Greens MP and ex-Bello Mayor discuss blueberry farming in fiery public meeting

Dominic King, previous Mayor of Bellingen Shire and Raewyn Macky, Chairperson of Monday night’s meeting.

“IF you are without the support of your community, you will not last,” was the message prominent environmental lawyer and NSW Greens MP Sue Higginson delivered to front-row seated local blueberry growers in Macksville last Monday night.

“Regenerative farming producers hold the key to longevity,” she said.

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Ms Higginson was speaking at yet another public meeting discussing community concerns regarding blueberry farming in the Nambucca Valley.

This was the second on the topic in less than a week after local blueberry farmers organised their own meeting last Tuesday at the same location.

At this Monday evening meeting, the newly formed Nambucca Environmental Network (NEN) convened their second monthly public meeting at the Macksville Ex-Services Club, with approximately 140 people in attendance.

Other guest speakers included Bellingen Shire Councillor and former Mayor Dominic King and Marc Percival, a local agronomist.

Present in the audience were at least three Nambucca Valley Councillors – Susan Jenvey, David Jones and Troy Vance.

Oz Group Co-op CEO James Kellaway and several local blueberry growers also attended.

Tensions were high and tempers flared more than once between growers and other audience members.

The evening’s first speaker was Dominic King, who detailed his fight as a Councillor then as Mayor of Bellingen Shire, against the spread of blueberry farming within the Bellingen LGA.

“I had to ask myself ‘What does the blueberry industry do for the Bellingen Shire?’,” Mr King told the meeting.

“I couldn’t see it?”

In 2016, Bellingen Shire Council sought to implement buffer zones between dwellings and any blueberry farms of 200 metre (m) and 50m from all boundaries and streams, all fully vegetated with special conditions preventing tree-felling in koala habitat zones.

“The State Government refused it all,” he said.

“We need to ask the questions about how little impact councils can have because of state planning,” he suggested.

“People power does work,” he assured the group.

Mr King explained how the community had stood together and Bellingen’s blueberry growers realised they were going to be scrutinised.

Raewyn Macky from the Nambucca Environmental Network (NEN) made it clear that the group would not support illegal or hateful acts by group members or the wider community and was quick to distance the group from any illegal trespassing on blueberry farms.

The third guest speaker, Marc Percival , a local agronomist with experience in soil and water sampling, detailed ways the group could collect water samples to check for pesticide residue in runoff.

Sue Higginson further described the problem for community groups advocating for change.

“Agricultural lobby groups had a direct line to Parliament,” she explained.

“It’s difficult (for community groups) to get a seat at the table,” she said, referring to being included in discussions surrounding law-making in the agricultural landscape.

Ms Higginson expressed hope that the recent change of State Government may open the door for changes in these domains.

She also believes there is more Nambucca Valley Council can do in regards to requiring approvals on structures built over blueberry farms and suggested the group continued to apply pressure to the Council to achieve more satisfactory results in resolving these land-use conflicts.

“We do find a way when harm is happening in our community,” Ms Higginson further reassured her audience.


Greens MP and environment spokesperson Sue Higginson, the former CEO of the Environmental Defender’s Office, believes there is more that Nambucca Valley Council can do to avoid land-use conflicts.

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