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Managing Botany Bay

Jim Colman - Botany Bay Program

This presentation consists of two segments. The first is a brief report on the workshop held last night in Sutherland by representatives of a number of NGOs within the catchment. The second is an update on the Botany Bay Program itself.

The major concern which emerged at the workshop was the proposed expansion of Port Botany. Although it is currently going through the official EIS process, the proposal raised questions such as:
  • Whether we, the community, will have access to all the information in sufficient time to be able to respond".

  • Whether the EIS process itself is going to be capable of uncovering all the uncertainties and the unpredictabilities that are associated with this enormous proposal.

  • Whether the community at large will be given access to all the information that goes into what you might call the "tentacles" of that proposal.

  • The connections between the Port and the Inland trucking and transport interchange at Enfield and all the ripple effects associated with both those poles

  • The matter of dredging - a part of the overall concern, opening the door to further intensive use of the Bay by others who will no doubt seek to enjoy deeper water.

  • Extensive disturbances to acid sulphate soils.

Community input into that process is going to be somewhat slippery, I suggest, given the timeframes that we know about. NGOs need to be gearing themselves up to prepare responses to the EIS once it's placed on exhibition because the timeframe is very tight.

Bay Management

We're still waiting for the government to put its hand up. There are a number of certainties, however. We are now past the point of questioning whether 'the community' has any legitimate right to be involved. The fact is that in other places where there has been success, community involvement is a must and the sharing of local knowledge and the networking provide opportunities for community groups and NGOs to consolidate and become constructive contributors to the process, not just objectors or neutral bystanders.

The Bay management plan and the Bay advisory committee which were announced by the Minister last November have yet to be detailed. As far as I know, those two matters are still on the governmental agenda, but there's no "meat-on-the-bone" at this point of time.

Kurnell Peninsula is a complex part of the Bay, and a special area of concern with numerous threats as well as opportunities for a wholistic approach to management. But so far its been pretty much 'hit and miss' and we don't seem to be getting far very fast. I suggest that the concentration of development pressures in Kurnell is symptomatic of those that are occurring in many other parts of the Bay and the catchment. But in the case of Kurnell they are concentrated.

Biodiversity protection is a big ask and a big priority no matter where we look. I suggested that the protection of the Bay's diversity is a challenge whether or not the Port expansion goes ahead. Even if there's no further growth in the Port or the airport and if there's no further industry and no further urbanisation upstream, we still have this challenge of getting the biodiversity back into good shape. So that means looking at:
  • noxious weeds control

  • the threats to habitats, to seagrasses,

  • control of pollutants, pulling them out at the source rather than at the mouth and

  • maintaining environmental flows in streams, and so on.

The Ramsar site also needs a lot more love, care and attention than it seems to be getting.

In terms of publicity, public information and the sharing of research results, there is evidence of an improvement in the way information is flowing and shared around. The word is spreading, and I think public awareness about Botany Bay is a lot stronger than it was a few years ago. But there are great opportunities here for getting into the schools (for example), developing the Riverkeeper Program and making sure people know what it is trying to do and to help groups such as BBACA (Botany Bay and Catchment Alliance).

The EIS process is of great concern to many people. It appears not to be delivering. There is a continuing risk of biased outcomes. We've got no way of checking whether the outcomes are reliable. The notion that environmental audits constitute a better approach to addressing the impacts of massive development projects was discussed last night. Environmental audits are starting to become commonplace in other arenas. Perhaps we need to think more seriously about the pros and cons of that option, providing we can be assured of some independence in the way the audits are conducted. Another problem is that the EIS does not appear to embrace policy issues and it doesn't necessarily facilitate policy debate because those who make the policy are often several steps removed from the actual EIS process itself.

Green Offsets

The question here is whether we can trade-off certain developments and balance them by receiving offsets or benefits for another part of the system. I do not think there is much affection for that notion, at least in grass roots circles.


The reliance on good science remains firm. Community science is the other side of the coin. Scientists working at University level, and in the formal research community, can work closely and productively with local people who are on the ground and are actually observing phenomena on a day-to-day basis in their own backyards. Although we're starting to make some progress in getting a scientific focus on the Bay from a wholistic point of view, there's still great opportunities there for grass-roots science.

There were a number of miscellaneous issues raised at last noght's workshop including the Cooks Cove project and the number of other big projects around the Bay. They sit on the map and we know where they are, but nowhere is there any attempt to embrace in a holistic way the implications of all these projects and proposals. There are about half a dozen major projects currently on the books - some of them going through EISs, others not - and they just sit there in isolation. If we're going to get anywhere on Bay management, the need now is even greater than it was two years ago because of the sudden and simultaneous emergence of these projects.


There are opportunities for more partnerships especially between NGOs and local government.

There is an intriguing situation in the northern part of the Bay where we've got of old industry leaving and being replaced by new residential development. On the other hand we've got the Port expansion proposal - bringing conflicts which are beyond the capacity of an individual Council to resolve. If the Port does grow, as currently proposed by the Corporation, much of the housing in the immediate vicinity may be adversely affected.

Shoreline landfill and dredging, loss of shellfish and the continuing take of bait species at the cost of habitat protection and the native species were also issues raised at the workshop.

Replacing aquatic reserves with a marine park is a policy option deserving of serious debate at State government level. The aquatic reserve mechanism has its place, but if we're looking at an area such as Kurnell, perhaps the way to go is to take the big leap and designate a marine park in that area, in the southern part of the Bay.

Finally, the debate still rages as to whether we protect the commercial fishing sector or the recreational sector. It appears that the new policy giving priority to recreational fishing is now in place but there was a view expressed last night that it's not too late to revisit that very intriguing debate.

The Botany Bay Program

The 'germ' of the idea emerged possibly 10 years ago. There was a seminal report by Sutherland Council in the late 1990s which led Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils to apply for Federal money through the Natural Heritage Trust. That application was successful and 18 months later we released the Final Report of the Program titled "The Tide is Turning". The BBP involved some 300 meetings, along with dozens of special meetings and workshops. We engaged with all the state agencies and a couple of Federal bodies, with industries, and with the indigenous community. The Final Report is a step forward and for the first time, we have a reasonable understanding of the totality of issues facing the Bay.

Currently, the Minister's announcement last November (repeated at the launch of the Final Report in March) is all we have: two promises from State Government but no detail so far. That is a real worry, although the commitment seems to be there.

BBP Results to Date

Some steps forward have been made - in no particular order of priority:

The University of NSW is currently establishing a Botany Bay Studies Unit on the Kensington Campus. As we talk today, two working parties are developing a management framework for the Studies Unit and an outline of a research program. We will soon have a focus for science and for interdisciplinary work on Bay issues that did not exist before. Industry is one of several stakeholder groups represented.

Through the Program now have the beginnings of a dedicated library and map collection which is currently housed at Sutherland Council. I hope that one day soon it will be accessible to members of the community and those who are interested in Bay issues.

The establishment of the Botany Bay and Catchment Alliance is a great step forward. About 18 months ago I held a meeting of NGOs, and there were a lot of curious faces in that room. Very few had actually met each other. There were representatives, I think, of about 30 non-government conservation groups, who came together for the first time. We now have an umbrella group. It's early days, and that group needs all the support it can get.

Lessons from other parts of Australia, and from overseas suggest that where you have a coalition - a unified front and a place where the big picture issues can be discussed, debated at the community level and then presented to government - then the chances of success are much greater. The move into a coalition of this kind is a sure sign that the community is at last prepared to take on the big picture issue and go into bat with the politicians and with the agencies. It also makes the process of consultation a lot easier.

A pre-feasibility study on the proposed 'Bay Trail' is shortly to commence. The idea is for a continuous trail around the Bay from Kurnell to La Perouse for bicycles, for pedestrians, for disabled people. There has been some debate as to whether this is a good idea, but at least we're going to investigate that with a pre-feasibility study. The best model in the world is in San Francisco where that Bay trail has become a symbol of a united Bay community. It allows people to get out and see with their own eyes, to walk the areas of concern, to look at where the biodiversity problems have emerged and at the degraded habitats and so on. It also triggers the individual constituent Councils around the Bay to do things by way of improvement projects. So it's a symbol of unity with all sorts of other consequences: educational, heritage, indigenous connections, transport and so on.

I'm pleased to say that the Museum of Sydney, (a brand of the Historic Houses Trust) located on the corner of Pitt and Bridge St in the City, is going to run a Botany Bay Symposium on the 15 November followed by a full day tour. That will be the first event of its kind to be picked up by a major metropolitan cultural institution. The Museum of Sydney is a world famous museum and it is a great step forward to see that event in place.

We've had numerous meetings with members of the indigenous community from both sides of the Bay and one of the big challenges is to engage much more closely with indigenous culture, indigenous history and ensure that they come in and contribute to this fascinating debate.

Finally we've established links throughout Australia with other programs of a similar kind and more particular with three of the big success stories overseas in the Mersey, the Thames and Massachusetts Bays.

So where to now? That all depends on Mr Carr.
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