In response to concerns expressed by the National Trust in December 1997 about the proposed sale for profit by the Department of Defence of Sydney Harbour foreshore lands, the Member for Warringah, The Hon. Tony Abbott, responded:
“I have been extremely concerned about this issue ever since the former Labor Government announced the military’s plans to leave in answer to a Parliamentary Question on Notice from me in May 1995. Since then, I have organized a number of protest meetings and campaigned strongly to ensure that this priceless piece of our heritage is not squandered to the everlasting loss of the people of Sydney and Australia.
“The principles I have attempted to uphold have been: that all bushland must be protected forever; that there should be no large scale commercial development; that heritage buildings should be protected and restored; that any redevelopment must be confined to existing areas; and that the military’s departure should produce a better environment for local people with more open space, more bushland and more public access to the last unspoilt headlands in Sydney Harbour.” 1
In response to the same concerns, Joe Hockey, the Member for North Sydney also responded:
“The sheer volume of correspondence I have received on this issue indicates that while the community respects the need for the Department of Defence to occupy prime land for strategic purposes, this need does not encompass a right to pass title to this land into the hands of private interests.
“Significantly, the views of the local community also reflect a general desire to promote intergenerational equity when it comes to our environment. The request that the lands do not fall victim to private concerns is not motivated by jealousy on the part of local residents. Instead, the community is determined to see the lands preserved for the benefit of future generations. This desire for preservation is consistent with the view of a large majority of people who live on the lower north shore that this generation is the guardian of our environment for the generations to come.” 2
In 1997-8, Prime Minister John Howard said:
“I find it [the idea of the Middle Head area being "cut up and sold off to private development"] very unattractive … the Harbour foreshores of Sydney [are] a jewel in the Australian crown”3
In September 1998, an Interim Sydney Harbour Federation Trust was established by the Commonwealth Government to manage surplus Defence lands on Sydney Harbour foreshores prior to the passage of legislation.
On announcement of the establishment of the Interim Trust, the then Prime Minister, the Hon. John Howard MP, reminded Australians of the value of Sydney Harbour to all Australians and outlined the importance of establishing the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust:
“…[Sydney Harbour is] probably the world’s greatest harbour. It is one of the great natural beauty spots of our nation. It is the cradle of European settlement in Australia and it is one of those parts of our country which gives immense pride and immense pleasure, not only to the residents of Sydney, but also to all Australians because it wins such wide acclaim around the world.
“[As a result of vigorous community opposition to the proposal to sell some of the sites for redevelopment] ..the Government has devised a long-term plan to return the [vacated Defence] land to the People of Australia. Not just to the people of Sydney, not just to the people of the suburbs around Sydney Harbour, but to all of the people of Australia.
“The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust…will manage the sites with the objective of maximising public access to the sites… It will preserve heritage buildings and features of the sites. The Trust will be [chaired by] Mr Kevin McCann who is a local resident …and [he] has a particular commitment to the return of these lands to the people of Sydney.
“[the establishment of the Trust] 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 of all Australians that the maximum advantage be derived in open space and recreational purposes in relation to the land.
“The Trust will be a transitional body…and after that time the Commonwealth will transfer North Head, Middle Head and Georges Heights for inclusion in the Sydney Harbour National Park.” 4
The preamble to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Act 2001 states:
“The Parliament intends to conserve and preserve land in the Sydney Harbour region for the benefit of present and future generations of Australians. … Suitable land with significant environmental and heritage values will be returned to the people of Australia.
“The Parliament intends to establish the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust as a transitional body to manage the land and facilitate its return in good order. The Trust will transfer suitable land to New South Wales for inclusion in the national parks and reserves system.”
In 2007, when opening the new Visitor Centre at North Head, The Hon. Tony Abbott said that, for himself, returning the harbourside defence lands to public use had been the best government initiative he’d been involved with.5
In 2012, The Hon. Tony Abbott said:
“As a member of parliament, my ……. next campaign was against the Keating government’s proposed sale of former military land around Sydney Harbour. Largely at my instigation, the Howard government committed more than $115 million to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust to preserve the natural and built heritage of places like North Head and Middle Head.”6
Also in 2012, The Hon. Joe Hockey told Parliament:
“But I think that one of the great legacies of the previous coalition government —and I pay great 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 thank the community advisory committee and the local state member, Jillian Skinner, who has been a very strong advocate of the interests of Platypus. This is a long-lasting community facility… there will be a 1.8 hectare site on Sydney Harbour —on prime land—for our community… these sorts of sites represent the very fabric of the community.
“The protection of our harbour foreshores should enjoy bipartisan support. The continuation of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and the protection of the greatest harbour in the world, Sydney Harbour, and the fact that we are all working together to make these things reality mean that even in some of the most adverse of circumstances we can all work together to make our community a better place to live.”7
1 The National Trust of Australia (New South Wales) Submission to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust dated 26.2.2014 opposing the proposal for an aged care residential development on Middle Head, p.1
2 ibid, p.2
3 http://pmtranscripts.dpmc.gov.au/preview.php?did=10734, accessed 7.3.2014
4 Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Comprehensive Plan, pp.11-12 and transcript of PM John Howard’s announcement
5 Geraldine O’Brien, “Urban Warriors”, Sydney Morning Herald, 23.6.2007, p.13
6 Address to the Australian Industry Group, Brisbane ‘The Coalition’s Plan for a Cleaner Environment’,
http://engage.wa.liberal.org.au/general/tony-abbott-speech-to-the-australian-industry-group-brisbane-the-coalitions-plan-for-a-cleaner-environment, 2012, accessed 4.4.2014
7 Speech to House of Representatives, 24.5.2012, Hansard page 5575