Council gets hot and cold on emergency declaration
IT was far from the outcome they were expecting.
Many of the young people behind one of Coffs Harbour's biggest ever climate rallies on September 20 were in the public gallery for this evening's Coffs Harbour City Council vote on declaring a climate emergency.
Cr Sally Townley had raised the motion urging her fellow councillors to follow the lead of over 50 other councils across Australia, including neighbouring Bellingen and Clarence Valley Councils.
High school student, Ellena Cheers-Flavell, addressed the chamber which was filled with up to 50 supporters including members of Coffs Coast Climate Action Group.
"It is my generation that will be impacted the most by climate change. To quote Greta Thunberg: 'What you do now can not be undone in the future," Ellena said.
"And we are not alone, we have a petition here with over 1500 signatures calling on council to declare a climate emergency.
"You are the leaders and are elected to make a difference."
But it wasn't going to be that straightforward with Cr Paul Amos saying he didn't feel qualified to declare an 'emergency' and he proposed an alternative option to Cr Townley's motion which he described as largely symbolic.
His motion involved activating measures to reduce global warming and called for a review of council's climate change policy but omitted the word 'emergency'.
As discussion continued the public gallery grew increasingly vocal and Mayor Denise Knight had to intervene on a number of occasions.
Cr Keith Rhoades argued that it was a responsibility of the State and Federal Government to call an emergency and questioned some of the links being made with climate change.
"Before white man settled in Australia there was drought. There's been talk here tonight that climate change has created fires but let's start to be realistic," Cr Rhoades said.
"The last major bushfires in the district were back in 1994-96 so Coffs has always been vulnerable so I don't accept it's all climate change. National Parks and Forestry aren't being given authority to clean and clear."
As the debate continued hopes were clearly fading that council would declare the emergency.
Cr Tegan Swan summed up what appeared to be the overwhelming mood among councillors: "I understand there is some emotive resistance around the word emergency."
Ultimately it was a watered down motion omitting the word emergency that was carried with all councillors, except Dr Townley, voting in favour.
Members of the gallery stormed out with cries of 'shame' and outside Ellena and her fellow speakers Freyja Giese and Caitlin Zugajev vowed to continue their efforts.