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Throughout history the church has had a role in bringing attention to important community issues and speaking truth to power. In ancient Rome at times bishops courageously challenged the moral validity of the actions of the emperor. Christians were likewise active in the fight for the abolition of the slave trade. In more recent times the church has spoken out regarding refugees, poverty, abortion and more. This is no surprise as the Scriptures call us to ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.’ Proverbs 31:8-9 (NIV)

And yet in recent times this role of the church has come under increasing attack in western society. We have felt this too in Goulburn as a vandal has recently defaced and destroyed a sign at St Nicholas’ Anglican Church Goulburn. The sign was protesting the proposed locating of a waste incinerator in the Goulburn Mulwaree LGA. The proposed waste incinerator is part of the NSW government’s ‘Energy from Waste Infrastructure Plan’. It would burn thousands of tonnes of Sydney’s rubbish every year and alleviate Sydney’s rubbish disposal problems. However, residents and community groups in Goulburn and surrounding areas are concerned about the potential health impacts caused by toxins generated by the incineration process. But the potential health impacts wouldn’t just affect Goulburn. The wind could blow it over Collector, Crookwell, Bungendore, Braidwood, Yass, Queanbeyan and Canberra.

The protest sign was vandalised with black spray paint that completely deleted the protest message. However, the two other signs immediately next to the protest sign were left completely untouched. It’s pretty clear that whoever did this only wanted to silence the protest message. I didn’t put the sign there. The parish council did. But I fully support their right to join with other community groups in Goulburn in opposing this proposal to burn Sydney’s rubbish here in Goulburn. These are hard-working volunteers who are moved by the love of Christ to care about our community enough to speak out. It is sad that someone has tried to silence them.

The vandalism of the sign is also a sign itself. It’s a sign that the vandal knows they don’t have good arguments in favour of a waste incinerator. After all, they could bring their arguments to the public square and perhaps win over Goulburn. But the very fact that they have snuck along here and vandalised the sign shows they don’t have an argument that even they have confidence in. And no wonder! As many people have asked, if these waste incinerators are safe why aren’t they being built in Sydney? Why are they going to all the trouble and expense of transporting Sydney’s rubbish here when they could burn it in Sydney if it were perfectly safe? No one from the NSW government has yet been able to answer that question satisfactorily.

But it’s not just an unknown vandal that is silencing us. The state government views this as ‘state significant’ infrastructure and so the normal planning processes are bypassed and the local council and community don’t have the say they would normally have. This means the voices of the local community, including our church, have been sidelined. The community consultation that is planned is grossly insufficient for something that could potentially damage the health of residents.

But the community and the church are finding its voice anyway. Bishop Mark Short recently conducted a ‘listening tour’, which brought attention to the issue and gathered community leaders together to discuss the issue. In response the shire council has since formed a cross-party community group to educate and inform residents about the potential impact of the NSW government ‘waste to energy’ policy. In addition, Local MP Wendy Tuckerman has also spoken out publicly and in the NSW parliament opposing any waste incinerator in her electorate.

It’s been really pleasing to see the Goulburn community unite on this issue. Liberal, Labor, Shooters Fishers Farmers, Greens and independents are all working together to raise awareness and help Goulburn find its voice. And local Christians and church leaders are continuing to speak out on this issue too.

But the question is, will you raise your voice alongside ours? The community has registered an E-petition with the NSW Parliament to speak out about this issue and oppose the so-called ‘waste to energy’ incinerator. To sign it you need to be a NSW resident with an email address. You can access the petition on your smart phone using the QR code on this page. Or you click on this link: https:// www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/la/ Pages/epetitions-list.aspx and scroll down to the one titled ‘Ban Wasteto- Energy Incinerator within the Goulburn-Mulwaree and Southern Tablelands Region’.

Will you join us and sign the e-petition? Will you join us and speak up on this issue? Will you help our church as we refuse to be silenced and sign the e-petition? 

By Reverend Paul Davey
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