I draw to the attention of the House the power and passion I and my staff have witnessed recently from two of the small communities in my electorate—the community of Kirkton-Lower Belford near Branxton and the Save Our Suburbs group from West Wallsend, Holmesville and surrounds. Kirkton-Lower Belford is an area that is currently being looked at by AGL Energy for coal seam gas exploration. AGL Energy held a community meeting recently at Kirkton Public School on a Monday afternoon to explain its side and to try to get the locals on side. At least 50 people from a community that has just 114 properties or homes attended the meeting. Information was delivered by AGL and its expert staff. The residents asked insightful, intelligent and well researched questions.
The residents were attentive and passionate, sceptical and respectful, knowledgeable and articulate. They ranged in age from approximately 30 years old to 80 years old. They were farmers, coal miners, housewives, teachers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters all looking out for their interests, each other’s interests and their community’s interests. They attended the meeting increase their knowledge about something that will affect them directly now and into the future. They took it in turns in asking questions. They were men and women who had done their homework—they came to the meeting prepared. They were able to feed off each other and by doing so increase the knowledge of all in attendance. They presented a formidable team on a topic that is polarising to say the least. They are a team that I would be pleased to have by my side both now and in the future—but I think they vote for the Coalition.
The very next night I was privileged to attend and witness a community meeting of the Save Our Suburbs group of West Wallsend and Holmesville. Since 2009 this group has been fighting a housing development of 400 plus houses in their area. The development has been defeated once, but it was resubmitted in a slightly different form and the fight is on again. It will be subject to a ruling by the Joint Regional Planning Panel in the near future. My staff and I have attended three Joint Regional Planning Panel meetings over the past 12 months and there is still no result. The Save Our Suburbs community meeting was attended by approximately 150 people—it was standing room only at the West Wallsend Workers Club. This impressive turnout was from two small suburbs that have just 1,000 homes between them. These people are locals who love where they live, their surroundings, the flora and fauna of the local area and the lifestyles they have etched out for themselves and their families. They are humble people, but they care.
They came from all walks of life—teenagers still at school, retirees and both blue and white collar workers—to support each other and to reinforce that they are prepared to fight for their community. The group is being led by locals who do not know the meaning of defeat and who will not be worn down by opponents with deep pockets. The group has good memories as well as accurate records, and holds each and every person they have enlisted for help to account for their statements and/or promises. The group’s arguments against the development are passionate, factual and valid. They are also well researched and to date have been able to back up each of their arguments with facts. They seem to know more about planning than the developers. The reality is that they offer far greater openness and transparency than the developers themselves. Both groups display the passion and commitment that many in my electorate feel for their community and make me both humble and proud to be their elected representative in this House.