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Maple Street Co-op News Articles of Particular Relevance

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From Maple Street Coop News, August-September 2004 issue
Published by Maple Street Co-op, 37 Maple Street, Maleny Qld 4552
Tel 5494 2088, email maplest.coop@serv.net.au
website http://www.maplestreetco-op.com.au

Think Sustainably, Act Locally!

by Lori Sturtz

The protection and future of our local environment depends on how well we work together as a community.  Sustainable and ethical development will ensure a better future for our town and our children.

Urban sprawl is accelerating, moving deeper into agricultural and environmentally sensitive areas, not just in our region but all over the world.  This is having enormous economic, social and environmental impacts.  These costs are often hidden or ignored, and it is the community that pays the price.  Saturated retail markets bring decay and deterioration, but this development sprawl is often mistaken for economic progress.

One Woolworths supermarket in Maleny may seem harmless and even attractive to some, but we need to look at the bigger picture.  We should learn from the experience of other towns that have fought against unwanted developments, whether they have won or lost.  Local protests like ours are happening all around the globe in response to planning shortsightedness and developmental degradation.

The protest campaign centred on the Cornerstone/Woolworths site at 2-4 Bunya Street, Maleny, did not happen with the intention of dividing the community.  It happened in a spontaneous manner because no other way was left open to us.  It was borne from a deep regard for the environment and the integrity of this town.  Concerned residents like Daniel Jones and Mel Smith gave more than their time to this cause.  Their injuries are a constant reminder of the price they paid trying to save some majestic trees.  Seven residents were arrested for trying to prevent the savage destruction of environmentally sensitive land alongside Obi Obi Creek.  So many others have tirelessly given their time and energy to this protest action, with only good intentions in mind.

The protest tent at the site may have been removed temporarily on 29 July, but it will not be forgotten.  As it was being dismantled, people were still approaching with words of encouragement, support and donations.  The battle continues, and funds are still being raised for the Maleny People's Park.  The Court decision about the definition of "top of bank" may take months to be handed down--and according to the Riverine Protection Permit issued to Cornerstone Properties by the NRM&E, work can only take place on the site from March through August.

Private land and what you can do with it is not really the issue.  Would those who oppose this protest on such grounds hold the same views if the land were going to be used for a refugee camp, a needle exchange facility or a brothel?  Somehow, I don’t think so.

This protest has generated media attention locally, nationally and globally, and we should feel proud about this.  It is having a major impact on the way people look at these large companies.  Woolworths suffered a significant drop in supermarket sales in the last quarter, with a growth rate of only 1.5 per cent--a dismal performance compared with the previous financial year's booming second-quarter increase of 3.8 per cent.  Maybe the Maleny protest played a role in this.  It has certainly brought Woolies a huge amount of bad press in the last year or so.  Greenpeace and the True Food Network also continue to highlight Woolies' role as Australia’s biggest buyer of Inghams chickens, fed with imported GE soy and sold without any GE labelling (see item on page 13, MSCN News Aug/Sept 2004).

Cooperation, not corporate competition

We should be good neighbours, no matter what political views we may hold.  We should support each other and have healthy debates if we disagree on certain issues.

This protest started partly as a way of supporting local businesses.  One Woolworths supermarket could have a devastating effect on so many local shops.  It is also interesting to note that some shopkeepers not directly threatened seem to support Woolies coming to town.  Would they feel the same way if it were a corporation in direct competition with them?  We should be thinking more in terms of cooperation than competition.

Corporations like Woolworths employ predatory pricing methods that they can sustain for as long as it takes to get rid of the competition.  This was highlighted recently when the supermarket Aldi came to Queensland.  Woolies CEO Roger Corbett said he would run the German retailer out of town.  He said Woolworths would do in Queensland what it did in NSW and aggressively match Aldi every time on price.

Aldi offers low prices by opening smaller stores stocked with only a limited range of in-house items.  It is a no-frills operation where customers pack their groceries into their own bags.  According to Viktor Jakupec, Aldi’s Queensland managing director, the company is not interested in starting a price war with Woolies or Coles.  He said Aldi only wants to sell at realistic prices.  "Look at the prices now and what they were before the discount, and the public is entitled to ask why they did not drop prices before our entry," he said.  "They must have been working on some pretty impressive margins."

However, there were bitter protests when Aldi opened in some places such as Ulladulla, NSW, where smaller retailers cannot afford to reduce prices further.  The introduction of a third supermarket in some fragile markets has been blamed for the closure of some independents in these areas.

Shopping locally may cost a little more--but in the end, when all the small shops are gone, everyone loses.  Think about this the next time you are in a huge store and you want some help with something.  You can wait a long time just to be told, "I don’t know much about it, but have a nice day".  It seems we are becoming such good little consumers that we may as well be robots!  Shopping locally is more about quality, not quantity.  The extra care and attention can mean a lot more than cheaper goods that don’t last longer, anyway.

The big-store philosophy is about profit and greed, not social responsibility.  We don't need 20 varieties of toilet paper.  We are becoming bogged down with inane and non-essential choices.  All of these unnecessary decisions brought about by the rampant pressures of consumerism cause added stress in our lives.  It seems that as the shelves are becoming fuller, our lives are becoming emptier.  But this doesn't have to be so.

Maleny should set the example

We have an opportunity here in Maleny to prevent this kind of destruction and alienation from coming to our town.  Supporting the businesses we already have is one strategy.

Maleny could lead the way with sustainable developments such as eco-friendly housing and resorts.  Crystal Waters Permaculture Village is one such example.

We have more cooperatives in the Maleny region than anywhere else in Australia and we could expand into other areas.  For example, if the community were able to purchase the Cornerstone site, we could create a cooperative eco-park or something along these lines.  We could become an ethical, environmental and educational community.  Development does not have to be a bad thing.  Maleny has many innovative people who could be utilised in future projects.  Dean Cameron, with his Biolytix Filter waste treatment invention (The Range News, 24 June 2004), is just one example.

We can change old patterns and move forward in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.  Then we can all truly have a nice day!

References:
http://www.sprawl-busters.com
• Jason Gregory, "Grocery newcomer ruffles rivals", The Courier-Mail, 26 June 2004

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