Government Hypocrisy over SMRC

The process leading to DEC (Department of Environment and Conservation) issuing a licence that effectively closes the organic composting and green-waste mulching at SMRC  (Southern Metropolitan Regional Council) represented governance at its worst.  The state government ignored concepts of due process and natural justice and the motivation for the action was not based on good governance but rank populism.

I recall us laughing at Joh Bjelke Petersen’s response to a question at the Fitzgerald Royal Commission when asked about his understanding of the concept of separation of powers; now young man don’t ask me any more of those trick question was his response.  Clearly the Premier and Minister for the Environment hold similar contempt for this concept as Joh did.  I say this because DEC were in dialogue with SMRC on engineered solutions to odour abatement right up to when Members of Parliament Dr Mike Nahan (Riverton) and Joe Francis (Jandakot) met with the Premier, Colin Barnett, and the Minister for the Environment on Thursday 22 March 2012 at Parliament and demanded that the Southern Metropolitan Regional Council’s composting plant be closed immediately (italics are direct quote from Joe Francis’s webpage).  The result of this meeting was the public servants at DEC being directed by politicians (Premier and Minister for the Environment) to close SMRC down.  No separation of powers there.

Some are directing anger towards the handful of people who set up the action group that is trying to close the SMRC down, this anger is misdirected, as a person who has been involved in community action, I fully support people’s rights to protest.  The scandal here is the lack of due process exercised by MLA Dr Mike Nahan, MLA Joe Francis, the Premier and Minister for the Environment in an attempt to bolster two marginal seats, while totally undermining the Governments commitment to reducing waste going to landfill.

If the SMRC is to attain a new license to operate the politicians involved need to be given the strong message that they are going to lose more votes keeping the SMRC closed than they will gain with their current course of action.  Let the SMRC continue to work with DEC to address any odour issues and get the plant back working.

For more comment see EarthCare.

This entry was posted in Environment, Fremantle, Sustainabiliy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Government Hypocrisy over SMRC

  1. dianaryan says:

    Hi Jon

    Long time reader, first time responder.

    As a resident of City of Canning, I can’t agree with your summary of the decision to close the RRRC (the organic composting and green-waste mulching facility) within SMRC.

    It is also unfortunate that there are many people in the community that believe the decision will see recycling stop – forthwith. I am not aware this is the case.

    As a two-term councillor of Fremantle, you would be aware the odor issue relating to the RRRC had gone on for a decade.

    As a former student of the school of sustainability, Murdoch University, it was obvious to me that the externalities resulting from this centre exceeded the benefit (that of reducing GHG emissions).

    The facility used a great deal of electricity, produced mulch that could not be used (I understand it was strewn with shards of plastic and glass), the odor issues had been present for nearly a decade, and no doubt the cost of technology to deal with this, as each effort appeared to fail, would have been very expensive.

    Politicians Mike Nahan and Joe Francis had been working on this issue for quite some time, and I am glad they were not prepared to let it go on for another decade. The only way such actions could be relevant simply as marginal seat election bolsters is if a very significant number of residents in the area were affected by the odor emanating from the centre anyway.

    This issue had come to a point, as expressed by DEC General Manager, Keiran McNamara, “Given that odours from the centre continue to affect public amenity, I no longer have confidence that the existing odour control technology and management systems are reliable”.

    The SMRC would have been aware that significant urbanization had built up around its facility for years. I think Mike Nahan made a succinct point when he said he “hoped the SMRC had contingency plans in place to ensure waste going to landfill was only temporary”.

    I am put in mind of the PTA’s response to the Cockburn Coastal District Structure Plan, where the authority expressed concern that built form was going to be allowed right up to within 200ms of the freight rail lines. The PTA requested a girth of 400ms, but this was only partially upheld. I wonder what ramifications might spring from this down the track?

    The Doctrination of the Separation of the Powers is a tricky one, as it turns out! Ministers control their public service depts, which report back to them. Both are then accountable to Parliament.

    However, I think it extremely unlikely the DEC made its decisions subjectively, under duress in this instance, or without conducting its own investigations.

    This issue had gone on and on and finally it was acted on – in this case, in the favour of long-suffering residents.

    I applaud the City of Fremantle’s carbon neutral status, and its decision to move to internalising its reduction in GHG emissions as per its Low Carbon plan, rather than reducing them in very large part through purchasing carbon offsets via the RRRC facility. All it means now is that the intention will need to occur more quickly! Perhaps it may occur through pushing through the community wind farm concept?

    Cheers, Jon
    Diana Ryan

    • jonstrachan says:

      Thanks for responding to my post on the SMRC, the comments you make are well considered and appreciated as it is only with factual debate that this issue will be addressed while considering all sides of the story. Yes you are correct, the traditional recycling of paper, glass and metal etc is still going to be done, the DEC decision affects the green topped bin waste and green mulch. For this reason people should be extra vigilant in putting all not organic waste into the yellow topped bin, this way we can limit the amount of waste going to landfill. People with gardens should also consider compositing and worm-farms. We could all put in that extra effort not to waste food in the first place.
      While I agree the odour issues have a history, I do believe work already done at the plant has improved the situation significantly and the new CEO Tim Youe is committed to further improvements. Leading up to the notice of closure he was working with DEC and consultants to design ways to further reduce the odour. It is my opinion that community amenity is paramount and I would support the proposed work to further reduce odour.
      I do feel that living in a city produces amenity issues for many, be that aircraft noise, traffic congestion or odour, and compared to sheep ships, Cockburn Cement, Alcoa or Woodman Point sewage works the SMRC is low on the scale of community impact, and the only one on the list actively working to improve its performance further.
      The product from the digesters now goes to Brookton to be used as a rural soil improver and fertiliser, the issue of contamination with glass is under control.
      My post focused on the actions of Mike Nahan, Joe Frances The Premier and the Minister for the Environment because I believed they were contrary to good governance and natural justice, I still believe that. As a councillor I am committed to open and accountable governance and procedural fairness. If the MLAs believe the SMRC is not performing well then they could appeal to DEC to put conditions on the SMRC license that give clear targets to achieve, this would allow engineered ways of achieving those targets. To say they want the plant to operate without any community complaints, when there are sections of the community who wish to closed down the SMRC condemns the plant to just that, closure. That would be a disastrous outcome for the State Governments policy of reducing waste to land-fill, land-fills that leave a disastrous legacy for our children to deal with.
      Thanks again Diana for your comments, I do hope we can solve this problem in a way that does not put refuse collection back decades while respecting the amenity of our neighbours.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s