Tim James: Middle Head proposal breaches essential tenets

Tim James: Middle Head proposal breaches essential tenets

Transcript of speech by Tim James made at HPG Public Meeting Thursday 17 July 2014

Tim James: Thanks very much indeed. I’m sorry I was late, doing battle with Military Road is not unique of course and to make matters worse I had someone run up my backside, so hence I was late. I did tell her I was coming to this very important meeting and I suggested she come along but unfortunately she had other plans.

Can I just ask, before I dive in I always like to know who’s in the audience. Is there anyone here from the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust? Or taking notes on behalf of, or consulting to? Anyone? No one at all, okay, so let that be noted for the record.

Is there anyone here from the media? No media representatives at all. Okay fine, very good. I just like to know. Otherwise we are all wonderful local community people and you don’t need to vouch in any way for yourselves. Thank you for being here and thank you for listening to me. I hope you don’t mind, I’ve got a few little notes I might refer to, to keep on message along the way.

My name’s Tim James. I’ll start by telling you a little bit about myself. I’m a 7 year long Mosman resident. Charlie [Lynn] and I walked the Kokoda trail the year before last and that’s a wonderful experience, I recommend it to you all. You see Charlie at his best along the Kokoda trail. It’s really quite a life changing experience, so if you get the chance join and go and walk the Kokoda trail.

As I said, a 7 year long Mosman resident, I’m married to Nikki, we got married 6 months ago. Actually at Sergeants Mess which sits at Sydney Harbour Federation Trust land, that’s where our reception was. I’m a Chief of Staff for a Minister in the State Government. His name is Anthony Roberts, he’s the Resources and Energy Minister and Special Minister of State, but I do stress I’m not here on behalf of the State Government. I’m here in my capacity as a private citizen. I’m also a lawyer by background and many years ago I worked for a couple of Federal Members of Parliament and I’ll come to that shortly. I’m pretty involved in the local community, in a few clubs and Bendigo Community Bank and so on. A little bit about me. I’m happy to take any questions about who I am.

I haven’t been to any of these meetings and I regret that fact. You might be thinking who is this young interloper? I haven’t been to any of these meetings because I’ve been busy. Whilst I’ve always been supportive on the issues and the cause that you’re all here for tonight, to be honest I didn’t think it would get as far as it has. I’m always a bit careful as someone who works in government, not to be wearing two hats if you like. So I do, once again stress I am here in my personal capacity.

Many years ago as a young man, when I was 21 I worked for John Howard. I had four and half years on his staff, in his electorate of Bennelong. One of the big issues in Bennelong was the future of the Woolwich Dock site which meant a lot to local people. I went along on Mr Howard’s behalf to community meetings at the Hunters Hill Sailing Club for example and Phil Jenkyn and others would want to convey some very strong and clear messages, and they did. I’m not sure if Phil’s here tonight, yes he is… Hi Phil, how are you going? He can vouch for me.

The Woolwich Dock site, of course is one of a number of sites that now make up the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust lands and certainly that community in Mr Howard’s local electorate was very pleased with how it all panned out as far as the Woolwich Dock site was concerned. We’re all here for Middle Head tonight and that’s an even more valuable and pristine piece of Sydney Harbour foreshore.

I think it’s very worthwhile looking back through history and remembering what exactly was said by our nation’s leaders at the time. I’ve just got a couple of little quotes from John Howard if you’ll bear with me for a second. …

On the 5th of September, 1998, at the announcement of the establishment of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, John Howard said the following: “The trust will be established as a statutory body with responsibility for vacated lands. It will manage these sites with the objective of maximizing public access to the sites. It will preserve heritage buildings and features of the sites.”

I ask you, does this proposal meet those aspirations?

Audience: No.

Tim James: No it does not.

John Howard went on to say; “And I want to stress to you the importance of establishing our trust and charging it with the responsibility to develop a management plan that will prevent any ad-hoc treatment of the return of the land to the people. And it will ensure that there is maximum weight given to the desire, not only of local residents, but the desire of all Australians that the maximum advantage be derived in open space and recreational purposes in relation to the land.”

I ask you, does this proposal meet those aspirations?

Audience: No.

Tim James: Thirdly from Mr Howard, he said, in his final paragraph of his press conference in 1998: “Like any other Australian, I’m immensely proud of the beauty of the city of Sydney. I’m immensely proud of the foreshores of Sydney Harbour. It is a great national asset. It is an asset that belongs to all of the Australian people.”

I ask you, does this proposal meet those aspirations?

Audience: No.

Tim James: No it does not. Thank you for agreeing with me.

Returning to some points. Yes I was quite involved back then, in the early days, both before and after the formation of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. I was much younger and much more junior than in my present role today, but I was there and I know full well that the absolute intention was to have those public lands in public hands. I was around when Geoff Bailey was recruited into his role as the executive director of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. There’s no doubt that Jeff has done, overwhelmingly a great job, and led a fine team of people in relation to the trust and all of its work. But there’s now a very important test for Geoff Bailey and his colleagues at the Harbour Trust.

More recently, I would like to quote Joe Hockey, who of course is now the Treasurer – before I worked for Mr Howard, I worked for Joe for 18 months as a budding young lad and Joe was a very good boss and he and I are still in touch today. He said more recently, in May of 2012, just on two years ago to our national parliament: “I think that one of the great legacies of the previous coalition government and I pay tribute to John Howard for this, was the creation of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. A number of sites across the Harbour in both Labor and Liberal seats were put into the Trust and used for the community in Sydney. This land could never be recovered once sold. Woolwich Docks, which is down the road from Hunters Hill, where I am, is one of the sites that John Howard preserved. It is now a vibrant centre of activity. North Head, Middle Head and Cockatoo Island are other great examples.”

I ask you, do those words of Joe Hockey’s align with today’s proposal for Middle Head?

Audience: No.

Tim James: No they don’t.

So moving on, my wife and I were taking a walk recently, as we love to do in our local area. I’m sure you’ve all noticed there is a billboard or a signpost if you like, just outside the Terminal 10 building. It says at the top: “The Harbour Trust, creating a headland park.” Well I ask you; are they doing that?

Audience: No.

Tim James: Then the signpost outside the Terminal 10 buildings goes on to say; ‘The Harbour Trust is restoring this precinct to create a place for public use and recreation.’ I ask you; are they doing just that?

Audience: No.

Tim James: No they’re not. Now I’ve raised my concerns on this proposal and these issues with Tony Abbott, with Jillian Skinner our local state member, with the Federal Environment Ministers Office, Greg Hunt’s chief of staff I’ve spoken with and indeed with members of the Trust’s board and I’ll continue to do just that. My message has been that this proposal, if passed, would be a betrayal of trust, a terrible betrayal of trust and I think an embarrassment in public policy terms. And you know what, it’s simply not worth the fight in a political context. It’s just not worth people in government burning political capital over this. Most importantly it would be, from my point of view, a terrible and irreversible mistake.

Audience: (Applause)

Tim James: Thank you. Now a few quick comments on the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Board. Today, and without wanting to be overly partisan about this I declare my 21 year long membership of the Liberal Party. There are five former federal Labor government appointees on the trust board, one local government appointee and two New South Wales state government appointees. One of the federal Labor government appointees apparently represents the indigenous community. I asked, how do these people possibly reconcile this proposal? How does it make sense to them? How is it justifiable to them? I wish that they or some of their representatives were here tonight to indeed answer that question.

I’m going to be a little bit controversial and a little bit Machiavellian for a moment and make this point to you. I don’t think any of those five out of the eight Labor appointees to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust board have an interest in seeing Tony Abbott succeed, and this for Tony Abbott is a big local issue and a very important local issue.

Returning to me for a moment, as a young man, as someone who was recently married, as someone who wants to raise a family in this community, I want to ensure that this space for my wife, our children and our children’s children is here for all of us in perpetuity. This matters today and it matters tomorrow and it matters forever more, and I’m sure that I speak on behalf of the many 1000s of local residents in this area, which increasingly characterize this local area, when I say that this is really critically important for all of us and for our future. It’s my view that if we lost this public space, if we lose this battle, indeed ladies and gentlemen, it would never be returned to us the people. To use this analogy; you can’t un-fry an egg.

I made a submission on this recently and I will continue to and I certainly will be again in the next fortnight. Just a quick quote from my recent submission, I said the following: “Having worked for Prime Minister Howard at the time of the commencement of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust I understand and recall well the particular intentions and rationale for the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. It was to keep public lands in public hands. It was to preserve the unique environmental, cultural and historical elements of those former Commonwealth defence sites. It was to ensure that these would be protected and shared with communities for generations to come. This proposal breaches each of these essential tenets. It’s a large, commercial, lasting, an exclusive use that sets this proposal apart from each other that the trust has otherwise successfully produced.”

That my friends, brings me to my conclusion. My conclusion is really very simple. We have got to win this fight. For our community. For our children and for our children’s children. Thanks very much.

Audience: (Applause)

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1 Comment on "Tim James: Middle Head proposal breaches essential tenets"

  • Ann Giorgi says

    I am 79 years old in two weeks time. I grew up at Clifton Gardens and well remember the Japanese submarines shelling the oil tanks. At that stage Middle Head and other foreshore lands were critical to the defence of Sydney. It is outrageous for there even to be any consideration for a retirement home on these lands – they must be conserved for all Australians. And they must be conserved as they are in case we ever need them for defence again. We do not want a lot of doddering cranky old pensioners teetering along the cliffs. It is a ridiculous proposal, motivated only by greed. I hope we never need them for defence again, but don’t forget that we have Indonesia and China virtually on our doorstep. Only irresponsible people could consider this proposal. It is akin to parts of Hyde Park in London and Central Park in New York being given over to a retirement village.

    The traffic access is completely inadequate for any sort of nursing home or retirement village – there would need to be roads for doctors, ambulances, visitors, etc. The traffic would be enormous – far too much for such a delicate area. This traffic would destroy the amenity of the land and take away public access. It is an inappropriate place for a retirement village or a nursing home. If it were granted the next thing we would see would be the retirees demanding local amenities as it was “too far to go to the shops” and “they have their rights”.

    Quite apart from anything else, what about the sewage created ? There would need to be proper commercial sewage works to handle the effluent (with a lot of geriatrics that would be considerable ! ) I was a Councillor on Livingstone Shire Council in Queensland in about 1985 – 1988 and my area included Great Keppel Island as part of my remit and I can assure you that sewage is a huge problem – especially on rock – and most of the land under discussion is Sydney Sandstone.

    There are all the usual arguments against this proposal – loss of public access to land and buildings and parkland, the fact that is has been set aside in perpetuity for all Australians, including Aboriginals, the loss of heritage and history , the loss of social aspects i – the major risk of a bushfire, the alteration of the natural landscape and as I have mentioned above, traffic and parking.

    But the main reason is that it is an unsuitable proposal and is based on solely commercial principles, totally ignoring the spirit of the Act. It should remain as it is with the existing huts rented to small craft-like businesses on , say, maximum five-year renewable leases.

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