Incompetence, mismanagement and coverups

Crown Land should not be a source of private profit for developers. June Bullivant OAM finds that this is not always the case.

When the research into the management of Public Land and State owned assets began, it is the opinion of the committee that there needs to be a full and transparent audit into the management of land that has been put aside for the future use of the community.

Investigation has shown that no NSW Government Department has a complete list of Crown Land, who it is managed by and under what circumstances. The problem then arises if the land is being leased, how much is it raising and who gets the money. The community should benefit from moneys raised, but we only know of one instance where this is actually the case.

Crown Land Our Land has asked the Department to halt all decisions on Crown Land until they investigate and compile a list of where Crown Land exists, who manages it, who it is leased to and what is happening. In our opinion it would appear in the majority of cases under investigation, that mismanagement and incompetence is being covered over; we have not ascertained that this is happening in all cases. The decisions being taken, appear to be happening with Town Planning and developments are occurring of land that has water views; the buildings appear to be built on land owned by the community.

This land is being sold to the developers, which is clearly against the Crown Land Act, and is on land that the community owns; land where the community should have free and open access. This is happening in all states of Australia and Local, State and Federal Governments do not appear to be interested in how much is being sold, to whom or why. The process used to determine the development lacks transparency, is not in the best interests of the residents, who are locked out from using land that has been put aside for recreational purposes and green space.

Woolgoolga (affectionately known as Woopi) Beach Reserve is Crown Land and its iconic 1950s timber Surf Life Saving Club clubhouse, its expansive grassy foreshores and its popular caravan park are all at risk from a draft Plan of Management (prepared by CHCC  for  NSW Crown Lands as the appointed Trustee of the Reserve). It will demolish the clubhouse, build 13 exclusive foreshore villas for holiday rental, reduce available camping sites by 40% and cordon off the caravan park behind 1.5m fencing and boom gates. It will build an intrusive carpark on the foreshore, stop public access to the boat ramp and move Maritime Rescue to a bush block, out of sight of the sea, 10km north of the town. This will change the face of Woopi Beach forever and is unacceptable to the local community, local businesses, local organisations and long-term holidaymakers of Woolgoolga.

Residents and holiday makers will be disadvantaged and locked out of the land they have used for decades.

There is no way a Plan of Management can amend the purpose of dedication or reservation – it can only provide the strategy to implement and maintain them.

Notes re Crown Lands Act 1989 (CLA) and RUTLEDGE 1959. From Opinion as given by R.Finkelstein QC, Melbourne Chambers June 2013.

It is important to note that s.6 of the CLA provides that Crown Land is not, among other things, to be “used, sold, leased, licensed, dedicated or reserved or otherwise dealt with unless the [activity] is authorised by this Act”.    2-4 Quarry St is Crown land.

Rutledge said a trust for “public recreation” must mean the land remains open to the public generally as of right and it must not be a source of private profit.


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