The catastrophic New South Wales (NSW) fires persisted for 240 consecutive days from July 2019 to March 2020. The disaster destroyed 312 homes and 80% of the Shoalhaven National Parks Lands (Monster Children 2020). In total, over 11,400 bush and grass fires burned 5.5 million hectares. Originally receiving approval for the project back in 2008, developer Ozy Homes planned to turn a 20-hectare area that is still unburnt mature growth forest into 180 new, upscale properties (Yahoo News 2020). However, after the brutal disaster cleared the surrounding area, now the residents are taking a stand to preserve all they have left. The coastal forest contains a wide array of biodiversity including the Powerful Owl, Yellow Bellied Glider, Koalas, Sugar Glider, Swift Parrot, and the Greater Glider (Richardson 2020). Since the latter is already endangered, it brings potential to protect the bushland via the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC). Proving the land is ecologically valuable is indispensable to bringing the conservation to fruition.
Initially, the effort to preserve the remaining woodlands started with the locals, and then it resonated with government officials who created time for the issue to be fully considered. Rob Stokes, the NSW Minister for Planning, is in the position of authority to halt the project if consent condition is breached. Even though the social distancing regulations from COVID-19 banned mass protests, demonstrators used exercise- such as yoga, cycling and walking- as a reason to attend the site. Also, 56,000 people signed a petition pushing to stop the land clearing (McNab 2020). Manyana Matters, a formal community group, teamed up with the Environmental Defenders Office. The group also sent letters to Susan Ley, the Federal Environment Minister, requesting a detailed scientific assessment to investigate the area. On May 27, the Federal Court ordered a short reprieve of the developer’s plans while a team overseen by David Lindenmayer from the Australian National University takes three days to survey the land for primarily the Great Glider’s presence amongst other living things (Environmental Defenders Office 2020). Now, the environmental activists continue rallying support as the study is conducted, and court will consider the evidence on June 5.
In the case the study shows the area must be protected, it must be determined whether or not the developer gets compensated as the government can buy the land for conservation purposes. Since the Shoalhaven council granted Ozy Homes the construction certificate for the first stage of the project, it makes sense they are the ones to pay for the conservation. However, the council wrote Stokes asking the government to buy the land, and Stokes suggested the council negotiates with the developer or contributes to the costs of a solution (Canberra Times 2020). Now, it’s up for debate.
Industry Arguments in Favor of the Ozy Homes Housing Development
Ozy Homes argue the construction project shall continue or they should be compensated for the land because the developer already has the contract and permits needed to start construction. The contract is government-issued, signifying the developer was not aiming to conduct unethical business, and the government itself is responsible for initially granting access. In fact, at the time of the preliminary proposal in 2008, under the EPBC the Greater Glider was not listed as a threatened species (Cox 2020). It is not certain Ozy Homes would not have dealt with the site knowing it contained a species struggling to establish new habitats after the fires.
Ozy Homes cooperated with the protestors even though it still had approval to begin logging the area. At the time of merely protesting before the court ordered a pause in the construction to complete the ecological study, Stokes stated “Ozy Homes have every right to destroy the forest” (Monster Children 2020). Therefore, in the case the study’s results show the development doesn’t lead to the forest’s health being under significant threat, Ozy Homes should be able to continue its project. Further, it took a lot of patience for Ozy Homes to find itself equipped to start. Ghazi Sangari, the Managing Director at Ozy homes, noted opposition to the project is happening extremely late in the process. For over 30 years, development of the site has been contemplated by continuous residential zoning. Now, all is in place to begin construction (Hannam and Chung 2020). Even though Ozy Homes was all set to start clearing the Manyana forest last week, it agreed to pause penetration until May 18 to allow for discussion (McNab 2020). The developer had the opportunity to make a statement saying protestors can not interfere with contract-abiding measures. However, instead, Ozy Homes allowed for the area’s ecological conditions to be clarified. Justice Wigney of the Federal Court noted Ozy Homes agreed to share site access with the surveyors (Environmental Defenders Office 2020). Moreover, Ozy Homes does not plan to extend conflict if the study shows significant findings as Sangari said “if our authorized obligations change because of data reported to us, then we are going to fulfill these obligations,” (Cox 2020). The developer did not go through bureaucratic measures to keep the study from ever happening.
While Ozy Homes recognize environmental conservation as a fundamental concern, the company argues it already ethically made financial commitments and deserves to be compensated exceptionally well. The original price Ozy Homes paid for the 20 hectares was $3.28 million, but the developer would likely require more (Hannam and Chung 2020). Sangari noted the project would make use of over 100 individuals between construction workers, suppliers and more. Also, he mentioned there are a collection of pre-sold homes within the deliberate development (Cox 2020). For this reason, the state government or council relocating Ozy Homes to a different plot of land would bring massive inconvenience to the developer who was thorough in the first place. Due to the repercussions of COV-19, the housing market has changed, and it may be difficult for Ozy Homes to replace the finished deals with new buyers at an alternative location. There is extensive market research contributing to a developer’s decision to create a new subdivision in a specific location. While the justice of breaking ground is going to be verified by the scientific study, regardless, Ozy Homes must be generously compensated for the company’s proper conduct and documented rights to the land.
Industry Arguments Against the Ozy Homes Housing Development
Environmental activists argue the housing development is uncontrolled and needs to stop.
Australia already has the highest extinction rate in the world, and there’s a wide array of other wildlife in the contested area besides the Greater Glider (Richardson 2020). Mayer Amanda Finley understands the widespread impact of the seemingly smaller land dispute as she emphasized the remaining trees provide shelter for animals who lost their old habitats (Stonehouse 2020). Since the Manyana bushland is the only remaining unburnt area in Conjola National Park, there is concern the surrounding bush will not regenerate if Ozy Homes proceed with the development (Clifford and Fernandez 2020). In short, the post-fire conditions are fragile, and leaving Manyana untouched is the area’s only hope for eventual restoration.
Crucially, there has been minimal community consultation about these developments. At the same time, petitioners are deeply concerned the project would disrespect Manyana heritage by destroying the community’s spirit stemming from the area’s natural beauty (Richardson 2020). Further, being a tight-knit community, the village of Manyana is concerned it will not be able to cope with the growth in population (Richardson 2020). The bond cultivated amongst local residents during the bushfires has been indispensable in pushing for the study to be conducted. Sacrificing health to protest during COVID-19 shows the community is committed.
There is emotional appeal to keep the Manyana’s woodlands unharmed. Specifically, locals Alex and June Frew suffered burns across 50 percent of their bodies while battling a ferocious bushfire, and still participated in the protest (Clifford and Fernandez 2020). Risking lives for the landscape’s health is a theme. Bill Eger, who is age sixty and has lived in the area for 35 years, recently helped fight fires throughout Conjola National Park alongside official emergency servicemen and other members from the local community. Eger expressed frustration with originally putting lives on the line to save these grounds if it’s just going to be logged by Ozy Homes in the end (Stonehouse 2020). If the development happens, locals will not have any healthy woodlands to celebrate the lives sacrificed and hard-fought battle by the still living. Not only do the locals have the heart to take all measures to protect the place, but they also have knowledge about the area. According to Eger, it took 22 years for the Great Glider to come back to the Conjola National Park before the bushfires. (Stonehouse 2020). Interfering with the patience nature restoration requires in a place with people who are distraught from disaster and exceptionally connected to their homeland is unacceptable. Chris Gambien, the Nature Conservation Council chief executive, concurred “logging these forests after so many were devastated in the summer bushfires is morally indefensible,” (McNab 2020). The miraculous existence of the forest’s relatively minuscule healthy remains is notable.
I commend the people of Manyana for honoring the ecologically valuable land by learning about their surroundings. Without doing so, the value would have gone entirely unnoticed. Since the majority of the argument is grounded in results from the scientific study confirming existence of the endangered species amongst other significant life, the protestors progress could not have happened without the knowledge from residents such as Bill Eager. Residents need to learn about their homeland’s natural characteristics to protect a sanctuary.
Indigenous people exemplify building a relationship to a place has the power to not only generate attention for protecting a bushland from becoming a development but can also be taken one step further. They prioritize strong bonds with ancestors as a gateway to develop a strong cultural identity and self-understanding. The originally spiritual aim necessitates a lifestyle dedicated to thorough resonation with physical terrain the ancestors once inhabited. The historical knowledge basis grounded in traditional stories guides direct engagement with material contained within the space’s remains. Indigenous knowledge is concerned with the environment’s curative properties and essentially “the body of historically constituted knowledge instrumental in the long-term adaptation of human groups to the biophysical environment” (Trotti 2001). The key to a community impacting the environmental law system is being able to offer knowledge showing conserving beautiful natural landscape also benefits humans in a way the alternative can not provide. Although Westerners have searched for powerful healing properties, the scope of substance is a major obstacle. Companies “must examine roughly 10,000 plants for every species they find with promising medicinal qualities” and “reliance on indigenous knowledge has proven to be a significant source of savings in drug research” (Trotti 2001). In the indigenous people’s case, the locals leverage land knowledge to show their value in the healthcare industry. In the Manyana community’s case, the passionate protestors used their land knowledge and grit to instigate a formal scientific study. The Manyana community’s argu- ment that is grounded in emotion exclaiming the fire’s brutality gives them rights to the only land left is not enough to sustainably halt the bulldozing. In the court of law, proof of the EPBC’s ap- plicability and precedent is going to save the bushland. Both the indigenous people and Manyana community’s land expertise is specialized which was key in serving them well. Just as a particu- lar tribe’s knowledge is specialized, the Manyana community’s ability to generate attention from its land knowledge and persistent spirit called for a collaboration with a renowned academic’s study capable of impacting policy.
In the case of the Manyana forests, the logical solution is supported by precedent. The development in Manyana is only one out of many instances showing the issues that arise when environmental catastrophes happen within the interval between a housing development being granted approval and work starting (Cox 2020). In the past, a land purchase protected terrain similar to the Manyana forest. In 2019, multiple government and non-government groups joined together to purchase over 10,000 square meters of ecologically valuable, coastal rainforest at Newport in northern Sydney (Environmental Defenders Office 2020). It was previously reserved for a private residential subdivision. The precedent is particularly applicable to this case considering it was set in 2019 and also involves a potential housing development. Since the precedent case is so recent, there is no concern the transferrable components are outdated which drives common law to find a wide array of reasons to reject a precedent case’s strength in the argument. Further, the location is near Manyana. The similar characteristics illuminate using the precedent as a guide is logical. Multiple groups financially contributed to the Newport land purchase, and the same solution makes sense in Manyana’s case. In Newport, the funding for conservation was distributed between both government and non-government entities including the NSW Government, Northern Beaches Council and a local community group (Environmental Defenders Office 2020). At the Manyana site, Stokes called on the Shoalhaven Council to offer an alternative site for the developer to build homes because the council had rezoned the site for residential development and is therefore responsible for defusing the dispute (Hannam and Chung 2020). Given the existing support for Ozy Homes from Stokes thus far, it is surprising he is solely mentioning relocation assistance and not stressing the need for a large amount of monetary compensation. While re-location assistance is useful, it disregards all the arguments made by Ozy Homes about the financial burden the developer must undergo even though it had a valid, government-issued contract.
On the other hand, there are still other influential individuals who understand the importance of giving substantial financial compensation to Ozy Homes. David Shoebridge, a Greens member of the NSW Legislative Council since 2010, correctly followed precedent. He suggested the same purchase distribution structure between the community, council and state government partly due to the claim “the ones with the biggest coffers, the state government, can put a serious amount of money forward to protect the forest” (Hannam and Chung 2020). While I agree with Shoebridge in terms of the tripartite funding solution and the state government paying a substantial portion of the sum, it’s important to understand the state government did not expect to take on any financial burden related to the area’s land rights circumstances. Even though the state government has a large total budget relative to the other two groups, funds are already allocated to other matters. All three parties must do everything in their power to respect Ozy Homes. Crucially, the council needs to take Stokes advice in regards to assisting Ozy Homes with a relocation site. Further, it must offer the alternative plot for a outstandingly low price. Jorj Lowrey, a representative from Manyana Matters, added “we think if someone’s able to negotiate a price that’s reasonable, everyone would chip in” (Hannam and Chung 2020). It is uplifting to see Manyana Matters understands its role does not cease at the end of the protests. While there is a consensus taking away a wilderness refuge for people who were severely shaken is brutal, there is no entity who has communicated it is prepared to pay for the conservation. The emotional appeal generated by the Manyana residents can be combined with monetary investment to ensure the community’s influence goes beyond simply putting the issue on the court’s agenda.
Time after time, people rely on the government to take on the financial load of a project when they could have more control over the situation by independently raising funds. The local support for the cause is abundant (Richardson 2020). I recommend Manyana Matters focuses on using creative methods to generate funds from community members and allocates the push for government financial support to the Environmental Defense Council. Further, the deep reverence the Manyana residents expressed for the space is not as genuine if they’re not also investing money into the cause. Of course, a group of people who recently suffered 240 consecutive days of forest fires are generally not feeling the sense of financial stability a benefactor possesses. However, individuals who were out there protesting can channel the energy towards networking to raise funds. There are also numerous grant sources to tap into. Regardless of a mission’s context, diligence can pay off. Being able to implement passion through consistent physical presence helps a land rights issue reach the courts. Discovering a way to generate funds enables a community to invest concrete energy into a cause it cares about.
My proposal is a reasonable compromise between Ozy Homes and the community of Manyana. In order to conserve the Manyana woodlands, it is essential to control the three streams of the political process presented by political theorist John Kingdon. He elaborates on his revised garbage-can model, which describes agenda-setting, alternative formation, and politi- cal climate as three separate policy-making streams operating together. According to this model, there must exist a specific and often rare window in which all three such streams can be combined for a new policy to emerge (Kingdon 1984). While the Manyana community strongly contributed to agenda-setting with its emotional appeal and land knowledge, precedent and current government officials provided ideas for alternative formation. The forest’s inhabitants played an instrumental role by engaging crucial groups, the Environmental Defense Council and scientists from Australian National University, essential for the policy to move from the agenda- setting to alternative formation stage. While Ozy Homes required initial resilience from the protestors, it makes sense considering the local argument was at first founded upon emotional grounds. However, as soon as the endangered species presence was legitimately established, Ozy Homes was no longer a deterrent to progressing past the agenda-setting stage. In the agenda-setting phase, I agree with the developer compared to the Manyana community. Under the assumption the scientific study results show the space is significantly ecologically valuable, Ozy Homes is no longer interested in breaking ground. However, the only remaining factor interfering with the political climate is the compensation Ozy Homes deserves for cooperating in the conservation. Unpredictability regarding the state and council’s available funds is the current inhibitor. However, the support Manyana has been able to generate thus far makes me confident the tripartite funding scheme is going to be able to conserve the remaining bushland.
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