "backflip" is to either ignore your constituency, or to make sure that you never lead in the first place.

Sean Purcell
Mimosa Street
Holloways Beach
40 559904

Michael P Moore said...

Henry, over at made the following comment on this youth facility...

I friend of the blarg who is in the know about these kinds of things has written to me concerning a recent article on CairnsBlog. There has been a lot of Not in my back yard (NIMBY) about the proposed (approved?) youth facility at Stoney Creek. Here is the text of their message:

"Just to clarify - this facility will NOT be residential! The Kamerunga site will be a home base for the service to train and store their extensive equipment in order to run a profession, evidence based, best practice service. Currently the service is located in the inner city area with no complaints from the surrounding houses or businesses - could it be there is nothing to complain about?

Its a real pity seeing political grandstanding stopping Cairns from engaging an innovative, exciting adventure based service that SUPPORTS and TRAINS the youth workers from our region.

It's all about trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone to work with young people - something the public should have a go at sometime because as a COMMUNITY we are responsible to share the journey of those who live around us - even those younger than us!

Over and over our young people are listed as an issue - yet think back a little - how were you in your teens? Did someone stand by you and get you through the tough times? Or did they turn their backs?

Come on Cairns! For once let's be a leader not a follower! Let's work to make our region somewhere that is used as an example of taking the reigns and leading with courage and common sense not the place that turned their backs on a successful (already trialed down south) program that might just be the turning point for our workers and our young people.

The Northern Outlook's doors are open for professional development, team work, strategic planning and generally for you to ask your questions and get the answers. Why not get the good stuff - the right information before we jump in feet first.

Well done Steve!! I think for the first time ever I'll be passing my vote to someone else.."

So there will not be a "Jouvie Hall" in stoney creek. As a resident of Lake Placid this makes me feel a bit better about it going up just across the river.