✦ Calls for Port Macquarie-Hastings Council to hold fast to its climate change policy and show leadership. This was raised as a key priority with residents and regional leaders at a community forum on April 28.
The forum debated climate issues and its complexities and aimed to normalise the need for sensible action on climate change.
Residents, and others who joined via livestream, participated in a robust discussion with a panel of respected Port Macquarie-Hastings community representatives, health and science experts.
The event was prompted by Port Macquarie-Hastings councillors Lauren Edwards, Lisa Intemann, Nik Lipovac and Rachel Sheppard in response to a council proposal to revoke its Climate Change Response Policy. This proposal follows a recent decision by council to rescind its previous Climate Emergency Declaration.
Crs Edwards, Intemann, Lipovac and Sheppard believe the open community discussion on climate change will empower residents to have conversations about the proposed removal of council’s Climate Change Response Policy, discuss concerns respectfully, debate solutions and ultimately engage in individual and collective action to address climate change at the local level.
The four councillors were unable to attend the start of this event as they were fulfilling their duties at an extraordinary council meeting.
Panellists on the night were:
Dr Gordon Burch - former SCAS chairman, scientist, representative on numerous community organisation/committee roles.
Teresa Cochrane – proud young Dunghutti/Gumbaynggirr woman studying environmental science and management at CSU.
Dr Angela Frimberger - Chamber of Commerce member, Deputy Chair Veterinarians for Climate Action.
Peter Johnson – board member of Eco-Tourism Australia, owner of Diamond Waters Eco Resort, Camden Haven.
Dr Georgia Ritchie – medical oncologist at Mid North Coast Local Health District (MNCLHD) Cancer Institute.
Brian Tierney – long-time local developer and active Port Macquarie-Hastings community and committee member
Leslie Williams - State Member of Parliament for Port Macquarie.
Submissions were received from concerned citizens
The Medical Staff Council - Port Macquarie Base Hospital submitted an open letter acknowledging climate change is a ‘health emergency’. Signed by 130 local medical professionals, the letter supports the broader concerns of the Australian Medical Association (AMA).
“We call on local, state and federal government to work together to develop robust climate and health policy that draws on the expertise of national and international bodies,” the open community letter said.“This policy should include plans to monitor and undertake research into the health impacts of climate change including air pollution, cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases and mental health effects, and how to best respond to the emerging health crisis.”
Member for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams said the community is looking for real leadership on the issue of climate change.
“This is what our community expects. I am bewildered and perplexed as to why you would rescind a Climate Change Response Policy only ratified by the council in October last year,” Mrs Williams said.
Mrs Williams said it is ‘ironic’ councillors were called into an extraordinary meeting on the same night as the forum to discuss, among other issues, council’s Think 2050 strategic plan – a plan developed after comprehensive community engagement. Among the key priorities from that consultation was a call from the community for council to take more action on climate change.
“I have a huge amount of faith in this community. If council rescind this climate change policy, we are just going to continue without them,” she said.
Mrs Williams encouraged the four councillors who prompted the forum to stay resilient.
Brian Tierney strongly opposes the policy proposal saying it is incumbent on council to do the right thing for future generations and accept that climate change is a reality.
“When I became aware the council planned to revoke its climate change response policy, I fired off a response… I’m firmly against it. It doesn’t make sense to me that councillors, who have a duty of care to the public, could consider supporting such a proposal,” Mr Tierney said.
“Council needs to go back, rethink and start again. Please don’t leave our community, our people, our children, their children and the generations that follow, to face inevitable climate change without a broadly respected response policy – it’s the right thing to do. It’s incumbent on the council to be a leader and show leadership.”
Dr Georgia Ritchie said climate action is crucial for good health and joined the chorus of her medical colleagues on declaring it a ‘health emergency’.
“It should not be a divisive political issue, it should be a bipartisan issue and we should be working together as a community to address this,” Dr Ritchie said.
“We can do that – we’ve gone through a global pandemic, we stood together as a community.
“If we stand together now, we can enjoy the wins in bettering the health of our communities into the future.”
Peter Johnson said council and the community risk falling behind many other regions who have embraced the opportunities that exist in good climate policy.
“Council will be stepping away from all other councils on the north coast – all have detailed policies. We run the risk of stepping outside the mainstream. This is no longer pioneering stuff,” Mr Johnson said. “So much can be achieved with good policy and direction.”
Dr Angela Frimberger said climate change "touches on everything we care about".
“Climate change is not an inherently political problem, it’s a science problem,” Dr Frimberger said. “I do echo that theme of ‘we’re all in this together’ - take politics out if it and do what we need to do.”
Dr Frimberger said weather is cyclical, but climate change will continue to fuel ‘mega-events’. The Black Summer bushfires, she said, had a devastating impact on local wildlife and habitats.
“Agriculture, after fossil fuel use, is a contributor to greenhouse gases. It is also the potential hero of this story. Our farmers are working hard on this issue and deserve all the support we can give.”
She said mitigation over adaptation is crucial for the natural world, it is less costly and there is a point where climate change, if uncontrolled, will become unmanageable.
“We need to use every tool in the toolbox now… to genuinely reduce emissions. Use your choice, your vote and your voice.”
Teresa Cochrane said good climate policy protects animals, culture, community and a future for young people. “It is affecting our generation, all of us now, and it is going to get worse. This (conversation) allows us to have a better understanding and opens us up to different understandings.”
She said more trees must be planted, and species endemic to the LGA, so animals can thrive in their local environment. “We need to start thinking of the bigger picture for our community and what that looks like – who we want to be. We all have a voice and we need to use it to promote positivity. We can be the pillar of change. Let’s be on the right side of history.”
Dr Gordon Burch said there is still plenty to be done on the issue of climate change and everyone has a role to play. “Every person, every community, every state, every nation must take action to reduce or cease using fossil fuels,” Dr Burch said.
“The time we have is so short, we can’t operate under normal economic rules. It’s too late.
“I urge you to remember Mallacoota, remember Cobargo – there will be nowhere to run or nowhere to hide when the worst of the climate catastrophes start to hit.
“Unless action is taken and we’re part of it, that’s the future we are leaving for the next generations.”
Dr Burch said electricity generated though wind turbines, solar and batteries is a solution we have now. “Every place in Australia needs a climate action policy if we want to avoid the consequences of extreme global warming – we can do this now. We need to work as a team with a better narrative and better leadership.”
The discussion was facilitated by Jane Evans, Adjunct Senior Lecturer at Charles Sturt University (CSU) and MC Ross Cargill, Managing Director of Men and Women at Work.
The community can provide feedback on council’s proposal to revoke its Climate Change Response Policy via the Have Your Say link on council’s website:
www.haveyoursay.pmhc.nsw.gov.au Submissions close on May 6, 2022.
A report will be tabled at the May 2022 council meeting, detailing the submissions received from the public during the exhibition period.
For more information, Cr Lauren Edwards 0490 042 091 or Cr Rachel Sheppard 0466 387 466.
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