Rushing is a risk at Barangaroo

Imagine this scenario. You’re planning to go out sailing with a group of friends, but the day before you leave you hear a warning that there might be a severe storm warning, the worst in 20 years. Would you risk it?

Obviously, you wouldn’t. This is because even though you’re not certain something might go wrong, it isn’t worth risking the lives of you and your crew. Scientists call this idea the ‘Precautionary Principal’ – that if there is lot at risk, you have to put safety first.

This idea is particularly important when it comes to protecting the waters like Sydney Harbour. Right now, the state government is trying to rush a $6 billion dollar development on Sydney harbour. In doing so, they are taking a risk with our Harbour.

It’s a risk because there is major contamination at the site. Up until 1915, Barangaroo was the site of Sydney’s major ‘gas works’ – where coal was turned into a flammable gas that was used for heating and lighting. Gas from the site was pumped all over Sydney, from Marrickville in the west to Randwick in the east.

Gas works also produce a whole cocktail of toxic by-products. The common practice of the times was to bury waste product on site. Some of these toxic by-products left buried in the Barangaroo include coal tar (which contains carcinogens), cyanide and petrol.

From there, the story gets worse. As the gas works expanded, land was reclaimed by ‘filling in’ the harbour. In those days, that meant building a stone wall and just filling in behind it with anything they needed to dispose of. I had the cartoon seen here drawn to show you what I mean.

When you’re dealing with a complex and contaminated site it’s easy for things to go wrong. We know that because we’ve seen the state government rush other projects, like back before the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

At the time, the government was facing the clean up of a site that had been contaminated by a range of toxic materials being dumped there over more than fifty years of chemical manufacturing at Homebush Bay. Compromises created by commercial greed have seen commercial fishing banned in Sydney Harbour after toxic dioxins continue to leak out of sediments around the site.

Once $6 billion dollars worth of development and construction is completed at Barangaroo, it will be too late to fix any mistakes. What is needed here is a responsible review of the proposal and well informed action. With the whole Harbour at risk, let’s make sure that prudence is not sacrificed for ignorance and greed.

Ian Kiernan AO


8 thoughts on “Rushing is a risk at Barangaroo

  1. Your position makes no sense. The site is contaminated and alledgedly is already leaching toxic material into the harbour. Yet you are saying “let’s take our time before we start to clean it up……

    You should be calling on the government to get a move on not joining the NIMBYs with a legal challenge

  2. G’day Simon – thanks for your comment.

    You are quite right – Barangaroo, like every industrial site along the Sydney foreshore, is already leaching contaminants.

    I am not against remedial action – in fact I couldn’t be more committed to ensuring that action is taken.

    What we at Clean Up are calling for is responsible, well considered action. It is vital we don’t cut corners. Many of the volatile contaminants on this site remain active – and their remediation needs to be undertaken in a controlled and responsible manner.

    Homebush was a classic example of expediency compounded by commercial greed.

    I don’t want Barangaroo to follow the same path.

    Sydney Harbour is our backyard – and I want to make sure it is protected.

  3. But your comments and the fact you are part of the group taking legal action give the impression that you think that Government and Lend Lease don’t care or haven’t thought about this? Having looked at the proposed SISCO trial documents, I would say that they have given a great deal of though to the matter and are taking the remediation very seriously. Rightly so and for this they should be supported and encouraged not challenged in the courts.

  4. Hi Simon,

    Clean Up Australia is no longer part of the group that is taking legal action in the Land & Environment Court. We have decided to focus our attention on working with stakeholders on specific issues, such as decontamination of the site.

    I don’t believe it’s ever wise to underestimate the complexity of a site like this. When the remediation of Homebush Bay commenced all involved were very confident in their technology. The legacy of compromises and commercial expediency has resulted in a ban on commercial fishing in Sydney Harbour that could last decades.

    The problem with protecting the environment is you only get one chance to get it right. If things go bad at Barangaroo, there’s no going back. If the Barangaroo Development Authority and Lend Lease are completely confident, then they have no reason to fear further study and independent assessment.

    When we are confident that the remediation technology is absolute top-shelf, I’ll be the first one to encourage its deployment.


  5. Ian

    Fair points and I think you are wise to distance yourself from the Nimbys, who clearly have other agendas.

    Have you held any meetings with Lend Lease or the Development Authority to hear about their plans? What are you impressions of them?


  6. Hello Simon,

    I have met with the development team from Lend Lease and John Tabart from the Development Authority. The meeting was constructive and all parties remain open to discussion.

    The team at Clean Up and I will continue to work with all interested parties to progress our aim of brokering solutions that provide best practice and sustainable outcomes for the site.


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