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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17205

Mr BALDWIN (4:40 PM) —I rise in this grievance debate to express how disappointed I am that Gan Gan army camp has been sold, despite the representations I have made on behalf of my community of Port Stephens. Gan Gan army camp is surrounded by the Tomaree National Park. It is 98 hectares, of which only some 15 hectares have been disturbed or developed. It contains areas of SEPP 14 wetlands—No. 762a—elevated sand ridges and typical dense coastal forests and shrubs. Other than the boundary on a map, it is hard to distinguish this land from the surrounding national parkland.

I would draw the House's attention to the report The preliminary flora and fauna constraints assessment for the Department of Defence land at Gan Gan army camp, prepared for GHD Pty Ltd by Ecotone Ecological Consultants. Page 20, paragraph 4.2 states:

No threatened species were detected during the field surveys, although it should be pointed out that no targeted fauna or flora surveys were carried out for this stage of the study.

Yet it also states:

... it is possible that some threatened flora species could have been missed, considering two threatened species have been recently recorded in close proximity to the subject site.

And then part 5.0, `Conclusion', on page 26, states:

It has been estimated that at least four flora and eight fauna threatened species have a moderate to high probability of occurring on the subject land. With a further fifteen species having a low probability.

There is no doubt that there are serious environmental concerns for this area of land.

In 1999, Port Stephens Council recognised the environmental significance of this area, and that is why it was zoned 7(a) in the 2000 local environmental plan. As a councillor, I was more than happy to support the zoning. I would like to go through the order of events surrounding this disappointing and disgraceful outcome. Discussions on this pristine piece of land were initially held with Port Stephens Council for acquisition under priority sale in 2002. Michael Rathborne and former Mayor Steve Busteed of Port Stephens Council met with Fran Bailey twice. Various discussions were held between Defence and Port Stephens Council General Manager Peter Gesling, culminating with a meeting with Fran Bailey on 9 May, where they were advised that council could not satisfy the requirements of a priority sale as it had the intention of establishing a commercial development.

Albeit the acquisition was for an ecotourism resort—and for construction of an emergency services block, consisting of an ambulance and fire brigade station et cetera, for rent to the New South Wales government—it was still a commercial venture, which disallowed it from priority sale. I accept that. Port Stephens Council then proceeded to submit a competitive tender for the land, the details of which are confidential. Initially, after concerns were raised over the time allowed for tenders, I organised through the parliamentary secretary Fran Bailey an extension to the closing date for tenders to 30 May, to allow applications to be submitted.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—I remind the member for Paterson that members should be referred to by their seat or by title.

Mr BALDWIN —I said `parliamentary secretary', Mr Deputy Speaker. I was contacted by Neil Cameron and subsequently received a delegation from the community group Hands Off Gan Gan on 9 May in my Raymond Terrace office. I was given a letter outlining their concerns. Following that meeting I sent a letter to Bob Carr on 12 May outlining concerns and expressing a desire for Gan Gan to be added to Tomaree National Park—which, I will add, was only acknowledged on 16 June and received on 20 June at my office. Bob Carr referred my letter to Bob Debus, New South Wales Minister for the Environment.

The issue was so important that a date was set for a public meeting, to be organised by HOGG on 1 June at the PCYC. Over 200 people attended the meeting, chaired by Catherine Norman. Amongst those who addressed the meeting were: Phil Jenkyn, from the Protectors of Public Lands; Darrell Dawson, EcoNetwork Port Stephens; Phillip Slack, local ecologist; Sylvia Hale from the New South Wales Greens; Rob Gibbs from the National Parks and Wildlife Service; John Nell, Mayor of Port Stephens; Robyn Parker, Liberal New South Wales upper house; and of course me. I was disappointed that, despite how important the meeting was, not one politician from the New South Wales Labor government was able to be present. At the meeting I tabled a letter from Fran Bailey, stating that as at 28 May no request had been made by the New South Wales government to acquire the land. This is contrary to statements made by the National Parks and Wildlife Service that it had written to the defence department on 17 November 1999 expressing an interest. I wait with interest for a copy of this letter from the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

As a resolution to the meeting, a motion was passed unanimously to have Gan Gan become an extension of the Tomaree National Park and for both state and federal governments to move that way. I was more than happy to make representations for that to occur. Over the following week, I had discussions with Robert Hill, Minister for Defence and former environment minister, with David Kemp, Minister for the Environment and Heritage, and with Fran Bailey, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, and I received an encouraging reception. I raised the community concerns and expectations that this land needed to become national park. I raised questions, some of which I am still awaiting answers to. To say that I am disappointed and disgusted with the response from both the Department of Defence and the New South Wales government is a gross understatement.

In terms of correspondence, there was an undated letter from Bob Debus, New South Wales Minister for the Environment, to Robert Hill, Minister for Defence, expressing an interest in the land. A copy was sent to the Port Stephens Council on 22 May but it was not received at the Minister for Defence's office until 2 June—interestingly, after the close of tenders. There was a further undated letter from Bob Debus to Nick Minchin, Minister for Finance and Administration, inquiring about the land. It was received at the minister for finance's office on 16 June, some 16 days after the close of tenders and three days after the sale had concluded. This was being faxed to all and sundry, except to the minister, as from 3 June. I was given a copy of this letter which was faxed from Bob Debus to John Bartlett on 3 June but not to the minister's office until 16 June. Why the delay?

The tender for the sale closed on 30 May, and I am advised that contracts were exchanged on 13 June. If Alan Henderson, deputy secretary of infrastructure, has ignored the call for the process to be halted then he needs to de disciplined. This has to be the fastest processing of a tender evaluation and contract exchange ever in the history of government. If the parliamentary secretary has ignored these calls then she has lost my confidence. It seems to take weeks for an important letter to do the rounds of the community before it gets to a minister, yet only days to evaluate tenders and exchange contracts.

As I said, I have had numerous discussions with Minister Hill, Parliamentary Secretary Bailey and Minister Kemp on the environmental importance of this land. I have the following unresolved questions that require answers from both Commonwealth and state governments. Why, after the issue of the land becoming national park was raised, wasn't the sale process put on hold pending further discussions with the New South Wales government? Why didn't the New South Wales government make formal appli-ca-tion for the Gan Gan army camp under priority sale when it knew it was to be put on the market back in 1999? Despite repeated requests, why hasn't the Depart-ment of Defence provided any record of communications dated 17 November 1999 from the National Parks and Wildlife Service to Defence allegedly recording an interest in the property? Why is it that pieces of correspondence between a New South Wales minister and Commonwealth ministers have been circulated in the community some seven to 10 days before being sent to the Commonwealth minister? Is it coincidental or purposeful that these letters from the New South Wales government were received by the Commonwealth government after the close of tenders for Gan Gan? Why is it that when I asked for the flora and fauna study on 2 June it took until 18 June to arrive, some five days after the contracts were ex-changed? When I put it to the parliamentary secretary to sell only the previously used and cleared area of about 15 hectares and commit the rest of the area to parkland, why was this request ignored? The New South Wales government, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence and the Department of Defence need to provide answers to these questions.

Last Thursday, after I learned of the sale, I met with the Prime Minister to express my outrage. He has asked his staff to investigate the process pertaining to this matter. So the future of the development rests with the Port Stephens Council and the New South Wales Minister for Planning on whether they will allow for a rezoning of the site or whether the development will be restricted to the small area already cleared for the army camp. The land is zoned 7(a), environmental protection, and nothing can proceed on the land without the consent of the Port Stephens Council. The council must be diligent and carefull when considering any rezoning or development application. Whilst any development application can be challenged in the Land and Environment Court, rezoning applications are at the mercy of the New South Wales minister for planning. I only hope that he is more committed to the local environment than are his colleagues.

The sale of Gan Gan army camp leaves a very sour taste not only in my mouth but in the community's mouth. I have heard that the local member, John Bartlett, has raised the issue that the New South Wales government does not have the land. So today when I heard the Treasurer state that the New South Wales government has received an increase of 40-odd per cent in stamp duty on land transactions to its benefit, I could not understand why it could say that it does not have the money to purchase land. But price was not the issue. The issue was that the state government records available to me—and I hope I am disproved—

Mr Albanese —You ran an election on no new national parks.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I remind the member for Grayndler that he has already been warned today.

Mr BALDWIN —showed that there was absolutely no formal application by the New South Wales government for acquisition of this land, although letters have bounced backwards and forwards. I am disappointed, but not as disappointed as some members of my community who have campaigned long and hard for this piece of land to become a national park. The other issue I would raise is that the Worrami Land Council has put an Aboriginal land claim over this land. Why has that been ignored? These are questions that I, along with members of my community, demand answers to, and we demand them now.