Tuesday, 25 February 2020
I rise this evening to speak about a very important national asset, which is Sydney Harbour. Why is Sydney Harbour important? Sydney Harbour would have been to this nation's greatest natural asset, if not the world's greatest natural asset. The Liberal Party has a very proud history of preserving and protecting this wonderful natural endowment. In 1998, we took an election commitment to the Australian people that we would protect the Sydney Harbour foreshore where the defence lands had been concluded and needed to be repaired. The environment minister at the time, Senator Robert Hill, said:
The Trust will be established with a ten year life and be required to manage the properties in accordance with the Howard government's goals of maximising public access to the sites, cleaning up contamination, rehabilitating bushland and preserving heritage buildings and features at the sites.
Senator Hill went on to say:
I look forward to working with the interim Trust to ensure that these wonderful sites on Sydney Harbour are appropriately protected and returned to the people of Sydney.
It was the Liberal government, the Howard government, which decided to take the policy decision to preserve and protect the lands on Sydney Harbour, not hand them over to any other interests.
We established the trust and we got it going. We then got it to work on contamination reparation, on remediation and on ultimately opening up public lands. It did great work on Cockatoo and on Middle Head. It did exactly what John Howard said it would do when he was talking on radio in 1998 when he said:
The idea of linking open space on the Sydney Harbour foreshores with the Centenary of Federation, it does catch my imagination, it catches the imagination of many Australians living, not only in and around Sydney, but all around the country.
This recognises that Sydney Harbour is special. It is unique. It occupies a place in the minds of almost every Australian. That is why the Liberal government, the Howard government, established the trust to protect this land.
Later in that Howard period, we, the Liberal party, decided to extend the life of the trust. So not only did we get it working on anticontamination but we also extended the life of the trust. In 2007 we extended the life of the trust and the then environment minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said:
Since the act came into effect, the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust has gained significant experience in transforming and managing seven important historic sites. The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust has also received strong public support for its role.
So we set it up to be effective, we opened public access to these lands, we extended the trust's life and, in 2019, we decided to ensure that the Harbour Federation Trust was fit for purpose, with the environment minister, Sussan Ley, saying:
The Morrison Government has launched a landmark review to give Australian their say on the best ways to maximise public access to Sydney Harbour’s historic landmarks.
The key point here is that there is no other political movement that can lay claim to the conservation of Sydney Harbour like the Liberal Party. The Howard government established and extended the life of the trust, and we, the Morrison government, are now reviewing the trust to make sure that it is fit for purpose.
These lands are unique. They are very important to the Indigenous communities of Sydney and they present to First Nations people and non-First Nations people alike a unique picture of Australian life, whether it be military or Indigenous history. But, of course, the primary reason to preserve and protect these sites—in my view, it should be done in perpetuity—is for conservation purposes. There is no other piece of land in this nation which is as revered and respected as Sydney Harbour. It is the place that the world thinks Australia looks like. We are absolutely committed, as a party committed to conservation over the course of 75 years, to the future preservation of these lands. I remind the Senate that it was the Liberal Party that established this trust. We established the trust, we set it up for success and we want to make sure that this unique, wonderful Sydney Harbour is preserved and conserved for all time.