Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 2 November 1971
Page: 2814

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - All Australians have been shocked to learn of the disfigurement of the gateway to Sydney Harbour by the dumping of rubbish and spoil over the cliffs and into the sea. It is true that this involves several authorities, local government and otherwise, but it is a national disgrace that the Commonwealth Government is among the offenders and, indeed, is the major offender. Also of great concern is the Commonwealth Government's apparent unwillingness to co-operate with the Government of New South Wales in its attempt to establish a Sydney Harbour national park. Accordingly I have proposed that the House discuss, as a matter of public importance:

The Government's failure to co-operate with the Government of New South Wales in preserving the environment of South Head and in establishing a Sydney Harbour national park.

For some years the Government of New South Wales has been endeavouring to secure the co-operation of the Commonwealth Government in establishing a Sydney Harbour national park by bringing suitable foreshore land back into public ownership. I am sure that all honourable members would commend it for that objectivity.

Sydney Harbour, already acknowledged as one of the most beautiful harbours in the world, would be greatly enhanced by the provision of more land for public purposes. If there is anything wrong with the harbour at all, it is the alienation of land which has taken place over the years. One would have thought that the Commonwealth Government would be enthusiastic about assisting towards the achievement of this objective. Already the State Government, without much assistance from the Commonwealth Government, has acquired some 80 acres of land and only the stubborn occupation by the Department of the Navy of South Head now prevents fulfilment of the major part of this scheme. There has been generous cooperation by many authorities, by private enterprise, by private owners and by government departments, including the Department of the Army, but the Department of the Navy is dragging the chain, or dragging the anchor, badly in this matter.

Hopes that the area might become available for public purposes have been dashed by the Navy's insistence that South Head should be the site for the naval tactical trainer base. No strategic necessity has yet been demonstrated for the utilisation of this site for the tactical trainer base, and in fact evidence is available to indicate that other sites around Sydney would be suitable. I might say as an aside that honourable members are able to have their own interest and anxiety about this matter fortified by even a cursory look at the recent report on this project by the Public Works Committee. Yet this project is to proceed and the public will be denied forever the benefit of this amenity. South Head, the centrepiece for this great concept, with its sweeping views of the sea and the harbour, is to be substantially withheld from the proposal to establish this Sydney Harbour Royal national park.

Some of us had hoped that the appointment of a new Minister for the Navy who comes from Sydney would see a mellowing of the old hard line which characterised the attitude of some of his predecessors from Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, none of whom could be expected to have the indigenous interest in Sydney's welfare of the present Minister for the Navy (Dr Mackay). But alas our hopes have been destroyed. 1 believe the Minister for the Navy should be called to answer for this unnecessary denial of public interest. In my view this land grabbing mentality and this insensitive reaction to the need to preserve and improve the Sydney environment should be the subject of a royal commission before this fine scenic area is lost to the people and indeed to posterity for ever.

Adding insult to injury, construction of the naval installation has commenced and the Minister has approved the dumping of a massive tonnage of excavation spoil - some 35,000 cubic yards - into the sea at South Head. This dumping is to take place at the rate of 150 trucks a day 5 days a week over a 10-week period. That is to say, thousands of tons of soil and rock will be dumped to pollute the waterways, to despoil the landscape and generally to desecrate this place of national pride. Indeed the Minister's shame is the violation of our national heritage. Only the fierce indignation of the public, the Press and the Government of New South Wales has influenced the Minister for the Navy in calling a temporary halt, in giving a brief respite, to this blatant act of governmental vandalism. How long will this respite last? The Minister prophesied that at the best the dumping could be held off for some 2 or 3 days. Maybe it has recommenced already without sufficient time having been allowed for a proper investigation into all the ecological and other questions involved.

The dumping of this material is associated with the construction of the tactical trainer building at HMAS 'Watson' at South Head. As ministerial head of the Commonwealth Department, the Minister for the Navy has been fully aware of the complete and unequivocal opposition of the State Government to the proposal to dump this material into the sea. In disregarding the ecological consequence and the possibility of contaminating Sydney beaches and Sydney Harbour the Minister in my view has shown contempt for both expert opinion and the views of a sovereign State. Clearly it is the Minister for the Navy who must for all time bear responsibility for this blatant and irretrievable act of governmental vandalism.

It was he who on Tuesday last assured his own colleague, the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Bury), who expressed concern about this matter - and properly so - on behalf of the constituents he represents, that dumping the material into the sea would cause no hazards or residual adverse effects. He went on to say that contaminating the sea was a better alternative to damaging the roadway; that this was a way of saving $50,000. A paltry $50,000 was the alternative to sacrificing the sea and the environs of Sydney Harbour and Sydney's beaches. He went on to make light of the matter by saying that discolouration of the sea could not compare with the pollution by night soil and other damage from flooding in the Parramatta River. He not only made the mistake of going on with this dumping, he also brazenly in this Parliament sought to justify it, and, worse still, wanting the best of both worlds he sought to absolve himself from responsibility by then attempting to shift the blame on to the contractor. In my view this is inexcusable and is a breach of all the ministerial principles which we have come to uphold in this House in terms of tradition. In reply to a question asked last Tuesday by his own colleague the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Bury), the Minister said:

The contractor has decided that the best method of getting rid of the spoil from the area is by talcing it to the other side of South Head. . . .

If that be the fact and if the Minister felt that the attitude of the contractor was undesirable I would say that it was the responsibility of the Minister to ensure that in developing this naval project damage to Sydney's gateway and waterways would not take place and that the dumping would be prevented. No contractor runs the Government of Australia. The fact is that the Minister was officially asked by the State Government to refrain from dumping the spoil into the sea and he flatly refused that request by his inaction. Can the Minister deny that this matter was the subject of considerable interrogation of sworn witnesses at the inquiry conducted by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works? The minutes of evidence have this very day been circulated to all honourable members and contain the proof of what I have contended. These are some of the salient points. At page 19, for example Mr Fraser the Acting Assistant Director (Design) Department of Works, in reply to the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Whittorn), a Liberal member who was as concerned about this matter as I was, said:

The estimate allows tor carting it through Woollahra to a dumping area at Maroubra.'

He said the estimate allows for it. He went on:

We have asked the Premier's Department whether they can have any objections to dumping it over the cliff into the ocean. . . . We have received advice from the Premier's Department that they have some objection to this.*

Mr Fraserthen went on to read a letter from the Under-Secretary to the Premier's Department of New South Wales. It reads:

I refer to your letter of 3rd May and previous correspondence concerning the proposed erection of a technical training building for the Department of the Navy at HMAS 'Watson' al South Head and proposing that sandstone removed from the site be disposed of by dumping over the cli'fT face into the ocean.

In reply I would like to say that objections are held to the dumping of the sandstone over the cliff face as proposed.

That is a letter on behalf of the Premier of New South Wales indicating in unambiguous terms and in an unequivocal way that the State Government of New South Wales is opposed to this dumping and that it would rather spend S50,000 than spoil Sydney Harbour and possibly damage Sydney's beaches. The letter went on to advise that the State Planning Authority of New South Wales and the Woollahra Municipal Council are opposed to both the erection of the building on South Head and the proposal to dump the material over the cliff. At the Public Works Committee hearing I asked questions, one of which was in these terms:

Now that the Commonwealth is getting its own involvement in environmental matters through the setting up of a Department, does your Department feel obliged to look at the possible effects on the ecology of dumping this material into the sea? With the Commonwealth's obligations about off-shore matters and for that matter, interconnected relationship with estuaries and so on, do you feel that you should have had some regard to these matters and have you in fact?'

On page 21 there is an admission that the Commonwealth had not had any technological advice about the effects of dumping the material into the sea. Did the Minister or any of his colleagues seek to obtain any such expert advice before this dumping commenced? What alternatives have been investigated? Page 25 of the minutes of the inquiry shows the question I asked and the negative answer I received:

Surely, when one is thinking of disposing of so much soil, a very early part of the concern would be directed at where it is to go. What is being done in this regard?

To which instrumentalities have you directed inquiries? In particular, have you thought of the possibility thai there may be a site requiring this soil that could obviate the need for traffic congestion and inconvenience to residents and business people by carting it in barges across the harbour to some other part, or even by sea maybe to a place like the new runway to Botany Bay?'

In addition to these expressions of concern, the Chairman of the State Planning Authority, Mr N. A. W. Ashton, and the Director of National Parks and Wildlife of New South Wales joined in vigorously opposing the dumping of soil over the cliff. In doing so, they made it clear that their opposition was on behalf of the Minister for Local Government, the Minister for Lands, the Minister for the Environment and, indeed, the Premier of New South Wales.

I have sought my own expert advice and 1 have a statement by Dr Keith A. W. Crook, the reader in sedimentology at the Australian National University. This statement was made in the light of the matter which is now before this House. I have mentioned it to the Minister and, for the purpose of informing honourable members, I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.

Suggest corrections