Greens senator Lee Rhiannon has accused Shoalhaven City councillor Joanna Gash and Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis of inciting hate towards local orchid expert Alan Stephenson.
Mr Stephenson’s discovery of a colony of vulnerable orchids led to the abandonment of Motorcycling NSW’s plan to build a racetrack at Yerriyong.
In the adjournment debate in the Senate on Tuesday night, Senator Rhiannon did not hold back.
“The proposed Yerriyong motorcycling complex is not just another local development in NSW. It provides an insight into the appalling activities of the Liberals in the Shoalhaven area.
“Why was the former (sic) member for Gilmore, Mrs Ann Sudmalis, able to secure almost $10 million in grant funds for the Yerriyong motorcycling complex when the development had not been given consent?
“Why was the then mayor of the Shoalhaven, Mrs Joanna Gash, Liberal Party stalwart and long-term friend of Mrs Sudmalis, pushing a development on land she was warned from the outset had significant environmental sites?
“Why did both Sudmalis and Gash continue to pursue this project on such an inappropriate site? Has Sudmalis made any attempt to seek changes to the Commonwealth threatened species list or legislation?”
Senator Rhiannon asked why neither had apologised to Mr Stephenson “for the reputational damage they’ve inflicted”.
“Mr Stephenson is not a member of the Greens. This is a classic case of Sudmalis and Gash not owning their own mistakes, pretending to be the victims of some sort of environmental plot and blaming the Greens – or 'Greenies', as they call those whom they scapegoat,” she told the Senate.
Later, she said: “Orchard specialist Alan Stephenson was thrust into the centre of the controversy, as he had located additional threatened species on the land in question. After being requested by the Parma Yerriyong Community Group to review the consultants environmental work, a single orchard was not the only show stopper, with many other species identified, and over 500 hollow-bearing trees also assessed.
“Remember, Gash had been warned that the site she favoured had environmentally significant sites, but Gash did not heed the warnings.
“Instead of owning her own mistake, it was easier to blame Stephenson and try to undermine his expertise. After Gash's criticism, Stephenson received all manner of personal threats, including death threats.
“The former Gilmore MP joined the pack of blamers and also got stuck into Stephenson. Neither Gash nor Gilmore [MP] has ever apologised for not just their words but the hate they helped to incite towards Stevenson and his family.”
Cr Gash was unrepentant on Wednesday afternoon.
“I have no intention of apologising to Mr Stephenson, who is probably equally at fault,” she said.
“Alan Stephenson is a self proclaimed expert and we questioned that expertise. We didn’t incite anything.”
As for Senator Rhiannon using the Senate to call out herself and Mrs Sudmalis, “I wouldn’t expect anything less from the Greens.”
Ann Sudmalis was called for comment.