The Department of Defence (the Department) seeks approval from the Committee to proceed with the proposed Stage One of the Garden Island (East), Critical Infrastructure Recovery Program Project in Sydney.
The estimated cost of the project is $213.4 million (excluding GST).
The project was referred to the Committee on 2 March 2017.
Conduct of the inquiry
Following referral, the inquiry was publicised on the Committee’s website and via media release.
The Committee received six submissions and two confidential submissions. A list of submissions can be found at Appendix A.
On 4 May 2017, the Committee conducted a public and in-camera hearing. A transcript of the public hearing is available on the Committee’s website.
Need for the works
In its submission, Defence identified that the Garden Island Defence Precinct (the Precinct) is a key operational and support base for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in support of Defence operations. The Precinct provides the critical facilities and infrastructure required to securely and efficiently berth, replenish, maintain and repair RAN ships.
Historically, naval operations at Garden Island date back to the First Fleet. The RAN has maintained a presence at the Precinct since the mid-1800’s. This was initially to ensure the defence of Sydney Harbour and, more recently, as Navy’s major fleet base on the eastern seaboard in support of national Defence capability.
Defence submitted that the Precinct remains an enduring strategic base underpinning Australia’s ability to project maritime power into the immediate neighbourhood, the Pacific Ocean Region, the Southern Ocean Region, and further afield.
In its submission, Defence identified the Captain Cook Graving Dock as a strategic asset of particular importance to the Precinct, noting that it is:
The largest dry dock in the Southern Hemisphere, and is the only facility in Australia capable of both docking ships with over 12,000 tons displacement and providing emergency docking.
Defence notes that this facility enables the emergency docking for RAN ships as well as commercial ships unable to dock elsewhere in Australia.
In 2014, a technical assessment of wharves and berthing infrastructure at the Precinct was completed. It identified significant deficiencies with the wharves, engineering services and supporting infrastructure such as cranes. The most severe issues included the poor condition and limited capacity of the Cruiser Wharf and Oil Wharf, and concerns about the engineering services such as electrical supply, potable water and sewerage.
The key issues Defence identified with the Cruiser Wharf and Oil Wharf include:
Significant reduction in structural capacity;
Inadequate shore engineering services and wharf furniture;
Inadequate alongside water depth; and
Inefficient wharf configuration.
Defence submitted that as a result of these issues and constraints it has experienced a significant reduction in functioning of wharves at the Precinct. This has resulted in:
A reduced ability to conduct production work on RAN ships;
External ship production generally not being permitted; and
Inefficient work practices (for example, movements have resulted in a loss of approximately six per cent of ship maintenance and production days since early 2015).
Defence stated that Stage One of the Garden Island (East), Critical Infrastructure Recovery Program Project aims to provide a ‘fully functioning and future-proofed wharf at the north-west end of the precinct capable of berthing and facilitating work on all current and future planned RAN ships.’ This was reiterated by Defence during the public hearing.
Defence noted that the project will significantly contribute to Defence preparedness and RAN capability by ensuring key production wharves at the precinct are fit for purpose and fully available to support operations.
Mr Neville Williams, a local resident, proposed that an additional amount of $53.35 million be provided to develop the parklands within the Precinct into a ‘Sanctuary of Peace – the Spirit of Bennelong’. Mr Williams submitted that a ‘monumental sculpture’ of the historically significant Indigenous leader Bennelong, similar in size to America’s Statue of Liberty, be placed on Garden Island as a symbol of reconciliation.
In his proposal, Mr Williams also noted that his proposed approach would make explicit the ‘peaceful role’ of the RAN in Sydney Harbour:
If we are to live with a Naval presence on the front door to Australia then that presence can too take on a peaceful role as guardians of a “Sanctuary of Peace - The Spirit of Bennelong”.
Scope of the works
The proposed works to be undertaken encompass:
Demolishing the existing Cruiser Wharf and Oil Wharf structures including removing the existing wharf furniture, shore engineering services and crane;
Dredging the surrounding seabed to create a suitable berthing pocket;
Constructing a new single continuous wharf structure in place of the demolished Cruiser Wharf and Oil Wharf in a new alignment;
Extending the existing adjoining East Dock Wharf to limit the new realigned wharf’s protrusion into Sydney Harbour;
Installing engineering services including fuel, communications, electrical, water and compressed air along the new realigned wharf’s length;
Installing wharf furniture including bollards, fenders and ladders along the new realigned wharf’s length; and
Installing a new rail mounted crane along the new realigned wharf’s length.
Construction is expected to be completed no later than late 2020.
Cost of the works
The total estimated capital delivery cost of this project is $213.4 million (excluding GST). The cost estimate includes:
Construction costs; professional management and design fees; and all fittings, equipment and infrastructure to the immediate wharf area. It also includes appropriate allowances for contingencies and escalation.
The Committee received a confidential supplementary submission detailing the project costs and held a hearing with Defence on the project.
The Committee is satisfied that the costings for the project provided to it have been adequately assessed by the proponent agency.
A community consultation report was submitted to this committee on 21 April 2017. During the public hearing Defence noted that:
In general, the feedback was positive and supportive. Although there were some issues raised by the community that we will need to manage subject to parliamentary approval and approval to commence works.
Defence told the Committee that many of the concerns raised at the community consultation related to matters such as environmental risk, noise and vibration during construction, and traffic management.
Ms Amruta Slee, a local resident, told the Committee that:
Many residents have repeatedly complained about the increase in noise from Garden Island over the last five years. In addition to almost constant diesel fumes from ships berthed in the dock, work hours on the ships have seamlessly extended into the night - power tools are now used past 9.00 pm and sometimes all night. Strong lights are kept on at all hours. Security exercises are of course necessary but the current decibel level is beyond the pale. Alarm systems go off at all hours and often take over an hour to fix.
Ms Slee further noted that she would welcome consultation between the navy and residents to discuss how impacts on residents will be monitored, minimised and addressed during the construction phase of the proposed project.
Ms Amber MacKinnon, also a local resident, outlined the effect large ships have on local residents when ships are required to be berthed adjacent to residential areas:
When these LHD ships are berthed adjacent to our home for more than a couple of days, the noise and air pollution becomes a major drain on sleep quality and stress levels of residents. Having constant 24 hour mechanical noise, as well as the need to keep all windows closed is a significant and unreasonable burden on residents and causes a major reduction in sleep quality.
Defence noted that noise concerns raised by residents will be managed and mitigated in a number of ways. Firstly, Defence would seek to stage the demolition and construction phases, so as to minimise the overall impact on nearby residents. Second, Defence stated that works would only be undertaken during standard working hours. Thirdly, Defence noted that it would continue to engage with the local community throughout construction, and would endeavour to keep local residents informed of the construction process and its potential impacts.
In addition, Defence gave the Committee an example of one of the practical steps it would seek to take to minimise the impact of construction noise:
An example may be some of the local schools. If it is during exam time, or there are some other aspects to it, we will look to try and deconflict the risks for that.
Defence further noted that restoring production of the berths at the northern end of the island (specifically, Cruiser Wharf and Oil Wharf) will remove the need for heavy maintenance work to be undertaken in a location that is closer to residents. Instead, the maintenance work will occur at the northern end of island and away from residents, and thus a result of the proposed works would be to reduce the amount of noise local residents are subject to in the long term by shifting naval activity away from residential areas.
Submissions to the inquiry specifically identify concern regarding the flora and fauna of the near waterway, and a desire for their protection to be explored in the studies presented to the Committee.
The Sydney Harbour Association recommended that the Committee focus attention on the aims of the NSW Government’s Sydney Regional Environmental Plan (Sydney Harbour Catchment) 2005 and, if not initially provided, seek views from the NSW Environment Department on the compatibility of the proposal with the stated aims outlined in the Plan.
Defence noted that an Environmental Assessment Report for the project was approved by Defence on 30 March 2017 and, subject to Committee approval of the project, a Construction Environment Management Plan will be developed to address environmental and heritage risks:
The environmental assessment report is basically undertaken to consider aspects or issues in relation to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, noting whether any of our actions that we propose for this project would require referral under that act. The EAR has identified—and the Department of the Environment agrees—that the risk we have identified, which is predominantly environmental and heritage risks, can be managed through the development of what we refer to as a construction environmental management plan, which, subject to parliamentary approval of this project, will be developed by our managing contractor and will then be submitted to us for approval before any access to the site is allowed or any construction activities are allowed to start.
Defence further told the Committee that:
One of the key aspects we looked at was the impacts on the marine environment—flora and fauna. There are risks but they are manageable. Again, the mitigation measures for that will be provided in detail within the construction environmental management plan.
The Committee recognises the importance of the Garden Island Defence Precinct as a key operational and support base for the RAN in support of Defence operations in the region, and internationally.
The Committee considers that the issues and constraints currently impacting the effective functioning of the wharves at the precinct must be addressed to ensure fully functioning berthing and working facilities are available for all current and future planned RAN ships and other ships, as required.
While the Committee recognises the importance of the Garden Island Defence Precinct as a key operational asset, it also takes its role in scrutinising the effect the proposed works could have on local residents and the environment very seriously.
The Committee notes that by restoring functionality of northern wharves, the project will alleviate the need for heavy maintenance work on larger vessels to be undertaken close to residential areas. This will reduce the noise concerns of local residents upon completion of the project.
During the construction phase, the Committee also notes the mitigation measures Defence will put in place to address noise concerns of local residents. The Committee’s view is that Defence must pay particularly close attention to community concerns raised during the construction phase of this project and address these issues adequately. The Committee believes that Defence has appropriate mechanisms in place, and is confident that the local impact of these works can be effectively managed.
In respect to environmental issues, the Committee notes that Defence will develop a Construction Environment Management Plan to ensure environmental and heritage risks are managed and addressed. The Committee considers comprehensive examination of marine environment impacts, particularly on flora and fauna, to be a vital element of the project.
The Committee acknowledges the submission from Mr Williams proposing that a ‘Sanctuary of Peace’ be established at Garden Island Defence Precinct to highlight the peaceful role of the Royal Australian Navy in Sydney Harbour, Australian values and reconciliation. While the Committee supports the intent of the proposal, the Committee notes that it is not within the current scope of the project.
The Committee recommends that the House of Representatives resolve, pursuant to Section 18(7) of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, that it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work: proposed Stage One of the Garden Island (East), Critical Infrastructure Recovery Program Project in Sydney.
Proponent agencies must notify the Committee of any changes to the project scope, time, cost, function or design. The Committee also requires that a post-implementation report be provided within three months of project completion. A report template can be found on the Committee’s website.