Reportback from June council meeting

Divestment from fossil fuels

[By Sue Bolton] On June 11, the Moreland council became the first council in Australia to threaten divest from a bank if it continues to invest in fossil fuel projects. Moreland council has traditionally banked with the Commonwealth Bank. Since 2008, the Big Four banks (Commonwealth, ANZ, Westpac and NAB) have invested $18.8 billion in fossil fuel projects in Australia. The Commonwealth Bank provides more than $1 billion to projects that will ship coal and gas through the Great Barrier Reef.

Climate Action Moreland and 350.org presented a petition at the May 14 Moreland council meeting, calling on the council to disinvest from banks which invest in fossil fuel projects. There were 497 signatures on the petition.

The petition advocated that “For future banking tenders, the City of Moreland should set firm policies that it will only work with banks that are not funding Fossil Fuel projects”. The petition pointed out that there is a contradiction in the council’s policies. On one hand, the Community Climate Action plan aims to make Moreland carbon neutral by 2020, while it’s banking and investments help fossil fuel projects.

At the June 11 meeting, I moved to amend the banking services tender so that if the Commonwealth Bank hasn’t divested from fossil fuel projects during the three-year contract, it would automatically be re-tendered. This amendment passed making Moreland the first council to make tentative moves towards divestment from fossil fuel projects. The original proposal was for the contract to automatically renewed for three one-year renewals.

Unfortunately, the banks which don’t invest in fossil fuel didn’t tender for Moreland’s banking services. Greens councillor Samantha Ratam also moved an amendment for tendering banks to be informed that the council will give preference to banks which don’t have fossil fuel investments. This amendment also passed.

This is only a first step, but an important step towards divestment from fossil fuel. Climate Action Moreland intends to keep the pressure on so that the council carries through on full divestment from fossil fuel. If we can win divestment, it will be a powerful example to other councils and institutions about some of the actions that are needed to combat climate change.

Saving Pentridge Prison from demolition

When the former Labor state government sold off Pentridge Prison to private developers, it was justified on the basis that it would be accompanied by a museum that would be built on the site. Since it was sold off, the private developers have not maintained the heritage values of Pentridge. Developers have painted over the top of graffiti in the cells.

Now the property developer, the Shayher Group, wants to demolish H Division to build an access road for proposed new high-rise apartment blocks. The new development will block the last uninterrupted view of the old Pentridge jail which is already surrounded by apartment blocks on its southern and eastern sides.

The state government took over the planning for the site, but the council has been very quiet about the destruction of the Pentridge site. The state government granted a permit for the demolition of H-Division, leaving only 7-8 cells, according to Michael Hamel-Green, the author of an article in The Guardian (June 10, 2014).

There is currently an archeological dig which has discovered the foundations of the panoptican, a special type of circular exercise yard. Once the work is complete and it has been photographed and been recorded, it is destined to be demolished. There is a second panoptican on site which is in better condition. The developer wants to shift it to another part of the site, as a decorative piece. The first generation of prisoners carried out the backbreaking labour, quarrying the bluestone from Merri Creek, and then making the walls.

I moved that the council object to any further destruction of the heritage values of Pentridge Prison and advocate that the surviving sections of Pentridge be turned into a museum. The motion was passed unanimously.

The Tasmanian government has preserved Port Arthur and made it a leading tourist destination and economic asset for the whole state. Heritage Victoria and the state government could do the same for Pentridge and possibly link it up with the adjoining Coburg Lakes reserve which was once part of the original Pentridge site.

Rogers Reserve & Pascoe Vale Community Facility

After a long community debate, the May 14 council meeting voted to go ahead with the proposal for the Pascoe Vale Community Facility to be built on Rogers Reserve.

The facility is to consolidate the Sussex Neighbourhood House, the Maternal and Child Health Centre, and other community services. The project is an important one for the local area. The only problem is that the council intends to site it on part of Rogers Reserve.

I have been torn on this issue between the need for the community facility and the removal of more green space. There is a tendency for councils to regard green space as easy pickings for siting new buildings. I believe that the council should have looked at an alternative site.

In the end, I came down on the side of green space and voted against the project being built on Rogers Reserve. Meanwhile, local residents have lodged an application to have the site assessed for heritage protection. The June 11 council meeting voted to cease work on the project until the outcome of the heritage application is known.

World Refugee Day rally

The council voted to endorse and publicise the World Refugee Day Rally on June 22, 1.30pm at the City Square on Swanston Street.

Bust the Budget rally

I moved a motion for the council to support staff members who wished to attend the Bust the Budget Rally on June 12 and to allow staff to use the community bus if it was available. None of the councillors was prepared to second the motion so it lapsed. This was pretty poor considering that the extreme federal budget cuts will have a major impact local council services.

Council refuses to oppose Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement

At the May 14 council meeting I proposed that the council adopt a resolution condemning the secret nature of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations between Australia, the United States and 10 other Pacific Rim countries and calling for the federal trade minister to release the draft agreement for public consultation and parliamentary consideration prior to it being agreed to by cabinet.

The resolution also proposed that the trade minister ensure that the agreement does not contain provisions which enable a foreign investor to sue governments for damages over policy, laws or regulations at local, state or national level; (iv) restrict local government policies which encourage good environmental practices and initiatives; restrict local government supply and regulation of services or require the commercialisation of services; and prevent local government procurement policy from giving preference to local suppliers.

I had thought that the resolution would be relatively uncontroversial, given the likely impact of the TPPA on local councils, if it gets signed by the federal cabinet. The motion was seconded by councillor Lita Gillies.

I would have thought that the Greens councillors would have strongly supported the motion, given that Greens federal parliamentarians have spoken out against the TPPA however they moved an amendment to water down the motion.

However, even the watered down motion was overwhelmingly voted down after Mayor Lambros Tapinos gave a speech in which he stated that he was ‘sure that the federal government wouldn’t sign any agreement that wasn’t in the interests of Australia’.

The question is which Australia was Tapinos referring to.  It is certain that the federal government would sign an agreement that was in the interest of corporate Australia, however the agreement is certain to be against the interest of working-class Australians, the vast majority of the population.