Senator Nick Xenophon has urged Grant District Council to get behind its ratepayers and support them in their fight against a proposed wind farm development at Allendale East.
Speaking at a public forum in Mount Gambier on Wednesday night, Mr Xenophon responded sharply when several residents lashed out at council for not supporting its ratepayers.
People in the crowd of about 80 also criticised council for making a submission to government in favour of development plan changes that would strip them of their rights to object to wind farms near their homes.
The statewide changes were announced by former premier Mike Rann after Allendale East farmer Richard Paltridge last year successfully blocked Acciona Energy’s wind farm development in court.
“People in the South East have been completely disempowered – the goal posts have been shifted,” Mr Xenonophon said.
“What has been happening here is nothing short of cruel.”
Mr Xenophon called on Grant councillors Alan Hill and Graham Slarks, who were in the audience, to stand up and explain to what extend council was willing to support its ratepayers.
Cr Hill said the development application for a wind farm was not put to council for approval, but to the independent South East Development Assessment Panel.
“There was nothing I could do as a councillor and now, as it is with the changes, it’s even further away from us,” Cr Hill said.
Cr Slarks said council was unable to stop the development when it was before the court with Mr Paltridge’s case.
But Mr Xenophon told The Border Watch that council was not completely powerless and could take action.
“It’s rubbish that they are powerless,” he said.
“Ratepayers’ rights have been taken away, but here’s an opportunity for council to get involved and support the people – they might not be able to block a development, but they can actually support someone … they are a democratically elected council and they can find the resources to help fund a legal change.”
Mr Xenophon urged residents to form a working party to work on a proposal to council to get support for residents that are concerned about the proposed wind farm development at Allendale East.
“We’ll get this rolling,” he told the crowd.
The Mount Gambier public forum was one of several Mr Xenophon has taken on in recent times around Australia with Victorian Senator John Madigan to push for legal changes.
“On a federal level, I will be working with Senator Madigan to go down the path of changing the law in a way so that the Federal Government can override state planning laws,” he said.
“It’s a big call, it’s tough, but we have got to have it out there.”