Stockton Bight

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SpeakersGaudry Mr Bryce; Turner Mr John; Face Mr Jack
BusinessMatter of Public Importance

Page: 12791
    Matter of Public Importance

    Mr GAUDRY (Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [4.50 p.m.]: If you stand on the lawn of the Christ Church Cathedral overlooking Newcastle harbour, your eye is immediately drawn to the great arc of the Stockton Bight sand dunes stretching north from Fern Bay past the wreck of the Sygna, past Williamtown Airport, all the way to Birubi Point. This 30-kilometre sweep of massive, ever-moving sand dunes is backed by woodlands of blackbutt, banksia and angophera in the hills and hollows of the stabilised dunes of a former climatic era. It has long been recognised as a very special place, a rich habitat for coastal flora and fauna, and an environmental corridor linking coastal, wetland and inland species.

    On Wednesday 21 February I stood at the Burubi Point Surf Club at the northern end of the Stockton Bight in company with my colleague the honourable member for Port Stephens, members of the Worimi Land Council, the mayor of Port Stephens, environmental and community representatives, and representatives of the many government departments involved in the Stockton Bight scheme to hear the Hon. Richard Face, representing the Premier, announce the historic agreement made with the Worimi Land Council that will ensure the conservation for all time of 4,000 hectares of land along the full sweep of the Stockton Bight under the protection of the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

    This adds to the record of the Carr Labor Government which, since 1995, has brought under the protection of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1.5 million hectares of land and more than 250 new parks and reserves. That is a 33 per cent increase in bringing under protection vital lands for future generations. This agreement is indeed historic in that it recognises: first, the rights of the indigenous land claimants and enters into a leaseback of land in perpetuity under the National Parks and Wildlife Act; and, second, places the public lands of the Stockton Bight under three levels of protection that reflect its differing environmental values, long-term recreational and tourist use of the beachfront and the economic use made of beach and dune resources.

    The conservation area on the Stockton Bight is planned to include 1,905 hectares under the high level environmental protection of a national park covering the vegetated dune areas north from the vicinity of Lavis Lane, some 1,475 hectares as a State recreation area in the southern section of the bight and 818 hectares under the protection of a regional park. In addition to this, some 804 hectares will be granted directly to the Worimi Land Council. Under the agreement an annual lease payment is made to the Worimi Land Council and five jobs will be created in the park for Aboriginal workers. The plan also includes the continuation of sandmining at the southern end of the bight by Mineral Deposits Ltd as approved by the Port Stephens Council.

    It is significant to note that the areas designed as national park and regional park will preclude any mining of those areas now and into the future. The complexity of the landforms and land use types on the public lands of the Stockton Bight made it extremely difficult to find a solution that would provide for the environmental protection of the area, yet allow for the continuation of traditional recreational, social and economic activities. Prior to entering Parliament, and as the member for Newcastle, I have been strongly involved in the campaign to bring to reality the Stockton Bight Coastal Park. I recognise and pay tribute to the many individuals and groups that have campaigned over a period of 40 years to protect the unique habitat of the Stockton Bight by seeking its placement under the protection of the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

    As early as 1968 the Flora and Fauna Protection Society sought to have the Crown land on Stockton Bight dedicated as a nature reserve. Calls were also made by the National Trust in 1972 in its "Hunter 2000" document and by the National Parks Association in 1976. During the 1980s and 1990s increased pressure for sandmining and urban development proposals at the southern end of the bight triggered broad community interest in the Stockton Bight and opposition to the potential loss of its unique environmental values on the margins of our city. Similar pressure had underpinned the campaign to create the Glenrock State Recreation Area south of Newcastle in 1984—another area protected by the State Labor Government. Stockton Bight contains the largest unvegetated coastal dunes in the State which are moving inland at an average rate of 4.1 metres per year.

    In the northern section of the bight problems associated with this sand drift were being addressed by the Newcastle Bight Sand Drift Committee, later named the Newcastle Bight Co-ordination and Liaison Committee, chaired by Ian Williams of the then Department of Conservation and Land Management. This group, consisting of officers of Port Stephens and Newcastle councils and of all State departments with an interest in the Stockton Bight, was charged with overseeing the development of an environmental study and management plan for the Stockton Bight, and conducting public consultation on its future. In response to the sandmining impact local resident, Bernadette Smith, naturalist, Don McNair and lawyer, Thomas Faunce, formed the Newcastle Bight Nature Reserve Group. Two further critical impacts—the application by Boral to sandmine south of Cox's Lane and the application by Howship Holdings to have both private and public land at Fern Bay rezoned for housing development—galvanised public opposition.

    This opposition was expressed through ALP branches, environmental groups and individuals, and resulted in the formation of the Newcastle Bight Coastal Park Coalition, which campaigned for the inclusion of all public lands along the bight into a coastal park. A critical factor in the creation of the park was the visit to the Stockton Bight by the then shadow Minister for the Environment, Pam Allan, in 1994 in company with ALP members and members of the Coastal Park Coalition. The then shadow Minister immediately recognised the unique qualities of the dunes and woodlands of the bight. As a consequence, Labor came to Government with the promise of Stockton Bight National Park as one of the 24 national parks to be created in its first year of office. In a letter written to me on 3 July 1995 in response to representations seeking action on the coastal parks, Minister Allan outlined both the unique qualities of the bight and the complex issues to be dealt. The letter stated:
        As you would be aware, the proposed Stockton Bight Coastal Park is one of the 24 new parks to be established by the Government within its first year of office. This follows its announcement, while in Opposition, of plans for such a park to be managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

        The service's director-general has informed me that the service first identified the vegetated dunes of Stockton Bight to be of potential interest for investigation and dedication as a nature reserve in 1968. Since that time interest has been extended to include other land systems along the bight and various assessments have been carried out by service staff as well as other authorities and groups.

        The area includes three distinct natural heritage values comprising a variety of beach dunes and swampy hollows. Stabilised dunes carry extensive Blackbutt forests which provide habitat for a wide range of arboreal animals.

        The area also contains Aboriginal artefacts and both beach and hind dune middens, as well as surface campsite. The beach and mobile dunes are a major attraction for four-wheel drive and bike enthusiasts.

        The area is subject to exploration and mining of sand bore water extraction, which will have a distinct bearing on reservation, as will other existing management problems such as 4WD and trail bike usage. However, the undisturbed vegetated areas, although fragmented, have high conservation values and their protection is less likely to have any serious impediments.

    That letter indicates the complexity of the issues that had to be addressed by the Government in its approach to Stockton Bight. In November 1995 and March 1996 three land claims were lodged covering the majority of the bight. The environmental and land management study clearly acknowledged the importance of Aboriginal heritage within the bight area, with numerous middens and open camp sites being recorded. The resolution of these land claims over the Crown lands on the Stockton Bight was an essential precursor to the declaration of the national park. To have acted otherwise would have been to deny the rights of the Worimi Land Council. Out of these negotiations we have seen an outcome that respects all of the environmental values of the bight, puts it under permanent protection under the National Parks and Wildlife Act and allows for the social, recreational and economic activities that have been very important in the history of the Stockton Bight.

    Mr J. H. TURNER (Myall Lakes—Deputy Leader of the National Party) [5.00 p.m.]: I congratulate the honourable member for Newcastle on his long and dedicated task to preserve the Stockton Bight. The honourable member acknowledged the involvement of a number of other people. I am sure that outside the immediate Australian Labor Party family he referred to many others in the community who have worked towards this outcome. I have fond memories of Stockton Bight, least of which was tiptoeing through areas with unexploded mortar bombs and other fragments from the bombing range. The reason I tiptoed was because I never wore my shoes there and the sand was so hot I had to tiptoe or throw a bag down and jump on it. When I was younger my family used to go to Stockton Bight to collect pipis and to fish on the beach. I stand corrected but I believe that one of the early films of Lawrence of Arabia took place in the Stockton Bight sand dunes. Perhaps some shots of the 2,000 light horsemen or the Gallipoli movies were taken there. The bight has certainly had a chequered history.

    Now that Stockton Bight has been preserved I hope that people will continue to enjoy the area. Unfortunately, an entry fee will probably be applied, as other national parks have incurred a fee. The honourable member for Newcastle was silent about the availability of access. I do not mean that in a malicious way. For example, will four-wheel drives still be able to access the beach for fishing purposes? I am sure the honourable member will respond to my concerns in his reply. The honourable member for Newcastle specifically referred to sand mining. Two types of sand mining take place at Stockton Bight—rutile mining, which I believe has been extended, and sand mining on the western escarpment. I assume that the honourable member was referring to both those mining activities when he said that sandmining would continue. I also assume the State recreation area was created to facilitate that mining for the time being.

    Stockton Bight has a significant history for not only the white population but also, as the honourable member for Newcastle outlined, for the Aboriginal community. The work that is being undertaken is of great benefit. However, now that the area has come under the auspices of the National Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS], I hope that sufficient funds are provided to ensure its proper management. It is a valid criticism of the NPWS that it has assumed responsibility of a significant amount of extra land but has not been appropriately funded to sufficiently manage the areas. In my electorate parks are inundated with lantana and other pests are significantly degrading the national parks system. There is little point in extending the national parks system if it is only to be degraded through lack of proper maintenance because of insufficient funding.

    I again congratulate the honourable member for Newcastle on the work he has done. Newcastle is an extremely fortunate city to have the southern Pacific Ocean as a backdrop to its central business district. It is joined in the north, within close proximity, by this national park and State recreational system, and to the south by Glenrock and other preserved areas. The inclusion of these areas is a change from the industrialisation of Newcastle. It is a move into a new era, away from dependency on BHP and into ecotourism and recreational activities.

    Mr FACE (Charlestown—Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [5.05 p.m.]: I would like to add my comments to the matter of public importance raised by the honourable member for Newcastle. I congratulate the honourable member on his tenacity and his continued perseverance in a very complex matter. I also congratulate the honourable member for Myall Lakes who, coming from the Hunter Valley, would have some knowledge of what has occurred in this area over a period of time. Stockton Bight is a unique and magnificent asset. It combines the largest mobile sand mass in New South Wales with continuous natural coastal forest. The forests and heath lands have been disturbed over the years by a number of activities, including rutile mining. It is a fragile environment. The bight habitat also acts as a corridor for many coastal fauna species, including koalas, and provides a refuge in a region of growing development.

    The bight's value has long been recognised by the Carr Government. The reservation of the bight was first proposed in the Government's 1995 Nature Conservation Strategy, as alluded to by the honourable member for Newcastle. It has taken hard work from local members and more than six separate government agencies to reach the present position. With the preservation of Stockton Bight, this area with Munmorah State Area, the Awabakal Nature Reserve, which is now known as a field study area, Glenrock State Recreation Area, which stretches from Dudley through to Merewether, and Tomaree National Park to the north provides a large area close to major urban development that is probably unparalleled anywhere in Australia. I had a long involvement with bringing the Glenrock State Recreation Area to fruition. It was a very complex matter, similar to the Stockton Bight matter, and involved many different land tenures, numerous parties and various expectations. It had been spoken about for 40-odd years prior to its inception. As I said, from Munmorah to Tomaree, these magnificent coastal areas are being preserved.

    In relation to Stockton Bight, I do not know of any other part of New South Wales where so many different interests are involved. There were land claims from the local Aboriginal Land Council, existing recreational uses, commercial uses and outstanding conservation matters. If timing and public pressure were the only concerns, the Government could have declared it a national park. That would have been wrong. It would have been disrespectful to the Aboriginal community and would have resulted in protracted legal debate, with little result. Instead, the Carr Government chose to negotiate with all the parties about the bight's future and acknowledge the claims of the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council. It was my pleasure some weeks ago to announce that the Government and the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council had reached an agreement that will see Stockton Bight become a conservation area of approximately 4,198 hectares.

    Because of its high natural and cultural heritage, 1,905 hectares of this conservation area will become a national park. As well, 1,475 hectares will be established as a state recreation area and 818 hectares will be a regional park. Land on Stockton Bight will be granted directly to the land council. It will then be leased back from the land council to the Government for use as a national park and State recreational area. The National Parks and Wildlife Service and the council will jointly manage the reserves. The Worimi knowledge of the area will be integral to developing the plan of management for the conservation area. The funded management plan will provide permanent jobs for the Worimi people, and improve facilities so that visitors can better understand the bight's cultural and natural heritage.

    The proposal means that the most natural and threatened parts of the bight, the undeveloped, continuous natural coastal forest and sand dune habitats, will be conserved through reservation. But other uses of Stockton Bight will continue, such as managed four-wheel drive access to the coastal strip, and access for the recreational and commercial needs of the larger community. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of John Bartlett, the honourable member for Port Stephens, the former member, Bob Martin, and Bryce Gaudry, the honourable member for Newcastle, to get the balance right and support the negotiation process with the different parties. It has been an outstanding result. It is something that will be of immense value to the generations to come, just as many other environmental initiatives under this Government and the previous Wran Government will remain for all time. [Time expired.]

    Mr GAUDRY (Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.10 p.m.], in reply: I thank the Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development and the honourable member for Myall Lakes for their very positive contributions to this matter of public importance. It is an exceptional outcome for Newcastle and the Hunter region. As the Minister said, this conservation, recreational and social initiative will provide a circle of national parks and reserves around Newcastle of which people can be absolutely proud and about which future generations can look back and say, "These decisions were made not with the present in mind but the future." People can now go from Tomaree National Park around the full sweep of Stockton Bight through the Fullerton Cove Reserve, the Kooragang wetlands, the Hexham wetlands, the Shortland wetlands, through the park that is being created to the west of Newcastle, into the Watagan Mountains National Park, the Lake Macquarie State Recreation Area then back through the Glenrock State Recreation Area—a circuit of Newcastle full of reserves and national parks.

    It is similar to the sort of thing that the people of Sydney can look at—the Royal National Park and those wonderful parks and reserves that circle Sydney—and say that their forebears had a very forward-looking view of conservation and recreation, and they provided them with a wonderful asset. In response to the honourable member for Myall Lakes, a management plan will be brought together, as the Minister said, utilising the knowledge of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Worimi Land Council. The process will involve input from all of the users, particularly the four-wheel drive users. Under the memorandum of understanding between the four-wheel drive associations in New South Wales and the National Parks and Wildlife Service there is a clear-cut process for the involvement of that group in the setting up of any national park.

    The four-wheel-drive associations are very positive about the area when one considers the work they do every year in the current Stockton Bight area, cleaning and making sure that rubbish is removed from the area. They have a positive view of this, as have fishermen, surfboard riders, conservationists and all those who will be able to use this wonderful area. The southern area of the bight, which did not have the environmental values to be made a national park because of degradation and its previous use as both a firing and bombing range, will be rehabilitated up to a State recreation area level. Mineral sands mining, which is currently carried out in the southern area of the park by Mineral Deposits Limited, will continue in the proposed park under very strict licence conditions on the basis that the area is rehabilitated. Mining will not occur in any vegetated area of that section of the park.

    As I mentioned previously, Boral is conducting extractive sands operations outside the park area, and those operations will continue on licence. I would like to pay tribute once again to all of the officers of departments, whether it be the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Department of Land and Water Conservation, the Department of Mineral Resources or officers of local government, for the particularly long and difficult negotiations that took place over five years that finally resulted in a land claim process and an outcome that people can be proud of; that will give recreational, social and environmental outcomes; and that will enable the economic outcomes of the Stockton Bight to be undertaken under the strictest possible control.

    Discussion concluded.

    Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.