JUDGE BLASTS CITY FIG ISSUE
February 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm
During a ceremony marking the opening of the Newcastle Law Term, Judge Margaret Sidis felt compelled to comment on what she rates as one of the disasters that has befallen the city. Debate raged for two years over the future of Laman Street’s landmark, 80-year-old trees, only to see loppers move in this week to remove them. The City Council insists the trees present a safety risk. Following is an excerpt from Judge Sidis’s speech.
“I appreciate that, not having been born in Newcastle, I will never be accepted as a true Novocastrian. As an outsider, however, I have developed a strong sense of respect for Newcastle City as a community. I have witnessed its citizens deal with adversity with admirable grit and determination. Newcastle was still dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake when I first came here. That event brought about positive results, there was a recognition of the value of many of the buildings that were damaged and of the need to recognise their heritage value and restore them to their former glory. There followed the withdrawal of BHP and the threat of substantial unemployment. These are all things that appear to be in the distant past. Why did we worry about them? Again, initiative and determination quashed that threat.
The ‘Pasha Bulka’ weekend in 2007 is more recent. It tested every resource of the City and its regions. Its people worked together to look after displaced persons and restore businesses so that life quickly returned to normal.
The next event I counted as a disaster caused me to pause and ponder whether I should in fact comment. It has never been my practice to comment on matters political. I therefore asked myself what my brother Judge Ralph Coolahan would have done in these circumstances. He was never one to hold back on strongly held views, so my dear brother Ralph, I am following your example.
The next event I count as a disaster is the removal of the fig trees.
Whether you classify the trees as heritage, iconic, historic or a lethal danger, when it comes down to it they are objects of great natural beauty that demanded that every effort be made and enquiry directed to searching for a solution that would render them safe and preserve them from wanton destruction for the benefit of future generations. To me, an uninformed outsider of what was happening in the City Council, the decision to destroy them was incomprehensible. At best, this indicated a public relations failure on the part of the Council. At worst, it indicated a failure in the decision making process that brought about this result.
Of course the City and its people will survive this latest disaster. There are positives. Already the process has generated an interest in local government amongst members of the community, including several self sacrificing members of the legal professional who would otherwise scarcely have given it a second thought. They have developed an appreciation of the extent to which local government can affect the everyday lives of citizens and of the need for quality representation.
My earnest hope is that those next elected to Council will recognise that, attached to the powers conferred on them by virtue of their election, is a responsibility to listen to the voices of those they were elected to represent.”
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