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Waterloo, and not a shot fired


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TOM RICHARDSON: They weren’t slain by malevolent spirits. They weren’t torn limb from limb by an undead maniac. They weren’t even mildly startled by a sadistic prankster (unless you count the moment when David Ridgway’s affable Chief of Staff and this esteemed publication’s one-time editor Hendrik Gout leapt from behind the shadows and shouted “BOO!”).

In fact, the Wind Farm select committee’s spooky sleepover in a haunted house (well, abandoned house, technically, but what abandoned house isn’t haunted, really?) was all a bit of an anti-climax for slavering gorehounds, far more My Dinner With Andre than Blood Diner.

Which is a pity, in a way. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I’m glad Ridgy, Russell Wortley and Mark Parnell weren’t brutally butchered by evil forces. But it’s hardly the stuff of gripping narrative, is it: “Cross-party committee spends night in country house, gets on amicably, sleeps well. A bit cold.”

Not only did they fail to meet their Waterloo, they didn’t even come to much of a conclusion about the alleged noise pollution caused by the nearby Waterloo windfarm.

Neighbours insist the sound and vibrating fury of the turbines seeps into your synapses, causing headaches and palpitations and destroying the sanctity of your nightly repose.

Personally, I couldn’t hear a thing above the snoring resonating from the rooms around me.

I couldn’t resist tagging along for the inaugural wind farm slumber party, just in case something supernatural went down (or at least to test local residents’ allegations about the diabolical noise emissions).

Even with the non-participation of committee members Rob Brokenshire and Ann Bressington, it was a snug fit.

As a last-minute gatecrasher, I happily accepted a mattress on the living room floor. My Channel 9 cameraman and another network’s crew also managed to make the best of the available space. Which meant this intimate sleepover was quickly becoming a free for all.

As abandoned country houses go, it was rather well decked out. It had the obligatory rusted corrugated iron, cracking fixtures and esoteric ornaments (no Book Of The Dead, from which to recite an incantation to awake the devil, unfortunately). But also a nice warm stove fireplace, hot and cold running water and an unopened packet of choc-chip and apricot cookies kindly left by a helpful relative of the runagate.

Just as in the opening act of many a slasher film, our protagonists made themselves at home, enjoyed some jocular banter and settled in for an inauspicious evening. And then…nothing much happened.

It was like Evil Dead re-imagined by Kevin Costner, albeit with better dialogue.

But that dialogue was telling. The three MPs present covered a broad political spectrum, a veritable rainbow coalition of ideology and personality (Ridgway might have been surprised to find himself on the conservative fringe of the gathering since, at most committee meetings when Brokey and Bressington are present, he tends to occupy the centre ground).

Nonetheless, the goodwill and amiable spirit was a pretty handy reminder that ideological differences need not preclude cordial relations (although, in extreme cases they probably should).

The political discussion was sometimes heated, but always candid. And surprisingly generous, with concessions made to well-argued points and admissions from each that there were things their respective parties could sometimes do better.

This open dialogue is echoed in the work of the committee itself. Parnell, whose environmental zeal puts him squarely in the renewable-energy-cheerleader camp, was there not so much to be convinced that wind farms cause excessive noise as to confirm his belief that they don’t. To his credit, he’s tested the theory previously, camping beneath the turbines where, he insists, he slept like a baby. But while he’s unapologetically pro-wind energy, he’s also convinced that the Wind Farm Development Plan Amendment taking away the appeal rights of residents outside a 2km radius should be reversed.

That’s a fair concession for a true believer, although entirely consistent with his long-held philosophy that residents should have a say about any major development in their backyard.

The wind farm select committee seems likely to make some significant recommendations, though possibly none derived from this week’s bloodless sleepover.

The question will be whether the Government then implements any of them or, more typically, turns a blind eye.

It’s a politically fraught equation. Wind energy was a concept enthusiastically championed by Mike Rann, yet it only affects residents in rural, Liberal-held seats. Which, naysayers might argue, allows what one Labor old-timer famously described as “middle-class trendoids from the suburbs” to feel “right-on” and “progressive” while regional communities deal with the unpleasant side-effects.

It was significant for Waterloo locals that the committee members were prepared to “rough it” (relatively speaking) for an evening to at least test the veracity of their complaints, even if they didn’t find much evidence to support them during their brief visit.

And while it might not have lived up to my lofty expectations of a video-nasty-style Slumber Party Massacre, the select committee’s Barossa sojourn was a timely reminder in the shadow of both a state and federal election campaign that goodwill and camaraderie can persist across political battlelines, and that all parties contain their share of people who are amiable, thoughtful and – when upstart media types shamelessly invite themselves along to crash their party – pretty good sports to boot.

Which, as far as anti-climaxes go, is kind of nice.




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