In response to residents' requests, we're considering establishing a community garden on the western side of the Kangaroo Point Peninsula.
The best available location is at the northern end of James Warner Park. We'd like to know what you think of this proposal, and also whether you're interested in getting involved in the garden.
While many of us would like to see council buy more land to use for a garden, that's not likely to happen anytime soon under the current LNP administration, so it would have to be established in an existing council park.
The garden will only go ahead if there is sufficient volunteer interest to ensure it is well-maintained on an ongoing basis. No trees will be removed to make room for the garden.
The northern end of James Warner Park (immediately to the south of the carpark) is considered the most suitable location, as it gets good sunlight, already has a water tap, and is close to an existing community facility (the jazz club).
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The State Government is just beginning its next round of ‘consultation’ regarding the Cross River Rail project, with a particular focus on future options for the new station in Woolloongabba, immediately to the west of the Gabba Stadium. If you haven’t heard much about the Cross River Rail project before, you can find more info at this link.
The new Gabba train station and the redevelopment of the government-owned GoPrint site is a massive opportunity to transform the central part of Woolloongabba for the better. As I’ve outlined in previous statements, there’s a strong local need for more public green space, more community facilities and more public housing. Unfortunately, there’s not much sign of that in the initial documentation and concept designs released by the government.
The government’s initial concept design:
Sadly, the State Government is even less consultative than Brisbane City Council when it comes to planning big new development projects. They tend to survey a small proportion of people to get a rough (often unbalanced) idea of what the public wants, but will generally only pay lip service to public opinion and instead defer to the priorities identified by the public service and the private sector. In the case of the Gabba station, the main question the government is interested in hearing from the public about is what should happen above ground. The more input people provide via the government’s various engagement channels (such as consultation stalls at community events, or by emailing in feedback to [email protected]) the better chance residents will have of influencing the final outcome.
Other stakeholders, such as the Gabba Stadium and major commercial interests, will be advancing their own agendas via detailed submissions and private meetings, so it’s important that residents and local businesses also speak up as loudly and as often as possible, not only by engaging with the proscribed consultation channels, but by directly contacting your State MP, Jackie Trad, at [email protected].
We don’t know exactly how much money the government is planning to spend redeveloping the land above the Gabba Station and the surrounding public realm. We think it’ll be around 100 million dollars . This will largely depend on how much political pressure residents apply. We do know that generally speaking, the State Government is pretty cash-strapped, in large part because they waste so much of their money on supporting unethical industries (e.g. coal mining, horse racing) and flawed infrastructure projects (e.g. building expensive new prisons). This means the government will be considering options to sell development rights to private developers, and won’t be able to deliver everything the community needs and wants. So residents will basically have two things to push for:
- As much public funding as possible, to ensure the whole site isn’t just sold off to private developers
- Ensuring that the elements that residents consider priorities are at the top of the list to receive whatever funding IS available
Site Development Options and Constraints
There are some crucial traffic factors influencing how the GoPrint site can be redeveloped. The underground station will make it very difficult to provide much underground carparking. And the busway station along the southern edge of the site will make it almost impossible to have cars exiting directly onto Stanley Street. The land is bounded on all sides by very busy main roads which are heavily congested. This road network simply doesn’t have capacity to handle hundreds of additional car movements that might be associated with a new development. It would be impractical to include much carparking on this site, as this would encourage more people to drive to this location, clogging already-congested roads.
Happily, this location will have some of the public transport coverage in the entire country, with both a train station and busway station. Key destinations like South Bank, Kangaroo Point cliffs, the hospital precinct and even the local primary school are all within easy walking distance, and the Woolloongabba Bikeway project running along Stanley Street will provide great cycling connectivity to major universities and high schools. So this site is the perfect candidate to be redeveloped as a car-free development. With the exception of a small amount of disability accessible parking, carshare parking, loading zones and service vehicle parking, this should be a completely car-free development. People who live or work on the site should be expected to travel by active transport or public transport, rather than driving.
The complicated traffic environment will also tend to increase construction costs and logistical challenges. Even smaller highrise development sites can have dozens of truck movements a day, so to redevelop this whole site in one hit would likely cause huge local traffic disruption, suggesting that construction should instead occur in stages.
A car-free development would suggest that certain kinds of land use options (such as luxury highrise residential) are less likely to be commercially viable for private developers. Mega-rich residents tend to want space for their own cars even when there are good public transport and carshare alternatives available.
On the flipside, building lots of public housing for low-income residents right on top of a train station and busway makes a huge amount of sense. It’s much better to provide affordable housing for low-income residents in the inner-city, close to public transport, than forcing them to the outer suburbs where land is cheaper but they have to spend much more of their income on car ownership and petrol costs.
Structural engineers have also suggested that building extremely tall buildings will be more complicated than normal, as the deep footings needed for skyscrapers might be harder to construct due to the underground station. This doesn’t mean very tall highrises are impossible, but simply that there might be additional challenges and costs.
Public Green Space
Green space is one of the biggest needs in central Woolloongabba. The immediate surrounding neighbourhood is already very under-served by public parks, and is experiencing even more rapid densification with multiple residential and commercial developments under construction. Public green space is especially important for residents in high-density housing who don’t have access to private backyards or large internal entertaining areas. Brisbane City Council’s ‘Desired Standards of Service’ for parks identifies that within an immediate local area, there should ideally be 0.8 hectares of general recreation green space per 1000 residents and 0.6 hectares of more natural vegetated green space. Woolloongabba currently falls a long way short of these targets, so even if no new residential development was included on the Gabba station site, it would still be necessary for the State Government to include a large public park to cater for all the residents in nearby apartments. Adding more residential apartments to the site will necessitate also providing more green space to cater for them.
There’s already almost 8000m2 of green space to the west of the GoPrint site around the Motorway (between Allen St and Leopard St) which would be extremely expensive and difficult to construct buildings on. Spending a bit of money to improve pedestrian access to these green pockets, shield them acoustically from the noisy roads, and vegetate them more heavily as a dense bush reserve with a network of short walking tracks might be one way to provide additional useable natural green space for current and future residents of the precinct. But whether that happens or not, it seems crucial to me that at least one quarter of the GoPrint site (approximately 1 hectare) needs to be redesigned as public parkland for the benefit of residents and workers in the area. (For comparison, the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, which is quite close to the site of the Albert St Cross River Rail Station, is about 18 hectares) You can’t cram people into highrise apartments and office blocks without also giving them somewhere to stretch their legs or sit under a tree.
With many more residents living in highrise apartments, there’s a growing need in Woolloongabba for a range of community facilities and services – public libraries, tool libraries, bookable meeting spaces, halls and venues for parties and community concerts, crisis support services for vulnerable people, workshop spaces, and rehearsal rooms and studios for artists and musicians. So it will be important for the land above the Gabba station to include a large, general-purpose community centre which can fill many of these roles, acting as an anchor for the neighbourhood and helping the precinct flourish.
Right now, there are lots of empty shopfronts around Woolloongabba, so simply building more ground-level retail and commercial spaces in the hopes of ‘activating’ the precinct might not be the best strategy. Instead of cramming heaps of restaurants and shops onto the GoPrint site, it might make sense to have only a modest amount of ground-level commercial uses, and focus on improving connections through to the businesses on Stanley St and Logan Rd. This would free up more space for the kinds of community uses mentioned above, creating a more diverse precinct that doesn’t just feel like all the other restaurant and café destinations around Brisbane.
In recent media releases, the State Government has floated the concept of a big pedestrian overpass linking the new train station to the Gabba Stadium. I do see the logic of such a proposal. And if the government had a blank cheque for this project and was willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the above-ground embellishments, maybe it would be worthwhile. But before we get all excited about the benefits of a pedestrian overpass at this location, let’s take a step back and consider our priorities.
Councils and governments resort to pedestrian overpasses because they don’t want to slow down cars. It would be cheaper and easier to simply change pedestrian crossing signal times to give greater priority to pedestrians to cross at ground-level, but apparently cars are more important.
A pedestrian overpass of the kind shown in this artist’s impression would likely cost tens of millions of dollars, with added costs associated with the complexities of constructing it over a very busy road corridor. It has to be tall enough to allow large trucks to pass underneath, it has to be strong enough to carry high volumes of pedestrians and to resist extreme weather events, and it will probably require elevators and long ramps in order to meet accessibility standards. It’s also worth noting that the big beautiful trees currently growing next to the stadium in Woolloongabba Place Park would have to be removed to make way for the tiered seating showed in the image.
But apart from major event days, an overpass to the stadium might not get much use. Activating the proposed tiered seating and green space next to the stadium is going to be difficult with the noise and air pollution from Ipswich Rd/Main St. Very few people are going to want to hang out on those steps to watch trucks roar past.
Have a look at the large public space in front of Lang Park stadium at Milton. It too has a pedestrian overpass connecting to the train station, and is much better shielded from passing traffic, but most days of the year, it’s just a big empty lonely patch of concrete, because very few people want to visit the stadium precinct except on game days. The Gabba is a slightly different story to Milton as it has a larger local population and more local businesses, but it’s worth being a bit sceptical of these shiny-looking artist impressions.
The central part of Woolloongabba struggles due to the poor pedestrian connectivity across different sides of the Ipswich Rd-Stanley St intersection. Shops along the southern side of Stanley St struggle to attract customers, and the cul de sac of Logan Rd (the old antiques precinct) also feels a bit dead at times.
When we think about connectivity priorities to the new station on the GoPrint site, on most days of the year, there will be many more people seeking to travel in other directions for work and leisure, but comparatively few heading to/from the stadium.
From the future Gabba station, lots of people will be heading northwest to get to the Kangaroo Point cliffs and apartment blocks, north across Vulture St towards residential and commercial properties, northeast towards residences and businesses, southwest towards the Mater Hospital precinct, south across Stanley St to more high-density apartments and office blocks, and southeast to the Logan Road businesses and apartments. Comparatively few people will be heading east across Main St to and from the stadium on an average work day.
A pedestrian overpass directly to the stadium is not likely to give much of a boost to businesses along Stanley Street or help activate the wider Gabba precinct.
So it’s worth querying whether spending millions of dollars on an overpass to connect to a stadium is the best use of money. An alternative approach would be to create scramble crossings at the Ipswich Rd-Stanley St and Vulture St-Main St intersections to improve pedestrian connectivity to the train station, and on major event days, simply close Main St to through-traffic, diverting vehicles via Wellington Road.
Attendance at major sporting events is dropping consistently, and shows no sign of increasing again in the near future. Even if the Gabba Stadium is used more frequently for other big events like live music concerts, I’m not sure that the very high cost of building an overpass is the best use of money.
I’m open to being convinced otherwise on this, but I think I’d rather see the money spent on more public housing.
Selling off Development Rights to the Private Sector?
My general view is that in inner-city areas, where land values are likely to continue increasing long-term, it is short-sighted to hand government-owned land to the private sector, whether on a 99-year lease, as a permanent sale, or in exchange for a developer paying for other works (e.g. a pedestrian overpass). It’s rare for the State Government to have control over such a large inner-city site (particularly one that’s immediately above a train station), so we should not be too hasty in jumping to conclusions and bringing in private developers to build office towers and residential highrises.
Rather than selling off development rights, the government should retain ownership of all future residential and commercial properties built on the site. Well-located commercial properties on a major train station will likely generate significant rental revenue for the government over the long-term. While some residential homes will be rented out at low rents to the most vulnerable members of society, other apartments could remain under public ownership while being rented out at market rates to key workers. There’s a strong and growing need for more public housing in Brisbane’s inner south side, and it makes sense to co-locate public housing with a commercial hub where those low-income residents will have better access to job opportunities and transport services.
If the government feels it does not have enough money available to completely redevelop the whole site immediately, it would be better to stage the project, leaving some parts of the site undeveloped as open green space for a few years until money is available to build more public housing. Retaining ownership of the land and developing it gradually using public funds is preferable to selling it off to the private sector, particularly if the land can be put to other valuable short-term uses in the interim.
Broadway Hotel and Urban Realm Improvements
The Broadway Hotel site, at the intersection of Logan Rd and Wellington Rd, is the southeast gateway to central Woolloongabba. It’s also a key linkage between the massive South City Square mega-development and the Gabba stadium and future Gabba station.
The fire-damaged State Heritage-listed hotel takes up around 900m2 of the 2300m2 site. As discussed elsewhere on my website, due to the requirement to rebuild and restore the hotel, the local oversupply of commercial spaces and the shaky and uncertain inner-city apartment market, it is extremely unlikely that any profit-driven private developer would consider it commercially viable to redevelop the site anytime soon. The hotel has already been sitting vacant since 2010. If this building remains in private ownership, the most likely outcome is that it will sit empty and abandoned for several years to come. This is a poor outcome for the community and a bad look for the neighbourhood.
However, I believe there’s a strong case that as part of the redevelopment of the GoPrint site, the State Government could take a small proportion of the total budget and spend it on urban realm upgrades along key corridors that link to the station.
The Broadway Hotel site is worth somewhere between $3 to $5 million in its current state, which is a comparatively small figure in the context of the Cross River Rail project’s $5.4 billion total budget. As part of the station development, the State Government should be improving footpaths, planting street trees and making other targeted improvements to the public realm (such as better lighting, seating and public art).
The pedestrian routes that need the greatest attention are Ipswich Rd, Leopard St, Stanley and of course Logan Rd. By acquiring this site on Logan Rd, and combining it with the adjoining 800m2 triangle of council-owned land (currently used as a carpark), BCC and the State Government could create a new community centre next to a small public park, which would serve as a significant landmark and point of interest along this corridor. Developing the Broadway Hotel as a civic space halfway between Gabba Station and South City Square would help activate this whole corridor, supporting this stretch of Logan Rd to transform into a vibrant, cosmopolitan mixed neighbourhood, rather than a series of carparks and underutilised warehouses.
If you would like to see the government allocate resources towards acquiring and restoring the Broadway Hotel, please mention this in any opportunities you have to give feedback on the Cross River Rail project.
A possible short-term use of undeveloped land
If, as mentioned above, the State Government does not have the funds immediately available to develop higher-density residential or commercial buildings on some parts of the site, there are a range of options available to make use of this land in the short-term.
One common challenge of new mega-developments is the fostering of connected communities and organic local character. Too often, mega-developments in Brisbane lack soul, and feel just like all the other big shiny new development projects in cities around the world, without interesting or distinctive features. Ground-level retail tenancies often sit empty for several months, and new businesses struggle to attract tenants until there are enough new residents and workers nearby.
One strategy to create an instant community, bring life to an area, and make productive use of inner-city land until it’s redeveloped would be to temporarily designate a small proportion of the GoPrint site as a caravan park, with the intention of creating a neighbourhood of tiny houses and portable dwellings. Small sites could be leased out to long-term tenants for a fixed period of 5 years, or on a short-term basis to tourists in caravans and campervans who are travelling through the city.
Tiny homes can be designed on trailers as off-grid dwellings, with solar panels, greywater recycling and rainwater harvesting to reduce the need for expensive mains infrastructure. These homes can either have off-grid compost toilets, or share access to a common toilet and laundry block as is common with other caravan parks in Brisbane. This kind of short-term, temporary activation of a site can bring more people into an area, offering the necessary population base to bring life to local community facilities and customers to local small businesses.
Another obvious alternative use of the land would be to leave a significant proportion of the site available as publicly accessible open green space until the State Government has the funds to develop it. In the long-term, both the State Government and BCC are looking at acquiring large industrial sites to provide more green space for residents of the inner-south side, but until that happens, providing a significantly larger temporary public park on the GoPrint site would make a lot of sense.
There are many potential temporary uses for land on the GoPrint site and I think local residents should be given more input into what happens here over the next few years. What’s important though, is that the State Government doesn’t just go for the short-sighted option of selling off development rights to the private sector. It’s better to hold on to land and develop it later for the public benefit, rather than selling it off to the private sector and losing future flexibility.
There’s so much to think about with this project, but what’s crucial is that residents speak up loudly and clearly at every opportunity. The government’s instinct will be to ignore or pay lip service to residents and local businesses, but we mustn’t allow them to do this.
As mentioned above, if you’d like to provide feedback on the redevelopment of the Gabba station and the surrounding neighbourhood, please send an email to [email protected] and [email protected] (and CC in my office at [email protected] because I’d like to know what you think too).
Council has finally released proposed plans for the partial redesign of Davies Park…
Here’s what they’re spending money on:
- Roughly $200 000 on a large new toilet block (six cubicles including 2 wheelchair accessible)
- About $400 000 fixing up drainage issues and patching the internal roadway
- About $100 000 converting the beach volleyball courts into a flat gravel area, which will be fenced off from the public and will stay within the Souths Leagues Club lease boundaries
- About $1.3 million removing and reshaping some of the mounds around the edge of the rugby field, planting new trees and opening up new useable green space (particularly the new circular lawn at the Jane St/Montague Rd end)
- I’ve also allocated $150 000 from my local park upgrades budget to partly cover costs of a small skate facility on the Montague Rd side (this is marked as the ‘multiuse games area’ on their diagram) and I’m trying to convince the council to chip in the rest.
(Most of these figures are a bit rough because the council hasn’t publicly released its exact cost estimates and hasn’t yet gone out to tender to get detailed quotes)
The council conducted a small amount of ‘consultation’ into public priorities for upgrading the park earlier this year, you can read the comments I made about the proposed plans on my Facebook page earlier this year, the draft design concept plans that were released in July 2018 can be viewed here. They received strong feedback that residents wanted more open green space and not too much concrete, which is why they have prioritised reshaping the mounds along the Montague Rd side to free up more land. Relocating the mounds is so expensive because they are full of old contaminated material (various heavy metals, old rubbish, perhaps even rusted car bodies from when Davies Park was used as a speedcar track in the 1930s).
My impression is that the forms of outreach and consultation used by the council may have tended to more heavily favour the views of older residents. From what I’ve heard in the local area, there’s strong demand from a lot of people for both a multiuse court and a small skate facility in Davies Park, but council is saying that this did not come through very strongly in their ‘official’ consultation.
Jane Street Community Garden
Happily, it looks like the council has at least heard the community's strong feedback regarding the earlier proposal to relocate Jane St Community Garden. Neither I nor the majority of local residents wanted the garden moved, and it seems like the council has backed away from that plan. I'm very pleased with this small positive outcome and I will continue to support and be guided by the wishes of the Jane St Community Garden volunteers.
In general, I’m a bit disappointed with what the council is proposing. Fixing the drainage and relocating the mounds are important first steps, and it would be possible to then put a lot more money into the park to deliver more features. But unlike other major park projects (e.g. Hanlon Park), the LNP have not clearly committed to any more funding in future years beyond the $2 million announced so far. So my big concern is that this is all they’ll do.
Crucially, they have not committed to funding/installing:
- lighting through the park
- new pathways (e.g. a circular pathway around the proposed open lawn at the eastern corner)
- a full-sized multiuse court for basketball, netball, indoor soccer etc (as was floated in their initial consultation)
- Any kind of nature play/playground area
- BBQs or picnic seating
- New stairs/ramp leading up the slope from Riverside Drive to connect to the ring road
- Partial funding for the skate park
They have also ruled out including a shower facility in the toilet block, despite my repeated requests.
As a result of outsourcing to the private sector, the work council is proposing for Davies Park is costing way more than I consider reasonable. But if indeed those are the unavoidable costs, the council is simply going to have to commit more money to this park so we can get some serious improvements.
I’m particularly perplexed by the council’s proposal to convert the volleyball courts to a flat gravel surface on the vague promise that they will install new basketball courts/multiuse courts there in the future. Unless the LNP is willing to publicly commit to funding a multicourt here in the next financial year, we can have no faith or certainty that it will happen.
As a result, all that is going to happen for certain is that the BCC is spending up to $100 000 converting the beach volleyball courts to a flat gravel surface, which will most likely be used by Souths Leagues Club for parking. Rather than improving sport and recreation facilities in Davies Park, council’s current proposals are actually reducing them.
I’ve made an offer to BCC to put more funding from my local park upgrades budget into a small skate park on the Montague Rd side of the park if they’ll chip in some of the money, but I haven’t heard back yet. (In case you’re wondering, I can’t use my park upgrades budget for work on the beach volleyball court area, because that area falls within the boundary of the Souths Rugby League Club)
If you agree that council should not be spending $100 000 converting the beach volleyball courts to a fenced gravel carpark, and would prefer to see other kinds of park upgrades, can you please send an email to [email protected] and [email protected] and CC my office at [email protected]. Tell them you support planting more trees and creating more green space, but that we also need a multicourt, a skate facility and perhaps some kind of play area for smaller kids.
If this is all the work they intend to do for the 2018/19 financial year, we need to demand a clear public commitment from the Lord Mayor that they will spend more money on this park in the following financial year so we actually get some new facilities.
Since becoming a councillor in March 2016, I have advocated consistently for greater transparency and accountability, including calling for video recordings of Brisbane City Council meetings to be published online.
Throughout the first two years of my time as councillor, the Liberals repeatedly rejected my calls, but finally, on 20 November this year, I brought a notified motion to the chamber on this issue, and after extended debate, it eventually passed. The one downside was that the Liberals (who have a strong majority on BCC) did not support filming of council committee meetings, so although meetings of full council will soon be streamed online, the meetings of the various committees (i.e. Public Transport, Infrastructure, Lifestyle and Community Services etc) will not.
I'm hopeful that video streaming of meetings will give residents a greater understanding of the inner workings of council, and will also highlight the fact that the full meetings of council are essentially rubber-stamping exercises, while the big decisions affecting the future of our city continue to be made behind closed doors by the Lord Mayor's inner circle.
Below you can read the text of my opening remarks in the debate about video recording. I will continue to push for video recording of council committee meetings, and for a range of other reforms to improve transparency and accountability within local government.
I move that:
1. A video and audio recording will be made of each full meeting of Brisbane City Council and made available to the general public, free of charge, via the Brisbane City Council website.
2. A video and audio recording will be made of each meeting of each of Brisbane City Council’s committees, and made available to the general public, free of charge, via the Brisbane City Council website.
Transparency is a crucial element of any properly functioning representative democracy. If voters don’t know what decisions their elected representatives are making, or how we conduct ourselves in policy debates and discussions, voters are unable to make an informed decision about who should represent them.
Without sufficient transparency, it’s almost impossible to hold elected representatives to account for their words and actions.
There’s a good reason that we publish a full transcript of each meeting of Brisbane City Council. We want the people of Brisbane to know what we are saying – what issues we are choosing to spend our time debating, and what issues we are ignoring. We want residents to know the factors and values that influence how we vote on the floor of council.
Another crucial element of our democracy is civic engagement – public participation. Residents need to be in active dialogue with their representatives – not just once every four years at election time, but on a regular basis, letting their councillors know their needs and views, and providing feedback to us regarding how we spend our time and energy.
It’s very difficult to engage with a long written transcript of a meeting. The official transcript of our last meeting on 13 November is 95 pages long. But the written transcript doesn’t paint a full picture of what’s happening in the chambers.
It doesn’t capture facial expressions or tone of voice. It doesn’t show whether other councillors are listening attentively, or falling asleep, or even reading a book for leisure, as a certain chair of city planning once did during a meeting. The transcript doesn’t show when councillors leave and enter the chamber.
Right now, one councillor can stand up and claim that another councillor isn’t present in the room, and there isn’t even an official record within the minutes to validate or crosscheck that statement. I think a lot of residents would be surprised to see how often and for how long the Lord Mayor is absent from these debates.
Residents would also be very surprised to see the way some councillors conduct themselves in this chamber, calling out, interrupting, making rude remarks, shouting abuse. I believe that if people saw the way some of their reps behaved during council debates, they’d probably think twice about voting for them. I would like to think that the added scrutiny of video recordings would discourage some councillors in this place from acting like arses towards one another. But maybe that’s a little naïve.
In an age of social media and the proliferation of video content, video recordings of speeches and debates are a much-needed tool in engaging residents and highlighting issues of public concern. The LNP councillors produce videos about all sorts of things. So why don’t they allow publication of videos of council debates?
Here in Brisbane in 2018, residents continually express to me their concerns that Brisbane City Council is not sufficiently transparent or accountable – that big decisions are being made behind closed doors without proper public engagement or scrutiny.
Residents are frustrated. Often they don’t hear about important decisions until long after they’re made, and they rarely understand the reasoning behind those decisions. Most Brisbanites don’t even know the name of their city councillor, let alone what they’re saying and doing here in council meetings.
The problem is even worse within the meetings of the various council committees. Although these committees are theoretically open to the public, a full transcript of the discussions in these meetings is not made available online, and the various remarks made by councillors during general business are not even recorded unless a local journalist happens to be in that particular committee meeting and decides to write a story about it.
Full council meetings and committee meetings currently take place during the day on Tuesdays. The vast majority of residents who work or study on weekdays simply don’t have an opportunity to watch their councillors in action in these meetings. Residents are unable to observe how effectively their representatives are advocating and how we engage with other councillors.
And as mentioned earlier, the written transcripts are a poor and incomplete record of what really goes on in these meetings. The written transcript doesn’t always tell the full story.
Publishing video recordings of council meetings online would cost very little. We already have microphones and audio recording systems set up in the main council chamber. Any objections to this proposal based on the potential cost are intellectually dishonest. To claim that council can’t afford to record meetings would be a blatant lie.
The only other argument the LNP have offered against publishing video recordings is that an individual councillor might say something defamatory in a council meeting, and publishing a video including that defamatory statement online might expose BCC to legal liability. This is a very weak excuse considering that council meetings themselves are already publicly accessible.
Under Australian law, one of the well-established defences to a defamation action is that the content being published is a fair report of proceedings of public concern. The content of a public council meeting is quite clearly a matter of public concern. As such, even if BCC did publish a video of a council meeting where a councillor said something defamatory, BCC would be protected from any legal responsibility. There are a number of other public interest defences which would also prevent legal liability attaching to council.
However, if there are indeed genuine legal concerns – which I doubt – a simple solution would be to remove any footage of defamatory statements from the video record before it’s made available online. I understand this is the response council already uses for the written transcripts of the full council meetings.
Ultimately, the public interest in knowing what goes in council meetings overrides any concern about the republication of defamatory statements.
It’s important to note that other councils around Queensland have already moved towards publishing video records of council meetings.
Gold Coast City Council livestreams video and audio of all full council meetings, and leaves these videos freely available online to the general public. Gold Coast has been livestreaming council meetings since at least January 2012, and you can go onto their council website and watch all of these old meetings. In this respect, Gold Coast City Council is far more transparent than Brisbane City Council.
Redland City Council also records and livestreams council meetings. It’s interesting to compare the two councils and see that the Redlands councillors start their meeting with an acknowledgement of the traditional owners, while Gold Coast seems to start with a prayer and a somewhat cringeworthy rendition of the national anthem. Each to their own I guess.
Ipswich City Council also livestreams its meetings, and you can find the videos of all past meetings on its Youtube channel. Even after the councillors were all sacked, the interim management committee has continued to livestream and publish videos of each of its council meetings.
Even smaller councils like Fraser Coast Regional Council, which covers a population of roughly 100 000 residents, livestreams and publishes videos of council meetings. If Fraser Coast can do it, why can’t Brisbane?
Across the border, it was announced just last week that webcasting of council meetings is becoming a mandatory requirement for all local councils in New South Wales. Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton told media on Friday, 16 November, that "If it's good enough for federal and state MPs to go live to the nation, then there is no reason why local councillors should be exempt.”
We’re now almost 20 years into the 21st century. This change is long overdue, and Brisbane City Council urgently needs to get with the times. For a city that claims to be embracing digital technology and innovation, it’s pretty embarrassing that they’re apparently still so afraid of video.
What’s become clear to me in my two and half years as a councillor is that this LNP administration has an authoritarian instinct to want to tightly control the narrative of council meetings and silence and marginalise dissenting voices. They might occasionally allow supportive journalists to film short clips, but they do not allow any filming that they don’t have control of. In the past, I have sought permission from the chair to film specific speeches and debates during council, and have had these requests denied.
The LNP doesn’t publish videos of meetings, because they know it would make them look bad. They know it would make it easier for residents to understand what goes on in this place, and that that would lose them votes.
Looking beyond the lame and self-serving excuses, the LNP are resisting transparency and public scrutiny because it would be politically damaging. They don’t want residents to know what happens in this chamber. They don’t want videos of the puerile debates and partisan attacks they engage in to circulate online.
And yet, in a grand act of hypocrisy, they are spending millions of dollars of ratepayer money installing security cameras throughout this city. They want every public square and building under surveillance, and yet they would not dare subject themselves to the same scrutiny. They are happy to film residents all over Brisbane, but they don’t want residents to see what they’re up to. This double-standard lays bare the LNP’s motivations. They want cameras all over the city, except in council meetings.
They want to collect six figure salaries, and make big decisions affecting the future of millions of Brisbane residents. Yet they don’t want the public to see and hear their meetings.
So ultimately, the question is: what have they got to hide?
Local residents will gather in Kurilpa Point Park on Saturday morning to protest the installation of hostile landscaping under the Kurilpa Bridge, calling for stronger renters rights and more investment in public housing.
The state government is spending $120 000 installing boulders under the Kurilpa Bridge near GOMA to deter homeless people from sleeping there, despite objections from the local councillor.
Last week, Gabba Ward Councillor Jonathan Sri organised a group of activists to illegally dismantle the temporary fencing.
"Moving homeless people on from one public space to another just causes more problems," Councillor Sri says. "The solution is to strengthen renters rights and build more public housing.
“They must have rocks in their head if they think putting boulders under the bridge is going to fix anything.”
“Nowhere is safe to sleep when you’re homeless,” Councillor Sri says. “But people were gathering under the bridge because it was sheltered from the rain and felt safer than other alternatives. It makes me so sad that the government is fencing people out instead of building more homes for them.”
“The Queensland Government is only investing an average of $120 million per year in public housing. That’s the same amount that they give in annual prize money to the racing industry.”
“The current proposal to build 500 dwellings per year across the entire state is woefully insufficient when around 30 000 people are languishing on the public housing waiting list right now,” Councillor Sri said.
The Australian Homelessness Monitor Report 2018 shows that homelessness in Brisbane has risen by 32% since 2011 (source: page 9 of the report)
“Since 2011, we saw big increases in rents at the bottom end of the market, forcing lots of people onto the street. The new privately owned highrise apartments are much more expensive to rent, so West End’s construction boom has had significant negative side-effects. Queensland really needs stronger rules against excessive rent increases.”
“Sometimes the government claims it has offered housing to rough sleepers, but this is often just in overpriced short-term boarding houses or motels, because there’s not enough public housing. It’s not a long-term solution.”
“If they had actually housed all the rough sleepers around Kurilpa Point, why do they need to spend so much money keeping homeless people away from this bridge?”
Max Chandler-Mather, Greens candidate for Griffith, said it was clear the only solution was a massive investment in social housing. “The Australian Greens want to invest in building 500,000 beautifully designed social homes over 15 years and guarantee everyone access to a good home. This would be the biggest social reform since Medicare.”
“The private housing market is destroying people’s lives and it’s madness that we are leaving millions of people to suffer while banks and property developers rake in billions in profits. Rather than build fences, Labor should commit to the sort of social housing construction boom that transformed Australian society in the 1950s and continue to benefit countries like Austria and the Netherlands.”
The rally will take place at 9am on Saturday, 17 November at the southern end of the Kurilpa Footbridge, next to GOMA.
Media enquiries: 0488 199 015
23 October, 2018
A lot of people around the country – myself included – have been psyched to see the Liberals lose the federal seat of Wentworth to Independent Kerryn Phelps (even the name of the electorate sounds posh doesn’t it?). For anyone who’s hungry for big changes to our political system, it’s empowering to see an underdog thump the major parties. Whenever a non-major candidate gets a massive swing in a high-profile contest, it’s another valuable and much-needed reminder to voters around the country that they don’t have to settle for the Labor-Liberal duopoly. However as Helen Razer writes, Phelps isn’t really that much of an underdog, and she certainly isn’t here to shake up the system.
Phelps’s win obviously carries some pretty significant ramifications for the Morrison government, and will hopefully catalyse some positive shifts on issues like climate change and refugee rights in the lead-up to the next federal election. But for me, the result also raises interesting questions about where our democracy might be headed in the long-term.
At times like this, lots of commentators will be piling on to interpret the Phelps win in whatever way serves their own agenda and reinforces their own preconceptions. Personally I think we should be cautious and sceptical of drawing general conclusions from Wentworth about the trajectory of Australian politics as a whole, or using the result as evidence of any particular broader trend. This was a unique by-election with a lot of unusual variables. As far as I’m concerned, Wentworth doesn’t actually prove anything.
For a while now, many on the so-called left have warned that the fallout of neoliberalism and declining faith in the major political parties could result in a lurch to the hard-right, with people who’ve been screwed over by capitalism manipulated into embracing xenophobia and fascism. The other possibility is that a progressive political movement will articulate a bold policy platform that diagnoses the problems of neoliberalism and speaks to frustrated voters’ immediate material concerns by redistributing wealth away from the top 1% and investing heavily in public services.
But Wentworth makes me wonder whether another path might in fact be more likely: Rather than a radical shift to the left or right, what if the millions of Australians who are extremely frustrated with the major parties simply start electing more ‘sensible centre’ independents, ignoring and delaying the push for more substantial changes to our democracy?
See there’s nothing particularly transformative or disruptive about Kerryn Phelps’s values or policy platform. She still sits very comfortably within Australia’s ‘elite’ and ‘establishment’ circles. She wants ‘something’ done about climate change (as long as it doesn’t interfere with business profitability) and she doesn’t like refugee kids in offshore detention, but she’s definitely not going to be calling for the dismantling of capitalism or for compensating First Peoples for the theft of their land. There’s an obvious ring of truth to the Betoota Advocate’s Sunday headline “Wentworth Voters Send Strong Message To Liberals By Voting In White Middle Aged Doctor.”
Nothing Phelps has said so far seems to indicate a willingness to critically examine the fundamental structure of our parliamentary or economic systems. Wentworth is an especially privileged electorate where most voters have a strong interest in maintaining the economic status quo, so perhaps this isn’t surprising. But other independent MPs like Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan, who both cultivate reasonably progressive images, have also enjoyed strong support and tapped into discontent with the overall political system, without actually questioning its fundamentals. The same could arguably be said of the Reason Party (formerly the Sex Party) and Nick Xenophon’s Centre Alliance Party.
The problem with our political system is not simply the two major parties. Ultimately it’s not even the fact that big corporations are buying influence with political donations. The root of the problem is the hierarchical, adversarial nature of representative parliamentary democracy itself, and the bureaucratised, centralised, top-down style of government that accompanies it.
Generally speaking, the kinds of people who will be best placed to win seats as independents in the current electoral system will not be so different in terms of wealth, life experiences and worldviews from the kinds of people who currently run our country. A parliament comprised mostly of independent MPs and ‘centrist’ minor parties who are more responsive to their electorate and more difficult for vested corporate interests to manipulate would definitely be a marked improvement from what we have at the moment.
But when each MP represents big electorates of 100 000+ voters, and those MPs are largely still drinking the neoliberal Kool-Aid, most of the problems we see within our current political system are likely to remain in slightly different forms. A trend towards electing more independents of the Kerryn Phelps mould – people who rightly attack the major parties’ bullshit but who also don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with society as a whole – might actually serve as a circuit breaker or pressure relief valve, delaying or de-escalating the urgent and necessary push for more substantive changes.
Right now, a lot of voters aren’t sure whether they’re feeling disempowered by the political system as a whole, or are just frustrated with Labor and the Liberals. Voting in establishmentarian independents might give people the false sense that they’ve done all they need to do (and can do) to respond to the failures of mainstream politics.
The bigger immediate risk is that privileged, politically engaged electorates like Wentworth will make the astute calculation that a savvy independent is more likely to represent their interests than a major party seat-warmer, while more impoverished electorates continue to elect Labor and Liberal candidates. This could result in a parliament where independent MPs follow the wishes of their wealthier constituencies and use their balance of power to reinforce neoliberalism, while continuing to employ anti-establishment rhetoric and making it harder for voters to diagnose the real reasons the system is failing them.
I’m not asserting that this is definitely what will happen. Like I said at the outset, I think we should resist the temptation to draw universal conclusions from one by-election. The takeaway lesson – if there is one – is that those of us who seek a more radical and fundamental transformation of our political and economic systems, and of our society as a whole, should probably resist the temptation to simply heap all the blame on Labor and the Liberals.
There’s a big difference between simply saying “the major parties are fucked” and saying “the whole system is fucked.” The former message creates space for all manner of capitalist independents and ‘centrist’ groupings to win seats, but doesn’t necessarily solve anything long-term.
This might all seem obvious to some, but the distinction is important for minor parties like the Greens, who have been saying for years that neither Labor nor the Liberals care about ordinary people, but still can’t increase their national primary vote beyond the low teens. We must continually highlight the failings of our parliamentary system as a whole, and argue strongly for structural changes that give ordinary people more direct power, rather than taking the easier road of simply saying “elect us because the two majors are awful and we’re not.”
With so many balls in the air, no-one can predict with confidence where our political system is heading. But Wentworth reminds us that we could foreseeably see more and more Labor and Liberal seats won by pro-status quo independents, without anything really changing.
Here’s some basic advice on navigating the rules for holding public rallies and marches in Brisbane, which are governed by the Peaceful Assembly Act 1992. This process can also be used for other community events that are seeking to occupy part of a roadway without the prohibitively high costs of hiring a traffic control company.
This is not a detailed guide on how to organise a protest, but simply a rundown of the specific rules that apply to protests in Brisbane. These rules can sometimes be overridden by special legislation for specific locations and events, such as with the G20 or the Commonwealth Games.
Disclaimer: The following is general advice only. I’m not a lawyer, and this information should not be interpreted as specific legal advice regarding individual situations.
If you have any questions about all this, you can email my office on [email protected].
It’s important to remember that protest actions which challenge the power and authority of the state can often be more effective at shifting policy and getting your message across, so you don’t have to go through the legal processes, but then you run the risk of arrests and fines. Some activists argue that every time we organise a protest using the Peaceful Assembly Act process, we reinforce and legitimise the power of the state, and so actually we should never formally notify the police. This is an ongoing debate in Brisbane’s activist circles…
Step 1 – Avoid Date Clashes
Do some basic research online to avoid clashes with other protests and public events. There’s no point going any further in submitting notices to the police and council if some other event is already organised for the time and location you’re considering (unless of course your goal is to disrupt that other event). For spaces like King George Square and Brisbane Square, double-check the BCC website. You can also try calling the council on 3403 8888 but you might not get a straight answer.
The police keep their own calendar of protests they’re aware of. Before you lodge the formal documents, you can try contacting them at [email protected] to ask if they’re aware of any potential clashes, but they might be slow in getting back to you, so if you’re in a rush, don’t wait for them.
Step 2 – Lodge a Notice of Intention
Download a copy of a Notice of Intention to Hold a Public Assembly from the Queensland Police website or create your own 'Notice of Intention' (which can even just be an email containing the necessary information).
At the police’s end, they tend to leave coordination up to whichever team oversees the area that the event starts on, so if your protest is meeting at South Bank but then marching across the river to the northside, it will probably still be handled by the South Brisbane Riverside Patrol team.
Advice on filling out the Notice of Intention
The Notice of Intention requirements are defined in section 9 of the Peaceful Assembly Act 1992. Technically, you don’t have to fill out the actual police form, you just have to make sure the written notice has all the information listed in the act. But it’s probably easier to just use the police’s form.
Even though the police form says it must be handwritten, there’s no legal requirement to do this. We always fill out the form by computer and this has never been a problem as long as there’s a signature on it.
Sometimes, Brisbane City Council might ask you to fill out their own Notice of Intention form, but you’re not legally required to do this. Just send them a copy of the same form that you’ve sent to the police.
Some parts of the form won’t be relevant to your event.
When I’m organising a stationary rally rather than a march, I just write ‘No procession’ in the sections that ask for info about a procession. We don’t usually bother giving much detail about what kind of banners we’re using, because it’s not a legal requirement and the police shouldn’t be preventing you from carrying banners anyway.
You can see an example of a completed notice at this link.
When we’re organising a march, or a larger rally that includes a big stage, we will sometimes send the police an aerial map showing the layout and march route. This is not a legal requirement, but it calms them down because it reassures them that you’re well organised, and it will mean that they’re less likely to try to make your life difficult.
Under section 10 of the Peaceful Assembly Act, your protest is ‘taken to be approved’ – that is, approved automatically – if you have emailed in your properly completed Notice of Intention with at least five business days’ notice.
This means that even if council or the police don’t want your protest to go ahead, giving written notice means it’s still legal, and they can’t technically charge you with causing a public nuisance or blocking a roadway etc (but they can still charge you if you damage property, harm another person etc).
If you’ve given at least five business days’ notice, the only way the council or police can stop you going ahead is if they get a court order from the Magistrates Court preventing the rally.
The actual wording of the act says “if the assembly notice was given not less than 5 business days before the day on which the assembly is held”. In counting the ‘five business days’ our understanding is that you just have to get the notice in before close of business a week beforehand. So if your rally is on a Monday morning, you would have to email your notice before 5pm of the previous Monday (assuming no public holidays). But for the sake of diplomacy and not stressing out overworked police officers, it still might be good to get the notice in as early as possible.
Step 3 – Approval/Negotiation with the police
Once police receive your notice of intention, their process is to give you a call to say hi, and email you out a notice of permission for the public assembly for you to sign. As explained above, if you have given five business days’ written notice, this permission notice is technically not a legal requirement.
However if you lodged your notice with less than five business days’ notice, and the police refuse to give you a notice of permission, your rally won’t be authorised under the Peaceful Assembly Act unless you apply for approval from the courts under section 14.
So if you’re organising your march at short notice, you should try to negotiate with the police to get a notice of permission, otherwise they can charge you with obstructing traffic etc.
How can they stop you?
If you’ve given five business days’ notice, and the police don’t want you to go ahead with the protest (for example, if you’re blocking a very busy road in peak hour), the police must apply for a court order under section 12 of the Peaceful Assembly Act. Before they can apply for a court order, the police (or council) must first hold a mediation session with the protest organisers using an independent mediator in accordance with the processes set out in the Dispute Resolution Centres Act 1990 .
What this boils down to is that as long as you’ve given adequate notice, the government has to go to a lot of trouble if they want to stop you, and generally it’s easier for them to just agree to the protest and try to impose conditions.
Do I need public liability insurance?
Lately, Brisbane City Council has been telling some organisers that they need insurance to hold a rally in a council park. This is not true. There is no legally enforceable requirement to hold insurance and you should clearly refuse such requests from council or the police.
Legal responsibility for any injuries or damage occurring at a protest is the same for any other use of public space. So for example, if a protestor scratches a parked car, they are personally criminally responsible for. If a protestor twists their ankle in a pothole that council should have repaired, the council might be responsible for medical costs under negligence laws, but if a protestor climbs a tree, falls and hurts themselves, it’s probably their own fault.
Am I responsible for traffic control or traffic management plans?
Police or the council might occasionally tell you that you also need to apply for a road closure permit or organise traffic control to shut off streets and divert traffic. This isn't actually true. The whole point of the Peaceful Assembly Act is to allow residents who don't have the money to hire a traffic control company to be able to use the street for the purposes of public assembly. If traffic control is considered necessary to allow residents to peacefully assemble on a particular street, it's technically up to council or the police to provide this.
Can they prevent me from erecting shade shelters and info tables as part of a rally?
The legal situation is unclear, but probably not.
Setting up temporary shade shelters/gazebos is part of a peaceful assembly, and as long as they’re properly secured against the wind and you’re not going over the top with them, you should be fine.
In places like King George Square, the council might try to insist on a condition preventing shade gazebos, but I doubt it would be legally enforceable.
Section 5 of the Peaceful Assembly Act says the right to peaceful assembly is subject “only to such restrictions as are necessary and reasonable in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, or public order” etc. On a hot sunny day, denying protestors access to shade is an unreasonable restriction on free assembly, so if you hold your ground when negotiating with police and council, they will not legally be able to insist on banning gazebos.
How much noise can we make?
There are no specific rules on noise limits and volumes within the Peaceful Assembly Act, but the act allows for restrictions that are necessary to protect the health, safety, rights and freedoms of other people. It’s probably arguable that the general state and federal environmental protection laws against noise pollution would apply, but as far as I know, it’s never been an issue at a rally.
In some publicly accessible spaces - such as inside the lobby of the State Government HQ at 1 William St - building security might ask you not to use a PA system/megaphones, but if you've lodged a notice of intention, they can't stop you. If you haven't lodged a notice of intention, it'll come down to a test of wills between you and the police/security. A police sergeant would have to be pretty stupid/crazy to start arresting or fining protesters simply on the basis that their PA is too loud.
In the past, we’ve had loud bands and DJs playing at events that were authorised under the Peaceful Assembly Act, and haven’t had any problems. I think the best approach is to use commonsense and don’t turn up the speakers so loud that you deafen your own supporters.
You should think practically about which direction your speakers are pointed to maximise coverage of the crowd (it helps to lift speakers off the ground with stands or milk crates) rather than having a single speaker pointed in one direction, which can mean that when someone is standing in front of the speakers it's way too loud while someone standing a bit off to the side still can't really hear the speeches properly.
Where can we legally assemble?
The Peaceful Assembly Act protects the right to protest in any public place. A public place is defined in section 4 as including:
“(a) a road; and
(b) a place open to or used by the public as of right; and
(c) a place for the time being open to or used by the public, whether or not—
(i) the place is ordinarily open to or used by the public; or
(ii) by the express or implied consent of the owner or occupier; or (iii) on payment of money;”
So basically, this would include publicly accessible spaces on private land, such as in the forecourt or lobby of a big office tower, or inside a shopping mall (of course, if security guards on a private property know you’re coming, they’ll probably lock you out).
Importantly, this also applies to land controlled by South Bank Corporation. In recent years, South Bank has strongly resisted any protests taking place within the parklands on the basis that South Bank is “a family-friendly place” (I find this amusing because it implies that other parks like Roma Street are not family-friendly). But in fact, in terms of how the Peaceful Assembly Act operates, South Bank Parklands is just like any other park, so if you send your Notice of Intention to both the police and council with five business days’ notice, they would need a court order to stop you.
It’s pretty straightforward
So that’s basically all you need to know.
Although for the last forty or fifty years, Australian streets have been seen as the exclusive domain of cars, there’s no reason we shouldn’t reclaim them as public spaces for people too.
If you lodge a Notice of Intention at least one week before the protest, you can legally block roads, hold protest gigs in public parks, and arguably even hold protest pool parties down at South Bank.
I find it’s generally better to maintain open channels of communication with the police, because they are more likely to panic and do something stupid if you take them by surprise. But remember: you have a democratic right to peaceful assembly, so don’t let them insist on conditions that unreasonably restrict or limit that right.
June 2020 Update:
This article was published in September 2018. In the past year or two, Queensland Police have become much less reasonable and flexible about negotiating and supporting authorised peaceful assemblies on large and busy road corridors. It is becoming more common for the police to take organisers to court for lodging a notice of intention to occupy a road, which in turn means the value of lodging a notice is diminishing somewhat. It's hard to provide general advice on whether you should or shouldn't lodge a notice for a given event, because the outcome depends on the subjective discretion and biases of individual police commanders and judges. The following info is all still generally correct, and if you get a not-too-conservative judge, it's still possible to win in court even if the police apply for an order preventing your assembly. This process still works really well for community events or protests on smaller roads that carry less traffic.
22 June 2018
This is not a complete rundown of all the projects and programs that have received funding in our area, but I thought I’d highlight a few key programs that help paint a picture of what the administration’s budget priorities are. You can view the budget papers for yourself via the links at the bottom of this page on the council website.
No Significant Increase in Festival Funding
Funding for multicultural festivals and suburban community festivals has remained relatively stable. Unsurprisingly, there’s been no significant increase in festival funding across the city, but we’ve secured renewed funding for all our various Gabba Ward festivals including Brisbane Writers Festival, End of the Line in Woolloongabba, Kurilpa Derby/West End Festival, West End Film Festival, Buddha’s Birthday Festival, Paniyiri etc.
It’s interesting to note that the cost of resurfacing Gladstone Road, Dutton Park in this year’s budget is $825 000, which exceeds the total council funding of $783 509 for all 75 suburban community festivals across the city. All up, Brisbane City Council spends $90 million a year on resurfacing roads, but only $4 million a year on all major and minor festivals (including the big ones like Brisbane Festival).
Slight Increase to Local Grants Budget
We’ve also seen a modest increase in the local Suburban Initiative Fund grants budgets. For the past few years, the LNP have stubbornly refused to increase this ward office grants budget, which has stagnated at $55 000 per ward, not even rising with inflation. I’ve argued quite strongly (both publicly in council chambers and in written correspondence to the Lord Mayor’s office) that this budget needs to increase to keep pace with population growth, and this year we’ve seen it increase from $55 000 to $75 000.
This is still a relatively small discretionary grants budget considering rising event organising costs and how many community events and projects are in need of funding. There are quite a few local community projects that I wasn’t able to fund in the 2017/18 financial year, so it’ll be nice to offer small grants to more of those next year.
West End Creative Hub Gets Ongoing Funding
The ‘West End Creative Hub’ project – now managed by Outer Space down on Montague Road – was received with scepticism by some sectors of the local arts community when it was first announced, because the council was only offering tenure of two years. It’s a big ask to expect a non-profit community arts organisation to go to all the trouble of setting up an arts space when it might lose funding after only two years, but happily we’ve seen funding for this project extended out to 2021.
Almost all of the funding for this project goes towards paying the rent on a privately owned commercial space. I still believe that this is perhaps not the best or most effective use of money in an environment where arts funding is so limited, and that council should either be spending this money on actually purchasing a building for use as a community art centre, or should be giving it to local arts organisations for them to spend as they see fit. Having said that, I see a lot of value and potential in the Outer Space project, and I will continue to lobby hard for more funding both for this project, and for the arts more generally.
Musgrave Park Pool
Further funding towards the upgrade of Musgrave Park pool was included in this year’s budget, with $2.82 million in the 2018/19 financial year and $2.78 million in 2019/20. I understand early stage design work on this project will begin pretty soon. I’m pushing council to conduct a proper public consultation process about redesign priorities for the pool.
I will also strongly recommend that the redesign includes lighting for the pathway running along the southern end of Musgrave Park
Although it’s described as an ‘upgrade’, a lot of the money will end up going towards basic repairs and maintenance like patching leaks in the main pool. I’ll keep residents posted about this project as I learn more.
Activities in Parks
BCC is continuing to fund the Active and Healthy Parks Program, which includes a lot of free or cheap activities in the Gabba Ward like yoga classes, group bike rides, children’s ball skills etc. You can browse and search for activities via this link. I encourage you to check it out – there’s actually quite a lot of good stuff that residents should take advantage of.
Very little funding for affordable housing and homelessness support services
As with previous years, we’ve seen virtually no funding towards affordable housing programs or ending homelessness in Brisbane.
The ‘Homelessness and Affordable Housing Program’ got a total of $815 000 allocated this year. During the budget information session, Councillor Matthew Bourke, the Chair of Lifestyle and Community Services, would not tell me the exact breakdown of what this line item is actually for, but I understand that some of it goes towards paying for three public space liaison officer roles (PSLOs), who are out on the street, building relationships with rough sleepers and helping link them in to support services. This is a very important and valuable role, and it’s a shame the council isn’t funding more PSLO roles.
The rest of the $815 000 goes towards the Red Cross Night Café – another excellent service that provides a drop-in space for marginalised young people, and to the community housing program – an old program that currently rents out around 10 old council-owned houses at subsidised rent via non-profit community housing organisations. The fact that this community housing program still exists at all is a bit of a miracle, but it’s a reminder that council could be providing significantly more affordable housing through this kind of approach, as it did in the past.
The Homeless Connect event at Doomben racecourse gets an allocation of $144 000, but again, the chair wouldn’t tell me exactly what this money is spent on.
Still no funding for extended operating hours or proper toilets at West End Library
West End Library (aka Kurilpa Library) is a small heritage-listed library which is currently closed on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesday, and doesn’t have publicly accessible toilets. The upstairs toilet facility used by staff is sometimes made available in emergencies, but is not accessible for users with impaired mobility.
BCC seems to have deprioritised investment and staff resourcing for Kurilpa Library on the basis that residents can use the State Library at South Bank or Brisbane Square Library in the CBD, but that’s not much use for the many local residents who live within walking distance of the Kurilpa Library and don’t want to have to travel into the heart of the inner-city just to access a computer or borrow a book.
The library’s lack of toilets and limited opening hours are self-reinforcing issues. These limitations discourage patronage, but council prioritises investment in libraries based largely on patronage rates. People don’t use the library because there’s no toilets, but the LNP won’t spend the money to install toilets unless more people are using the library.
There are also some great fact sheets on the Tenants Queensland website, including info on starting and ending a lease, landlords’ obligations to maintain the property, and what to do to ensure you get your bond refunded when you move out.
A new campaign for rent controls and stronger renters’ rights is building in Brisbane.
Residents are calling on the State Government to enact meaningful policy reforms that ensure greater stability for renters, moderate the negative impacts of gentrification, and help smooth out the peaks and troughs of the boom-bust property development industry.
In particular, we want the State Government to legislate a ‘right to remain’. This would mean that a landlord must renew a tenant’s lease unless the landlord or their family wants to move into the property themselves, or needs the property vacant in order to make major renovations. Even if a property changes ownership, the tenants would be entitled to remain and have their lease renewed unless the new owner actually wants to move in themselves.
We also believe the State Government needs to enforce a cap on how quickly rents can rise. This would give renters greater stability and financial security, and would help reduce the number of people who are made homeless when a neighbourhood becomes trendy and property values start rising rapidly.
For years now, the burden of advocacy, both in helping tenants with immediate issues like getting their bond back, and in terms of pushing governments to enact broader policy change, has been carried by the hard-working activists over at Tenants Queensland.
As a government-funded, non-party political advocacy organisation, Tenants Queensland has scored some big wins over the years, and I am strongly supportive of the work they do.
But there’s a gap in the Queensland political landscape. The Labor Party continues to pay lip service to tenants’ rights, supporting only modest policy reforms while bowing to pressure from the property industry. Simply put, the two major parties aren’t worried about losing votes on this issue, so there’s not enough impetus for positive change.
A new advocacy group called Brisbane Renters Alliance has formed to fill this gap. Brisbane Renters Alliance does not rely on government funding, so it has more scope to directly criticise and put pressure on the major political parties. Brisbane Renters Alliance is not controlled by or directly connected to any political party, but it actively supports political parties and candidates who are committed to introducing rent controls and a right to remain.
If you support the struggle for stronger renters, please start pressuring your elected MPs to make firm commitments before the coming state election to introduce protections against excessive rent increases and unjustified evictions.
There's also a closed 'Brisbane Renters Alliance' Facebook group that renters are welcome to join to discuss policy demands and seek informal advice on dealing with real estate agents.
I intend to support rental advocacy in our city by co-hosting policy forums, co-ordinating direct action responses to unjust evictions, and directly supporting renters' rights campaigners. I've also decided to use my position as an elected representative to name and shame bad real estate agents.
If current trends continue, pretty soon 3/4 of Brisbane's inner-city population will be renters, most of whom are on short-term leases with very little stability, and who will likely remain renter for most of their lives. This makes the community especially vulnerable to the vagaries of the property market. A sudden spike in real estate values can result in thousands of people being forced out of their homes.
Right now, renters in Queensland have pretty weak rights. But renting doesn't have to suck. If we advocate collectively, we can follow other developed nations in introducing stronger rights and protections for rents, and create a better, fairer housing system for renters and home-owners alike.
Different residents often have different, conflicting views on how particular public spaces should be used.
These disagreements can be tricky to resolve in inner-city areas, where the ratio of public space per resident is far lower, and different land uses – residential, commercial, open space, etc – are closer together.
Ideally, each neighbourhood will have a good balance of:
- quiet, well-vegetated green spaces that provide wildlife habitat and allow residents to connect with nature
- Lower-intensity open recreation spaces for holding a picnic, kicking a ball around or flying a kite
- active recreation spaces with infrastructure like playgrounds and sports facilities
- community gardens that bring people together and support urban food production
- intensively used squares and urban commons that are designed for meetings and events.
With greater public investment both in genuine consultation and in well-designed infrastructure, it’s possible to find creative solutions to meet a wider range of needs. Unfortunately, both the Brisbane City Council and the Queensland State Government have underspent significantly on the provision of public space and the infrastructure that goes into it. This general scarcity means that public spaces are being used more intensively, particularly in close proximity to residential homes.
Who is impacted?
As a local councillor, I believe residents should have more control over how our neighbourhoods change and evolve. The residents who live closest to public spaces often experience the greatest negative impacts when the use of those spaces intensifies, and it’s important that their needs aren’t ignored or marginalised.
However, immediate neighbours aren’t the only ones who should get a say in how a space is used, and although their needs and preferences might differ from other public space users who live slightly further away, that doesn’t mean that they should have veto power over everything that happens on a piece of publicly owned land.
There are many benefits in living closer to public parks and squares – for one thing, the view from your window probably isn’t obscured by another building only a few metres away. The trade-off is that you might also have to put up with a bit more noise and a little less privacy. This can be a difficult adjustment for new residents who are accustomed to quieter suburban lifestyles, but it comes with the territory.
Wealth inequality is another important element in this conversation. Public spaces are owned by all of us, and while everyone’s money (in the form of rates, taxes etc) is used to buy and maintain public spaces, it's often the most privileged members of our society who get to live closest to high quality parks, squares and waterways. While poorer residents are crammed into smaller apartments and flats with no private open space and barely enough room to entertain visitors, wealthier residents often get the benefit of larger homes - usually with private courtyards or sprawling backyards - as well as closer proximity to publicly owned open space. Often, public spaces are used more heavily by lower-income residents who live slightly further away from them.
This raises interesting questions about who should get a say in the design and use of public spaces. If we left such decisions exclusively up to immediate neighbours, some parks would probably remain as bare, empty lawns without toilet blocks, barbeques, lighting, shade shelters or the many other features that make spaces more useable. Such an outcome would not necessarily be in the broader public interest.
Ideally, everyone who cares about and uses a public space (whether they’re an immediate neighbour or a less frequent visitor) should get some level of input into how such spaces change, but there’s no definitive answer as to how much weighting should be given to different users and interest groups.
In deciding how much weight we give to the views of immediate neighbours, and how far I should cast the net in seeking broader public feedback, one factor I look at is the kind of zoning that applies to a park. For example, Musgrave Park in South Brisbane is zoned in the City Plan as 'Sport and Recreation (Metropolitan),' so it's understood to cater to park users from across the city, with lots of events and more active recreation opportunities. In making decisions about a park like that, I would want to hear from a very broad range of stakeholders and users, not just the people who live within walking distance or immediately adjacent to the park.
In contrast, Woolloongabba Rotary Park at the southern end of East Brisbane is zoned 'Open Space (Local)' so it is primarily understood to cater for the surrounding neighbourhood (defined in the City Plan as a radius of approximately 750 metres), and is mainly intended for informal recreation and green space, as opposed to the more intensive Sport and Recreation category. You can read about the different zones and categories of parkland in City Plan 2014 Part 4, 'Desired Standards of Service' via this link. If you'd like to look up the specific zoning of parks in your area, you can do so via the interactive City Plan map (give my office a call if you need help working out how to navigate the map). Of course, City Plan 2014 definitely isn't a perfect document, so while the zoning and park categories provide some guidance, they're not the whole story.
Finding balance in an unbalanced landscape
Historically, Brisbane City Councillors have tended to heavily favour the views of immediate neighbours when it comes to designing public spaces. As a result, a small minority of vocal objectors can often prevent upgrades and outweigh the less coordinated requests of other park users.
When I'm facilitating decision-making processes, I try to correct for this tendency by also responding to the needs of less privileged public space users who might not have the confidence to start a petition or call the Lord Mayor’s office, but who are often heavily impacted by how such spaces are managed and developed.
An added difficulty here is that a poorly run consultation process that's not sufficiently inclusive or democratic can end up amplifying a vocal minority, and may actually be worse than no formal consultation at all. Basing decisions on a single survey or a single public forum creates the risk of a decision being hijacked by the people who have the most time and energy to participate in that consultation process, to the exclusion of demographics that don’t have the time to engage. The best approach is to put in the time and money to engage residents through a wide range of consultation avenues that are accessible to different demographics, and encourage residents to talk directly to each other as well as to the council, but unfortunately BCC doesn’t usually do this.
Parks as community meeting places
In our current society, one of the most important roles of public parks and squares is their function as a gathering place where people of different demographics and subcultures can meet and interact. Today, Brisbane’s dog off-leash areas are among the most vibrant community hubs in the city, offering neighbours a chance to get to know each other and share local news. Basketball courts, outdoor gyms and playgrounds can serve similar functions.
In a city where most of us lead busy, individualistic lives and don’t have the time or energy to get to know our neighbours, public spaces can play a transformative role in creating more opportunities for chance encounters and strengthening community relationships. This is one of the most important differences between private gardens and public parks, and is a key consideration when deciding how a particular public park could be improved.
Where are we headed?
In a city like Brisbane, where the provision of public space is not keeping up with population growth, most inner-city public spaces will not be able to remain as quiet, empty green lawns, free of both people and native vegetation. Most public spaces – particularly along the river – are likely to see increasingly intensive uses, especially in the evenings and at night. Public parks are not private lawns, and it is naïve to assume they will always function as such.
Importantly though, councils need to spend the time and resources to facilitate community conversations about how different public spaces change and evolve. Properly funding consultation and participatory design processes can help residents find common ground and strike a better balance between competing needs. Without forward planning and open conversations, disagreements and disappointments are inevitable.
Navigating all this is definitely one of the hardest parts of my role as a councillor, and takes up a lot of my time and that of my two ward office staff. There are more than 45 000 residents in the Gabba Ward. Sadly, we don’t have enough staff or funding to send out hundreds or sometimes thousands of notification letters to neighbouring residents every time changes are made to a public park. Similarly, a lot of residents don’t have the time to get involved in proactive consultation processes or even to read the newsletters that council does send out, and end up only hearing about upgrades at the last minute, when it’s too late to object. There’s no easy answer to this, but a crucial piece of the puzzle is decentralising decision-making power to the neighbourhood level rather than so many decisions being made centrally in city hall.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is that there are many different uses for public spaces, and reasonable people can disagree on how each park and public square should change over time. So in discussing how spaces are designed and managed, we need to consider not only our own immediate needs, but also those of other residents from different demographics who might use public space in different ways.
Some residents would like all our parks to remain as quiet green refuges with only low-impact uses, but many others want these spaces upgraded with more infrastructure and facilities. We need to have more community discussions about these tricky questions, and resist the temptation to take a one-size-fits-all, no-compromise approach.