Government moves to diffuse Cockatoo Island controversy

The trust is sliding into operational deficit and Commonwealth money to finish rehabilitating two of the major sites – heritage-listed Cockatoo Island  and the North Head sanctuary at Manly – has dried up.

Cockatoo Island is one of the sites that belongs to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.

The trust also has responsibility for other former defence lands, including the Headland park at Mosman, the former submarine base Platypus at Neutral Bay and the Macquarie Lightstation in Vaucluse.

Trust chair Joseph Carrozzi has said the cost of fully rehabilitating Cockatoo Island alone could require another $150 million to $200 million.

Inside the old powerhouse on heritage-listed Cockatoo Island.

Inside the old powerhouse on heritage-listed Cockatoo Island.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

The trust wants to be able to grant leases of up to 49 years in order to attract private sector revenue, but Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese says this would amount to “de facto privatisation.” Several speakers at the Tuesday night meeting also rejected the need for longer leases.


A major player has emerged in the shape of a private philanthropic consortium, the Cockatoo Island Foundation Limited, which  wants to take over the whole of Cockatoo Island on at least a 50-year lease in order to make it an “art island”. However the trust opposes leasing out the entire island.

The trust and the foundation are also at loggerheads over who would be responsible for the site. The trust is due to be wound down in 2033, but wants to be made a permanent body. The foundation argues the trust has been slow to develop the island’s potential and that a new body should take Cockatoo Island over.

Ms Ley has appointed two former senior government advisers, Carolyn McNally and Erin Flaherty, to conduct the review, which will report at the end of next month.

Ms McNally, a former head of the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, told Tuesday night’s meeting that “we are not here with any preconceived views – I wouldn’t have taken this on if that were the case.”

She said the submissions so far received had shown strong support for the trust being retained as Commonwealth-owned land, “with many opposing a transfer of any land to the state government, councils, any other body or private person, particularly a private person.”

“Most people think the trust is the right entity to manage the sites … and [that] it should be able to continue into the future,” she said.

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