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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7330


Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (6:15 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust has provided its report to the parliament. Again, I think it is a shame that, because of the load of documents, we do not give some of these documents the consideration that they deserve. The federation trust is an evolving activity, but certainly, in terms of my involvement in the Senate, I am particularly proud of the role the Democrats were able to play in enabling the establishment of that trust and ensuring that it was established in a far more effective way than was originally proposed by the Howard government. It is a real shame in my view that—I presume due to state Labor Party antagonism towards the Howard government—the ALP did not support the establishment of that trust and refused to accept the model that was put forward, which of course would have meant no protection at all for what are very important and very valuable former Defence lands around Sydney Harbour that have immense environmental, historical and heritage value.

A lot of this land was previously hidden from the public, and the public was unaware of it. Part of the valuable role that this trust is playing in an evolving way is opening up those areas to the public and opening up our history for the people again. I think that is crucial and it is a real shame that the ALP, and indeed the Australian Greens as well, opposed this measure. You only have to look at this report to see the immense value that this trust is now adding and to scratch your head and wonder what would have happened if the opposition of parties such as the Greens and Labor had been successful. It would have left that land completely vulnerable to inappropriate development and completely vulnerable to being sold off. It is obviously immensely valuable. Given the record of state governments in this area—including the current state Labor government, whose use of Sydney Harbour foreshore lands has been fairly lamentable—it would have been highly irresponsible to give it back to state government without the protections that, through the actions of the Democrats, were put in place in the legislation in establishing this trust.

It is good to see the work that the trust is doing now. There is still work to be done and there are still issues in terms of ensuring adequate, ongoing funding. But, with the protections that were put in place by Democrat amendments, the trust does have to operate in a way which ensures proper protection of the assets and ensures restoration, which is another crucial issue. That was why it was so important to get this trust established, because the other ongoing problem has been the decay of some of these assets. Certainly historic sites like Cockatoo Island, which had not actually been used for a long period of time, had been sitting there decaying. Now that place is being slowly restored. It is being opened up to the public and there are tours to experience the historic nature of the place. In addition, this can then provide some income for ongoing restoration and management of that area.

The report is welcome because it shows the progress of the trust. It shows that some of the concerns people had about how it might operate were unfounded. Indeed, that means that tributes should be paid to the staff, the people on its board and its director, Mr Bailey, who have certainly worked very hard to turn that vision for the trust into reality. This will produce, over a period of 10 years, a magnificent extra asset for all Australians, particularly people in Sydney.

Sydney Harbour itself, despite what you might say about the rest of Sydney that is not so complimentary, is a magnificent natural asset and a magnificent historical site for Australia. I would really encourage people, if they get a chance, to investigate the activities of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. There are ongoing plans afoot at the moment—and public comment is being sought—on the further direction of their activities and the best ways to utilise these lands for the good of the public whilst protecting their environmental and heritage values and, indeed, some incredibly important Indigenous historical values as well. The trust is now starting to generate a tremendous number of activities that provide a magnificent opportunity for people to get a different look at the history as well as the beauty of Sydney Harbour. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.