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Adjournment speech: Manly Dam

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 29 Mar 2017


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (22:14):

On another matter, a troubling issue has arisen in the Manly Dam catchment area in the northern suburbs of Sydney. Seventeen years ago, several hectares of heritage listed bushland in the headwaters of the Manly Dam catchment were bulldozed in an act of overdevelopment and unnecessary urban sprawl. We are once again seeing an assault on this critical public land, this time, heartbreakingly, to expand a school that was once lauded as a model for environmental education. The bushland identified for the expansion currently serves as both a treasured green space for Manly residents and a home to many threatened species, including the eastern pygmy possum, the powerful owl, the eastern bent-wing bat, the grey-headed flying fox and the swamp wallaby.

It is unacceptable that a rethink of the entire plan was not undertaken by the relevant New South Wales environment and education departments. It is possible to ensure adequate space for the school's expansion without destroying valuable public land that has already suffered from overdevelopment. The Greens' New South Wales spokesperson on the environment, Dr Mehreen Faruqi, has met with members of the Save Manly Dam Catchment Committee, and together they are calling on the government to permanently protect this land. I recently had the opportunity to visit this area with the Greens' parliamentary leader, Richard Di Natale, and the Greens' New South Wales planning spokesperson, David Shoebridge. We met the Save Manly Dam Catchment Committee. They briefed us and provided us with the most stunning bushwalk, and it all provided a powerful reminder of why this area should be protected.

I first became acquainted with Manly Dam in 2000. At the time, the New South Wales government had put land in trust to the Spastic Centre of New South Wales. It was rezoned by the Warringah council to allow medium density, and it was then sold to Ardel, which then proceeded to overdevelop the area—a classic case of the problems with Sydney's planning laws.

In June 2000, many locals, members of the Save Manly Dam Catchment Committee and supporters like me stood together in acts of civil disobedience opposing this overdevelopment that was damaging the urban bushland that is unique in this area. For many days, at the crack of dawn, we would gather and greet the bulldozers. On 16 June, I was arrested along with five others. It was a story that I took into the New South Wales parliament, where I was a member at the time. At our arrest there were 40 people on site. Not long afterwards, hundreds of people rallied at the site in a last-ditch effort to save the land. Sadly, however, much of that area was destroyed by the bulldozers.

Today, once again, the bushland in the Manly catchment is under threat as a result of poor planning. Sadly, this time, as I said, it is in the name of public education, but that is a totally false construct. The choice between the environment and public education is a manufactured problem. It is a false trade-off. Greens are strong supporters of equipping our public education system, our teachers and administrators with the resources they need to provide world-class education to all children. Financing and building high-quality infrastructure underpin the achievement of this goal. But there should be no false dichotomy between education and the environment. Instead of pursuing innovative solutions in the planning process to find space for 1,000 pupils without destroying the precious bushland, the planners have reverted to 1950s-style chop-it-down planning.

The most recent approval for land clearing around the school completely flies in the face of the values of this great community, as articulated by the former principal, David Tribe. In 1989, Manly Vale Public School was designated a centre of excellence in environmental education. Principal Tribe's contribution was outstanding. So many Manly residents that I have met understand that excellent public education and protecting our environment go hand in hand. I congratulate members of the Manly Vale school community and the Save Manly Dam Catchment Committee for all that they have done to resolve this situation and to protect the community's land.

The Greens support the call for the remaining public land in the catchment of the Manly Warringah War Memorial Park to be protected either as a nature reserve or by adding it to the Garigal National Park. This level of protection is warranted considering the environmental diversity of this land and to remove the threat it is under.

Poor New South Wales planning laws are causing the destruction of the last remaining bushland found within too many suburbs of Sydney. Our urban bushland should be protected. Manly Dam bushland is one of these areas. It should be preserved for future generations and for the many species that are part of the rich biodiversity of this area. To achieve that, we need to recast the planning laws in New South Wales and also ensure that the political donations from developers are not allowed to pollute the democracy of that state.


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