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Tuesday, 2 November 1971
Page: 2818

Dr MACKAY (Evans) (Minister for the Navy) - In answer to the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) I think the most appropriate comment would be that which appeared in the 'Sun Herald' on Sunday when, summing up a week's frenetic journalistic attention to this problem, the report stated that it could see little harm in the exercise of the rock filling being dumped in this particular locality and that surely conservationists ought to have a sense of proportion. It is precisely this to which I wish to refer because I believe that I am here not only as Minister for the Navy but also as one of the principal conservationists in this nation. We are conserving or attempting to conserve this nation for the Australian people. This nation was born around Sydney because it has a magnificent harbour. This magnificent harbour has attracted shipping and industry to its shores. It has been developed and it has been defended through direct attempts of an enemy to enter it. Indeed, young men have lost their lives because of enemy attacks in Sydney Harbour. One of the areas which is of prime importance to the defence of Sydney Harbour and to its security not only now but also as far as we can see into the future is the South Head installation. This is an area which, during the last war, was the focal point of the harbour defences of Sydney. We all know what might have happened had the Japanese midget submarines been successful in torpedoing the USS 'Chicago' or the other large ships that were in the Harbour and causing an explosion that might have wrecked the whole of the foreshores.

The first point that must be taken in establishing a sense of proportion is the necessity to defend the port and to enable the ships which will carry out our maritime defence to be efficiently maintained and equipped. This is what the naval installations in this area are about. It has been charged that the Navy is insensitive, that it is stubborn and that it is refusing to co-operate with the New South Wales Government in a project to establish a Sydney Harbour national park or reserve. This is absolutely untrue. I have had many conversations with the New South Wales Ministers involved in this project. I have attended their planning sessions. I have spoken with the Minister for Lands and frequently with the Minister for Conservation. The Services - both the Army and the Navy - have previously held something in excess of 70 acres on South Head. As a result of our co-operation with the State Government the Commonwealth has decided to return to the State 33 acres which will enable a large amount of the proposed national park to be established.

Mr Uren - This is Army land, not Navy land.

Dr MACKAY - The honourable member will have a chance to speak in a moment, and if he looks at the facts he will find there is Navy land involved.' I return to the point. When this particular building was being discussed the Navy bad intended putting it much nearer the point of South Head than is at present the case. As a result of discussions with the State Government it was decided to move it to its present site and in addition to sink it some 2 storeys into the rock of that area so that it would not obtrude above the skyline. In addition, a most careful study has been made of the way in which the whole environment of this area can be landscaped and improved and a very comprehensive programme of plantings of indigenous trees and shrubs, such as eucalypts, casuarinas, banksias, acacias and gre.villeas, will be undertaken. So I have no hesitation in saying that the final state of this area will be infinitely better than its original state. There will be a definite improvement of the scenic and environmental aspects of South Head.

As for the particular question that has been raised concerning the dumping of rock and soil into the sea on the ocean side of South Head, if ever there has been a tremendous storm in a teacup over any incident it is this. Here is an area where throughout geological time there have been continual massive falls into the sea of rock and top soil identical in character to this same rock and top soil. It is this erosive activity which has created the environment and ecostructure of that area. This rock and top soil through the centuries have built up the very environment we are discussing, and nothing more than this is being done now. At the moment the total amount of material being dumped is something less than 50,000 cubic yards, which is not a vast amount. During my inspection of this area on Friday with the State Minister for Conservation, Mr Beale, we talked with a Navy diver who had been down to see the effects of the dumping thus far. The top of the cliff is guarded and strengthened by a wooden apron so that there will be no disfigurement of the top. The material being dumped over the side will be eventually scraped entirely below low-water level; and the contract even provides that if there is sand or other material adhering to the cliff face and if the Department of Works so desires, it shall be hosed down by the contractor. In the water this rocky material seems to offer much attraction to fish life. The diver reported unusual activity and interest on the part of fish. The water was sufficiently clear within 30 feet of the pile of material for good photography, and I have seen photographs of the curious fish sporting in the vicinity.

There will be no long term disfigurement of any kind after the expiration of the reasonably short period of the contract. When the contract is completed there will be, if anything, a strengthening of this cliff area by the natural rock which will be placed in the sea at this point. I am informed, and indeed the paper tabled today by the Opposition states, that upon the cessation of dumping there will be a gradual return to the original state. No accurate timetable can be applied but I have been informed by scientific experts that it will probably be only about 12 months before sea weeds and other sea grasses will be re-established in this locality which is, I remind you, a very tiny area compared with the vast length of the coastline. It has been stated that the Navy, or the Commonwealth, has refused to adhere to the requirement of the State that there be no dumping in this area. This is very far from the truth. Since the time when this project was first mooted - well over a year ago - the Commonwealth has gone out of its way to delay the beginning of the work for over a year to try to reach unanimity with the State. This has been a most expensive business in terms of naval procurements and penalty payments relating to the time that will be required now, even with an accelerated rate of work, to meet our requirements. This has been a long period of negotiation and constructive discussion with the State. Mr Beale, the State Minister for Conservation with whom I was speaking a few moments just before I came into the House, said that he could not wish for a closer and more definite relationship in terms of mutual interest, discussion and activity. This shows how inaccurate were the remarks made by the honourable member for Hughes. He also said that the Commonwealth is the major offender.

If what we are doing is an offence I would think that a short visit to this area by the honourable member will set him straight. We are far from being the major offender. On Friday I travelled by helicopter with the State Minister along this coastline - easily the smallest operation of this nature being conducted in the area is that being conducted by the Commonwealth. The State has a vast project on North Head which involves excavation. There is still twice as much rock to be dumped over the cliff edge from the State project before that project is completed than the entire amount that will have come from the Commonwealth project. But it is not just this type of work which is causing the trouble. The real pollution is not being caused by the top soil being shot into the sea at this point but by night soil, and as one travels along the coast one sees the great areas of ugly brown discolouration of the water because of the untreated sewage being discharged into the sea. Again we all know how local councils have used the coastline for the dumping of suburban garbage over the cliffs, and there are 2 or 3 places which are utter eyesores and disgraces. Surely in viewing this matter a sense of proportion is required. Here is an area being excavated. The only alternative that has been proposed for the removal of the excavated material is that the Commonwealth should send the spoil by truck, involving up to 180 trucks a day travelling return journeys of 26 miles, to Maroubra, and over a period of twelve weeks. The eastern suburbs would be in an uproar. Incidentally, we have made the most painstaking inquiries to determine whether there were requirements for filling within a reasonable distance of the project to which this spoil could be taken to obviate some of the trouble. This has been done continuously, and I have had 3 discussions with the authorities on this point, the last being only last Thursday. (Quorum formed)

I want to conclude by making 2 points. Firstly, with regard to the Commonwealth's stewardship of its land holdings around Sydney Harbour, I challenge anyone to take a topographical map of Sydney Harbour and its environs and to look at the way in which the land has been utilised during the last century and longer. I would say without fear of contradiction that by far the largest areas which have been maintained free of encroachment by buildings close to the water line and which have preserved something of the original character of Sydney Harbour have been lands held by the Commonwealth. These areas today are the very basis of future planning for national park areas. I refer to quarantine areas, such as those in my own electorate, areas held by the Army and the Navy on Middle Head, North Head and indeed South Head itself, and areas further afield. The Navy, together with the other Commonwealth authorities, has indeed done well in maintaining the original kind of environment so that the original scrub and much of the original scenic beauty of Sydney Harbour has been retained.

I conclude by saying that the kind of statement which says that the only thing wrong with the Harbour is the alienation of land that has occurred over the years would seem to imply that the only time when the Harbour was right was before Captain Cook arrived. As I said at the commencement of my speech, this is an illustration of the necessity for adopting a sense of proportion. Sydney has a harbour. It is a vast city and it requires defence. (Extension of time granted.) The Harbour is the site of a tremendous city and port which require defence. The only way in which we can really do service to the concept of a national park which will be for the people of Sydney to enjoy is, I believe, to maintain a sense of proportion. It is necessary to provide a way for every aspect of national life which is trying to co-operate to be able to have a place in the plan for this area.

With regard to co-operation, I completely repudiate the suggestion in the words of the proposal for discussion of this matter of public importance which state that the Government has failed to co-operate with the Government of New South Wales. Of course, we have our differing points to make. We in the Commonwealth are responsible for defence and also for the health of the people in terms of such essentials as quarantine. We are in charge of many areas where it is essential for us to demonstrate our need to the State. In this regard I believe that we have been correct in doing what we have done at South Head. But as regards the overall matter of proportion, I personally as a Sydneysider, and I am sure all those members of my Department with whom I have discussed this matter are eager to see that to the greatest possible degree the objective of the New South Wales Government is realised in preserving the environment not only of South Head but also of many other areas around Sydney Harbour which today are in the stages of preservation in which we now find them because of the long term occupation of these areas by the Commonwealth.

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