By BEC FOLEY, journalism third year:
“Mark Greenhill handled it with a great deal of dignity… the Blue Mountains were in very good hands”.
These were words by Senator Doug Cameron in a recent interview, reflecting on the October 2013 bush fires.
The two men together have formed a stalwart duo in taking on state and federal governments and rallying ongoing support for bushfire victims.
They’re citing precedents made by Victorian and Tasmanian governments in assisting people and businesses affected by fires.
“[Mark’s] views and my views were exactly the same: that the Blue Mountains community had to be looked after – that the Blue Mountains community deserved support. And that the behaviour of both the federal and state governments was reprehensible”. (See links at end of this story)
Greenhill is Mayor of the Blue Mountains. Although being in politics is nothing new to him – he joined the ALP 20 years ago – he was elected Mayor just one month before the fires hit.
Handling a crisis of such magnitude tests any leader’s ability, let alone a fledgling. But that seems to be Greenhill’s identifier: To stand strong. When the fires struck, he said: “I had to focus on having a consistent message. A message I hoped would be calming and be reassuring. .. Then I had to switch to recovery. Then the public advocacy had to be around getting the best deal for those that had lost everything. So I went from being calm and reassuring to hectoring and annoying”.
Maybe it’s his former incarnation as a lawyer that makes him eloquent and focused. Having grown up in a progressive-liberal family, Greenhill’s stint in law led him to work for the Trade Union movement.
“I’m an accidental politician. I’m a person from a left-wing family, who trained as a lawyer, didn’t want to go into corporate law… I’m a public servant now”.
Speaking with Greenhill is refreshing. In an age of media-training, a straight answer is sometimes the hardest thing to extract from a politician. He talks like he has nothing to lose.
“Because I don’t really cling to it (a political career), it frees me up on some issues”.
One such issue is the proposed airport at Badgerys Creek. Now a bipartisan issue, the go-ahead is almost certain. Greenhill is adamant it’s a bad idea that will have devastating environmental effects.
Labor shadow minister for infrastructure, transport and tourism, Anthony Albanese, advocates the airport, telling Sky News recently: ”You need bipartisanship because (the construction) goes for more than one term. If you just play politics with it, then it won’t happen and because four out of every 10 flights go through Sydney, this is an issue of national productivity.”
In the NSW Business Chamber’s report ‘Economic Impact of a Western Sydney Airport’, the idea is heralded: “An airport at Badgerys Creek – the “Black Caviar” of the proposed sites for Sydney’s second airport – would not only help meet Sydney’s burgeoning aviation demand, it would also serve as the catalyst for job creation, investment and economic growth that the region so desperately needs”
Senator Cameron remains diplomatic on the topic: “What we need to know, given the federal government seems to be supporting it, is what’s going to be done in terms of infrastructure? What’s going to be done in terms of over-flight of the Blue Mountains? What are the issues for the community?”
But Greenhill is outright ferocious.
“I believe that an airport at Badgerys Creek would be a complete disaster” he vociferated. And he’s willing to upset party dogma on the issue.
“Ultimately, if I don’t stand up to my own party on this issue, then I’m not doing my job as Mayor. Because I’m totally convinced that this is a bad thing”.
Garnering support and opposition to the proposed second airport amidst the promise of jobs and money is a hard task. Especially without party backing. But that’s OK with Greenhill.
“I have a funny relationship with the Labor party. I’ve been a member half my life and some days I love it and some days I detest it. If good people leave it because it’s wrong from time to time, it’ll get worse”.
Will his opinion sway Anthony Albanese?
“I voted for him as Leader, so he owes me one (laughs)”.
He’s a self-confessed Socialist who landed in politics to fight against over-development. He concedes that if people “don’t vote for me on the basis I’m tinged with green and red, well that’s ok, ‘cos it’s true”.
Perhaps the embodiment of the Labor-Green accord, Greenhill is well positioned in his seat in the Blue Mountains. Local Council affords its members more freedom of speech, and is less doctored by “spin”, than its state and federal counterparts. And maybe it is amongst the charred homes that people could really use a leader who’ll stand in with them and fight.
QUOTABLE GREENHILL QUOTES
“Nothing in politics could have prepared me for the personal impact the fires had”
“The Labor party was wrong on refugees, it’s still wrong on refugees, it’s wrong on the airport as well”
“If I get chucked out at the next election., can I look back and say I did some stuff to help some people ? I guess I can. I raised nearly $4 million for the people that lost their homes in the 2013 bushfires”
Listen to Senator Cameron discuss his frustration at state and federal government delay on bushfire assistance, on Mark Colvin’s Radio National program:
By BEC FOLEY, journalism third year
BELOW: Mark Greenhill