Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Currawong, yet another black mark against Labor
National parks were Bob Carr’s big thing, his magic shield against charges of flushing the decade down the toilet. So precious are these parks that with the harbour islands – Rodd, Clark and Shark – you can’t so much as paddle up for a picnic without a paid-in-advance booking.
At first glance this seems honourable, if overzealous, eco-fascism. If so, it’s eco-fascism for sale, since all the rules change if you’re prepared to pay for using your slice of paradise. For $3300 a day you can have Shark Island in toto; access power, amplify music, erect marquees, party your little butt off.
If you’re the Emirates chief executive His Highness Sheik Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, you get 40 hectares of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area, along with approval for a six-star helipad-equipped faux-eco resort and sod-turning services from Matt Brown, member for Kiama, land of the blowhole.
And for the lowest bidder, there’s the jewel of the Pittwater beachfront. Currawong was sold to Trades Hall in 1949 so poor kids could have a decent holiday. For that point, in the same New Deal spirit that saw Millers Point devoted to public housing, the resulting Camp Currawong was deemed land-tax exempt.
Until now, when, with wearisome predictability, the Government conspicuously refuses to prevent or even inhibit sale of Currawong to the well-connected Allen Linz and Eduard Litver for a 25-McMansion development.
It happens that Linz co-owns KWC Capital, which kindly and legally gave $44,000 to the ALP last year. Happens that the Currawong deal was brokered for Unions NSW by Linz’s business partner, then-KWC director and ALP groupie David Tanevski. And that Unions NSW was then headed by John Robertson, now touted for premier.
It also happens – this history courtesy of Hansard, which tells how Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop tag-teamed last year to pose tricky questions for Labor – that during these years a failed company, Kingsway Capital (any relation to KWC?), had the “outsourced” gig to vet contractors’ capability for government works. Michael Costa, Eric Roozendaal and the ALP powerbroker Mark Abib were on its board, next to Tanevski and Linz.
If that sounds like a sweaty old locker room to you, try this. Between them all, they secured Currawong for Linz and Liver at about half the price of other bids – cheating the public out of both access to it and $15 million-odd in recompense.
Robertson argued that the competing offers, for $25 million and $30 million, were conditional on planning approval; that he took the best unconditional offer, from Linz and Litver’s development company, now greenwashed as Eco Villages Australia. But, according to the Land Titles Office, Eco Villages hasn’t coughed up for anything more than an option on the site. So what’s that if not conditional?
Abbott and Bishop raised these questions in February last year and still no answers. Did Linz and Litver’s Labor Party connections influence the sale? Why the discounted price? And why sell Currawong in the first place? Robertson insisted he needed the money to fight Work Choices. But he could have had twice as much from other buyers. In any case, Work Choices is gone, baby, gone.
The bleak humour of which is recognised in the Greens’ 2008 Bad Developer Awards. The coveted Golden Toaster was deservedly taken out by Wollongong’s Frank Vellar. But the residential category was shared by three standouts: Keith Johnson’s Pitt Town development, Rose Corp’s Catherine Hill Bay and Linz and Litver’s Currawong.
All three involve wanton overdevelopment of environmentally sensitive sites. This is bad but no worse than we expect of an industry too-often facing allegations of greed and deceit. Rose Corp’s Stuart Rose kept a straight face when he expostulated, after my Catho story last year, “You’re saying developers lie?” Well yes, Mr Rose. Not you, but I believe developers do on occasion twiddle the truth and understate environmental impacts. Further, I expect nothing less.
But government is different. Government is bound to a higher public standard – such as defending our national parks and heritage sites.
Last Sunday’s massive Hyde Park gathering, where people came to Rally Against Inappropriate Development (or RAID), was really a protest against something more egregious even than bad development. It was a protest against bad government. Bad law.
Frank Sartor always said he’d love to buy Currawong back, only Costa stopped him. Easy to say. But in truth, none of this would have happened had Sartor not butchered the Planning Act and called in Currawong in the first place. Had he not bought Linz and Litver’s ludicrous arguments that Currawong was too state significant for council but not state significant enough for protection. Then Pittwater Council would have followed every heritage body in the state and listed the thing, pronto.
Sartor’s gone now. Wearing his big red press here for approvals button now is Kristina “Nodding Dog” Keneally, known as a close ally of the Eddie Obeid faction and promising to be more hands-on still. Even the Opposition, which pretends to oppose Part 3A, has voted for it repeatedly in the house.
So, perhaps the RAID should have been called RAGE: Rally Against Government Ecobastardry.