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PacificEdge | January 18, 2018

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Bad tactics

Bad tactics

I WANT TO say a few words about bad tactics.

A few days ago I made a brief comment on the facebook of Residents Against Western Sydney Airport. RAWSA is opposing the construction of a new airport on the city’s urban fringe.

My comment was in response to the proposal by a member of that group’s facebook that Sydney’s existing airport on Botany Bay should intensify the number of air movement s a day and that the curfew on flights and aircraft noise, 6AM to 11PM, be scrapped. I wrote that this was a  “ …win/lose proposition that’s sure to encourage support for the second airport in these areas where once there might have been sympathy.”

Those areas I referred to, Sydney’s Inner West and its Eastern Suburbs, are already affected by aircraft noise. I recall a woman In know in the Inner West explaining the ‘Marrickville pause’ to visitors, about how people stop talking while they wait for air traffic to pass overhead.

Tactical error

I have sympathy for the Western Sydney residents who will be affected by noise from air traffic coming and going at the new airport, especially as it will be in 24 hour operation.

Their tactical error of wanting to force 24 hour operation and intensified air traffic on people in the Inner West and Eastern Suburbs immediately sets up an us-and-them, win-lose situation rather than gaining the support of people already affected by aircraft noise. In cooperating rather then being put in opposition, they could help pressure government to find a more remote location for the new airport. This is opportunity lost, a tactical error.


They will stop if they suddenly find their inner city progressive environmental constituents chucking a wobbly…


One commentator on the RAWSA facebook said he wasn’t speaking for the organisation in proposing all night and day air traffic noise for suburbs already affected by noise, however comment by others suggest strongly that the sentiment is widely held by airport opponents. As one commentator wrote: “ …how can there be anything but an us-and-them, you will never support what we want and we will never support what you want.”.

Having made the comment, he then went on to try to blame me for the division he admits exists: “ …you make it an us verses them issue, crappy deflection.”

This, those of us with experience in advocacy will recognise, is a classic NIMBY tactic of attacking the person rather than addressing the issue, and trying to refocus blame.

Another commentator clarified RAWSA’s position: “I don’t advocate 24hr operations at KSA (Kingsford smith Airport, Sydney Airport), & neither does RAWSA. But it is an us & them situation – curfew for the east, 24/7 noise pollution for the west. And the economic divide that already exists between the regions makes this even more appalling.”

We can see social steroptypes at work here as the economic divide between Sydney’s inner and eastern suburbs (the more affluent North shore is usually totted out in these arguments, however not in this exchange). There is an economic divide, however it is based on assumptions about wealth distribution that are at least partially false.

This was reiterated when another commenter wrote about Inner West people stopping the proposed changes to air traffic at the existing airport: “They will stop if they suddenly find their inner city progressive environmental constituents chucking a wobbly”.

Yes, social stereotyping again even if there are “inner city progressives” in the Inner West.

The problem

For those involved in advocacy there are lessons coming out of the exchange.

I’ve been around community issues long enough to know that the RAWSA members approach is that of classic NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard). This sets up an us-and-them approach. All too frequently, NIMBYs resort to assumption, innuendo, personal attacks and half-truths.


I have seen NIMBYs block or delay socially useful projects and bring division to communities…


An example coming from the RAWSA exchange was the claim that people in the Eastern Suburbs are somehow all wealthy. The reality is quite different. The region displays a wealth gradient starting with excessive wealth at the harbourside, northern end of the region, through middle class Coogee and Randwick to lower income, more working class populations at the southern end of the region closer to the airport. I have been told that Randwick has the second highest social housing population in Sydney. The claim by the RAWSA facebook member is uninformed stereotyping.

Over years of experience in community organisations and in local government I have seen NIMBYs block or delay socially useful projects and bring division to communities. It is unfortunate the RAWSA group has resorted to erroneous NIMBY tactics that are creating a divide between them and people who already experience what they fear. This, instead of building support. I can only conclude that RAWSA lacks experience in advocacy.

The lesson

The message I am passing on here is that, in advocacy, it pays to cultivate allies and avoid divisiveness — cooperation rather than competition —  whether that is within communities or between geographical regions of a city. Doing that is something politicians and other interests will take advantage of.

It also pays to avoid making assumptions. While they may occasionally be correct, they are often full of sweeping generalisations and error. Overuse can discredit those making them.

In alienating potential support, the RAWSA commentators are likely to turn the thousands of people in Sydney’s Inner West and Eastern Suburbs against them even when they have doubt about the location of the second airport.

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