The newly-chosen NSW Planning Minister Kristina Keneally is facing the first big test of her ambitious rise in Labor’s hierarchy — whether to approve the private development of Currawong, the idyllic rural retreat owned and managed by Unions NSW for the past half a century, or reject it.

She either takes a stand in support of local community groups, 90 experts in heritage and environmental issues and thousands of anti-development petitioners, or she backs the two developers behind Eco-Villages, Allen Linz and Eduard Litver, who are being supported by the Labor-entrenched public relations machine, Hawker Britton.

Currawong sits on Pittwater on Sydney’s far northern beaches in a National Park where it has provided holiday accommodation for trade unionists and their families ever since the end of World War Two.

Ten years ago Unions NSW secretary Michael Costa began the push to sell the site to the exponents of transcendental meditation – this was before he became the state’s police minister, transport minister and treasurer! — and then the privatisation project was continued by his successor, John Robertson.

Unions NSW has so far received a deposit of $1.5 million on the total sale price of $15 million. The cash was originally designated to fight the Howard Government’s work choices legislation but that is now past history.

The Friends of Currajong, which is led by former Country Practice actor Shane Withington, is furious with the developers’ recently amended plan.

It now includes 25 luxury homes while the amount of land to be dedicated to the National Parks and Wildlife Service has been cut from 11ha to just 3.3ha.

Pittwater MP Rob Stokes, who was awarded a PhD in environmental science last month, called on Mrs Keneally to reject the proposal.

“One of the requirements placed on the Currawong developers was to listen to the community input,” Stokes said.

“The developers have completely rejected feedback from architects, heritage consultants, environmental consultants, Pittwater Council and residents.”

Withington’s organization has called on Premier Nathan Rees to purchase the Currawong site and give it permanent heritage listing so that it can remain a public recreation area.

A Rally Against Inappropriate Development (RAID) will be held in Sydney’s Hyde Park on Sunday, October 19, to assembly community groups opposed to large-scale coastal development and the destruction of bushland and heritage sites.

Keneally has agreed to meet a deputation from the Friends of Currawong on November 11, just before the mini-budget.

Perhaps she should bring her husband along too. He is Ben Keneally, nephew of the novelist Tom Keneally and executive director of the NSW Premier’s Delivery Unit which is responsible for driving the NSW State Plan, the hopelessly compiled grand plan of former Premier Morris Iemma.

Peter Fray

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