Opposing Parkland Alienation

(4.35pm 13 March 2012, Parliament House Sudney)


I oppose the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust Amendment Bill 2012, which is an attempt to further alienate important parklands that are vital for the health and wellbeing of an increasingly densely populated city. The bill is about creating more revenue through longer leases that attract commercial uses aimed at reducing the ever-decreasing and now almost negligible contribution by government to park renewal and maintenance. It is a disgrace. It is not that long since the bicentenary of the far-sighted Governor Lachlan Macquarie was celebrated. A move by Labor to hand over Moore Park to the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust was foiled after more than 700 people attended a protest meeting, which the city organised at Paddington Town Hall and at which Neville Wran and Malcolm Turnbull spoke. And it has not taken long for the relatively new Liberal-National Government to be at it again, proposing to alienate and commercialise more of what is left of Lachlan Macquarie's 1811 Sydney Common bequest that includes the Centennial and Moore parklands.

This bill increases the limit on leases on the Centennial Parklands from 20 years to 50 years granted by the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust, and up to 99 years with ministerial approval. The latter is tantamount to freehold title and, if past history is any indicator, it is highly unlikely that such long-leased land would ever be returned to open space. This bill adds to an ongoing and irresponsible history of successive governments betraying the Macquarie bequest—made "for the benefit of present and succeeding inhabitants of Sydney". It is an outrageous history that has left more than half of the original 1,000-acre bequest alienated forever, and which continues with bills like this to eat away at what is left.

Leased public open space is never ever repatriated. Here are some examples. In 2006 public land held in trust with the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust was rezoned by Labor for commercial and residential development, and we now have a number of developments built and planned, including the new rugby league headquarters. Thanks to the previous Government's legislation, these developments go up without any community consultation or public approval process, and what was formerly intended as public land is now used as a land quarry for vested and sporting interests. And this is public land we are talking about. The people in my electorate have not forgotten the tawdry McDonald's proposal associated with the tennis centre in Moore Park, which the previous Liberal Government approved without reference to anyone, but which thankfully did not proceed because of a change of government.

The whole island site that includes Moriah College, which occupied the land on a 99-year lease, was slated for return to the Centennial Parklands by two government reports in the 1980s and 1990s. But Moriah College was ultimately given freehold ownership under former Minister Kelly, with funds going into State coffers. Even the temporary tram sheds on Moore Park that became redundant in the 1960s were sold by the Labor Government for a supa centa, even though at the time there was ample vacated industrial land nearby across South Dowling Street. The principle at play here was public land for government revenue. In proposing longer leases for commercial activities the bill ultimately sponsors alienation in perpetuity of trust lands. In doing so, the bill is inconsistent with the legislated duties and objects governing the Centennial and Moore Park Trust which are:

1. To maintain and improve trust lands,

2. To encourage use and enjoyment of the Trust lands by the public by promoting and increasing the recreational, historical, scientific, educational, cultural and environmental value of those lands,

3. To maintain the right of the public to the use of the trust lands, and

4. To ensure the protection of the environment within the trust lands.

In 1992 my Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust (Macquarie Sydney Common) Amendment Bill, supported by the then Carr Labor Opposition and then enacted, stopped plans to rezone the showground site for sale and development. The bill confirmed the site as public land and put it under the stewardship of the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust. The intent was always to return the land to the much-depleted Macquarie bequest. I opposed the extended lease to Fox Studios, part of which was subsequently on-sold for commercial purposes. A recently approved concept plan will see the development of nine new buildings on that site—on public land. The bill before the House will allow extension of existing leases ensuring that this public land will never be returned to its intended open space use.

The ongoing kowtowing of governments to vested and sporting interests could see my showground bill ultimately frustrated with increasing commercial development, which was the original intention of the Greiner Government. The proposed leases also run counter to commitments to remove car parking from parklands. Some 2.2 hectares of Moore Park were carved off for the Eastern Distributor, removing the western edge forest. In response, the then Government committed to removing car parking from Moore Park, which was supported by a plan of management. Yet cars continue to park on Moore Park during events, alienating the space and damaging the turf. Longer leases threaten to make car parking in current areas permanent.

As it has always been, it is left to local communities to fight to protect Macquarie's bequest. One would think that in the enlightened days of 2012 our governments would have learnt that open space is essential and that what is left should be preserved for future generations. One would think that this Government would be aware that adjacent to the parklands residents live with little or no private open space. By 2036 Green Square—Australia's biggest urban renewal project—will provide for 40,000 new residents, all of whom will live in apartments. Governments must start valuing open space and understand that funding it is an investment in our future. The Government's contribution to the trust's recurrent budget is now less than a pathetic 7 per cent. Yet the Government is estimated to earn more than $665 million in stamp duty from the Green Square development, with 22,000 new houses selling for between $650,000 and $1.1 million. This revenue should be invested back into the area to provide for the local community's open space needs as well as for light rail.

Under the bill the parklands will be more susceptible to long-term alienation by commercial interests. Leases will make the lands easier and more attractive to long-term developments by commercial and sporting bodies, and as the value of inner-city land increases so will the temptation to shave off more and more trust land for private profit. The justification put forward by the Minister that revenue is needed to upgrade existing sporting facilities takes us down the road of ever-diminishing open space. Over the passage of time ongoing reinvestment and renewal will be required and if these public lands are to serve the recreational needs of an increasingly densely populated city the alienation of any more land has to be stopped.

Ninety-nine-year leases are considered by most to be the same as freehold. Thirty-year leases provide enough time to pay back loans and most business models do not go beyond that. Long leases create a mindset in the private sector about the development potential of the land. Long-term leases pass from generation to generation and/or company to company, until eventually the obliging government of the day thinks that the original purpose of the land has been forgotten and allows a permanent transfer. Ministerial approval to grant leases and licences greater than 50 years is no comfort—it is dependent on the will of the government of the day, and recent history has not been kind to the Macquarie bequest or to the people who own the land who are left to regret the actions of successive governments. In fact, one of my constituents said that ministerial approval encourages deals with the potential for corruption.

Finally, the rules governing the future of public land—our land—promote secrecy and exclusion. Siting and development on land controlled by the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust can be approved by the relevant Minister without public exhibition, notification or public consultation. For example, what rationale could there be for siting rugby league headquarters at Moore Park, kilometres away from the heart of the game and its fan base? The proposal to transfer Moore Park land—our land—to the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust was never made public but was found out through rumours and leaks. There has been no community consultation on this bill, which will lengthen leases, despite its significance to the future of the parklands. This bill, which is short-sighted, is a betrayal of a bequest that the visionary Macquarie left for future generations. It ignores the fast-growing need for inner city open space and it shows the continuing irresponsible stewardship of our public estate. I stand again in this Parliament against the alienation and the commercialisation of public open space, and I ask the Minister to stop the rot. I oppose the bill.

Click HERE to view debate on NSW Parliament website.