At this AGM I will argue that The Glebe Society faces challenges as great as when Askin chose Glebe as the site for a motorway. But The Glebe Society is now better prepared to turn them into opportunities. Today won’t be used for detailed recapping of what we have done during the year, for I have reported these matters monthly on our website and in our Bulletin as well as all significant correspondence and minutes.

As I prepared for the AGM I read reviews of books by Bob Brown, Paul Kelly and Mark Latham. Though Brown’s was more personal than the others I found that I agreed with their consistent diagnosis of the community’s problems. They recognise that people do not trust political parties; are sick of news cycle politics and detest venality.

I do not agree with their solutions. Latham prescribes less government and more experts. Kelly seeks a charismatic leader, civil politics and reasonable media. Brown no more than hints that the community may have the answer. I am going to extend the inference from the last of these, in a realistic way. I am for strong community engagement and non-aligned political influence. You know, we have done well with our community campaigns, learning from each and adapting for the next. To illustrate this let’s look at an almost completed development, Harold Park; and a yet to begin development, Bidura.

Yes, as I look at Harold Park Development I see a lost opportunity for truly innovative design. I see high towers and architectural mediocrity. But I also see that we had a real effect on ameliorating the worst effects. How? The Glebe Society held public meetings, consulted widely and influentially. There were real threats that the Minister for Planning, Tony Kelly, may have called it in as a state significant development and then…… who knows what may have happened. But TGS involved the community, which was strong, the City was strong and our local member was strong. The community gained much green open space and TGS talked with the developer and argued variations before Council as matters progressed. Is it ideal? No, far from it. Is it much better than it would have been had The Glebe Society not engaged the community. Too right.

Recently the state government announced it would sell the Bidura site on Glebe Point Road. This is a significant Heritage property with a large, brutalist concrete, Court and detention centre behind it. Are you confident that the community will be properly consulted, that heritage will be protected, that there will not be over development in this heritage precinct? If you are confident, then you were not watching closely as Millers Point was sold off with neither economic modelling nor effective social needs analysis and in direct nullification of a heritage order. You were not watching whilst a Bill was prepared for the NSW Parliament that will diminish the worth of each resident’s vote in the City of Sydney.

The privileging and the protection of market interests accelerate. We are no longer surprised when the ICAC reveals yet another case, in which the political and business classes see corruption as a rule of the game. We hope investigative journalists will do the work we pay our Parliaments to do at the same time as we see market interests cut back their capacity to do so. We ruefully suspect that developers run this state.

“Things are crook in Tallarook, And also in Sydney town!”

What can be done when the community is “officially consulted”, then ignored by the NSW government about new planning laws? What can be done when the community is simply ignored about the Bays Precinct Urban Renewal Project? What can be done when the heritage precinct of Millers Point and its deserving people are violated? What can be done when commercial votes become more than twice the value of your vote as a resident? What can be done when we are consistently Barrangaroo’ed?

As Brown, Kelly and Latham recognise we increasingly live in a network society – directly connected by technology but increasingly hollowed out; as loyalty to public institutions declines and power becomes asymmetrical.

It is by using this network society that we determine “What can be done?” By doing so we will demonstrate how political institutions must be remade. Three realist propositions are necessary. We must:

  • use our technology cleverly,
  • use our influence with the political power structure,
  • use our experience in campaigns beyond postcode 2037 and learn more.

Technology enables very rapid communication, which is unfiltered by professional politics or media. Groups rally around causes and make a new civic society. This is happening globally as memberships of political institutions decline and community based movements increase. But does it gain results?

It is working for Glebe. In the last year in NSW we saw an unjust planning bill rejected because people engaged, used technology and formed a network. This ensured that community consultation and environmental principles would not be sacrificed for economic growth. We placed sufficient pressure on our political institutions to gain withdrawal of the Bill. Delay may be the only tactic when power is uneven.

The demand for remaking political institutions is yet dimly heard so we must be clear headed and doggedly persistent in our actions. The NSW Government did not learn from its planning experience; rather it seethes at our interference in its game. We need political institutions but they are our institutions. We make them. Ignore injustice and corruption and it becomes institutionalised. What can be done? It starts locally and it starts with us.

Consider this challenge. The biggest urban redevelopment project in Australia will occur in our own Bays Precinct. Eighty hectares of public land and foreshores will be developed. The task is entrusted to the Urban Growth Corporation, Chaired by John Brogden with four developers on its Board. The Premier has announced an Experts’ Summit in November and that the people will be told in February of its outcome. This is an obviously flawed plan. It treats us as dopes. I cannot imagine what any planning expert will say when told, “The community has not been consulted. You determine what it will get”.

Consider this opportunity. Community organisations like The Glebe Society will band together in a broad network and set out principles, aims and needs. Sydney is a world city and given proper community engagement it will ensure that this development is a world ideal in proper process and innovative outcomes. We learned how to do this during our planning bill campaign, in which our network set out planning principles and now a consultation charter. The community will not wait to be told by the Experts what we need. It will have consulted widely and with experts on successful processes. It will have met. The City of Sydney has responded to the community request and will financially support a People’s Summit before any Experts’ Summit. The Experts’ Summit can learn from it and work with it to gain a result Australia will be proud of. This campaign is moving so rapidly I have asked Lesley Lynch to speak about it at today’s meeting. But already it is shaping as fulfilling the three realist propositions I set out. TGS used its excellent technology to get people to a public meeting, used its influence with City of Sydney and Leichhardt Municipal Council, one of our most experienced campaigners is working with groups around the Bays suburbs and beyond.

What are we doing?

Everything we do now is based on the imperatives of engaging with community and networking widely. It is now the way we do things.

After extensive consultation and member involvement The Glebe Society adopted its Strategy 2013-2019: Engaging Glebe. Our engagement has interweaving skeins: our membership, Glebe community, neighbouring communities (such as the Bays suburbs), neighbouring institutions (such as University of Sydney, the City of Sydney), similar interest groups (such as RedWatch, National Trust), statewide groups (such as the Better Planning Network). These sort of broad ranging relationships work because of good hard working people with good organizing capacity and a sense of ethical professionalism. The Glebe Society has earned such a reputation, guards it ferociously and acts strategically. Each of us can do a bit and encourage others to do a bit. Share Strategy 2013-2019: Engaging Glebefreely. People do not have to be members to realise that communities must stick together.

In considering our achievements for 2013/2014 this strategy is foremost. To make it work we have done a series of little things from which big things grow.

Our communications are more direct, immediate and involving. Check out our Website, our Facebook and our Twitter. You can find the terms of reference for each subcommittee, all policies, activities, affiliates, campaigns, correspondence, minutes, Bulletins. Anyone can access these and I ask you to encourage non-members to do so. We are proud of our work and confident that this sort of engagement serves us well.

By working in the Better Planning Network, lobbying politicians and publishing our views, The Glebe Society has seen the new planning legislation defeated. This remarkable example of community engagement rose up in less than 8 months from a vanguard of 8 to over 450 agency members. Make no mistake the legislation would have taken away most community consultation, seriously threatened our heritage and predicated our planning law on the values of the market and economic growth. All of these are inimical to our constitutional aims. We therefore invested people and money in this campaign. We got a result. It is not over but we have learned how to do even better, next campaign.

The NSW Land and Housing Corporation evicted the Glebe Youth Service just before Christmas 2013. Glebe rallied and The Glebe Society was proud to work with all of Glebe to point out how significant GYS is to Glebe’s community. GYS is back with improved premises but difficult leasing arrangements. The Corporation revealed its lack of appreciation of how Glebe works.

Of course the Corporation is not alone in its one size fits all approach. Most Government agencies fund, allocate, run and dispose of programs without deep knowledge of our community. But Glebe is well organized and it is not beyond our capability to produce evidence of Glebe’s needs and capacities. The Glebe Society is working with other Glebe agencies and the neighbouring universities on this matter. It is strategically imperative that our institutional neighbours work with us so that learning, research and community enhancement eventuate. We have ongoing projects with University Deans, community agencies and others concerning these matters.

The Society has prepared a first class request for funding to the Federal Government for a World War I Community History Project. It will use this magnificent Glebe Town Hall to display the effects of the War on Glebe. We should hear the outcome within months.

We instigated the Glebe Island Bridge Celebration Project. The National Trust, City of Sydney, Leichhardt Municipal Council and The Glebe Society propose that the Glebe Island Bridge remain closed for several hours on an appropriate weekend so that the community can walk upon it, celebrate its heritage and recognise its significance as a transport link between the City and the North West. Negotiations continue with Roads and Maritime Services.

The Glebe Society is remarkable. Its work is professional, measured and influential. Its constitutional aims can be distilled down to: protect heritage, environment and community of Glebe. Our individual members quietly get on with work in the community. They are not always wearing their TGS hats but they do us credit nonetheless. Tom Uren Pop-Up Park was recently cleaned up. Peter Robinson compiled a database of all the plaques in Glebe, which we share on our web. Our Ambassadors work with community agencies helping with grant applications and advice. Our subcommittees produce submissions, reports, correspondence and get things done. Our officers ensure that governance and finance are sound. Our management committee keeps us working towards agreed strategy. Let’s not forget our Events group, Editor, Web Coordinator, Facebooker, Chief Tweeter. I want to thank all those people who make The Glebe Society what it is.

As President you don’t run The Glebe Society, you run after it. I am proud to have been in the race. Thank you.


John Gray

31 August 2014