Further safeguards for Sydney Harbour's treasures

18 June 2020

A landmark review of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust calls for new legislation to ensure historic harbour sites such as Cockatoo Island remain in public hands and accessible to future generations.

Commissioned by Environment Minister Sussan Ley in October 2019, the review recommends historic former defence sites remain under Commonwealth protection by extinguishing current requirements to dissolve the Trust on or after 2033.

“The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Act (2001) contemplates the sites moving to state ownership but the very clear message from the community is that they should be permanently protected by the Commonwealth as national treasures,” Minister Ley said. 

“I intend to begin consultation on draft legislation to remove those provisions of the Act that mandate the repeal of the Trust and will enshrine its ongoing role.

“I am also immediately unlocking an initial $9 million in funding for maintenance and restoration work at Trust sites in a program that will help create jobs and boost economic activity.”

The review includes 21 recommendations covering the preservation of sites, their strategic role in Sydney’s future, leasing arrangements and ways to maximise public access.

Minister Ley said that the review conducted by former Secretary of NSW Department of Planning and Environment, Ms Carolyn McNally, and former Executive Director of Infrastructure NSW, Ms Erin Flaherty, was the most detailed look at the Trust and its unique portfolio of historic assets ever undertaken.

The Harbour Trust manages sites of incredible cultural and historical significance from Cockatoo Island to Headland Park, Macquarie Lightstation and North Head, attracting 1.8 million visitors each year.

“This review has always been about ensuring the indigenous, convict and military history of these amazing sites are conserved and shared with current and future generations,” Minister Ley said

“I congratulate the reviewers, who have consulted widely and who have commissioned detailed financial analysis to arrive at their recommendations.

“Having visited every site, met with stakeholders and attended a public forum, I would also like to thank the community for engaging so passionately in the process and in helping to shape the findings.

“I broadly support the remaining recommendations, subject to the detailed planning that the Review recommends is necessary, and subject to the Trust engaging with the public and stakeholders as this planning is undertaken.

Key recommendations include:

  • amendments to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Act 2001 to establish the Trust as an ongoing entity by removing the 2033 repeal provision
  • closer ties with NSW to ensure sites are part of a ‘whole of Sydney Harbour strategy’. 
  • the need for a refreshed vision and plan for Cockatoo Island and North Head, including resolving the long term future of North Head, which is owned by the NSW Government and due to be returned by the Trust in 2032
  • an update to governance arrangements to ensure the Trust has the right capabilities and focus to take the organisation forward
  • urgent maintenance funding
  • greater recognition of indigenous sites
  • improved public and volunteer engagement and consultation
  • clearer guidelines and safeguards relating to leasing arrangements.

Minister Ley said the initial $9 million maintenance program would include safety upgrades, sea wall and building repairs, and the restoration of historic industrial cranes.

Reviewer Carolyn McNally said that it was important to recognise the unique value of the sites and to ensure that they remain accessible to future generations.

 “This has been a fascinating process that has showcased a deep passion in the community to see the sites preserved and kept in public hands,” Ms McNally said.

“The review identifies ways that we can ensure the right balance of investment between government, the community and business without compromising public access.

“It does not support the leasing of entire sites but calls for a strategic assessment of individual assets within sites, particularly where commercial partnerships could be considered.

“Appropriate site-specific planning and consultation is required to establish the right framework for individual sites. This would provide greater transparency rather than just expanding the current broad leasing policy.

“Assets already generate $18 million in annual revenue and with the right balance between revenue and the government funding contributions needed to continue to rehabilitate unused buildings, both the heritage of sites and the public’s access to them can be maintained for future generations.

“It would allow specific lease periods to be shaped around conserving an individual asset while contributing to improved public access in an area.”
A copy of the review is available at: www.environment.gov.au/about-us/shft-independent-review/