Rainbow crossing unites Sydney, divides Forster and Greenwich
SYDNEY: After receiving a torrent of criticism for not backing the rainbow crossing launched on Oxford Street yesterday morning, several City of Sydney councillors, including high-profile Liberal councillor Christine Forster, have defended their commitment to the local LGBTI community and have said the only reason they opposed the initiative was due to a lack of transparency by Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
One councillor who opposed the project, Living Sydney’s Angela Vithoulkas, has also sensationally referred to Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich as “the eleventh councillor” for his role in advocating the crossing across Oxford Street and has blamed him and Moore for needlessly creating friction on an issue that only a few months ago had the total support of all councillors.
COST FOR CROSSINGS GO UP AND THEN DOWN AGAIN
The claims come as the City of Sydney last night revealed the cost of the project was only $65,000 – with a further $30,000 put aside to remove the crossing – down from the $110,000 figure Moore stated earlier this week.
The idea for a rainbow crossing was originally mooted last November, with Council planning to install two crossings at Taylor Square at a cost of about $75,000 in time for the Sydney Mardi Gras. At the time, it was expected that following a trial period of the crossing a report would be delivered to Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) before a final decision to make it permanent was reached.
At a Council meeting on Monday evening however, councillors were informed that there would only be one crossing while costs had grown by a further $40,000 due to demands by RMS for dedicated CCTV, variable message boards and payment for the removal of the crossing after only a 30 day period. Though Vithoulkas, Forster and fellow Liberal Councillor Edward Mandla refused to back it, the project was passed after Labor Councillor Linda Scott and Greens Councillor Irene Doutney gave their support, negating the need for Moore to use a casting vote.
WE SUPPORT LGBTI COMMUNITY BUT NOT ‘PORK BARRELLING’
After her decision to not back Moore’s proposal was described by Greenwich as “mean spirited”, Forster told SX such suggestions could not be further from the truth considering she had given her unreserved support to the initiative when first announced last year as well as her advocacy for a permanent home for a Mardi Gras museum and workshop.
“The Lord Mayor should have done her homework on this project before promising two permanent crossings at a price that could not be delivered. That original proposal, which every Councillor supported wholeheartedly, turned out to be pork barrelling,” she said.
“Now that the City has approved the single crossing, I have contacted Roads Minister Duncan Gay’s office to seek State Government support for the crossing being made permanent, should the trial show that it meets the required pedestrian safety standards.”
Vithoulkas meanwhile told SX that she only found out about the new plans just before 5pm on Monday evening and questioned why Greenwich knew about the plans before councillors did.
“What is even more astounding is that the Lord Mayor and the Member for Sydney have tried to turn this into a debate about support for the LGBTI community, simply because I disagree with them on how this significant amount of money should be spent.
“The LGBTI community, and the broader constituency, are smarter than to fall for this small-minded tactic,” she said.
“It’s quite obvious to me that the eleventh City of Sydney councillor seems to be Alex Greenwich, who very conveniently is all for projects that the City can fund and he could not fund.”
A City spokesperson has told SX that councillors were sent details of the mayoral minute outlining Moore’s plans at about 2pm on Monday afternoon and was done as RMS approval was only gained “a few days before”.
“Debate on the night – made clear that the Lord Mayor knew there was strong community support for the crossing and believed that once it was installed, the State Government would take heed of that community support and allow it to become a permanent piece of public art,” the City spokesperson said.
GREENWICH RESPONDS TO ‘11TH COUNCILLOR’ SLUR
In response to the allegations, Greenwich told SX he was simply following up on an issue of concern to his constituents.
“I was informed the matter would be dealt with at Monday’s council and joined a number of my constituents at that meeting to show support for it going ahead,” he said.
“Any good councillor would have followed up the way I did as the local MP. Council papers show Councillors Vithoulkas, Forster, and Mandla did not ask any questions or request information on the progress of such an important installation for our community.”
A petition started by Greenwich calling on Gay to make the crossing permanent has already attracted over 2,000 signatures.
“I maintain a strong working relationship with the Lord Mayor, and this helps to deliver great community outcomes like the rainbow crossing,” he told SX.
“I also note that Councillors Vithoulkas, Forster, and Scott did not attend last night’s fundraising event for the Mardi Gras Museum despite constantly grandstanding on the matter. The museum has my full support and I was proud to attend and be ‘auctioned off’ to help raise funds to help raise funds for this important project.”
Forster for her part said she would not be drawn into petty personality politics but did say suggestions she didn’t ask questions at Monday's Council meeting were far off mark, telling SX she “directly asked the Lord Mayor at the meeting whether the crossing would be installed in time for Mardi Gras” as the timing of the project wasn’t specified in the minutes.
“To my knowledge, Alex was in the Chamber for the debate, so he would have heard that. He would also have heard me say that I was reluctantly voting against the crossing purely on the grounds of cost and because it was temporary.
“I’ve been disappointed to see other politicians have dragged the debate about the cost of the crossing into personal attacks on me, and used my considered position on what is essentially a question of how Council best uses ratepayers’ funds to suggest that I am not supportive of the LGTBI community,” she said.
“My record shows that nothing could be further from the truth. I have absolutely no desire to engage in personal mudslinging, I am only interested in debating the facts and focusing on what is best for everyone in the community.”
To sign the petition to make the Oxford Street rainbow crossing permanent, click here.
[Image] Sydney MP Alex Greenwich (second from left), Lord Mayor Clover Moore (centre) with City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott (second from left), Sydney Mardi Gras co-chairs Peter Urmson (far left), Siri Kommedahl (far right) and Sydney Mardi Gras CEO Michael Rolik (second from right). Photo: Reg Domingo