One of the co-cordinators and strategists for the Lift Redfern: Make Redfern Station Accessible campaign, Michael Chapman writes on applying ‘common ground’ team building strategies in engaging a range of disparate communities and individuals to work on a project for the shared benefit of all in the Redfern, Waterloo, Darlington, Eveleigh and Alexandria area.

By Michael Chapman

On 15th August 2013 the Minister for Transport announced the adoption of Lift Redfern’s interim access solution for the network significant Redfern Station. Prior to major redevelopment of the station, installation of a lift to access two platforms will be provided so that by changing at Central Station at least one line at the station provides a limited form of equal access.

This announcement was another win for our community – another windmill tilted.

As reported previously in ISV (Spring 2012), the Lift Redfern campaign is a whole-of-community press to force the State Government to commence the vitally important and decades-overdue redevelopment of Redfern Station. By working together to snowball a conversation, our community is seeing the Government sitting up, taking notice and committing to action.

Rebuilding Redfern Station has been on the Government’s agenda from at least 1947, and Lift Redfern is not the first community campaign calling for action at the station.

At the commencement of this renewed effort some said “already tried to do something”, “nothing will ever happen”, “we’re rusted on – Labor don’t have to do it to get votes and the Libs won’t ‘cause they never will.” The core organising group for this campaign saw an opportunity to build a conversation amongst a vast cross section of our community on an issue that affects us all. The aim was to build community capital – to have people of seemingly uncommon interest working together and sharing skills to achieve an outcome for the common good.

It was recognised in initial community meetings that for the campaign to be successful, a conversation about equitable access to Redfern Station needed to become pervasive. Narratives would have to be identified and individuals engaged to share their stories in illustrating the negative social and economic outcomes caused by the continuing delay in re-developing the station precinct. Conversations sharing our stories highlighting this essential transport infrastructure necessity needed to penetrate both the public domain and into meetings where actual decisions are made. The campaign would be a long one with many stages.

For the Lift Redfern conversation to truly resonate, it was important the initial murmurings arose from not just the usual expected places. The Factory Community Centre and South Sydney Community Aid geographically and logistically anchored the campaign within the community. Enthusiastically integrating the campaign into their outreach programs enabled direct response from the Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Spanish communities. Koori Radio FM 93.7 facilitated access to the heart of the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. In building the narrative, it was vital to humanise the broad and deep negative impacts caused by this failure to provide equitable access at this major transport hub.

The then newly instituted NSW Parliament Peoples Petition process provided the necessary tool for beginning the conversation. Under the parliamentary rules, signatures to such petitions must be original ones. Having to obtain original signatures may seem cumbersome and not as easy as online collection, but the opportunity to engage face-to-face with possible supporters is instrumental in building a conversation to the point where it snowballs and takes on a life of its own. Redfern Station being a concrete physical entity provided a convenient and invaluable focal point for signature collection. Online and social media strategies were used to build signature collection teams, provide downloadable language-appropriate campaign materials and generally get the message out.

The launch by Australia’s Disability Commissioner of the first stage of the campaign in early 2012 with ‘Platforms and Carriages Week’ saw the collection of over 10,000 signatures within a month to a Peoples Petition calling for equality of access at Redfern Station. There has been a parliamentary debate on the matter and questions have been asked of the Minister for Transport and her department.

Despite a delegation from Lift Redfern meeting with the Minister for Transport’s office prior to the debate to seed an interim solution idea and inquire about Transport NSW’s progress in meeting the Federal timetable for delivering equality of access across the rail network, the Minister made no formal announcement in parliament regarding when Redfern Station would be made accessible.

Stage Two of the campaign therefore targeted the Premier, Minister for Transport and President of the Legislative Council (Government Whip). From the manual collection of signatures the campaign moved to an online effort that allowed the forwarding of letters to these three members of government. The framing of this stage was a request that an interim solution for limited equality of access to the station be provided in a very timely manner. With the assistance of the community centres and the Sydney Story Factory (a not-for­profit creative writing centre for young people in Redfern), local school children participated by sharing their stories and writing directly to the Premier, Minister for Transport and President of Legislative Council.

In the background a small team working with the Redfern Legal Centre and a large city legal firm began exploring possible legal avenues under Federal disability access legislation to force the State Government to act. In seeking statutory compliance with the federally mandated timetable for the provision of equality of access to public facilities, the first step was to seek access to documents held by Transport NSW. Using the NSW Government’s own Government Information (Public Access) Act (“GIPA”), the legislation superseding Freedom of Information requests, a range of documents on which to build a legal case was sought from Transport NSW. As a result over 1000 pages of Government documents regarding Redfern Station are now in the public domain and accessible via the Lift Redfern and REDWatch websites. Some of these documents are also publically available through Transport NSW’s GIPA Compliance Log.

Behind the scenes work has been integral to Lift Redfern’s successes. One of the community strengths identified at the commencement of the campaign is the breath of representation on various ministerial panels and taskforces. Senior Aboriginal Aunties raised the issue during Aged Care ministerial consultation meetings; the Vice Chancellor and Provost of the University of Sydney drew the Minister for Education’s attention this critical infrastructure upgrade need; precinct representatives pressed Housing NSW to take a stance; property developers highlighted their concerns during Part 3A planning discussions; and the City of Sydney raised in many forums the importance of the station’s redevelopment for the whole of the Sydney Local Government Area.

‘Playing the ball and not the man’ is fundamental to maintaining the multi-partisan approach to solving the Redfern Station problem. From the outset local branches of various political parties were involved. The Chamber of Commerce, University of Sydney, Carriageworks and other cultural institutions were on board. The campaign obtained the unanimous support of the Council of the City of Sydney. This approach facilitated opportunities for Ron Hoenig (ALP) and Jamie Parker (The Greens) in the Lower House and Dr Mehreen Faruqi (The Greens) and Penny Sharpe (ALP) in the Upper House to press their Coalition counterparts and the Minister for Transport in meetings and in ‘corridor’ conversation. Lord Mayor Clover Moore, City CEO and senior staff also engaged the Minister and her department regarding the critical need for this infrastructure redevelopment as the opportunities arose. The Premier, Ministers for Planning and Transport have been sighted casually inspecting the station.

One of the many off-shoots of the Lift Redfern campaign is the formation of a nascent Redfern Station Community Group. Since the commencement of the campaign community members have directly lobbied the Station Master to engage with the community in respecting and beautifying the station. This direct relationship building is dovetailing well with rollout of the Minister for Transport’s vision for improved customer service and the appointment of the first of the network’s new customer service managers to the Redfern to Strathfield sector.

Urban Growth NSW recently recognised Lift Redfern as an important community stakeholder in the proposed development of the Central Station to Erskineville rail corridor. The redevelopment of Redfern Station is key to delivering any vision for the revitalisation of this long neglected area of our globally significant city. Lift Redfern is advocating for an open, transparent and accountable community consultation process across all stages of the project’s formulation and execution.

The Lift Redfern campaign continues to move forward, but in many respects the original aim of the campaign was achieved in the first few weeks following the formal launch. The joyous comments from participants about “meeting all these different people” and the “great opportunities for working together on other projects” revealed the power of conservation in building community capital. This excitement still underpins Lift Redfern as we move towards implementing the next stages in the campaign to make Redfern Station accessible.

Follow the Lift Redfern Station Campaign at www.facebook.com/LiftRedfern

or http://liftredfernstation.wordpress.com

Originally published in Inner Sydney Voice Issue 118 Summer 2013-14

A long time coming: sketch design for Redfern Station with offices from 1946

A long time coming: sketch design for Redfern Station with offices from 1946

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