Not For Sale: Crucial campaign for Hunter

Jack Galvin Waight
Country Organiser

Community protests growing against selloffs

For many teachers in the Hunter Valley, voting is becoming a regular Saturday occurrence. In Newcastle, the state election on March 28 will be the fourth time in six months that residents have cast their votes.

ICAC corruption proceedings led to the resignation of two Liberal government members of parliament Tim Owen and Andrew Cornwell, resulting in by–elections for the seats of Newcastle and Charlestown. The resignation of former Newcastle mayor Jeff McCloy brought two more local council elections.

Members have been in constant campaign mode amid community concerns that private developers’ interests are being put above sustainable public needs as key infrastructure and planning decisions have been made under a cloud of allegations of corruption.

An example of this is the recent decision to truncate the heavy rail line to Newcastle despite a court order and an enquiry led by Christian Democratic Party MLC Rev Fred Nile.

The rail truncation does not just affect students and teachers of Newcastle but all of the Hunter communities especially Maitland, Singleton, Muswellbrook and Scone and has become an important election issue.

Another controversial decision was the announcement of a new T4 Coal terminal to be built at Kooragang Island despite evidence of a downturn in coal and a recent NSW Health Department report that showed alarming coal dust health concerns.

Federation made a submission to the Planning Assessment Commission enquiry into the proposed T4 loader, expressing health concerns for the 23,000 children and 1000 teachers within 500m of the coal train corridor as well as the nine schools within a kilometre of the proposed new T4 stockpile in Newcastle Harbour.

The T4 loader has now been approved which will allow 70 million tonnes of coal to be exported from this facility each year.

Members in the Hunter have been actively campaigning to make sure the voices and concerns of teachers in the Hunter are heard come election day.

Singleton Teachers Association held an Upper Hunter candidates forum late last year where Federation President Maurie Mulheron highlighted the state public sector wage cap, workers compensation changes, investment in school maintenance and TAFE funding as priority campaign matters.

In Maitland, members have been joined by colleagues in Newcastle, Cessnock, Lake Macquarie and beyond in making TAFE an election priority by giving up their Saturdays to door-knock as part of Unions NSW’s Not For Sale campaign in the targeted seat of Maitland.

The feedback to this campaign has been very positive as residents are clearly concerned about the closure of courses at Maitland TAFE, fee increases and job losses.

Teachers are encouraged to continue to lobby their local MPs and to attend the following upcoming candidates’ forums organised by Newcastle and Cessnock Teachers Association. Forum details are:

  • Newcastle TA — Wednesday March 18 at 4.45pm, Beaches Hotel, Merewether
  • Cessnock TA — Tuesday March 24 at 6pm, Cessnock East Bowling Club.

‘Save rail’ bid thwarted

The Baird Government is forcing Newcastle commuters to truncate their train journey outside the city CBD, having manoeuvred around a court injunction obtained by the Save the Rail group led by Federation Life Member Joan Dawson.

Commuters must now leave the train at Hamilton, a suburb outside Newcastle CBD.

In a David versus Goliath battle the Save our Rail group succeeded last Christmas Eve in obtaining an injunction to stop the line closure on the grounds that a rail line could not be closed except by an Act of Parliament.

The government, however, then successfully applied to the court to remove rail infrastructure on “safety grounds”.

Overhead lines have been removed, parts of the line tarred over and a small section in the city has had grass laid across it in a cynical move to suggest there is no turning back, Act of Parliament or not. The State Government Planning Inquiry led by Rev Fred Nile MLC which suggested the line truncation be delayed at the very least has been ignored.

In an attempt to circumvent legislation the government handed ownership of the rail corridor to the Hunter Development Corporation on December 26, 2014.

The State Planning Minister, Pru Goward has made it clear the land will be open to development despite initial suggestions — to sway public opinion — that a “green way” would be established.

Theo Bougatsas, City Organiser