Protecting Sydney harbour foreshore for the public

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Those of us who sit in the Parliament of New South Wales must both treasure - and act to safeguard - Sydney’s breathtaking harbour and its foreshore.

We need to defend and protect those sites on the Sydney harbour foreshore that have been reserved for the public realm.

The very first New South Wales Labor government, elected in 1910, protected large tracts of the Sydney Harbour foreshore, including what is today the Taronga Park Zoo and Nielsen Park.

Today, we live at a time when individualism and isolation are growing and communal life is on the wane.

Democracies need public arenas in which large numbers of people, from all backgrounds, interact.

We need to protect those sites that have been reserved as open, green space
- and add to their number.

To this end, the creation of a grand new urban park at Barangaroo North is a wonderful gift to the public.

I want to stand up for the civic amenity of Sydney’s Botanic Gardens and Domain.

The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust is a scientific institution, increasing our knowledge of the plant life of Australia.

It is also a great urban park, a place in the city to which people from many and varied backgrounds come.

I do not believe that renting out the Botanic Gardens prime waterfront precinct to impresarios for months on end conforms with the core purpose of the Botanic Gardens.

The green space at the eastern edge of Farm Cove is no longer for the general use of the public for passive recreation, reading, walking, jogging or quiet contemplation.

For all of the first four months of this year the land between Fleet Steps and the Yurong gate is alienated from the public.

I speak of not simply the erection of a cinema screen, and now an opera stage, on the water.

The land south of Mrs Macquaries Chair now carries a grandstand, restaurants, numerous bars, portable toilets, “platinum lounges” and merchandise stalls.

All erected on land that was pronounced as Sydney’s Botanic Garden by Governor Macquarie in 1816.

The open air cinema has run for eleven years.

Its season has lengthened from an initial short run to now taking up the best part of six weeks each summer.

Add the time taken to construct and dismantle all that goes with it, and the St George Open Air Cinema now has the run of that precinct for the first two months of the year.

Now the Handa Opera has taken ownership for all of March and April.

The precinct has been a construction site for three weeks now, with cranes in the air and members of the public banned from walking around the harbour foreshore.

The Handa Opera will open on 22 March and run until 12 April, with a single ticket costing up to $325.

In mid-April the site will once again become a construction zone for weeks as everything is dismantled.

At this rate, Sydneysiders may anticipate that the Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust’s waterfront land will soon be rented out to impresarios for most months of the year.

I believe we have gone too far.

We need to wind back the prostitution of the finest harbour side land in the world, land that belongs to the public.

I propose that this land be reserved for public use, and quarantined from commercial events, for a minimum eleven months every year.

As a former trustee of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain I am aware of the pressures on the Trust to earn private income.

Yet the Trust has an overriding duty to preserve their lands for the purpose of public amenity.

Under section 7 of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust Act 1980, the principal objects of the Trust include:
(a) to maintain and improve the Trust lands,
and
(c) to encourage the use and enjoyment of the Trust lands by the public by promoting and increasing the educational, historical, cultural and recreational value of those lands.

I call for the reservation of the Botanic Gardens and Domain’s prime waterfront land for the purpose it was always meant for – public amenity, not entrepreneurial activity.