JOHN MENADUE. National Parks and the new squatters

The new squatters on public land are being given a leg-up, as they were in the 19th Century, to seize and occupy public land. By deliberately underfunding National Parks developer-friendly governments are putting commercial interests ahead of the public interest.  

Our early wealthy and powerful squatters forced indigenous people off the land they had occupied for tens of thousands of years. The new squatters are taking over more and more of our public land – national parks, botanic gardens and public reserves.

There is currently an attempt by a latter-day squatter, aka developer – Gap Bluff Hospitality Pty Ltd – to in effect destroy the ‘peaceful enjoyment’ of the Sydney Harbour National Park by developing a series of quite inappropriate features for weddings, ‘bucks’ and hens’ parties’ and student formals.  

The Sydney Harbour South Head National Park is a remarkably rugged and beautiful park which must be retained for the enjoyment of all people. It is also historic for every Australian. Captain Phillip sailed around South Head in 1788 into Sydney Harbour and the establishment of a new colony and country. It was here that the Cadigal people had their first ominous encounter with Europeans.

Conservatives believe in small government, except when they can deal out benefits to their friends. Cutting back government by commercialising and privatising public assets is a core part of their ideology. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service who manage South Head National Park is currently underfunded and forced to seek private funding by promoting commercial access to public parks. It is more important to serve business  interests than community interests.

This is happening when, with growing population density, we have greatly increased need for public parks, gardens and open space. We were able to fund our public parks for decades in the past when we were much poorer than we are today. We need to protect our parks more than ever and we have more money to do so. Yet state governments are screwing national parks with funds to force commercialisation and privatisation.

In NSW recently the Minister for the Environment boasted that nine new parks had been created since 2011. Perhaps she was unaware that the previous Carr Government had created 500 new parks, expanded many more and increased funding for protected area management

But there is worse to come, as John Benson set out in this blog ‘Biodiversity is threatened in New South Wales’ on 19 September 2017. He said:

At a time when the NSW Government is riding high financially (with property tax revenue), it is making serious cuts to NPWS staff, eliminating knowledge and experience in the process. The number of rangers has been reduced by more than 90 over 7 years. Only 2 of 14 Regional Managers have been appointed after a restructure and a similar threat faces critical staff at the area management level. Staff is so reduced in some regions that basic amenities cannot be maintained and a lack of field staff presence disappoints public visitor expectations.

That is happening in South Head National Park near where I live Sydney.

Two years ago a Darling Harbour developer applied to introduce major commercial development into the Park. The local community rallied to reject completely the crass and ugly proposal. But two years on, we have a ‘revised’ proposal from the Darling Harbour developer.

The ‘revised’ proposal has marginal changes but substantially maintains the ‘wedding factory’ approach. Functions in South Head National Park will then cater for up to 410 guests per day. Car parking will overwhelm the already crowded Sydney Harbour National Park/Watsons Bay precinct. Functions will run from 8.30 am till midnight. Heritage cottages will be used as ‘bridal suites’ for pre and post wedding receptions. The lease will be long term and can be transferred to another entity at a later date. If this application is successful we can be confident that there will be more and more ‘approval creep’.

This follows a common pattern.  Faced with strong local opposition the ruse is to slow down the decision in order to give the developer more time and in the process exhaust the local community. At the same time let the park deteriorate so the government can justify a decision to commercialise the park in order to save it. And that is clearly what is happening in the South Head National Park. The park is deteriorating rapidly.

As they were in the 19th Century, the new squatters on public land are being given a leg-up to seize and occupy public land, our ‘common wealth’.

More and more our National Parks which were designed for the enjoyment of us all are being trampled under foot by developers, the new squatters.


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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4 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. National Parks and the new squatters

  1. Maureen Searson says:

    Thank you John. I live in the Eurobodalla Shire and your article is particularaly relevant to our community. The Liberal Council has a Rural Lands Strategy before Council this month, that will allow whole sale agricultural/residential development in our National Parks. It will allow grazing in wetlands, threaten biodiversity and endangered species, cut down hectares of an important carbon sink, threaten an internationally renowned oyster industry on the Clyde River in Batemans Bay and allow small residential blocks that will become a fire hazard etc.

    There are nearly 600 submissions to Council against the proposal. 7 government departments and 16 Associations who do not support the RLS. There is strong condemnation of Council’s RLS that will only benefit a hand full of self interested well conected land holders in the shire.

    The community is working very hard to stop the RLS. One Councillor is putting up a Motion for Councillors to stop and reconsider the implications, that we believe have not been considered properly.

    We have a fight on our hands!

  2. Nigel Drake says:

    “Game of Mates” writ large.
    How far we have advanced technologically, and how little we have advanced sociologically.

  3. Karen Alexander says:

    and it’s happening in Tasmania … the parks and ‘wild country’ (as in ‘indigenous wilderness’) is being handed over to become rich peoples’ playgrounds in ‘wild’ settings ignoring any other values including indigenous, those who walk/write/paint etc in wild country, let alone a place for nature.

  4. Tony kevin says:

    This is a vulgar, despoiling proposal. I know the area well. It is Sydney’s precious heritage harbour entry southern headland. . Where is Jack Mundey and his trade union green bans when we need them? Time for Paul Keating and Kristina Kenneally to step up please, to join John Menadue’s influential voice. Sydney has plenty of attractive wedding venues. We only have one Gap/South Head heritage site.

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