Category Archives: Politics

Carol’s commonsense campaign

“That’s what women are facing all over the nation, and women are leaving politics in their droves.”

CAROL Sparks describes herself as an unlikely candidate for local government, but a desire for change in her community drove this former nurse into a political career that’s already made history in Glen Innes.

It was while co-ordinating state and federal elections for New England Greens candidate Mercurius Goldstein that Carol got a close-up look at public life.

“I went on the campaign trail and I spoke to lots of people,” she recalls.

“I realised I had a bit of a passion for it, to try and bring climate change to their attention, the problems with our waterways, and the environmental damage that was happening on the Barrier Reef.

“Then the council elections were coming up and I thought well, I could just keep talking to the people.”

Carol’s campaign for the Glen Innes Severn Council (GISC) elections in 2016 was conducted over a fortnight in a very grassroots manner.

“I just stood out on the street and said: ‘Vote me in for council’ and people liked that,” she says.

“There had been campaigning in this region in the past, but it had always been done in the newspaper.

“It was quite exciting and people were enthusiastic towards me. The community was feeling a little bit frustrated, they said we needed a change.”

A major driver for Carol was the under-representation of women in local government.

“There was a majority of men on the council and I really felt that women needed to have a decision-making presence,” she says.

“Dianne Newman was a councillor and she was feeling a bit isolated.

“I campaigned on health, women, water, and potholes. Unfortunately there’s still some potholes around, but we’re working hard on that,” she says.

Raised at Tathra on the far south coast of New South Wales, Carol’s mother’s family were dairy farmers and her painter father a Second World World veteran.

“I left school at fourteen and worked in a grocery store, before starting my nursing training at Bega,” she says.

“I went to the Keppel Islands on holiday and that’s where I met my husband, Badja.

“We sailed around the Whitsundays, got married, and lived in England for eight years where our children were born.”

After moving to the Glen Innes region in 1980, Carol and Badja established a local antiques and collectable business and a second-hand bookshop. The couple’s son Joe now owns The Book Market in central Glen Innes.

When asked about what sparked her political ambitions, Carol admits to having an internal drive that shocks a few people.

“I’m an old woman,’ she says, laughing. “And I wanted to have a change.”

“I was a registered nurse and working in palliative care here in Glen Innes for twenty years.

“There were needs in the community. We’ve got doctors on call, but it’s very different when you have a doctor right there when you present at a hospital.

“Towns in the bush tend to get poor services.”

Trial by fire

Carol served as deputy mayor from 2016 until September, 2018, when a majority of councillors elected her into the mayoral office. Looking back at her first years as a local representative, she describes the experience as a “trial by fire”.

“It still is,” she says.

“We had another lady who was president of Severn Shire Council,” Carol adds, referring to councillor Alice Clifford, who served prior to the amalgamation with Glen Innes Council.

“But we’ve never had a female mayor of the municipal council.

“That’s what women are facing all over the nation, and women are leaving politics in their droves. I suppose that’s writ small here.

“But I’ve tended to be a person who goes against the grain, and it’s been very inspiring to look at Dianne, who is now deputy mayor, and notice the changes that have happened for her whilst I’ve been on council.

“We could do with a couple more women, I reckon, just to balance it up a bit.”

When asked what she imagines her legacy will be, beyond bringing more gender equality, Carol is very clear.

“I think renewable energy, happy kids, more community gardens, and more sustainable businesses,” she says.

“We do have a tendency to be a bit old-fashioned. I’d love to bring the rail trail here, for example, with lots of backpackers coming from overseas,” she adds, referring to a proposal to alter the use of the closed rail corridor that runs from Armidale to Wallangarra.

“Volunteering is also a big thing in Glen Innes. We cannot survive without our volunteers and of course they’re all getting older, so encouraging younger volunteers is something I’ll be looking to do.”

On the issues that divide country towns along political lines, Carol is firm.

“If we care for our waterways and our creeks, we should create biodiversity and plant trees instead of cutting them down,” she says.

“To have healthy waterways is where we find most in common with farmers. They need water too, so we need to look after the environment.

“We come together though common sense.”

This article first appeared in New England Living magazine.

Heresy in the High Country for #NewEnglandVotes

“To turn this region into a true believer, New England voters need to decide if we want fossil fuel extraction in the energy plan.”

WHEN state member for the NSW seat of Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall put pen to paper in favour of renewable electricity generation in mid-2018, the news made barely a ripple in a media landscape apparently hungry for stories about alternatives to burning coal.

In his opinion piece for the local Fairfax Media weeklies, Mr Marshall ramped-up the religious rhetoric, calling renewables a “miracle” and himself an “agnostic” on the issue.

Adam Marshall, NSW Member for Northern Tablelands.

He also made a bold prophecy: that the NSW New England region — an agricultural heartland — could become a net exporter of renewable energy. Jobs, local economic boosts, and low-cost energy would be the outcomes of change the state minister claimed was driven by community sentiment in a Climate Institute survey.

Heady stuff, especially considering Mr Marshall is a National Party MP in a region more clearly associated with its federal counterpart, coal-loving conformist Barnaby Joyce, who calls renewables “a religion”.

Lest Mr Joyce try to claim credit for Adam Marshall’s renewables pilgrimage — he’s not above attending photo opportunities at renewable project sod-turnings in the region — it’s time to consider what this identity crisis for New England Nationals means for the federal election.

True Believers

After working in rural media in the United Kingdom, North America and Australia I moved home to the New England region in 2017. One of the greatest surprises of my return were the regular sightings of wind turbines and solar arrays.

As I soon learned, the locals all know about our Chinese-backed renewables miracle even if the Canberra press bubble doesn’t join the dots and ask Barnaby Joyce about it. If you ever get around to driving to Inverell from Glen Innes along the Gwydir Highway you’ll see some of the most iconic grazing land in the region, with an increasing number of wind turbines and solar panels hiding in plain sight of some very high-profile renewables naysayers.

Perhaps the real miracle is that this stretch of country has given hope to those who believe the links between pollution of the soil, air and water and global warming.

But to turn this region into a true believer, New England voters need to decide if we want fossil fuel extraction in the energy plan, and someone is prepared to ask us: newly-announced independent candidate Adam Blakester wants to know what constituents think, in fact he’s prepared to create his policy platform on our views.

It’s an unexpectedly abstract start to what may prove to be a refreshing campaign.

Sacred Ground

Without ruling out extractive industries, Adam Marshall, who also serves as NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy, stated: “I’m all for a sensible energy mix,” in his 2018 piece.

Agnostic, yes. Renewables purist, no; although his plan for the region to export renewable energy hints at the New England doing its fair share of heavy lifting in national electricity generation in years to come. If we punch above our weight with wind turbines and solar panels, surely that means we won’t have to allow more coal and coal seam gas (CSG)?

Independent candidate Adam Blakester.

Mr Blakester has sat at the table with Mr Marshall in this space, whereas Mr Joyce is firmly on the record as pro-fossil fuels. In 2018 he headed an inquiry into the mining sector aimed at increasing community benefits. As recently as the Wentworth by-election he was calling for the Snowy Hydro 2.0 project to be scrapped and the savings used to fund new coal-fired power stations.

Apart from publicly defending prime agricultural land at threat from the Shenhua Watermark project’s plan to mine coal on the Liverpool Plains, Mr Joyce prevaricates on how much extraction should be allowed in New England. A public spat with former independent member for New England Tony Windsor during the 2016 election campaign was fought around accusations about mining affiliations.

So the sacred centre ground on fossil fuels is available for Mr Blakester to occupy, although he’s waiting to see if New England voters will lead him there.

Energy Battleground

The city of Tamworth had strong leadership on energy innovation well over a century ago when it embraced a new form of power. The town was the first in Australia to generate electrical street lighting, in 1888, replacing gaslight with a municipal power supply. Advocated by mayor Elizabeth Piper, that push was bitterly fought through a local media war fuelled by vested interests.

We’re back on similar battle lines, although the benefits of new energy generation are only just starting to show. Community grants have been rolling out of the wind farm projects, and a recent NSW Valuer-General’s report attributed a 3.5 per cent increase in residential land values for the Inverell Shire area to increased demand due to wind farm projects in the region.

However, the more pressing issue for New England right now is the ongoing drought.

Pray For Rain

On what seems to be an unfolding tour of the region to launch his campaign, Mr Blakester will be unable to avoid climate talk. From the ranges above the Northern Rivers in the east, to the Western Slopes and Plains, we’re seeing local mass fish deaths and intense bushfires during such a severe lack of rain that it’s hard to find consensus on whether conditions signify the new normal or just business as usual in a dry spell.

Still, it’s positive to see our electoral options expand since country Labor announced its candidate Yvonne Langenberg in June, 2018 and Barnaby Joyce was preselected unopposed.

Adam Blakester’s public-vote approach to leadership is innovative, although starting with a blank policy canvas is a high-stakes move.

The non-executive Lock The Gate director has a track record in the sustainable governance and worked extensively on the New England Sustainability Strategy (NESS) with the company he serves as executive director of: Starfish Initiatives.

But what happens if this region’s voters tell him we want to extend our faith to, say, CSG?

This week, at Inverell, combined churches are eschewing earthbound leadership by praying for rain. With decisions due on the Shenhua Watermark project in 2020, New England voters are yet to see if we’ll get a federal candidate willing to speak what some would call heresy on the climate change benefits of renewables, while excommunicating fossil fuel extractors once and for all.

At the end of the day, a leadership drought during a big dry might result in business as usual at the ballot.

Country welcome for same-sex couples

THE northern NSW town of Tenterfield is opening its heart to four same-sex couples for an affordable and unique pop-up wedding event in September.

‘One of many rural electorates that voted in favour of altering the Australian Marriage Act to allow equal access to same-sex couples.’

To celebrate the arrival of marriage equality in Australia, a group of local businesspeople has created a fun, intimate wedding experience in this colourful corner of the New England country region.

Say I Do in Tenterfield is an initiative of Amanda Rudge, Sharon Julius, Desley Roos, Kim Thompson and Wendy Roots.

According to the group, the pop-up wedding concept was inspired by locals noticing a trend, but also a major shift in national politics.

“In the past 12 months our town has become a very popular wedding destination for city and coastal brides and grooms seeking to have their wedding in a beautiful, relaxed country town,” the group said in a statement.

BOY’S BIOG The definitive biography of Peter Allen.

“As 2017 rolled to a close, Australia voted yes for marriage equality! The group of experts behind Say I Do in Tenterfield wanted to celebrate, so we’ve teamed up with the 2018 Peter Allen Festival to launch something special.”

Immortalised as the birthplace of Grammy-nominated and Oscar-winning singer-songwriter Peter Allen in his single ‘Tenterfield Saddler’, the town is an LGBTIQ-friendly destination.

Tenterfield is situated in one of many rural electorates that voted in favour of altering the Australian Marriage Act to allow equal access to same-sex couples, and local LGBTIQ have been taking their vows ever since.

Constituents in this region didn’t have much leadership on the issue. Held by the National Party at federal level by the staunchly anti-marriage equality Barnaby Joyce MP, assisted by the similarly opposed Senator John ‘Wacka’ Williams, the wider community rallied during the marriage equality survey to show how out of touch its Canberra representatives are on LGBTIQ equality.

Michael Burge and Richard Moon outside the Tenterfield Saddlery.

I should know, because it was here that I finally got to marry my long-term partner,  silversmith Richard Moon. We tied the knot in the New England in May this year, after more than a decade of pushing for a change in the law.

I was born at nearby Inverell, and after living and working throughout the world in the four decades since I left, it was a touching experience to be able to marry in the place which has become my homeland once again.

Richard was born at nearby Toowoomba, so these two country boys have been able to come home and get married in the border country where we hale from.

And since moving to the region from southeast Queensland in 2017, we have found the New England community very LGBTIQ-friendly. We know of two lesbian weddings in the New England region this year, in fact Richard created the wedding rings for one couple.

Better than Eloping

According to the Say I Do in Tenterfield team, their pop-up wedding event will be “better than eloping”.

“If you’ve always wanted to get married but you don’t want to deal with all the fuss and fluff, let us take care of it and create an intimate wedding for you to enjoy!”

The group underlined that the Say I Do in Tenterfield consortium has all bases covered for stress-free and affordable nuptials, without putting couples through a media circus.

“From published photographers and first-class stylists, to a world-renowned wedding cake creator, let us take care of the lot for under $10,000!”

COLOURFUL COUNTRY Tenterfield is known for its seasonal beauty. (Photo: Tenterfield Tourism)

The Say I Do team includes Amanda Rudge, co-owner and manager of Tenterfield’s Our Place Wine and Espresso Bar; Sharon Julies and Desley Roos, business partners of Inspired By You wedding style and hire; Kim Thompson, owner of The Bungalow and Ivy Leaf Chapel and Tenterfield Topiary Hire, and Wendy Roots, owner of Tenterfield Weddings.

“We look forward to holding more themed pop-up weddings and renewals in the very near future,” the group said in a statement.

“Our aim is to include as many local and regional businesses, services and products as we can.

“Come and experience first-hand what other brides and grooms have already experienced and loved! Taste, smell, see and feel our exceptional regionally-produced products, services and our soulful town.

“Tenterfield has so much history: beautiful old buildings, picturesque landscapes and is central for wedding guests to meet.”

According to the Say I Do in Tenterfield team, the cost of a wedding in the country is considerably less than city prices, and much more stress-free.

“Couples can’t believe the value you get for your money, and how relaxed and easy it is to deal with our local businesses and services, with nothing too hard to put together,” they said.

“You can make your wedding rings in one day with Richard Moon; have a private Yogalates session for you and your family and friends; get gourmet picnic packs sent out with you as you explore our magical national parks, and there’s many more little secrets to come!”

If you’re interested in being one of the four couples at this pop-up wedding email idotenterfield@outlook.com.au or go to the Say I Do in Tenterfield Facebook page.