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Tuesday, 29 August 1989
Page: 533


Senator DUNN(10.34) —I rise to speak tonight on a matter of great concern to many residents of the Hastings Shire on the mid-New South Wales coast. I have to make it clear at the outset that I am not absolutely opposed to coastal development if it is properly planned and inflicts a minimum of damage on the environment and the local community. However, we do have the horrible precedent of the overdeveloped Gold Coast and we are all becoming aware that our coastal environment is a rapidly dwindling but valuable national resource.

The revelations of the Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry are not reassuring on the actual process of development application decisions. Vested interests, personal friendships and some suspicious financial transactions all seem to have taken precedence over considerations of financial damage and the best interests of local residents. I should emphasise that members and associates of both the present New South Wales Government and the previous Government have been involved in decisions apparently biased toward sectional interests. An example is the Dunbogan Canal Estate near Laurieton. The proposal canal development has been a long-running saga that dates right back to 1973 and has always attracted a high level of community opposition. The development is on highly sensitive wetlands less than one metre above sea level. It is flood prone land and is bordered by the ocean, the Camden Haven River and sewage treatment works. Quite likely, it would sink beneath its own weight even before the greenhouse effect took its toll on coastal areas.

In 1982, the council concerned, the Hastings Municipal Council, adopted a flood plain management policy for the area in question. In conjunction with the New South Wales Department of Environment and Planning and the New South Wales Department of Public Works, extensive research was carried out and the area was classified as Rural Floodway 1 (A1). In 1983 the Hastings Municipal Council, along with the New South Wales Department of Environment and Planning, initiated the Hastings coastal development strategy and residential release program. One of the findings of this strategy plan was:

Government policy is based on the view that urban development is generally undesirable on any flood prone land if there are alternative flood free sites available.

I understand that other land was available for development. Despite the above decision, in 1986 the Hastings Municipal Council again moved to rezone the land for canal development. After much community outrage, the Council decided on 6 April 1987 to hold a public hearing into the canal development. Commissioner John Woodward, the Chairman of the Office of Commissioners of Inquiry, conducted the public hearing over three days during June 1987 at Laurieton. As far as I am aware, out of the numerous submissions received by Commissioner Woodward only three supported the development. Not surprisingly, one was from the developer, Matt Toussard of Jimneva Properties. The others were from Alderman Daphne Johnston, and Jim O'Brien, Secretary of the Port Macquarie Council of Trade Unions.

Jim O'Brien is a rather colourful character with alleged connections to the National Civic Council. He has a habit of favouring right-wing unions over militant left-wing unions on building sites, a trait no doubt warmly appreciated by developers in the Port Macquarie area. Given the number of complaints from unions affiliated to the Port Macquarie Council of Trade Unions about O'Brien's methods of operating, one may wonder whether O'Brien's submission reflected the views of all the affiliates.

In commenting on Alderman Daphne Johnston's submission supporting the development, the business paper to the Community Development Committee meeting of the Hastings Municipal Council dated 6 April 1987 stated that:

Because of the contentious nature of the proposal, it is considered a commissioner of inquiry should be appointed . . . This appears to be the only method to satisfy all the persons making submissions that an independent consideration will be made.

It would appear from this document that the Council had an open mind about the rezoning proposal and was prepared to accept the umpire's decision. Nevertheless, at least Alderman Johnston had already made up her mind in support of the development.

In his findings, Commissioner Woodward recommended that the rezoning of land at Dunbogan for canal development not proceed. Some of the main points with which Commissioner Woodward supported his findings were, firstly, that sufficient flood free land was available already in the area for development; secondly, a flood plain management plan should be in place before consideration was given to one-off rezonings; thirdly, the servicing amenities-that is, the sewerage and water connections-had not been adequately addressed by council staff; fourthly, the environmental study and other evidence before the public hearing did not address the potential cumulative impacts of developments on the Camden Haven River; fifthly, the lands concerned were in close proximity to the sewerage treatment works; and sixthly, the proposed development would represent a visual intrusion on the scenic views from North Brother Mountain.

Despite the findings of Commissioner Woodward, the Hastings Municipal Council, in a move that I believe is unprecedented in New South Wales, proceeded with the development. The mayor, Alderman Bob Woodlands, sought to discredit the findings of Commissioner Woodward before the Council had met to discuss them. On 1 December 1987, he stated on regional television:

I believe that he-

that is, Commissioner Woodward-

was given quite a degree of misinformation. There has been a lot of information that he should have considered that he didn't consider and I would also make the comment that maybe the Commissioner's mind was made up before he even started the inquiry.

This statement by the mayor was made two weeks before the council even met to discuss the Commissioner's inquiry. Two weeks later on Monday, 14 December, 1987, the Council met and, despite Commissioner Woodward's findings, voted to rezone the land for canal development. The following day Mayor Woodlands apologised to Commissioner Woodward on the ECN8 regional evening news.

The details of the submission made by the Hastings Municipal Council to the New South Wales Department of Environment and Planning on the canal development have never been released by either the Council or the Department. It was on the basis of this submission that the New South Wales Minister concerned, Liberal Party member of parliament David Hay, agreed to the rezoning. Despite repeated attempts by the local Camden Haven Protection Society to obtain the document, the Council has hidden behind section 68 of the planning Act, which states that it is not required to release the information. Mind you, the Act does not prevent the Council from releasing the information either.

The decision to withhold the information is a purely political one. Alderman Peter King, a former National Party member of the Legislative Assembly, has stated in the local press that to release the information would be `commercial dynamite'. That was reported in the Port Macquarie News of 27 July 1988. According to Alderman King, `the Council had consistently supported the proposed development'. That being the case, the public hearing by Commissioner Woodward was nothing more than a cynical public relations exercise to con the people of Port Macquarie. Alderman King is not the only member of the Hastings Municipal Council with National Party connections. Mayor Bob Woodlands and Daphne Johnston are also members. Pharmacist John Barrett and Woodlands both threw their hats into the ring for National Party preselection for the State seat of Oxley. Both lost to Bruce Jeffery, who currently holds the seat for the Nationals. The preselection was marred by allegations of branch stacking and vote rigging.

In relation to the Council's submission to the Department of Environment and Planning for the rezoning of Dunbogan, it is interesting to note that the Council did not forward the submission until May 1988, six months after voting to proceed with the rezoning. Why did it take so long? As honourable senators are no doubt aware, a significant event took place on the New South Wales political scene during that six months. Labor lost government and the Liberals and Nationals took over. Did the Council deliberately put the submission on hold, hoping for a change of government and a more sympathetic hearing? Was the Council told by its friends in the National Party that approval for rezoning would be granted if it won the election? What was contained in the Council's submission to the Department of Environment and Planning that convinced the Minister, David Hay, to find in favour of the rezoning despite the recommendations of Commissioner Woodward? If the evidence is so overwhelming, why has the Council not released the document?

Further evidence of the National Party's attitude to environmental issues in the Port Macquarie area can be gained from an incident at a National Party fund-raiser held late last year. The following events were related to me by the owner of the Local Leader newspaper, Neil Johnston: Alderman Daphne Johnston asked Deputy Premier Wal Murray about environmental groups getting legal aid. At that time the Camden Haven Protection Society had applied for legal aid for a case before the Land and Environment Court. Its opponents were the Hastings Municipal Council and the New South Wales Department of Environment and Planning. Mr Murray stated that he had first heard about the Camden Haven Protection Society's application for legal aid that morning from Mayor Bob Woodlands. Mr Murray went on to say that the Protection Society ought not to have been granted legal aid in order to challenge the Council and that he would look into the matter to see whether he could stop it. Fortunately, he was unsuccessful in his intervention. Interestingly, the secretary of the local branch of the National Party asked Neil Johnston to publish a retraction in the newspaper. As a result of the publication of that story, the local newspaper lost its advertising from the Council and from the services club at Laurieton.

Another interesting case involving the Hastings Municipal Council is the proposed bridge over the Hastings River at Settlement Point, Port Macquarie. Like the Dunbogan canal estate, the bridge proposal is surrounded by controversy. The Council, along with some of its supporters in the local media, has claimed that the bridge project is based purely on the need to replace the present ferry service. The Council intends to outlay some $20m of public funds to replace the ferry service, which costs less than $150,000 per annum to run. Currently, there are 120 people living on the north shore of the Hastings River, which means that the bridge proposal works out at a cost of $166,666.66 per person-hardly the sort of cost efficiency that would please Premier Greiner.

While the Council has repeatedly denied that the true intention of the bridge project is to open up major land holdings for urban development, it stated in a 1986 environmental impact statement that one of the objectives of the bridge proposal was `to remove one constraint to possible future urban and tourist development of the area north of the Hastings River'. According to the Council's 1984 report, the need for the bridge arose from, among other things, `pressure from land owners on the northern side of the Hastings River to permit further development of the area'. As I understand it, there are only four major landowners in that area. According to the report, this land development would accommodate a total population of 20,000 people-15,000 at North Hibbard and 5,000 on the north shore. It was suggested in the report that a bridge across the river would create an `unprecedented boom in the area'. The report even suggested that it would be desirable to review the proposed extensions to the Limeburners Creek nature reserve because `they will have an extremely limiting effect on the future development of Port Macquarie'. It would seem clear that, despite the Council's denials, its plan is to rezone land on the north shore currently zoned for inclusion in the Limeburners Creek nature reserve to urban and tourist development.

In July 1987, R. B. Smyth, Director of the Department of Environment and Planning, examined the Council's environmental impact statement on the bridge and found that there were `serious shortcomings in the EIS which reflected upon the acceptability of the proposal'. In his report, Mr Smyth made 51 direct references over 28 pages to severe inadequacies in the environmental impact statement prepared by the Council. Some of the terms used by Smyth were `inadequate', `unconvincing', `misleading' and `unreliable'. Despite the scathing nature of the assessment, the Council's Chief Engineer offered the Council this advice in a report on 14 December 1987:

A further option would be to wait until after the next State Election in anticipation of a new State Government adopting a more liberal approach to conservation issues.

For anyone who had any doubts about where the National Party stood on the issue, Mr Murray said in an election speech at Port Macquarie on 1 March 1988:

We will bridge the Hastings River and the work will be completed in our first term of office.

Mr Murray went on to say that he was not concerned at the `greenie' opposition to the move and dismissed this as a myth. Clearly, the Council and the National Party intend to open up the north shore of the Hastings River for development and have no intention of preserving the land earmarked for the Limeburners Creek nature reserve.

There is a close association between Alderman Peter King, a National Party member, and Mr Roger Dulhunty, who has extensive land holdings on the north shore of the Hastings River. Alderman King is a principal of the firm King and Campbell Pty Ltd, which is engaged in surveying, engineering and consultancy on land development in the Hastings area. One of his clients is Mr Dulhunty. Not surprisingly, both are outspoken supporters of the north shore development and the Hastings bridge. While King has in the past declared pecuniary interests in respect of development applications lodged by Dulhunty companies, Alderman King moved and voted in support of a motion at an ordinary Council meeting on 3 April 1989 to grant consent to the filling of wetlands on the Settlement Point peninsula for the proposed bridge. It is not unreasonable to suppose that, should the bridge and the land rezoning go ahead, Alderman King would stand to make money carrying out surveying and consultancy work for Mr Dulhunty on his north shore holdings.

I am also concerned that undue political pressure may have been placed on the Department of Environment and Planning to withdraw or otherwise reassess aspects of the Department's previous director's report. What leads me to consider this possibility is a recent statement by Mayor Bob Woodlands that he had been able personally to `resolve' differences between the Council and the Department of Environment and Planning. Given the scathing attack on the Council in the July 1987 report from the Department of Environment and Planning. I wonder whether Mayor Woodlands used his National Party connections to persuade the new Minister, David Hay, to change the Department's position.

While collecting information for this debate tonight, I heard a rumour that the Port Macquarie News has promised to `crucify' me if I reveal the facts and the sequence of events that I have just described. I hope that this message has been garbled in transmission. If not, I look forward to my martyrdom. Whether I am around or not, I still say: let the tumbrils of ICAC roll south.