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Pro BDS rally prior to last nights Marrickville Council Meeting

This was the Council Meeting. The following was how I understood the meeting & all mistakes are mine. The speakers took 1.15 hours & the debate on the BDS took a further 1.75 hours.  It would be too lengthy to include what each speaker said, so for brevity, I have written the main message from both speakers & Councillors.  I have tried to be fair to both sides of the debate.

At 5.30pm there was a protest outside Marrickville Council by supporters of the BDS. The Gallery was standing room only with people packed into the foyer & more downstairs & out the front of Marrickville Council.  Mayor Byrne entered the Council Chamber to a rousing ovation lasting some minutes. Some people booed.

Global Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Campain re Israel Occupation of Palestine – 18 people had registered to speak. The Councillors voted to allow everyone 3-minutes each.  14 people chose to speak.

Protesters at the pro BDS rally before the Marrickville Council Meeting

The 6 people who spoke for the BDS raised the following issues: Myths, lies & political intrigue have been happening over the BDS. It’s a strategy of non-violence to support a militarily occupied people. The Mayor has been subjected to scandalous accusations, legal assaults & character assassinations. The children of Bethlehem will continue to suffer while people do nothing. There have been extremist views & a beat-up by the media. The effects of the BDS are genuine & not cosmetic.  Colonialism is not a pretty thing. Every single human rights organization around the world is clear about what is happening in Gaza & the West Bank.  Israel can only do what it does because we allow it to.  BDS is about saying there is an occupier & an occupied.  The vilification from the media shows that Council is doing something right.  BDS doesn’t have to cost taxpayers. Is it a global issue because Israel is global – all the contracts belong to Israeli companies.  Many Councils & other organizations around the world support the BDS. There was no intent to penalize ratepayers.  Carmel Tebbutt supported the boycott of Burma when she was a Marrickville Councillor.

8 people spoke against the BDS. One person came from Bowral. Issues raised were: It was a misrepresentation that it was a global campaign. BDS is supported by Gadafi & David Duke the Grand Duke of the Klu Klux Klan. The BDS creates extremes in people even though it has vague outlines.  The BDS shuts down negotiation & pushes the Palestinians further away from Statehood. Residents were not consulted. Council should support peaceful projects like Leichhardt Council does.  Council should not play a role in foreign affairs. The BDS is nothing more than a ploy to delegitimize Israel’s existence. Israel is the only state in the Middle East that supports gay rights.  There are causes about injustices in Australia that are not being supported.

Mayor Byrne: Acknowledged all the correspondence & thanked the Jewish community for coming even though it was second day of Passover. The Councillors had never intended to place an added burden on staff or a financial burden on the community. Moved to remove point 2, but support the BDS in principle.  Clr Peters: We have had intense bullying & misinformation with the aim to silence the BDS, denigrate the Greens & lessen our democracy. Marrickville Council has the right to talk about this issue & this is why 10 Councillors voted to support the BDS.  She showed a list of Councils who support the BDS & asked are they acting outside their responsibilities?

The Gallery was packed - standing room only. I have not seen so many people at a Council Meeting before

Clr Wright:  Moved to rescind points 1 & 2 of the original motion & delete point 2 of the Mayoral Minute. My concern is the concept of in-principle support. Not the place for Councils to get involved in international issues.

Clr Phillips: I believe BDS is well-intentioned, but I have concerns about the academic, cultural & sporting aspects. I don’t believe there is sufficient support or understanding of the boycott in Marrickville. Voting against BDS, but if support is built, Council can revisit the issue.

Clr Macri: Majority of residents are not in support of the BDS. I was not elected to deal with the Palestinian issue. Public confidence in Council is eroding. Clr Kontellis: I strongly believe that it is the moral responsibility of every citizen to raise awareness when there is an injustice. It’s our job as a human being.  The BDS does not need to cost ratepayers any more money than they already pay. Will support the Mayoral Motion.

Clr Olive: A number of the other Councillors & the General Manager  went to Bethlehem. That was an extreme symbolic gesture. The greatest symbol of division is a 720 km wall topped with razor wire. 10 Councillors voted for the BDS, but not all Councillors voiced their support.  Mayor Byrne was left to hold a vat of boiling petrol. Some of the Councillors that let this happen were those who went to Palestine. Clr O’Sullivan said she had an embargo on talking to the media. I am going to be guided by my Labor colleagues. If they put their hands up, then I will.

Clr O’Sullivan: Symbolic approaches in politics are impractical. The continuation will distress other people & it will mean that the attack will continue as well. I visited Bethlehem as part of a Union Aid study tour to inspect Oz Aid projects in Gaza. The purpose of my visit was immanently practical. It’s not in the public interest to continue to focus Council resources on confusion & distress.  We have got to go back & focus on our practical issues.

Media van outside Marrickville Council

Clr Iskandar: Listening to the debate I came to the conclusion that people forgot that the BDS was introduced to say to the Israelis, stop killing & destroying people’s assets. It’s a peaceful initiative. If we have a chance to implement the boycott I will, however, we have a letter from the new Premier giving us 28 days & letters from Cesnock & Randwick Council. We have to avoid expenses to our community. Our original motion was for a report asking can we implement a BDS?

Clr Thanos: We start every meeting acknowledging the Cadigal people & Kevin Rudd symbolically apologized to the Aboriginal people. Symbolism is powerful & there is a very long list of people who are free because of symbolism. Council made 2 decisions before I came to Council – boycott Myanmar, effective for the past 12 years & the Sister Cities relationships.  Myanmar boycott shows a precedent exists. Council’s report gives little consideration to gradual or partial BDS. If Council rejects the BDS we will have to revisit the Myanmar boycott. Voting to support motion.

Clr Hanna: Voting against BDS. I have never had so many people come & say you made a joke of us around the world. I listen to my residents. This is for the PM, not us. I want people to get their rights. We need people to get peace together, not boycott them.  Clr Tsardoulias: This Council needs to unite & get back to basics – garbage, roads etc. We are not here for foreign affairs. Supporting Clr Wright’s amendment.

Mayor Byrne: Councillors were approached about this issue. Many motions are done at this Council that don’t go through community consultation. We asked for a report to get further information whether the BDS could be implemented. Whatever happens tonight the BDS will not go away. I personally don’t understand why a sledgehammer has been used to crack the little egg of Marrickville. I don’t feel I could walk away not supporting an in-principle support for the campaign. The vast majority of Councilors supported the BDS just 4 months ago.

Vote for amendment to rescind points 1 & 2 of original motion & delete point 2 of the Mayoral Minute – For: Clrs Macri, Hanna, O’Sullivan, Wright, Tsardoulias, Iskandar. Against – Clrs Phillps, Kontellis, Olive, Peters, Thanos &  Byrne. Mayor Byrne used her casting vote to declare the amendment lost.

Vote for orginal motion, to rescind point 2 & maintain in-principle support for the BDS – For: Clrs Kontellis, Thanos, Peters & Byrne. Against: Clrs Iskandar, Tsardoulias, Wright, O’Sullivan, Olive, Phillips, Hanna & Macri. Motion lost.

The BDS is finished.

There was a Question on Notice from Clr Macri about street trees. I will write about this later.

The very vocal Gallery was up & down all evening responding to the BDS debate

This was the Council Meeting.  The following is how I understood the meeting & all mistakes are mine.  I will post in 2 parts, covering the Peace Team visit & the BDS in this post.

There were 3 security guards & 2 freelance journalists as well as journalists from the Australian Jewish News, Crikey, Greenleft Weekly & The Spectator recording & filming the meeting.

Notice of Motion: Peace Team visit – 7 members of the local community spoke supporting the motion for 3 minutes each.  Speaker 1:  Said they welcomed the peace alliance & applauded Council’s support of the BDS as it draws attention to the practices of the Israeli government & brings pressure to do something about this.

Speaker 2:  Said this motion demonstrates Council’s commitment to peace & made him feel proud. He said it is misguided to think the BDS as anti-Semitic & as none of Council’s business. That kind of attitude caused the holocaust & we cannot sit idly by while the people in Bethlehem suffer.

Speaker 3:  Identified as a Jewish Israeli who grew up on a kibbutz & has lived in Australia for 21 years. There is more to be gained in creating peace projects that are not negative like the BDS. Said she has been feeling isolated & confused since the BDS was put in place.

Speaker 4:  Identified as a Jewish Israeli & a Green’s candidate for a previous state election. Said the BDS says, “boycott any sporting events” & said the BDS is a weeping infected septic wound where band-aid will not stick. The peace team should come to an environment of peace, not sanctions.

Speaker 5:  Identified as the Secretary if the Inner West Jewish Peace Alliance that was formed in response to the BDS. They were pleased to see the peace team visit. The group did not see Council as extremists, but ‘acknowledged’ that there was inadequate community consultation before the BDS. They wanted a peaceful resolution of Palestine.

Speaker 6:  Identified as a Palestinian. Said he was not against the motion because it was not the right place & he supported the BDS. He stressed that the BDS was not anti-Jewish or about ending the state of Israel. He said the BDS was about Israel sticking to international law. He was not against Jewish groups hiring any halls as he thought they should be able to hire any hall they like, but he took exception when the Palestinian people are used as human shields & now they want to use Palestinians to make this a BDS issue when they could go to any other hall.

Speaker 7:  Strongly supported the use of the hall, but was concerned that Council procedures are being abused. Said she was surprised that Clr Macri did not know the group could just go to Council staff & book the hall instead of bringing the motion to the Council Meeting. She said Friends of Hebron in Leichhardt strongly support the BDS & they were happy to work with Jewish groups who don’t try to normalize the occupation of Palestine. The peace group should be able to use the hall & this does not contradict the BDS.

Clr Macri: I moved the motion because the group approached me because they felt alienated by the BDS. There are 2 arguing groups who want Marrickville Councillors to be their gun. I’m not going to do this.  Council is getting involved regarding problems over there (Israel) & the BDS alienates one party. I know how to book a hall.

Clr Thanos: The motion is a non-issue & Council never had the intention that a local group could not hire this hall or prevent access. I wish the groups had been told this to prevent undue stress.  Clr Hanna: I’m ashamed to be here tonight. You divide the community.  Clr Thanos:  Council has voted on a boycott of Burma, which Clr Hanna voted in support. Clr Hanna:  This is not a local issue. No one asked me to put in a boycott. Burma; I was new & didn’t know what I was doing. You are wasting Council’s money. I am against the BDS & for this motion.

Clr Olive: The Labor party, Clr Thanos & the Greens voted for the BDS.  Clr Hanna: The Greens divided the community.

Clr Peters: Question to staff – Clr Hanna has stated that an amount of $80,000 has been used. Have any funds been allocated for the BDS?  Staff: To my knowledge Council hasn’t spent any direct money. There has been some staff time, though we don’t record or charge staff time. We haven’t quoted a figure. Any figure has been an estimate by media. Clr Peters: I understand most of staff time was spent on answering enquiries about the BDS mostly from outside Marrickville.

Clr Macri: Has Council engaged any phone survey? Staff: No.

None of the Labor Councillors spoke on this item.  Carried unanimously.

Absent: Clr Iskandar.  The following Is my understanding of the meeting & all mistakes are mine. To reduce the length of this post I will mostly remove “he said/she said” with the comments coming after the speaker’s name.

Question on Notice: Council costs associated with the boycott of Israel – 3 residents, who identified as Jewish, spoke against the BDS & asked Council to reconsider the boycott.  In summary, they said the BDS is a one-sided policy with no

Cockatoo eating a Sunflower

instances of inclusion, co-operation or serious desire for peace. It divides our community with the Aboriginal & Jewish community feeling excluded & like second-class citizens. Council should instead do peace projects & volunteer dental programs as examples & share our religious festivals.  One speaker said, I do get offended when people say that unless you believe in the BDS you don’t believe in social justice. With the BDS, you are against social justice. A local school has decided to boycott Marrickville Council activities.  One speaker asked, are we really debating middle-eastern politics in Marrickville Council? Another, Do you want to be the generation of Councillors to cause division in the community?

2 residents, 1 who identified as Jewish, spoke in support of the BDS saying it’s causing discussion in our community & is a peaceful boycott.  It doesn’t target Israeli people, rather Israeli state policies. Israel is consistent in defying international law & there are Australians who think that Palestinians deserve a fair go. It’s sad that so many Jews can’t support Palestinian human rights. The Jews are not under threat. It’s not about anti-Semitism or excluding Jews, it’s about human rights.  Because it was a Question on Notice, Councillors did not debate.

Leasing the Coptic Church Tempe – There were 2 applicants: The Anglican Catholic Church Original Province & The Coptic Orthodox Church Heritage Trust.  The Bishop for the Australian & NZ Anglican Church spoke: 3-years ago we asked Council if we could hire the Coptic Church. He spoke about the use of the church for the community with 45% of the church’s communicants being under 18-years of age. This centre is important because it’s at the gateway to Australia.  The second speaker from The Coptic Orthodox Church Heritage Trust arrived late so did not speak. The old Coptic Church now gets a new lease of life with Council deciding which of the 2 applicants will use the site.

Rescission Motion against a new park for Marrickville: Clrs Tsardoulias, Iskandar & Macri put in a Rescission Motion (RM) to stop staff looking into the feasibility of a park in front of the planned new library at the corner of Marrickville & Livingstone Roads Marrickville. The space is currently a car park & a green area with many large trees.   See – I spoke against the RM.

Clr Tsardoulias: Supporting the RM. The Greens delayed the building for 6-years. Council have spent thousands on the Masterplan & to do the park we will give away affordable housing.

Clr Thanos: Opposing the RM. The delay wasn’t caused by the Greens. The assessment of the space showed that it would need a 10-storey building to have both the library & the Civic Centre there. I proposed an 11-storey building that wasn’t supported.  Now Council has to decide whether the library or the Civic centre goes there. We should not stack the site with buildings. We should maintain some green space. People are always telling me it’s needed.  We would be the only Council in the last 50-years that can deliver a park & it will be very difficult to do this in the future. The motion was to check the feasibility for this.

Families of protected Ibis live in the Canary Island Palm trees on the Marrickville site being nominated for a new park

Clr Phillips: Opposing the RM. Astounded that Clr Tsardoulias thought he was shut down in the debate as the Mayor put up an extraordinary Council Meeting that no-one, but the Greens attended. Here we are talking about a 9-storey building on a unique piece of land some way from the Cooks River. We have the lowest green space in Australia. It will be a great gateway to the new library & it’s a good thing for the community.

Clr Wright: Supporting the RM. Great concern about process. We have spent time & money & the Masterplan has been devised. If you remove 1 aspect, all aspects are up for option. It’s an opportunistic & ad hoc approach to delivering a park. A corner is not a good location for a park & it’s on the library’s back side.

Clr Olive: Opposing the RM. Clr Tsardoulias alleges that the Greens have delayed this for 6 years, the Greens have only had decision making powers for 1 year over the past 6 years. Clr Tsardoulias delayed this by his RM & asked that a report be put in by February, but your RM stopped staff from working on this.  A park on a corner is a good outcome. It’s not an ad hoc process. The Greens were consistent in the LEP discussion. We thought large buildings were unacceptable to the community. Including a park is viable.

Clr O’Sullivan: Supporting the RM. It’s not the best place for a park. It’s a busy road. Seems there is an obsession with height & some of the Greens councilors would have had a protest about St Bridget’s tower. This is the 5th or 6th consultancy of this & the key things the Greens always leave out are integrated planning & issues of design. Stick with what we have got & build low-income homes in the centre of the city.

View of the site for the proposed new park in Marrickville

Clr Macri: Supporting the RM. Residents are upset at the amount of time this site has remained idle. We were looking at the hospital building as the library so open space would have been on the Lilydale Street side. It’s not aesthetically pleasing on a busy corner. We take trees down as it suits us – 48 were removed for the Enmore Pool. We have an LEP, no-one has said anything about increasing space for a park. I don’t want things unused & people & children so close to traffic.

Clr Hanna: Supporting the RM. This is the most expensive land in Marrickville & you want to destroy it. This land can make Marrickville Council one of the richest Councils in Australia. We have to do a Masterplan for this site.

Clr Kontellis: Opposing the RM. Councillors were in support of the motion last December. We only added Point 4 asking, can we add another level, can we have a little more information so we can make an informed decision? I don’t believe this RM is in the best interest of the people of Marrickville.

Clr Peters: Opposing the RM. It’s glaringly obvious that Clr Hanna sees this land as a goldmine. I see it for the future of our community that doesn’t have much open land. The land isn’t here to build & sell housing on. Regarding parks on corners; look at Hyde Park, Enmore Park or Central Park in NYC. Most parks in built-up areas are near traffic. It’s not away in an industrial area, it’s opposite bus stops, a church & a very popular restaurant.  We have to think of the future, this is community profit that people can use.

Mayor Byrne: Opposing the RM. I believe previous Councils meant to work on this land for the community. We were gifted with Tempe Tip & we have done a great job on Tempe Reserve.  The hospital site is a main project on its own. It has opportunity & capacity. This RM will not allow us to see what this property can deliver. What was moved & adopted by Council is to ask, is it feasible on the whole site to have a park & let’s see what information we get back.  If the report says it will create problems with the viability for other projects on the site, then we won’t pursue it.

Clr Tsardoulias then read out the names of Greens Councillors who voted against aspects of this site from what he said was the Minutes of the last 6-years & said, I moved this RM because you shut me out.

Clr Thanos: When Clr Tsardoulias was not allowed to speak the debate had been closed.

Clr Tsardoulias: Putting a park here goes against affordable housing. We have got a crisis in the community. Kiss goodbye to the library & affordable housing. You are not thinking of the ratepayers. It’s financially unviable to do this as we only have $2 million in reserve.

Clrs Tsardoulias, Wright, O’Sullivan, Hanna & Macri voted for the RM. Clrs Thanos, Olive, Peters, Kontellis, Phillips & Byrnes voted against it. The RM was lost.

To keep the size of this report manageable, I will write about the other items of interest in a separate post. Here ends Report from the Gallery Part 1.

Proposed site for the new park in Marrickville



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