Wednesday, 17 March 2021
Sydney Harbour Federation Trust
I rise this evening to make some remarks about the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, which I think is one of the great contributions of Australian Liberalism to environmental conservation and preservation. This trust was set up almost 20 years ago today by the Howard government. The environment minister of the day, Robert Hill, said, in announcing the plan for the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust:
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 the contamination, rehabilitating bushland and preserving heritage buildings and features at the sites.
That is exactly what the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust has done over these last 20 years. You now see extraordinary access to the public across these sites at Middle Head, North Head and further south.
As part of the Morrison government's commitment to the environment, we commissioned a review into the harbour trust 18 months ago. I thought, as an active senator for New South Wales, that I would engage with that review. I put in a submission back in January last year which said:
When the camera pans around Sydney, it starts at North Head. Trust assets are iconic, beautiful and unique. The preservation and maintenance of the natural environment is essential in maintaining Sydney's place as Australia's global city.
That review has delivered a slew of recommendations, which our government has adopted, funded and followed quite closely. In the budget, in October, the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, provided $40 million for further rehabilitation of trust sites so that people can go to North Head, which hosts the Quarantine Station, or go to Middle Harbour, which hosts the iconic 10 Terminal buildings. And, in time, there will be more public access, which I think is so important.
One of the major issues that the community has mobilised against has been the idea that these lands would be locked up for developers and for private interests. That is not something that our government was prepared to support. In fact, in yesterday announcing the legislation that will embed this trust in perpetuity, the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, said:
We are ensuring the ongoing future of the Harbour Trust and delivering on our commitment to keep its wonderful sites in public hands.
Importantly, the minister dealt with this question of leasing by saying:
Under the proposed leasing arrangements, commercial leases for appropriate sites will have a maximum term of 35 years with leases of longer than 25 years subject to a disallowance by Parliament.
So we have delivered a structure which has preserved these unique, pristine lands for public access. Over the 20 years, more of those buildings and more of those sites have become accessible. And now we have put in place a framework so that these sites will be protected forever by the Commonwealth. I know it's unusual that the national government would run a trust like this, but these are arguably some of the most iconic pieces of land in the world, and it's very important that we have control over these lands to maintain our trust.
I want to touch on the extraordinary volunteer program. For the last 20 years, there have been hundreds of volunteers who have given their time to help preserve these sites. I want to pay special tribute to the Headland Preservation Group and its president, Jill L'Estrange, who have done so much and have given so much of their time to preserve and conserve these lands. I've met many of the volunteers when I've been on the harbour trust sites. They keep the bushwalks going. They look after the place. They really are so proud of their work, and we're proud of them. That volunteer ethos is such an important part of maintaining those lands. I know there has been great consternation about where these lands would go in the future, and this government has made it very clear that it is keeping the trust permanently. It won't be a transitional body. We will be putting more money into it and we won't be allowing really long-term leases which put at risk any sense of public access to these unique and pristine lands. I thank again the Headland Preservation Group and all the volunteers who have kept these lands in pristine form.