One of the most odious things I've seen from a government agency, real Orwellian double-speak, is in the latest annual report of Waverley Council. Last year the council extracted $22.6 million from residents and visitors in parking fines and fees. It raised this amount by using parking inspectors to harass drivers, fining them for even minor infractions, skulking and stalking people who parked even briefly in the wrong place or at the wrong time. The council has milked the beach and cafe strips at Bondi, Bronte and Tamarama ruthlessly and with intent to hurt.
Yet not once is the term ''parking fine'' to be found in Waverley Council's annual report. Instead, under a section headed ''Parking Services'', the report says: ''This service provides essential community safety and amenity.''
No. It is not an ''essential community safety and amenity'' to produce stress and cynicism while generating a fat cash flow for a council with a stated aim, also found in the annual report, is ''to reduce both private car ownership and private car travel''.
Little wonder that many councils, including the social engineers and double-speakers at Waverley, received a shake-up last Saturday week in the local government elections. Everyone knows that parking would be abused to the point of gridlock if councils didn't clamp down on selfish car-owners. Access to parking is routinely rated as ''very important'' by most respondents to council surveys. But there is a line between policing and milking.
Many councils cross that line. Waverley Council generates $13 million a year in profit from parking fines and fees, more than $1 million every month in net cash flow, via its parking inspectors/tax collectors/street goons.
It is seeking to reduce private car ownership and car usage by harassing drivers. Or - to use the language of George Orwell the council preferred in its 2011 annual report - by ''continually calibrating the parking system to maximise its capacity and efficiency … while minimising the need to increase supply''.
I don't own a car, which should make me a model citizen at Waverley Council, except that I also loathe heavy-handed social engineering by governments. Evidently I am not alone. The brunt of elector disapproval in the 2012 local government elections was directed at Australia's pre-eminent would-be social engineers, the Greens.
This rejection came despite the Labor brand being toxic in NSW, which should be perfect growing weather for the Greens.
Instead, big anti-Green swings were recorded in the party's inner-city enclaves of Woollahra, Leichhardt, Marrickville and Waverley. There was an anti-Greens swing across the immigrant south-west in Canterbury, Burwood, Ashfield, Hurstville, Auburn, Bankstown and Rockdale. There were setbacks for the Greens in middle-class Randwick, Manly, Lane Cove and the nature-hugging Blue Mountains. The Greens vote also declined notably in the regions, from Byron Bay to Newcastle to the central coast and the southern highlands.
The Woollahra Municipal Council until nine days ago had been a Greens stronghold. Here, too, parking inspectors are used as a blunt instrument to generate cash and modify behaviour.
Last year, Woollahra raised almost $10 million in user fees, of which parking fines were the most important. (This shows just how much the Orwellian Waverley Council milks from Bondi Beach.) At least Woollahra council had the decency to refer to the $4.43 million in revenue it raised last year from ''parking fines''.
Another Greens bastion, Leichhardt Council, increased its revenue from ''user charges and fees'' by 16.6 per cent last year, or eight times the rate of inflation. A more infamously Greens bastion of Marrickville Council increased its revenue from ''user charges and fees'' by a robust 11.5 per cent last year, more than five times the rate of inflation. In both council elections, the Greens carried the brunt of voter discontent.
Parking issues are thus hurting in every way. They are a matter of commercial life and death for many small business owners - one of the banes of their lives along with growing red tape, growing green tape, growing compliance costs, growing taxes and soaring energy bills. All these problems are attaching themselves to the Greens brand.
We keep being told Australia is prospering, but small business is in a state of general stress. Some small businesses are booming but the majority appear to be having to swim faster to stay afloat or prosper. Many are just holding on as consumers stay cautious, or switch to internet commerce, or reduce debt, or all of the above.
My local canary in the coalmine is the part of the Woollahra Council area known as the Oxford Street fashion and food area. It is showing obvious evidence of stress. At the start of the year, I counted 40 empty shops along the busy commercial kilometre between Taylor Square and Queen Street. Since then multiple business owners keep telling me that trading conditions are becoming more arduous, no matter what the national economic statistics and the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, are saying.
On Saturday, I did another count. The 40 empty stores have grown to 57 along the same stretch. This particular cluster of small businesses has been caught by a pincer movement from the giant new Westfield malls in the city and Bondi Junction, a pincer made tighter by the rapidly evolving shift to online shopping. And the parking problem.
Stress patterns like this are repeating themselves. Sectors of the economy are in recession. Trading conditions are generally tough. Red tape, green tape, energy costs, compliance costs and government intrusion are the big growth areas in commercial life.
Thank god for local democracy. It enables the oppressed to modify the behaviour of their oppressors by voting them out of power.