Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Thanks for coming to the public meeting!

I very much enjoyed meeting community members at today's public meeting about asbestos safety and the Roberts Street public housing redevelopment. For such a short-notice event the more than 20 grown-ups and at least 15 kids and babies (including one very wriggly customer I got to hold) made for a great meeting from which I gained a better sense of the concerns about this project.

The main outcome of the meeting was agreement that the demolition works should stop until such time as Northcote MP Fiona Richardson, housing minister Richard Wynne, and the Office of Housing are able to provide meaningful answers to the ten questions I sent them on 18 January, and the public has had sufficient time to assess for itself whether the appropriate steps are being taken. This includes the expectation that they will publicly release the results of the further asbestos testing recommended by their own audit, as well as the demolition contractor's asbestos control plan – preferably in accessible electronic form on the web, but also as printed copies by request.

Also relating to the ten key questions, there was broad agreement at the meeting that no asbestos should be left in the buildings by the time they are demolished. With so many children present, and regular visitors to the park well represented, there was naturally a concern about preventing even supposedly 'low level' residual contamination of the playground. It was here noted that many asbestos advocates consider there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

Flowing on from this, there was also a concern that there had been little communication dealing with what will happen with the park over the span of demolition works (11 March–24 April). Will use of the park be restricted or regulated? Just how will it be affected? One further thought that occurs to me as I write is also the traffic from trucks to the site, given the narrow roads and the proximity of the playground.

I guess what we'd all be hoping for is management of the site to the level that Fiona Richardson would be happy to bring her own kids to play there during the process – not at a carefully stage-managed moment, but when everything is in full swing.

As we discussed at the meeting, the next step is to get a message off to Richardson, and/or Wynne. To this end, I've drafted a sample letter you might use (to Richardson), which reflects a summary of the concerns we spoke about today. You could either post your letter (the address of her electoral office has been included), or email it to Richardson via You could even follow up with a call to her electoral office on 9481 5777.

If you'd like to go further, you could edit the letter and send it to housing minister, Richard Wynne, email him on and follow up with a call to 9906 7722.

The main thing is to follow up on the positive discussion we had today. If you have friends who are concerned but couldn't come today, please encourage them to to edit the letter provided to express their own concerns. In fact I'd encourage everyone to add their own personal flourishes before they send their letters off – it's up to you. If you have any questions at all about how to proceed, please call me on 0404 526 555 or email me.

While I'm at it, I may as well provide the media release that went out today, and the speaking notes that guided my presentation, even if they did not capture it word for word. Richardson et al would do well to consider these in their future communications. I really think they owe us a much more comprehensive flyer than their 20 February effort, and a public meeting to go through the issues wouldn't go astray – in the meantime, of course, the works should stop.

Finally, I'll update this blog with the latest from WorkSafe Victoria, which is now following up on aspects of the demolition. In the meantime, citizen journalists out there might like to capture the arrival of the demolition contractor's trucks and early movements on the site – preparations were due to begin last Monday. One never knows when the footage might come in useful.

For further background, have a read of the last few posts, below. If there are any questions, feel free to leave a comment using the link to this post, give me a call, or send an email.

Cheers, Darren

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Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.