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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 68

Mr HUNT (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (4:50 PM) —I want to raise today a grievance on behalf of the Western Port Oberon Association. The Western Port Oberon Association is a group of citizens within my electorate of Flinders, largely based in the town of Hastings and comprising both ex-servicemen and women and those who are supportive of the services. This group, led by Mr Max Bryant, developed over half a decade ago the idea that Hastings, a town which has had a great connection to the Royal Australian Navy for at least 60 years, should be the home, base and centrepiece of the retired Oberon class submarine HMAS Otama, which was decommissioned in 2000. This proposal has been stymied, crushed and gradually strangled by a process of the most hideous Victorian state bureaucracy. The submarine has been in place waiting offshore of Crib Point terminal at Hastings for over three years. It has been allowed to lie in the water and has been prevented from being brought ashore by utter bureaucratic inaction. It is an extraordinary achievement of bureaucracy which would make Sir Humphrey Appleby green with jealousy. Before I tell you the reason why, let me run through three things. I want to talk about the proposal, the problem and the solution. In essence, we see that a proposal to establish a tourism attraction of national standing has been let lie. For the most mindless of reasons, ordinary people have been left to work and struggle for over half a decade in vain.

In 2000, Mr Max Bryant and others who went on to form the Western Port Oberon Association put forward the idea that Hastings, adjacent to Crib Point and HMAS Cerberus, would be the perfect place for the HMAS Otama to find its final resting ground. It could be brought ashore on the edge of the Hastings marina area and become a regional tourism attraction to bring tourists to a town which, over the years, has done it hard. It would be a living museum with one of the most extraordinary displays, commemorating the work of our servicepeople and bringing Hastings, a town with a great working-class history, a new attraction and a new source of income.

Work was done on the value of an HMAS Otama display to the town of Hastings. An independent inquiry commissioned by the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council found that over $4 million per year in income would be brought to the region and approximately 40 jobs would be indirectly created as a result of the display. The HMAS Otama was awarded to the Oberon association along with a $500,000 grant by the Commonwealth to help develop it and bring it from Perth, whence it was towed. The Oberon association carried out their duties and did that. They brought it from Perth to Crib Point, and for three years since April 2002 the HMAS Otama Oberon class submarine has been off the coast of Crib Point, adjacent to Hastings.

During that time this group has had the support of the council and the community. Princess Anne visited the Western Port Oberon Association in 2003 to lend her support as the person who initially commissioned the HMAS Otama. For three years we have seen them struggle without a decision from the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment. Victoria is hardly open for business. Again, a group of highly professional but volunteer people, who carry themselves with dignity, drive and energy, have been utterly thwarted.

How has this come to pass? The problem is that they were given every encouragement by the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, under the leadership of the Deputy Premier, to go ahead and pursue a planning application. They took all the necessary steps and went through a two-year process after having been given the run-around for a full year before they were even invited to go through that process. They received submissions; they had consultants’ reports; they had engineering reports; they had extraordinary support from within the community. After two years they were given a finding of no decision—in other words, these people have been trapped in limbo. They have raised funds from the community, they have raised funds from the Commonwealth and they have been frugal, cautious and patient. They have developed a vision, which is a tremendous thing for this town of Hastings. In Hastings and on the Western Port side of the Mornington Peninsula, it gives us a chance to have something which would not only rival but surpass Holbrook and be comparable with the outstanding success of Fremantle, where there is an Oberon class submarine display which is bringing millions and millions of dollars into the local economy. It would also be a source of pride for the people of Hastings, for the people of Crib Point and for those who remember and recognise the naval history of HMAS Cerberus.

Finally, after enormous pressure—more than three years from the beginning of a bureaucratic process and after every indication that it would be accepted, approved and pushed forward by the Department of Sustainability and Environment—this group of volunteers has been told no, they cannot have the submarine on the foreshore at Hastings. What was their response? Their response has been to say, ‘All right, we will find somewhere else.’ They did that. They found a fair site—not quite as good, but let not the perfect be the enemy of the good—adjacent to the old Crib Point terminal. At that point they again ran up against bureaucracy.

On the one hand the state says, ‘We think this is a good project,’ but on the other hand it does nothing to help. The local state member, Rosy Buchanan, has had three years to walk through the minister’s door and say, ‘This project must happen. We must find something to help the people of Hastings and the Western Port Oberon Association.’ This project has the potential to be one of the great regional tourism initiatives within Australia. I see the member for Batman opposite—a reasonable man on some occasions—and I ask for his assistance with his state colleagues in bringing this project to pass. Beyond that, we have had no action from the local member but instead a failure and a derogation of duty, because you can make these things happen if you are an elected member and you have a commitment to do it. The very reason you are elected is to stand up for your local community—not to represent Spring Street in Hastings but to represent Hastings in Spring Street. That is the job. That is why people in Crib Point, Cerberus, Hastings, Bittern and Balnarring elected you. There is a duty incumbent upon the local member, Rosy Buchanan, to stand up in public and say, ‘This project will happen.’ But after three years nothing has happened.

So where do we go from here? I think there are two very simple things which must occur. Firstly, the local member must make an unequivocal and clear commitment to bring the project to pass and to stop standing in its way. Secondly, there is a very easy answer here where the state of Victoria can, if it is serious, cut through the bureaucracy and approve the siting adjacent to the Crib Point terminal which has been proposed by the Western Port Oberon Association. It is a good site, it is a great project and it would be of tremendous benefit to the people of Hastings, the people of Crib Point and the people of the Mornington Peninsula. I commend the project but I highlight my grievance and I say: ‘Do not let this sub sink. Let the submarine project go ahead and bring it to the people of Crib Point and Hastings.’