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NSW shooters bring out federal big guns in parkland battle

A stretch of parkland south-east of Sydney has become a federal political hot potato, with an incoming senator promising to block the budget unless it is given to the rifle club. Crikey writers Paddy Manning and Melanie Garrick report.

It’s rare for local planning issues to gain national prominence, but the fate of Malabar headland, 11 kilometres south-east of the Sydney CBD and home to the Anzac Rifle Range, is a saga to rival the city’s second airport.

Incoming Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm, a keen shooter, has weighed into the debate, telling Crikey this morning he would use his influence in the upper house to push for security of tenure for the NSW Rifle Association, which runs the range at Malabar, in line with recent comments he made to The Sydney Morning Herald about looming budget negotiations.

Leyonhjelm told Crikey he had a list of issues he would raise with the government whenever his vote became crucial. “I don’t want to discuss what I have on my list, except I will mention one thing that I want to see Malabar rifle range obtain secure tenure. It’s safe, it’s the right length, and it’s capable of being used by all kinds of sporting shooting.”

Former environment minister Peter Garrett hoped to turn the 177-hectare site into a major new parkland, but those plans are tangled in the usual federal-state thicket of spin and buck-passing, and may collapse altogether.

In a recent video interview (below) Garrett told Crikey the headland was the “last piece of the puzzle, ready to go” to complete the Sydney Coastal Walk and there was nothing stopping the NSW and the Commonwealth from declaring the foreshore a national park, urging: “C’mon guys, just get on with it”.

John Fitzgerald, chairman of Garrett’s old foe the NSW Rifle Association, says it was “like Badgery’s Creek, they’ve been discussing it and really making no arrangements for our relocation since 1986. This has been going on that long.”

The Malabar headland has been used for shooting since late 19th century and was given to the army in 1910. It has been home to the Anzac Rifle Range since 1967, when it was transferred from Liverpool. The Commonwealth put the land up for sale in 1988, when Club Med announced plans for a 300­-room resort and golf course. Those plans were defeated after stiff community opposition.

The Commonwealth has twice tried to evict the NSWRA, in 1990 and in 2012. Both times the association took a Labor government to court and won. The eviction notices were invalid, the first time because of inadequate notice, the second time because the judge held the shooters had to be given an acceptable alternative location under the terms of their licence. One eviction notice cited concerns over asbestos contamination on the site — part of which was once an unregulated tip.

A spokeswoman for the federal Department of Finance, which owns the site, confirmed the federal government had “not yet made a decision on the future of the Malabar Headland. The Malabar Headland site is contaminated as a result of its past uses, particularly as a landfill site, and it is important that health and safety risks are addressed.”

Labor did succeed in evicting the other headland users, including the Sporting Shooters Association (hunters, rather than target shooters), a model aeroplane club, and a pony club that used the headland. The last eviction in particular sparked a backlash, and before the last election then-environment spokesman Greg Hunt and Liberal candidate for Kingsford-Smith Michael Feneley promised the previous users would be allowed to return within six months.

It’s been nine months since the election, but the government is keeping its commitment. South East Equestrian Club secretary Donna Wright says a 30-year lease is about to be signed, and Crikey understands the Sporting Shooters will soon be allowed back on the Range, under the NSWRA licence.

Where that leaves the national park handover is unclear. The eastern foreshore can’t be used as a national park while the middle of the headland is being used as a rifle range. Lleyonhjelm, a member of both the NSWRA and the Sporting Shooters, says he would prefer the Anzac Rifle Range to remain at Malabar (though he shoots at Hornsby). “So does the rifle association, it’s just that they’ve been beaten up so hard they’ve said, ‘We have no choice but to compromise’. That was before there was a senator elected who believes that sporting shooting is perfectly legitimate and the range should remain in that position as it has for 100 years.”

He says it would be cheaper for taxpayers to leave the rifle range as is, based partly on his belief that removal of asbestos is unnecessary. “Whatever is there has been there for a very long time. This idea we have to dig it up and disturb it … The argument with asbestos is if you leave it alone it’s harmless.”

Lleyonhjelm appears not to care about completing the Sydney Coastal Walk — “it hasn’t been used that way for the last 100 years” — and says the agenda to turn the headland into a national park was driven by “an antipathy towards the shooting sports”.

Randwick mayor Scott Nash told Crikey a national park at Malabar would be a massive attraction: the eastern suburbs portion of the Sydney Coastal walk — the city’s No. 2 destination on Tripadvisor — could eventually extend all the way from South Head to Botany Bay.

It’s a trade-off between the hundreds of shooters who use the headland at the moment and the hundreds of thousands of people who might use a big new park by the sea.

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  • 1
    Graeski
    Posted Tuesday, 10 June 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Look all you Lefties - the Second Amendment of our Bill of Rights makes it quite clear that we have an inalienable right to bare arms …so let’s all get this Commie talk of national parks off the agenda, ok?

  • 2
    Bizzybags
    Posted Tuesday, 10 June 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    An unfair assessment of the scale of the history and the situation on the ground.

    Firstly, while the SSAA supports hunting, the activities at Malabar were not hunting. Shooters there took part in supervised target competition and practice, which some of the disciplines go to the National and International level.

    More broadly, target shooting at the discipline in question has been active for 150 years and goes to the Commonwealth games level. We are not asking for special privileges or money, but to be allowed to continue without harassment. In shooter’s terms, you are asking to shut down the SCG to build a hotel.

    Even on that count, i have heard that the NSWRA is comfortable with moving if suitable alternative facilities could be offered, something not considered by the previous government.

  • 3
    SusieQ
    Posted Tuesday, 10 June 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    And this chap is threatening to hold up a federal budget over this?? Unbelievable.

  • 4
    Itsarort
    Posted Tuesday, 10 June 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m a member of SSAA and I’m a target shooter 99.99% of the time. Thanks to Howard, I have to have TWO (?) genuine reasons to own a gun so hunting is my second genuine reason. If this area isn’t a rifle range, potentially for all to use, by hook or by crook, it will end up as private use only - National Parks(?), yeah right, pull the other one…!

  • 5
    AR
    Posted Tuesday, 10 June 2014 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    The consolidation of the coastline is unarguable but there is that pesky problem of legal rights, a century of them.
    Let us hope that Senator Lleyonhjelm takes an interest in Senator Muir’s career when they are both ensconced in the big House under the Hill.
    I think that they would be a natural alliance for sense & sensibiliity.

  • 6
    fractious
    Posted Tuesday, 10 June 2014 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    I was about to mention that much of the vegetation at Malabar Headland is Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub (a Critically Endangered Ecological Community) and that there were reliable sightings of Eastern Ground Parrot Pezoporus wallicus wallicus a year or two back, then go on a rant about why ecology always comes stone motherless last in all these sorts of disputes. Then I remembered Fatty O ‘arrell’s deals with the Shooters Party that let lots of people into national parks to shoot their guns at ‘ferals’ (the Shooters Party are deeply concerned about thenvironmen doncherknow, much like loggers are the best conservationists I suppose), and I realised I was being a selfish tree-hugging greenie and should stfu and be grateful.

  • 7
    Bizzybags
    Posted Tuesday, 10 June 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    The range has been there for over 100 years, likely longer that the environment destroying urban sprawl surrounding has been.

    Much of the scrub on the headland has been protected precisely because of the range, the danger template itself protects from development over large parts of the headland. The range is not expanding, there are no proposals to expand the range, yet some think it is a good idea to let hundreds of thousands of people march through the bush.

    I don’t know what people what here, chuck out participants in one of our elite national sports to build golf courses?

  • 8
    Andrew McIntosh
    Posted Tuesday, 10 June 2014 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    Why is shooting things so important? What catastrophe is going to happen if people can’t shoot things?

    I don’t know, maybe one day I’ll get to shoot something with a rifle and feel the magic.

  • 9
    JohnB
    Posted Wednesday, 11 June 2014 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    The ground rules for this discussion have been determined.

    On one hand, we have the “I want what I want because I have always got what I want” crowd.

    The other side has feelings and ethics and community spirit and stuff like that. Bloody lefties!

  • 10
    Bizzybags
    Posted Wednesday, 11 June 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Andrew M, it is simply a sport, like football, soccer, rugby and golf. I don’t like league but I’m not campaigning to get the sport shut down. I would encourage you to come down and have a try, even if you don’t like it, it would help to understand the physical and mental challenge involved, as well as the professionalism of the participants.

    JohnB agree entirely, a 150 year old community of mates and competitors, the only sport where men and women compete on equal terms, verses the encroachment of urban development and soulless millionaires mansions.

  • 11
    Itsarort
    Posted Wednesday, 11 June 2014 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Fractious, I’m strongly against any old shooters plugging away in national parks. The Gov should pay highly trained specialists for that job. Shooting in its many varied forms is an Olympic sport last time I looked. And if redneck boganism is a criteria for turning land into National Parks, might I suggest we start ripping-up ANZ Stadium…

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