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Now was this really a focus on Redfern? - May 2006

Who determines the real agenda in focus groups, asks Tim Brunero as he reviews his participation in a recent event organised by the Redfern-Waterloo Authority in the South Sydney Herald.

I got a random call at the end of March from a mob wanting to know if I would like $70 to take part in a discussion group about the proposed redevelopment.

They wanted to know if I had any mates who might be interested. And certainly, I could help - many late night discussions at The Royal Hotel have taught me I have lots of friends in the area who’ll give you an opinion on anything, whether they’re paid or not.

There was only one catch, I was asked if I was a member of REDwatch or a range of other community groups – I assume if we’d been members we’d have been excluded.

Obviously, they wanted people who were interested, but not too interested.

So, off I went along to Souths Leagues. The focus group of ten, of whom only about four were my friends, were asked a series of questions on our impressions of the re-development.

Residents’ ideas about forcing property developers to foot the bill for community facilities were dismissed by discussion group organisers as untenable. And questions about The Block, the local Indigenous community and increased government funding to solve social problems were also side-stepped faster than a Newtown Jets halfback.

Many of the locals said they worried about increased traffic from the planned influx of 20,000 new residents and workers. Some were concerned about the increased pressure on parks and facilities such as swimming pools and gyms.

Others were troubled that there seemed to be no real plans to solve social problems – except that more business in the area would create more jobs, jobs that will no doubt require high-skill levels.

However, most of all they were suspicious of the Redfern-Waterloo Authority and it’s aims.

Yet, it was only after a barrage of questions about our impressions of the Authority itself that the penny dropped. The ‘organisers’ of the discussion group were from the Redfern-Waterloo

Authority – and they weren’t actually interested in our ideas for the re-development.

They were simply gauging our reaction to the existing plans to be able to sell them.

Of course, I can’t be sure. But, I can be sure of one thing: that it is probably the end of the random calls I can expect to get.