House debates

Thursday, 18 June 2020


Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

12:13 pm

Photo of Dave SharmaDave Sharma (Wentworth, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today's an important day for all those who care about the preservation and conservation of the Sydney Harbour foreshore, including in my own electorate of Wentworth. Today, the Minister for the Environment and member for Farrer released the independent review of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. The Sydney Harbor Federation Trust was established under the Howard government by an act of parliament in 2001 to ensure that former defence and Commonwealth lands occupying iconic sites on the Sydney Harbour foreshore remained public lands and were revitalised for public access. At the time, it was an enlightened and innovative public policy. The sites included the Macquarie Lighthouse at Vaucluse and the Marine Biological Station at Watsons Bay, both in my electorate of Wentworth, but also the sites at North Head, Middle Head, the former submarine base of Platypus at Neutral Bay, and Cockatoo Island.

I served on the board of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust from 2018 to 2019 and I saw firsthand the dedication and the professionalism of the staff and the amazing work that they have done to rehabilitate and activate such sites, turning them into treasures loved by Sydneysiders and, indeed, loved by people around the world. Last year, 1. 8 million people visited Sydney Harbour Federation Trust sites. I wish to commend the work of the CEO of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, Mary Darwell, and all the staff of the trust, and also the board, led by Joseph Carrozzi. The review commissioned in October 2019 by the minister received over 200 submissions and held consultations with over 500 people at multiple public forums. The review makes a number of important recommendations—21 in all. There are some highlights that I think are worth drawing to the attention of the House. Firstly, the review recommends that amendments be made to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Act 2001 to remove the 2033 repeal provision. The review also recommends the development of an asset audit and masterplan for Cockatoo Island; greater recognition of Indigenous sites; increased focus on the military heritage, which is especially important for Cockatoo Island; and improved volunteer engagement.

I was pleased to hear the minister announce earlier today that the government broadly supports the recommendations of the review. The review notes that community consultation made clear that the public wants these lands to remain protected and in public hands under Commonwealth management. This is an affirmation of the success of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust model. The minister's announcement that we will shortly introduce legislation to amend the act and remove its expiry provision means that the lands held by the trust will remain in Commonwealth hands, open and accessible to the public, for future generations. These amendments will also give the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust the certainty to plan for the future, including the significant investments that need to be made in rehabilitating some of these assets.

There was, unfortunately, a scare campaign of misinformation that went around at the time of this review, suggesting that these sites might be privatised or developed or turned into hotels and universities. Regrettably, these misinformation campaigns were pushed by some members of this House, including the member for Warringah. But as the trust chair, Joseph Carrozzi, said at the time, such suggestions were simply misguided. They were a red herring designed to scare and confuse the public. As the review and its recommendations and the minister's own announcement today make clear, we have no intent or desire to do any such thing. In fact the main purpose of this review is to give certainty and clarity about the status of these lands and to ensure that they remain in public hands, in Commonwealth hands in perpetuity.

The review also identifies the need for urgent maintenance funding for some of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust's assets. The minister today has announced $9 million of unlocked initial funding for maintenance and restoration work. This will go to things such as safety upgrades, sea wall and building repairs and the restoration of historic industrial cranes on Cockatoo Island. Members might be aware that Cockatoo Island was the home of shipbuilding and refurbishment activity in the Second World War and before and was vital part of our war effort during that conflict.

Finally, I wish to commend the review team, led by Ms Carolyn McNally and Ms Erin Flaherty. They undertook a most dedicated look at the trust and the unique portfolio of assets that it holds, and they did this in a way that was unprecedented. I look forward to the minister introducing legislation into the House that will allow us to amend the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Act 2001 and ensure that these unique and precious sites are preserved and accessible for generations to come.