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A watch word for change December 2005

Sophie McNamara in The Southside News 4/2005 p8 reports on REDWatch.

The REDWatch community group was born in early 2004 in a time of significant social and political change in Redfern.

Protests over the death of an Aboriginal youth had caused increased scrutiny of the area and discussion about its future.

Gentrification was happening quickly and debate about public land and housing intensified. The NSW Government was examining the Redfern-Waterloo partnership project which would pave the way for the Redfern-Waterloo Authority (RWA). The authority was formed in 2004 and charged with redeveloping the area.

"There was discussion that there was a real need for a community voice in the area," said REDWatch co-ordinator Geoff Turnbull.

Ben Spies-Butcher, a member of the community group, agreed: "We set REDWatch up at a time when there wasn't an outcry from residents. But a number of us realised that there was going to be at some point."

REDWatch is made up of about 10 to 12 key organisers who work on a volunteer basis. The first public meeting was held in June last year and meetings have been held monthly since then. Usually between 15 and 20 people attend, but any member of the local community is welcome to join in.

Turnbull has been sending out email information alerts on local issues for several years. These have now become REDWatch alerts and are featured on the website.

"I think that information gathering and distributing function is really important," said Spies-Butcher.

"If we didn't have that it would be so much easier for the government or for developers to come in and steamroll over the community before they really realised what was going on."

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore attended a REDWatch meeting, generating discussion of the relationship between Sydney City Council and the RWA.

Guest speakers at other meetings have included the CEO of the RWA, Robert Domm, NSW MP for Heffron, Kristin Keneally, and director of Council of Social Services New South Wales (NCOSS) Gary Moore.

Topics discussed range from the suitability of Frank Sartor as the Minister for Redfern-Waterloo, the need for adequate aged care facilities in the area, to the role of public and private partnerships in funding developments.

Turnbull is not a member of any political party and REDWatch members have a variety of political connections. Spies-Butcher, for example, is convenor of the South Sydney Greens.

Trevor Davies has been involved with REDWatch since its inception and is secretary of the Darlington branch of the ALP.

Ian Thompson, another founding member, is president of the Surry Hills Liberal Party.

Trevor Davies said that they all co-operate despite their political differences.

"It reflects that sort of cultural diversity, that social-political diversity of the area. But Liberals? That's going too far isn't it," he joked.

Their political links proved invaluable when lobbying the Government as the RWA legislation was being drafted. Davies' ALP contacts helped REDWatch secure a meeting with Sartor and other Labor Ministers, including then Deputy Premier Andrew Refshauge.

"The morning the bill was going to the lower house; I was lobbying him (Refshauge) for a better consultation process," said Davies.

"So it was a fairly heavy lobbying process."

REDWatch managed to effect some changes in the RWA legislation.

"We didn't get as many as we wanted, but we got a number of changes. I think that was a significant victory," said Spies-Butcher.

Such changes included ensuring the boundaries of the RWA area cannot be extended just at the Minister's say so, but must instead be taken back to parliament.

The RWA is a 10 year process and REDWatch hopes to monitor its progress for just as long. The group is currently trying to secure its future by formalising its structure and is considering options such as incorporation.

"We sit as a group of people committed to the cultural diversity of the area and we'll fight like hell to protect what's there," said Davies.