Banana Farmer/GP turns into Radical Protester
An amendment to the Motor Sports (WRC) Bill 2009, Section 25, specifies that a Review be conducted to determine whether future rally events should be conducted in that region.
YOU SHOULD HAVE ASKED FIRST!!!
Submission to the Review of the Northern Rivers round of the WRC, 2009 by Dr Fiona McCormick
Introduction, My Background
My name is Fiona McCormick. I first made the Tweed shire my home nearly 30 years ago, at which time the population of the Tweed LGA was around 40 000, half the current population of around 80,000(1). I have seen a lot of changes in the shire in that time: particularly an increase in the coastal population and increasing housing pressure on viable farm land and wildlife habitat.
I am a GP and have worked in the emergency departments of the Lismore, Byron Bay
and Mullumbimby hospitals, often as the only doctor on duty. In the course of my work I have treated horrific injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents. I have had to counsel the family and friends of those killed or catastrophically injured, a task made so much more traumatic for all concerned by the fact the victims are often young: in fact young people aged 15-29 form around 15% of the population of this state and this LGA, yet they represent 23% of those killed and injured in all road accidents in NSW(2), meaning they have one and a half times the risk of being killed or injured in a motor vehicle accident. Even worse, young people under the age of 26 hold only 15% of driving licenses but comprise 36% of road fatalities in NSW(3): in other words they are more than twice as likely to die on our roads as other road users. I am a mother: young people are our future.
What follows is the narrative of how a health professional found herself radicalised by
the actions of the NSW Parliament and a rabble of motor sports enthusiasts known as
“Repco Rally Australia” (RRA). It is intended as a cautionary tale for legislators, for if someone who represents what is known in medicine as a “reasonable person” can become so completely disenfranchised by the political process, there can be no true democracy in our country. This submission includes details of experiences which should not occur in our society – police threatening to arrest us for intimidation when we parked a vehicle on our own driveway to prevent trespass which they appeared unwilling or unable to control, theft going uninvestigated, dangerous driving being ignored and lies spoken in public fora being reported as the truth.
In order to cover all the facts and tell the story of what happened to myself and my community this is a somewhat longwinded document and I apologise in advance for that. This submission is directed at, but not limited to, the terms of reference of the Review dealing with the environment, public safety and the impact on the local community. To make it easier to navigate for the reader, it can be read in the Document Map view.
Inequitable Loss of Amenity to Rural Residents
My partner is a second generation farmer on Cudgera Creek Road, which is one of the narrow gravel roads in the Tweed shire used during the Australian round of the World Rally Championships in September 2009. Every single car we have towed back up onto this road over the years has been driven by someone under the age of 30. Inexperience and speed caused these young people to lose control, compounded by the ineffectiveness of brakes on the loose gravel surface. 60km/hour is speeding on this road, as it is on the other gravel roads of the Tweed and Kyogle shires.
My partner and I have written to council on numerous occasions about the disgraceful state of this road. We have been told that all gravel roads in the Tweed shire are patrolled
regularly and are graded 3 times a year.
What actually happens is that on occasion (certainly less than 3 times a year) a road crew will spend some time clearing out the gutters and regrading. Only twice in the past ten years has the road been effectively resurfaced: one of those times was immediately prior to the WRC rally.
As I am also secretary for a landowning community responsible for 2km of private road elsewhere on the Tweed, and as my partner is responsible for the maintenance of all the roads on our 60Ha farm, we both have substantial practical knowledge of correct road maintenance and wish to inform the review that Tweed Shire Council (TSC) are most remiss in their maintenance programme on the gravel roads of the Tweed Shire.
We pay rates and this road is the only council service delivered to our home.
Immediately prior to the rally, however, TSC workers did such a good job that the road could easily have been tar sealed. We estimate they laid over 100 trucks full of excellent gravel on our road alone, spending no less than 3 weeks to water and roll this in. I have included photos of the state of the road surface prior to being graded for the rally, immediately after grading and prior to the rally and immediately after the rally.
When notified that a high speed rally was to be run on our road, my first concern was for the state of the road surface, as you can see that years of neglect had caused it to be little more than a goat track in places. I then realised that a contract to use this road as a stage in a gravel road rally for the next 10 – 20 years would mean that there would be no chance of having this road sealed in the foreseeable future.
I refer to Tweed Shire Council’s 2003 gravel roads rating review(4), where Cudgera Creek Road rated higher than several roads which have subsequently been sealed, and wish to point out that traffic estimates of 100-150 are far below what we are actually experiencing since the Cudgera interchange on the Yelgun - Chinderah Freeway opened in 2002 and the recent fad for GPS navigation aids in private cars took off.
Traffic has in fact increased since the 2000 estimates of 250+ movements cited in the gravel roads review, a fact substantiated in the TSC memo from July 2009(5). We are often pulled over by lost city folk scared out of their wits by finding themselves on this road, with it’s rough surface, blind corners and steep drop offs.
Public Safety Concerns
After my initial concern for the state of the road surface, I then started to research the link between motor sports and driving behaviours. I wish I hadn’t done this, as the results are quite simply alarming. There is a clear association between an interest in motor sports and an increase in speeding and risk taking, particularly amongst those under the age of 35. Crashes on the suburban roads around the Adelaide Grand Prix circuit increased by 35% after that event, and studies show this increase in road traffic accidents is repeated in other areas where a motor race has taken place.
One of the RRA employees (Operations Manager Bob Newman) asked me if I had found any research to prove that rallying was implicated in this increase in accidents: I put it to the Parliament that the burden of proof should be on organisations planning motor sports events on residential roads to prove that these events do not cause an increase in road traffic accidents, particularly as in this case the stage times are available on the internet.
Let me quote from Tranter and Warn’s 2004 study (6): “A problem with motor racing as a sport is that spectators who wish to emulate the behaviour of the motor racing drivers, can only emulate this behaviour on public roads. This then redistributes the burden of risk onto other road users who may happen to be in the vicinity…..” In another study in 2008 (7) the same authors state: “The results indicate a clear association between an interest in motor racing and the attitude that speeding is acceptable.”
I for one am not prepared to accept any increase in risk for myself, my family or our farm workers. I would also like to ask the NSW Parliament why are you funding the 'Speeding, no-one thinks big of you' campaign and at the same time funding motor car races and thereby encouraging speeding? This is not a rational use of taxpayer money.
I have attached the disclaimer that Repco Rally Australia asked spectators and participants to sign (8), and I ask the review chair and our elected representatives to read
this document carefully, with particular attention to the statement that: “Motor sport is
dangerous and accidents causing harm can and do happen and may happen to you”. You may also notice that the disclaimer asks them to acknowledge that the “risks associated with attending and participating in the event include the risk that you may suffer harm as a result of: motor vehicles (or parts of them) colliding with other motor vehicles, persons or property; acts of violence or other harmful acts committed by persons attending or participating in the event; and the failure or unsuitability of facilities (including grand-stands, fences and guard rails) to ensure the safety of persons or property at the event”.
This is in contradiction to what we were told at the public meeting in Murwillumbah on 7th February 2009, where RRA organisers assured us that spectator and driver safety was paramount. No wonder I was wary of this event, as by my reading the disclaimer shows that RRA actually expected violence amongst spectators and injury to persons and property. No wonder the residents of Kingscliff were angry at having the rally “service centre” placed in their midst. No wonder extra police personnel were seconded to the region.
Inappropriate Event for the Region
No Development Application eventuated, which is just as well for the rally organisers as it would have contravened many areas of the TSC charter, specifically council’s charter to “properly manage, develop, protect, restore, enhance and conserve the environment of the area for which it is responsible in a manner that is consistent with and promotes the principles of ecologically sustainable development; to bear in mind that it is the custodian and trustee of public assets and to effectively account for and manage the assets for which it is responsible and to have regard to the long term and cumulative effects of its decisions”.
Many local residents who are, like us, living the low carbon lifestyle of the future simply could not believe that anyone would be stupid enough to think that a high speed car rally is an appropriate event for a region recognised as biodiversity hotspot, with a burgeoning eco-tourism industry.
Regarding managing the assets of which the council is custodian, I am not convinced that the rally will have no effect on roads that would otherwise be sealed in the next 10-20
years(9). Who paid for the cost of road rehabilitation and in fact who paid for the hundreds of tonnes of excellent gravel used on the roads to make them safer for the rally drivers prior to this event? Ratepayers? And when will our gravel roads be sealed?
At the Resident Safety Briefing only 6 days before our road was used for the rally, the Clerk of the Course still could not answer a simple question regarding who would be liable for injury or damage to property by spectators. RRA had $100 million public liability insurance, which to me seems woefully inadequate for such a dangerous event given that our own Farmers Market stall has to carry public liability insurance of $10 million and we only sell fresh fruit and vegetables picked by us the day before, a far less risky business than sponsoring high speed car races!
Tweed Shire Council officers were still trying to clarify this issue only weeks before the event(5) and it is highly likely that it will take a test case before we actually discover whether RRA has adequate insurance to cover all likely eventualities. Who is liable for deaths and injuries occurring during and particularly after this event, given that Repco Rally Australia asked participants and spectators to sign this extreme disclaimer? In particular, will TSC public liability cover the increase in road traffic accidents that research has shown we can expect after the event?
Infringement of Personal and Property Rights
As well as the issue of public safety the Review’s terms of reference include the impact of this event on the local community. As a community member I ask the Review to bear with me while I recount my experience of the WRC event.
It started in December 2008 when we returned from a holiday in SE Asia to discover a letter from Tweed Shire Council General Manager Mike Rayner on TSC letterhead inviting us to a meeting of residents who lived on roads which might (might) be used for the running of the 2009 WRC rally. The letter antedated the meeting by 2 weeks but both dates were in November and we had been out of the country all that month. I asked my neighbours if they knew what it was about and they had not received one of these letters. This seemed curious to me, as TSC has the record of rateable properties along the gravel roads proposed for the event hence Mr Rayner could easily have written to all affected landholders.
We are busy people so thought no more about it until (quite by chance) I noticed there was to be a public meeting about the RRA proposal in Murwillumbah on 7th February 2009. I went along to find out what exactly was being proposed. Garry Connelly from RRA spoke at that meeting. The point at which I became radicalised was when he stated that residents along the rally route had been surveyed and were “overwhelmingly in favour of the event”.
As we and our neighbours had not been surveyed and we alone have 1.5km of gravel road frontage to Cudgera Creek Road (and as Mr Rayner obviously had our address) I sat stunned by his willingness to lie in a public forum, then asked if I could please have a survey form to fill in. Many in the audience were shaking their heads at that particular
statement of his and after the meeting I talked with several people who, like ourselves,
lived along the route but had not been surveyed.
After the meeting I accompanied Bob Newman to the RRA office below the Council chambers and procured a survey form (attachment 4)(10). Bob told me that someone had surveyed residents on the western (Burringbar) end of our road but had not yet completed the survey on the eastern (Pottsville) end: I could see this was another lie as I noted a form in his folder with Bonomini’s name on it and they live to our east. Bob asked me if I wanted to fill the form in right then, but as we have a share farmer and a banana lessee (who employs several other locals) working on our farm, I asked him if I could send it in after they had all had a chance to have their say. Bob told me he’d come out to our place within the week to pick it up and that I did not have to send it in. He wrote down our contact details in his book.
After weeks of telephone calls, emails and so forth initiated by myself he finally came out to our place on 24th April, nearly 11 weeks after that public meeting. I had of course posted in the completed form prior to that.
My partner and I are valued members of the local community: him for his farming expertise and local knowledge, and myself for my professional ability as a GP. When I became involved in the No Rally Group I was approached by many people living along our road asking for details about road closures, details which they should have received from RRA. Naturally I gave them the contact details for RRA so they could direct their enquiries more appropriately. However the fact that many seemed not to have been contacted by the organisation led me to administer my own questionnaire to Cudgera Creek residents in July 200911. I started at Burringbar in the West and finished at Allambie Circuit in the East. 9 out of the 11 households visited on the gravel section were opposed to having the rally on our road and only 2 were in favour: this is a far cry from “overwhelmingly in favour”. 7 of these 11 had still not received a “Residents survey form” from RRA, only 2 months before the rally.
While my questionnaire was a flawed tool by research criteria, it is obvious from the results that the truth is far removed from Gary Connelly’s statements to the media and to the public meeting in February. I was not able to contact residents of 5 households on the
I apologise once again for the length and style of this submission, but believe it is only
by recounting the facts in all their detail that the Parliament can understand how a health professional like myself has become radicalised by the process which has occurred here. As an ethical person I abhor lies.
Funding Before Consent Given
At that public meeting in February 2009 we were told that a Development Application was to be submitted to council and that there would be the usual process of having it on exhibition for public comment. At that time I was not aware that Events NSW had already signed a contract with RRA, nor that both Events NSW and the TSC were advertising this event on their websites. Garry Connelly told the meeting that there was no “Plan B” should the DA not be approved and that RRA thought it most unusual that a “hallmark” event such as the WRC should be subjected to the DA process. Living in the tightly regulated Tweed Shire as we do, the audience laughed at his naivety.
When the DA promised for the end of March failed to appear by May, apparently the chair of the FIA contacted our Premier to ask for assurance that the event would take place as planned in September. One criticism many of us have of RRA is that they must be extremely incompetent administrators to have received office space and funding in September 2008 and yet not been able to lodge a DA by May 2009. More of their incompetence later.
Equity Issues: One Law for Them and Another for Us
I had a prior commitment that took me out of the region from April to the end of June and was horrified when I came back to read the Motor Sports (WRC) Bill 2009, as it overturned no less than 7 environmental protection laws and 5 laws pertaining to public safety. I am not an unreasonable person, but by enacting this Bill it would appear that the NSW Parliament acted extremely unwisely and cynically: one law for friends and allies of the various Ministers and another for the rest of us. It smacks of Animal Farm, a book the Minister would do well to read.
Why have planning laws if they can be overturned at the drop of a hat? What is to stop the general public fromdriving at high speed through our National Parks at the height of the breeding season? It makes a mockery of planning laws and indeed makes a mockery of the rule of law which keeps us all safe.
Environmental concerns specific to Cudgera Creek Road
I believe the No Rally Group submission (among others) will go into detail about environmental concerns about the staging of the WRC rally event in our region. However, I would like to make one additional point in this submission: while he was preparing the Biolink report I informed Dr Steve Phillips that we have twice sighted a Mitchell’s Rainforest Snail on Cudgera Creek Road – once in the 1980s and once in 2008. Both times were in September. Little is known about this animal other than that it has the highest conservation status of all: listed as critically endangered on the National Register of Threatened Species. It looks like a large snail, i.e: like yet another stone on our road to anyone driving at any speed.
We also informed Steve of koala sightings, there being a colony immediately above one of the hairpins about 300m along from our main farm entrance. His botanist, Kris Kupsch is aware of the presence of eleocarpus williamsianus ('Hairy Quandong') on our farm ~80m below the road, as he was the first to use GPS to locate it. There are 11 stands of this critically endangered tree in the entire world, all within a 20km radius of our farm.
It is extremely remiss of Dr Phillips to fail to include this extremely rare plant and
critically endangered invertebrate in his report, especially given that he knew of their
existence. The Giant Fern is also present less than 1km from Cudgera Creek Road on
a neighbours farm.
On those grounds alone I contacted the Federal Minister for the Environment, as my understanding was that he had the power to set conditions for the event if it might threaten endangered populations (as he did with the Homebush V8 development, for instance, which impacted on the Green and Golden Bell Frog – whose endangered status is in a lower conservation category than both the snail and the hairy quandong).
Experiences of a Resident on a Gravel Road: Dangerous Driving, Theft, Trespass and Intimidation
I have already mentioned years of inadequate gravel road maintenance. What I am now going to submit is details of what happened at our place on recce day 2nd September 2009 and rally day 4th September 2009. We are ratepayers, we vote and pay taxes like everyone else and the four families who earn a living from our farm surely have a right to earn their livelihood.
On the evening of 1st September, aware the recce was speed limited to 60km/h and would have its first pass at 0830 the next morning, I placed some rally protest signs at the top of our driveway. They were painted on corrugated iron sheets roughly 2.4m in length (see photo below of one of them).
Early Wednesday we tied a banner to our bottom gate. Rally recce started at 0830, with 3 batches of around 15 cars driving at reasonably slow speeds for the first pass. As Wednesday is also picking and packing day for the Byron Farmers Market and as we had been having dry weather, we needed to constantly drive down to the veggie patch to refuel and check on our irrigation pump. This meant that my partner and I could not avoid making several trips along the 1.1km stretch of Cudgera Creek Road between our top driveway and the bottom gate by which we access the market garden at the bottom of our farm.
I understand it would have been frustrating for the rally car drivers to get stuck behind our lumbering 4WD tractor on our narrow road, but we had made the Operations Manager aware we would be doing this (as we do every Monday and Wednesday) and had been told it was OK to do go about our usual premarket business that day. My son had borrowed my car the day before so when he returned it I had to drive him home - this was around 1230. I'd waited until then as I thought most of the recce cars would have made their second pass, and we had to catch the P.O before it closed at 1300, as the mail is collected before it re-opens at 1330 and I had no stamps.
At the top of the driveway I realised someone had stolen our signs between when I checked at 1030 and when we drove out at1230. I decided to drive down and check that the banner on the bottom gate had not been stolen too. Just as I was getting back in my car my partner came back up the hill for lunch, closely followed by a water tanker which had no doubt been delivering water to neighbours (as the road showed no signs of having been watered).
I was standing on the hairpin corner at our top drive and I could see a rally car approaching at speed down the hill towards me. Out of his vision around the corner was my partner driving the tractor up towards our driveway. I was extremely concerned that the rally car was going to smash into my partner as there was nowhere for the tractor to get off the road, so I flagged the car down. Initially I didn't think he was going to stop but luckily he realised I was serious so he did – he came to a halt behind my car facing the
outside of the hairpin at right angles to the road, with his tail halfway across it (it’s about 2.5 cars wide just on the corner). My partner drove past him to turn into our drive, I was in front of him facing down the road towards the bottom gate. The water
tank driver continued past heading towards Burringbar.
As we were running late for the post office and I did not want to risk a broken windscreen from the rally driver (car number 4, Jarri Latvala) speeding past us, and as he was making heavy weather of getting back on track due to the loose gravel on the outside edge of that corner, my son and I headed off down to our bottom gate to see if the banner there had also been stolen - it had.
On the way down the hill towards our bottom gate Jarri caught up with us and was obviously keen to overtake, however it is not possible for the first 400m or so as the road is so twisty and narrow. As the road opened out I was about to indicate to pull over to the left when he overtook me on the INSIDE (left). Fortunately I swerved back onto the road to allow him to do this or he would have collected the left side of my car.
After checking the bottom gate I headed back towards Burringbar to catch the P.O. and report the theft and the dangerous driving to the marshals at the bottom of the road - they were stationed at the Burringbar quarry, about 3km back towards Burringbar. I met my partner heading back down the road on the tractor as he’d left something back down on the flat and stopped to discuss what we were doing – the usual sight on a rural road of a person in a car talking with a person on a tractor. I also warned him to watch out in case one of the 4 or so rally recce cars behind him decided to do something dangerous like overtake on the left, then headed off to report the stolen signs and dangerous driving to the marshals. They told me the only vehicle capable of carrying 2m corrugated iron they'd seen that day was a white truck with yellow sides – which sounded to me like a TSC truck we’d seen on the road earlier that day.
When I got back home about an hour later after taking my son home I discovered that the car which was the second car after Jarri had also overtaken my partner on the left at the point where the road widened enough to enable him to pull over out of its way. As suggested by the marshals, I rang and reported both these episodes to a volunteer at the Rally Hotline. I also rang the police to report the stolen signs – they suggested I ring council to see if they had been removed by a council officer and would not take my report until I had done this. After being put on hold at TSC for a lengthy period I hung up and did not pursue the matter of the stolen signs any further.
Later that day as I walked around our road boundary to ensure no other harm had been done, I noticed that the smooth surface council had spent nearly 3 weeks providing us with only the previous month was now in tatters - marble sized jagged gravel and powdered dust. It looked like photo 5, worse in some places.
SUMMARY OF RECCE DAY 2ND SEPTEMBER
2 cars illegally overtook on the left, three 2.4m lengths of corrugated iron and one handpainted banner stolen. Thefts reported to police who failed to record them and illegal driving reported to “Rally Central”. No action taken on illegal driving as those drivers continued in the competition. Road surface ruined, and partner, self and son placed at risk by dangerous and illegal driving.
On rally day, Friday September 4th, we got up early to check the goats would be fine
herded into their shed for the day to keep them safe. We also watered in a bit of blood and bone and dynamic lifter around our driveways to discourage spectators from trying to set up camp on our place. We did this as by now we had little trust in the organisational ability of RRA and doubted their ability to keep spectators off our property.
Our 2 main driveways on the farm are situated on the outside edge of hairpin bends, below the road and directly facing the oncoming vehicles, so according to the Clerk of the Course instructions given at the public meeting the previous Saturday we knew no-one should stand there as they would be a) directly in front of the cars as they raced down the hill and b) at risk of injury if a car came off the road or sprayed gravel and rocks over them. We had decided that smell might discourage trespassing spectators, and the plants at both driveways could probably do with being fertilised anyway.
When I drove down to Burringbar to pick up a few groceries at about 0830 I noticed a few young men camped out on the spur above our top driveway, sitting on eskies with beer in hands. They had parked their car in our neighbour's bananas so when I got home and saw 4 'crowd control' police and a highway patrol car at the top of our drive I reported the fact that the young men were trespassing on that spur of land, as it is owned by a couple who don't live there and we don't have their contact number. I also informed them that our neighbour up the hill probably didn't know she had a car parked on her place. Guests of our banana farmers, who had organised to have a BBQ in the bananas to watch the race, had already started arriving before 9am.
My son and a carload of his friends had followed me up the hill from Burringbar and all in all by the time the road was closed to the general public we had about 15 guests on our place. I explained the importance of not standing below the road, on the outside of hairpin bends and in front of oncoming vehicles to each one of our visitors. Several of them elected to watch the rally from the spur above our driveway and I informed them this would be trespassing. At that stage we had 7 police officers at the top of our driveway and I explained the safety issues to them as well as they were standing in the 'danger zone'.
Around 1015 we drove down to the bottom gate to check no-one was trespassing on our land down there. There was no-one there so we came home, where we found a council truck shovelling the manure behind the two large rocks which delineate our top boundary. There were also three people bearing official WRC media tags who wanted to park their car on our place. We politely informed them that we had no intention to allow anyone we didn't know onto our place and that Rally Australia could have and should have asked us first. They tried to barter the fact they'd give the protest international internet cover if we let them park there but as an official NRG spokesperson with plenty of air time I didn't feel we needed it so asked them to leave.
I also explained that at the public meeting the previous week I had made it very clear to the Clerk of the Course that no-one other than our guests and the police would be allowed onto our place and that, in my opinion, Rally Australia was extremely disorganised not to have organised a parking place for them and that I felt they (RRA) couldn't organise a piss-up at a barbie: this brought a smile to their faces and the faces of our (by now resident) police officers. The police officers escorted them away to park elsewhere.
We then went home to cook a big breakfast as it felt it had already been a long day even though the rally had not even started. My partner walked up to the top of the drive to check on the situation while I was making the coffee but when he got there he discovered a race marshal trying to park his car at the banana packing shed.
As previously stated, I had made it quite clear to the Clerk of the Course at the safety briefing that the only people allowed onto our farm on that day were to be our guests and the police. She had not sought permission for marshals to park their vehicles on our place and I had assumed the marshals would be bussed in by the organisation.
By this stage it was quite evident that the police were not going to assist us to maintain
order, so my partner came back to the house and drove the tractor to the top of the drive in order to block it so no-one else could trespass onto our place. By then the road had been closed to everyone except people on rally business.
It was around 1040 and the race was expected to come through shortly after 1100. When my partner returned from parking the tractor I had just finished brewing the coffee when the 15 y.o. son of the banana farmer came down to the house and told us that the police wanted him to move his tractor. I asked him to let them know we'd be up when we'd had breakfast - thinking it rather rude and extremely unprofessional of the police to
send a minor with that request.
About 10 minutes later 3 policemen walked down to the house (which is about 250m from the top of the drive) and the first thing that one of them said was: "I am going to have to arrest you and charge you with intimidation" to my partner. We had assumed they'd be asking us to move the tractor so were naturally quite taken aback by this. It turned out that the marshal had taken offence to him parking the tractor close to where he'd set up his seat (on our land).
Fortunately one of the policemen was a Kingscliff local and defused the situation by telling us he just wanted to find out what had happened when my partner parked the tractor. Apparently his foot had slipped off the clutch pedal as he switched the engine off and the marshal wrongly assumed he'd intentionally made the tractor lurch towards him (even though the driveway is about 5m west of the place the marshal was sitting). We settled the issue by the police parking their vehicles to block our drive from further trespass. They told us they would be staying for the rally as they were obviously concerned about the increasing numbers of people crowding onto the narrow spur above our driveway – as you can see from the photo below it had become an unofficial spectator point, something we had been repeatedly assured would not be allowed to happen.
As the police were leaving to sort this new parking arrangement out, the one who spoke first told me: “What are we supposed to expect, you have protest signs at the top of the driveway, potential missiles (which turned out to be the fertiliser which I certainly had no intention of touching, let alone throwing) and you’re wearing a Tshirt with protest slogans".
I politely informed him that I was involved in police liaison and that NRG had a written agreement to be co-operative with reasonable police requests and that our farm was not a registered protest site. He said no more after he heard I'd personally met Michael Kenny, however it raised doubts in my mind about whether the imported crowd control police had had any briefing whatsoever about our peaceful protest protocol.
The two rally marshals who had set up near the top of the driveway had set their seats
as shown in the photo below: on the outside of a corner, below the road and directly facing oncoming rally cars.
I did not want to argue with the marshals as I was not sure I could retain my composure as I was feeling extremely stressed about how we were going to deal with all these people on our land and on the spur opposite who might be at risk of injury.
To understand how I feel you must appreciate that as a medical practitioner I am obliged to render assistance should anyone be injured and having seen WRC footage in which spectators were skittled by rally cars I had a sense of foreboding at what could possibly happen on our land if people persisted in disobeying the safety instructions of the Clerk of the Course.
In order not to assume negligence on their part, I would hope that the marshals had not received as comprehensive a safety briefing as was given to the general public, and that they had not heard Garry Connelly's claims about public safety at the public meeting in February.
I had contacted Harold Carter from CASA 2 weeks before the rally to establish a 'no go'
zone over our farm. One of our objections to this event is the unreasonable burden it places on rural residents to safeguard the welfare of their livestock and their livelihood. We had been intending to breed our small flock of goats last year, but when we realised they would be kidding at the same time as the rally came through we decided not to risk spontaneous abortion and failure of bonding due to stress caused by the noise of the rally cars and low-flying helicopters.
When he visited the farm in April, Bob Newman had informed us that the official FIA media helicopters had gyroscope cameras which could zoom in from above the regulation 500’ and that they would have no need to fly lower than that. He also informed us (when pressed for an answer) that there would be no compensation for lost productivity. So after contacting Mr Carter to ensure that the RRA pilots knew where we were and that we had asked for the usual 500’ minimum height of flight in a rural area I was very upset to see how low the helicopters actually flew. As a result I spent most of the rally day in the goat shed calming them down to ensure they did not escape and put themselves and the rally drivers at risk.
Some of the photographs included in this submission were taken by a friend who visited us on rally day expressly to bear witness to the event. His name is Andy Yeomans and he has made a separate submission containing more photographs, including shots of children crossing the road between rally cars. You will notice that some shots are taken from a position where he has put himself in the “danger zone”. I would like to assure the review chair and the NSW Parliament that he did this fully informed of the risks and in full view of the marshals and police who made no attempt to stop him.
As the only NRG spokesperson available to speak that day (the others being situated in places with no mobile phone coverage), during the course of the afternoon of 4th September I was kept busy fielding calls about an incident at Byrrill Creek where that stage was cancelled due to a concern for driver safety. Various reports I had from DS Sheehan, NRG members and the media itself (ABC local radio, NBN News and the Tweed Daily News amongst others) were that there had been a report of a rock or rocks thrown at a rally car or cars, that a fence had been cut and cows let out onto the road and that rocks and sticks had been placed on the road.
As it now transpires, none of this happened and no charges have been laid. I had extreme difficulty fielding these calls from the goat shed with the backfiring of rally cars and chopping of helicopter rotors in the background adding to the already crackly mobile phone reception we have up on the farm. I was widely quoted from my ABC radio interview as saying that: “It is highly regrettable that anybody would stoop to violence, however I can understand where it comes from. It comes from that sense of people being disempowered: what are they to do?”
This statement, which in no way condones violence, later backfired on the group as it was considered too mild mannered a response to the claims that ‘drivers were pelted with stones’ (Reuters). Online prorally fora threatened rocks thrown at protestors.
What is highly regrettable is that Superintendent Michael Kenny is quoted in the New York Times of 4th September as saying: “The protesters involved in this rock-throwing incident have shown total disregard for the safety of competitors and officials involved in today’s stage of the event.” No reference to the fact it was at best a rumour hence should have been reported as “alleged”. Ultimately the most regrettable thing of all is that this event ever came to our peaceful region.
SUMMARY OF RALLY DAY 4TH SEPTEMBER
Unofficial spectator point established without permission of owner of property. Police notified of this and no action taken. Intimidation by police of farmer protecting property from invasion by unknown people. Marshals disobeying instructions of Clerk of the Course. Children crossing road between rally cars. Landowners the only ones attempting to maintain public safety. WRC media helicopters flying below agreed 500’ limit. High ranking police lied to the media.
Police Bias and Dangerous Driving
As then secretary of the No Rally Group and as one of their police and media liaison people, at around 0930 on Saturday 5th September I joined the planned protest by the
Murwillumbah – Kyogle Road at Barkers Vale Primary School. I stood behind the fog line as previously arranged with the police and crooked my little finger at rally car drivers and through traffic alike. On one occasion I noticed a protestor (not anyone I had previously met through NRG) using the wrong finger. I explained which finger we were to use in order to highlight the low opinion we have of speeding and he complied.
At one stage bare bottoms were exposed to lighten the mood: I wore boxer shorts with the slogan “NO RALLY” painted on them.
I continued to receive numerous calls from the media about the alleged rock throwing incident at Byrrill Creek the previous day and asked DS Sheehan if he could clarify what had happened. He told us that the matter was under investigation and it was his understanding that a marshal had reported the incident and that there was video evidence.
I witnessed several incidents in which vehicles travelling the Murwillumbah – Kyogle road swerved at protestors. On one occasions a vehicle span its wheels as it took off towards Kyogle. I rang DS Sheehan to inform him of one incident which occurred before he arrived from Murwillumbah, asking him to send police to locate a maroon 4WD heading towards Murwillumbah which had swerved at a protestor on the northern side of the road. This 4WD had QLD plates and had children in it. When I asked him if he could get the police to locate it, DS Sheehan assured me that he was the police so it was in his power to apprehend the driver: when he later arrived at the school he told us that he had not seen the vehicle.
We heard that the hall we had planned to use as a marshalling point for our protest at
Green Pigeon was being used for a memorial service and that some members of NRG and 7th Generation had been threatened out there, so I and several others decided to drive out there to cancel the protest at that site as we were unable to raise anyone by phone (reception is poor at best in this region and although I carry a 'farmers phone'
few of our members were as well equipped).
Carolyn Latham accompanied me as we thought it safest to travel in pairs after having
witnessed the damgerous driving of rally spectators earlier that day. We had some difficulty leaving the carpark outside the Lillifield Community Centre as the crowd control police had crossed the road and were standing in a line facing the protestors. I explained to them why I needed to get through and they let us through but apparently other cars had difficulty leaving (I believe the details are in the police report).
On the way to Green Pigeon Carolyn and I witnessed several episodes of dangerous
driving where we were overtaken on double white lines as we neared blind corners. She has further details of what happened when she tried to get these followed up by police in her own submission to the review. Because I was planning to stay at Lillifield that night I was driving our farm ute which has a canopy on the back - a comfortable place to roll out the swag. Unfortunately it has a high mileage diesel engine and is slow on hills, which may have caused some impatience in the following traffic but there were few places to pull off and the road is narrow and tortuous: I did what I could to get out of the way of following vehicles but was for the most part stymied by the road. Most corners had a recommended speed of 35 – 45 km/h.
Elizabeth and Megan Jack have made separate submissions about dangerous driving they witnessed during that trip. We were extremely frightened by being overtaken as we approached blind corners, given that if a car did appear coming the other way there was really nowhere to get off the road, as you can see from the photo below.
About 2 km from Kyogle on the road out to Green Pigeon we met protestors travelling the other way and stopped to arrange who would go out to Green Pigeon to cancel the protest there. While we were discussing this by the side of the road, a couple of police vehicles stopped to ask what we were doing. They appeared to think we were planning a roadblock so we explained the situation. I later heard that the police were pleased we had acted responsibly to ensure no clashes with the people at the memorial service at the Green Pigeon hall.
Later that evening I spent some time with NRG media spokesperson Andrea Vickers and 7th Generation media spokesperson Peter Lanyon preparing a media release. As we wished to be 100% sure of our facts and DS Sheehan and Superintendent Michael Kenny were unavailable we contacted another of the officers we had met during prerally liaisons (I can’t remember his name – possibly Craig Newman?) to ask for clarification on the rock throwing story which had made headlines internationally. We were told a marshal had video footage of a rock or rocks being thrown at a rally car but that the footage had not been secured.
It now transpires (a stated by Acting Area Commander Loy in Murwillumbah on 3rd February 2010) that no charges were laid because no rocks were thrown: “It didn’t happen, end of story”.
In my opinion the police did a lot of harm to public safety by failing to highlight that this was an allegation. If they do not formally apologise for the harm done there should be an Inquiry. As rally spectators assumed that actual rocks had been thrown at the drivers, they reacted by driving dangerously and throwing missiles at peaceful protestors who were doing nothing other than exercising their right to creative free speech. Ultimately the police have a hard enough job without allowing rumours to spread which increase the risk to public safety.
I participated in the protest at Uki on Sunday 6th September and at one stage spoke
through the PA belonging to Graeme Dunstan of the Peacebus. Graeme is a Northern Rivers man who is not a member of NRG or 7th Generation but wished to help by providing his PA system so we could broadcast our reasons for the protest. The police behaved most professionally at this protest location, although when I first arrived there they had been unwilling to let us set up where planned. They allowed a person dressed in a kangaroo costume to lie on the pedestrian crossing and did not take offence at irrelevant and potentially antagonising statements from Mr Dunstan.
The final protest site was the side of the road opposite what we refer to as the 'Pit Stop' at the Cudgen Leagues club. When I arrived there I noted that we had been corralled behind a plastic mesh fence on the southern side of ?? road, and that crowd control police were across the road from us. The situation turned nasty after the end of the rally though, as people driving down the road slowed down to yell abuse and returned our “little pinkies” with a much more inappropriate finger. One friend was subjected to eggs being thrown at her, another fellow had sour milk thrown at him and yet others had beer cans being thrown at them. There was no evidence of an RBT presence (unlike the Byron Blues Festival or other major regional events) and police officers including DS Sheehan appeared reluctant to do anything about the missiles being thrown at us in spite of us giving them the details of the vehicles concerned.
Over the next couple of days my previously high opinion of the NSW Police Force slipped still further when I received a bizarre telephone call from Superintendent Kenny in which he asked me what colour councillor Katie Milne’s car was. Apparently a purple vehicle had been seen by council workers depositing frozen animals on Clothiers Creek Road. This was the second reference he had made to frozen roadkill, the first being during one of our pre-rally police liaison meetings. I did not know what colour councillor Milne’s car is and told him this. I asked him when we were to have the post-rally debrief with the police and was told this phone call was it. I explained that my understanding (which I double-checked with Mary Willis from 7th Generation as being correct) was that we were to meet face-to-face as we had in August. I was due to leave for a one month locum interstate that Sunday and made it clear it would be preferable to meet before then while it was all fresh in our minds.
On Tuesday 8th September the No Rally Group met as previously planned to discuss what had worked and what hadn’t during the protests. We met immediately prior to the TSC council meeting which we adjourned to at around 1715 as some of us had booked to speak there at 'Community Access'. During the NRG meeting, at about 1700, I received another telephone call from Superintendent Michael Kenny in which he told me that photographic evidence had been secured regarding the rock throwing incident at Byrrill Creek. As residents of that road were at our meeting I asked them if they had seen any such behaviour – they hadn’t. As previously stated, this was also far from the truth as subsequent events have shown that the whole rock-throwing allegation was at best a rumour and at worst an attempt to discredit our grass roots organisation and sabotage the police liaison process and cause rifts in the community.
Councillor Youngblutt lied to us at that council meeting: he said that the police had informed him that they not only had photos but also had names and arrests were being made as the meeting was in progress. This same councillor is on record as referring to the voters of the Tweed as “morons” but only just scraped in at the elections in 2008 – a fact which voters of the Tweed believe belies his own statement about us being a pack of morons. As he made the outrageous statement about arrests being made only about 20 minutes after I had spoken with Superintendent Kenny I knew it to be a lie, however Community Access etiquette prevented me from stating this.
One final point I wish to make: if the NSW Government intended to unite a community against it then it has done an excellent job. Personally, as someone who avoids conflict by choice, I am appalled at how effectively the Government has disenfranchised the community and feel obliged to point out that this was an exceptionally stupid thing to do. When the one stage which was cancelled was the one about which all sorts of rumours of illegal behaviour made headlines, it sends the message that the police liaison process does not work and actually encourages the very same unlawful behaviour we all sought to avoid.
SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
This event was staged in the wrong place – this is a region of high conservation values which should be recognized as such and treated accordingly. Our eco-tourism status is at risk, as are our unique and endangered flora and fauna. This event must not come back to the Northern Rivers
· Events NSW should have researched what events are appropriate to our region
· If Events NSW would have been accountable to the people of NSW we would have had an independent cost-benefit analysis. It should therefore be made accountable as it is our public money they are spending
· In order to assure voters of transparency and impartiality we need an independent cost-benefit analysis on this event done now
· This event has been extremely damaging to community cohesion and social goodwill
· People in authority (police officers and local councillors) have lost credibility
with the community as they have lied to us
· The NSW State government has radicalised and united a group of people who have the best interests of this region at heart and we intend to continue to work together
· If this event does comes back to the Northern Rivers region expect more opposition now the extent of the lies and misinformation has been exposed
· If it’s too hard to get out of the contract then simply take this event somewhere where it is wanted. See the debate about the WRC Bill (in Hansard June 2009) for ideas about suitable areas: several MPs actually asked for it to be given to their electorates
For the record: at the public meeting organised for the review in Murwillumbah on 3rd February, of roughly 110 attendees 95 were against the rally, 7 for and the others failed to tick the box. It was inequitable that Mr Cahill asked for one pro rally speaker for every no rally speaker. If this event was such an overwhelming success, where were its supporters?
Finally, I would like to quote from Barack Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope”, written during his first two years as a US senator: “In a democracy the most important office is the office of citizen”(12). We get to vote for our representatives and we plan to hold them accountable for their actions.
Dr Fiona McCormick
B.Med, DRANZCOG, FRACGP
1. ABS 2006 Census of Population and Housing, CAT 2068.0 Age by sex, Tweed Local Government Area
2. Road Traffic Crashes in NSW 2007. Published by the NSW Centre for Roads Safety
3. RTA leaflet on Crashes involving Young Drivers
4. Report of the 2003 Gravel Roads Review, published in the minutes of TSC meeting 7 May 2003 pp 156 – 172 (Attachment 1)
5. Tweed Shire Council memo July 2009 (Attachment 2)
6. Warn, J. R., Tranter, P. J. and Kingham, S. (2004) Fast and Furious 3: Illegal street racing, sensation seeking and risky driving behaviours in New Zealand . 27th Australasian Transport Research Forum , Adelaide , 29 September – 1 October 2004.
7. Relationships between interest in motor racing and driver attitudes and behaviour amongst mature drivers: An Australian case study Paul Tranter, JamesWarn: Accident Analysis and Prevention 40 (2008), pp 1683–1689
8. Go to the official Repco Rally Australia website, under the “Spectators” menu click on the “Official Tour” drop down box: http://rallyaustralia.com/wpcontent/ uploads/2009_rally_aus_tour_brochure.pdf and you will find this disclaimer is page 5 Accessed 15th February 2010 (Attachment 3)
9. Statement by General Manager of TSC Mike Rayner in minutes of TSC meeting 17th March 2009, p 92
10. Attachment 4 – Resident Survey form
11. Attachment 5 – questionnaire administered to Cudgera Creek residents in July 2009
12. Barack Obama: “The Audacity of Hope” Text Publishing Company 2006, p 135