By Allan Hogan, Bulletin 1/2023, March 2023

NSW goes to the polls on March 25 and there will be intense interest in the seat of Balmain, which includes Glebe and Forest Lodge.  Jamie Parker, the sitting member, has decided to stand down after nearly 12 years in the job and pundits are wondering whether Kobi Shetty, the Greens candidate, will inherit his personal popularity. The Glebe Society is hosting a debate between the candidates for the seat at the Glebe Town Hall at 11.00 am on Sunday 12 March.

It would be a reckless punter who would bet a large sum on the outcome of the NSW election on March 25.   Conventional wisdom might have it that after 11 years in government the Coalition parties led by Dominic Perrottet are past their use-by date, but Labor, led by Chris Minns, faces an uphill battle to win the 11 seats it needs to form a majority government.

That’s why the seat of Balmain will be of particular interest, because with the retirement of Jamie Parker, Labor has a shot at making it one gain in their hoped for road to victory.  Parker won the seat for the Greens from Labor’s Verity Firth in 2011 and at every election since has increased his margin.  There’s no doubt about his personal popularity, even with those voters who are not avid Greens supporters, but it remains to be seen whether Kobi Shetty, his potential successor, will inherit that popularity. She certainly has strong credentials to be worthy of consideration on her own merits.

Labor has also fielded a strong candidate in Philippa Scott, Deputy Mayor of the Inner West Council, with an impressive record of local leadership and involvement.  A constant theme of her campaign is that if she wins, and Labor wins, she’ll be part of the government, with access to the levers of power. By inference, residents of the electorate would be the beneficiaries.

The Liberal Party candidate for Balmain is Freya Leach, an undergraduate at Sydney University.  The Liberal Party website describes her as ‘passionate about supporting our community and through volunteer work with food drives, free meals and mentoring has seen firsthand the importance of giving back and the power of community involvement’. Perhaps it’s a sign of a realistic assessment of her chances of winning the seat that neither the Liberal Party nor Ms Leach have responded to the Glebe Society’s emails. 

Jamie Parker, Member for Balmain, is not standing for re-election in 2023

In the belief that a written response to questions about issues of concern would provide a firm record of each party’s policies, the Bulletin submitted a list of questions to Dominic Perrottet, Chris Minns, and Jamie Parker, and to the candidates for the seat of Balmain.  We received replies only from Jamie Parker and Kobi Shetty.

Their responses were comprehensive and detailed and there isn’t space to reproduce them in full,  but it is possible to summarise their key points.  In publishing only the policies of the Greens I don’t believe we are acting in a partisan manner; if the others had cared to respond their policies would have been published.

So here are the questions and answers:

What is your position on rezoning for high rise in Glebe?

(Parker):  Glebe’s unique character and heritage has been threatened by several recent spot-rezonings which seek to significantly increase building heights up to 14 storeys. We have made strong submissions to rezoning authorities about the need to respect and retain local heritage, and for strong, unambiguous heritage protections to be included in any future planning controls. It was disappointing to hear Labor leader Chris Minns describe heritage protecting height limits in Glebe specifically as ‘ridiculous’.

Applicants are required to submit Heritage Impact Statements for developments in heritage conservation areas. At present the applicant commissions the heritage impact statements. This arrangement has an inherent conflict of interest. Will you change the system to eliminate this conflict of interest?

(Parker): It makes sense that Heritage Impact Statements required with a DA should be prepared by independent experts rather than directly commissioned by an applicant. We will press for changes to this process so that an independent panel of heritage consultants is established, from which a developer will be randomly assigned a consultant to assist with a Heritage Impact Assessment.

Will you put better programs in place to maintain the State Government’s Glebe properties?

(Parker): The way successive governments have treated repairs and maintenance in public housing is nothing short of appalling. Many homes throughout Glebe require structural repairs but are only ever given patch-ups and cosmetic fixes. While we have been able to improve the situation for many tenants the system needs structural change including significant new investment in maintenance to remove the years-long backlog. This work can’t be funded by selling homes. Public housing residents deserve respect and we will make sure there is appropriate investment in maintenance so that these properties can continue to be comfortable homes for people in our community.

Will you prioritise the preservation of the State’s heritage, and enhance a heritage legacy for future generations by adopting ALL 26 recommendations of the Heritage Act Review and support the required amendments to the Act and its Regulations not later than the first Parliamentary Session of 2023?

(Shetty): Yes – we made a strong submission to the review of the Heritage Act in 2022. We absolutely support moves to strengthen and support heritage protections at the local, state and national levels. We support the proper protection of buildings and items that make up Heritage Conservation Areas. Once included in an HCA contributory buildings and items should not require a specific listing in order to receive the same level of protection under the Act.

Will you define and declare to the people of NSW what constitutes a State Significant Development within the context of environmental sustainability, optimum social policy, the public good and is 100% funded directly by the taxpayer?

(Shetty): Yes – State Significant Development has been used as a device to simply override local government decisions and local planning policies and this needs to be reformed. Planning controls should be equally applied and not overridden by a government Minister simply declaring a project to be ‘State Significant Development’.

Will you commit that the provision of Social Housing is socially and responsibly allocated proportionally across the State and Cities, and that each development conforms to the existing Planning Controls of the location?

(Shetty): Yes – local planning controls should be equally applied and not overridden by a government Minister or a State Planning Policy. We need communities to support new social housing and people should always be included in local planning and decision-making processes around where it will be built.

Will you commit your Party to the recommissioning of the Glebe Island Bridge as a pedestrian route and cycleway during the next term of Government?

(Shetty): Yes – this is a critical strategic piece of infrastructure that should be reopened. When it is reopened the Glebe Island Bridge will provide a significant connection for pedestrians and cyclists between the inner west and the CBD.

Will you put a stop to the announced plans to construct a permanent cycleway along both sides of Bridge Road, and develop a master plan for safe cycleways between the CBD and the Inner West?

(Shetty): It is disappointing that proper consultation with the community was not carried out before the cycleway was implemented. Before this plan proceeds the issue of genuine access and equity, especially for disability access, needs to be resolved. We support the development of a Master Plan for safe cycleways between the inner west and the CBD.

Will you commit to compensate home owners whose property values are significantly reduced with the restrictions placed on their property as a result of the construction of a cycleway?

(Shetty): Changes to parking arrangements and street access on public roads can have significant impacts on residents. We are reluctant to support blanket compensation for the construction of any cycleway, just as we would be reluctant in the case of new residential parking schemes, no stopping and loading zones, and other similar changes.

The debate between the candidates will be an opportunity to dig deeper into the policies they intend to take to the election.  There will also be an opportunity for members to ask their own questions.  Put it in your diary:  Glebe Town Hall, 11.00am, Sunday 12 March.