On a Blue Sky Sunday, 29th May at 2pm Sydney Town Hall was packed with around 5000 people keen to ‘March Against Mike’. The guy whose 60% approval ratings earned him the title of ‘Magic Mike’ among party faithful less than 12 months ago and whose support for clinical trials of medicinal cannabis has enabled him to broaden his support base and transcend his Conservative Anglican background.
The corflutes on display were notable for their diversity, this was no ordinary protest march against SOMETHING, this was a protest about pretty much everything that the Baird government is either pushing through or standing for including:
- Increased Police Powers
- Council Amalgamations
- Tree Removal
- The way the Sydney light rail project is being constructed
- Lock Out Laws
- Coal Seam Gas
- Education Funding –TAFE cuts
- Refugee Policy
- Cycling Legislation
- Corporate Involvement in planning
- High Rise Development plans
- Western Sydney Airport
- Windsor Bridge and Town Square
- Moving the Powerhouse Museum
- Secrecy over development
- The Barangaroo Casino Development
- Defending the right to protest
- Privatisation of Prisons
- Selling off Public Housing
- Selling off NSW
- Changes in the Land-Clearing Legislation and Biodiversity laws
- Treatment of Assylum Seekers.
But is it fair to blame Baird for all of this?
I joined the protest to find out more and to get a little publicity for my own pet cause of the moment with the good people from RAWSA (Residents Against Western Sydney Airport).
So where and when did all of this anger start?
Stand by your elected locally elected Mayors.
A significant tipping point was reached with the forced council amalgamations. The relationship that ordinary law-abiding citizens have with their local Mayors seems to have been severely underestimated by Baird and his team. The week leading up to the protest saw several council meetings disrupted by protestors as the new Baird appointed administrators tried to take the reigns. Blaming Baird for this may well be justified given that he introduced the ‘fit for future’ initiative back in September 2014 in his first year as New South Wales Premier. However, before the ‘fit for future’ there existed an Independent Local Government Review Panel (http://www.localgovernmentreview.nsw.gov.au), a panel that was formed back in 2012 following an event held in Dubbo in August 2011, the champion of which was Nationals MP Don Page.
The reported aim of amalgamating councils was to cut costs and needless bureaucracy, streamline decision-making and deliver better services- a plan that is not without merit. However, what seems to have been forgotten in this rush for efficiency is the role that local government plays in upholding democracy and the relationship and engagement that residents have with it.
It is not unfair to say that the roll out of the new councils has been somewhat heavy-handed with the announcement of the new structures being made to the public and existing, democratically elected mayors on the same day, effective immediately. As if to add insult to injury the fact that at least some of the council amalgamations have resulted in the appointment of administrators with politically significant (and locally inflammatory) backgrounds is further fuelling public unrest (Northern Beaches and the Inner West Council are now being run by an administrator with a background in property development while the Mid North Coast Council is headed up by a former National Party Deputy Leader and Current Coal Industry Consultant) and making a mockery of democracy. This is something that Baird has to carry the can for being as though he is in charge of implementing this strategy.
Trial by (social) media.
Mike Baird’s Facebook page saw a dramatic rise in ‘likes’ on 27th May after the Sydney Morning Herald reported ‘anarchy in the inner west shows Baird is losing the amalgamations argument’.
The same day Baird, posted a cheekily provocative:
‘we’ve turned on the lights #vividSydney’
a post that attracted 32,000 reactions, mostly thumbs up but with a undercurrent of comments speaking out against lock-out laws – a reference which may or may not have been deliberate:
‘and turned off again at 11pm’
‘do they turn them off again at 3am like the rest of the city?’
‘too bad for all those venues whose lights are off thanks to you’
Clearly Facebook ‘likes’ are not to be seen as just a glowing endorsement.
To Baird’s credit he has allowed for a good variety of comments on his Facebook page including many that are less than flattering. He has even answered some of the negative comments and was happy to be corrected by one reader who pointed out that Vivid Sydney was not a Liberal party initiative and that his party made an issue about how expensive the whole thing was.
But back to the march and more specifically what sat at the heart of public sentiment.
Specific Issues VS a Growing Unease.
It is all too easy to judge a protest by the corflute one-liners, to minimize, marginalize and dismiss. In fact putting a negative spin on the actions of protestors has become something of a national pass time, supported to a significant degree by newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph whose coverage of this Raleigh went well beyond right leaning taking every liberty to undermine both the significance of the event and the legitimacy (and sanity) of those participating.
It pays to remember that Australia is a representative democracy founded in the liberal democratic tradition, a tradition that attempts to defend and increase civil liberties against the encroachment of governments, institutions and powerful forces in society among other things. Our democracy is based on four main principals including the belief in the individual, based on the idea that the individual is both moral and rational. It is also based on a suspicion of concentrated forms of power, whether by individuals, groups or governments.
The Pepetual Minimisation of our concerns by the Daily Telegraph is feeding a toxic narrative of ‘us’ that oppose, that are ‘against change’ that are irrelevant and marginal vs ‘them’ who know everything.
Protesting has a legitimate and powerful role in the democratic process.
Is the Baird government in danger of forgetting this?
Are we not marching to uphold these basic rights?
It was Premier Baird that has made tough anti-protest laws a priority, that has increased police powers and created laws that allow the police to lock-up those people who they suspect might cause a problem long before they ever do (if indeed they ever do). Therefore it seems fair to march against Baird in protest of these changes.
The bigger voice.
If there was one take-home message from the protest it was the common thread of a feeling that people are no longer being heard, that the democratic process is somehow being corrupted and that their vote is not worth as much as it used to be.
This feeling, this vibe can be applied to the forced merger of local councils, to the secrecy in the detail of projects such as Westconnex, to the lack of compassion for or negotiation with those protecting the trees on Allison Parade in Randwick, to the brick-walls being hit by residents in Windsor worried not just about the threatened loss of their historical bridge and town square but also for the undercurrent the ‘not for public disclosure’ agenda that might be propelling the push and more besides. One doesn’t have to turn into a conspiracy theorist to think this way, one thing the Baird government can’t be accused of is being timid, their bold approach to ‘getting the job done’ whatever it may be means that those willing to put in the time to read and research behind the newspaper articles, to attend meetings, to talk to MP’s can find evidence to support the very things that are making people stand up and march.
The pre-march speakers captured the vibe perfectly when the crowed was asked by ralley MC Alex McKinnon
‘Whose city is this?”
“Whose state is this?”
And when McKinnon went on to mention Packer’s Casino being built on public land at Barangaroo the crowed was neither shy nor slow to voice their displeasure at what appears to be the epitome of what the crowed had come to protest.
While I don’t feel it is fair to frame Baird as a one-man bandit or a Dictator I acknowledge that it is no easy feat to unite Liberal, Labor, Green, Anarchists, Swinging Voters, Tourists and Children to young to vote to a cause. No easy feat to get thousands of them to come out on a beautiful Sunday and march.
So in regards to the question ‘is Baird all bad’ I reflect over all this and try to recall some of the positive stand-out things that he has achieved. I look at the new hospital he is putting in on the Northern Beaches – a public private partnership hospital with a mantra ‘patients before profits’ and I feel an instant unease – Essential healthcare should ALWAYS be not-for-profit. People are not to be taken advantage of. Maybe that isn’t all good. …. In fact the only thing that I can share free from that nagging feeling of being duped is his ‘cash for cans‘ initiative, well, as long as it doesn’t encourage more soft drink consumption that is.
But in terms of all of this I feel that it is what comes next that matters, it is how Baird and his government respond to what was a legitimate and peaceful process voicing legitimate and important concerns that will be the judge. Baird has a right to respond and I for one am all ears (and a week later am still waiting……)
In the meantime I can’t help but conclude that underestimating the good people of NSW has meant that Bairdy has done a bad, bad thing.
Cue Chris Isaak
Bairdy did a bad bad thing, Bairdy did a bad bad thing,
Bairdy did a bad bad thing, Bairdy did a bad bad thing
You ever loved a city so much you thought your little heart was gonna break in two?
I didn’t think so
You ever tried with all your heart and soul to get your city back to you?
I don’t believe so
You ever prayed with all your heart and soul that democracy’s hear to stay
Bairdy did a bad, bad thing…..