Park cruise ships at Garden Island, Government told

A leaked report to the NSW Government has recommended that cruise ships be permitted to use the Royal Australian Navy dockyard at Garden Island.

At present cruise ships use the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay and a secondary terminal at White Bay, 3km west of the CBD. But to use White Bay they must go under the Harbour Bridge, which is impossible for the new breed of larger cruise liners.

The number of cruise ships coming to Sydney at more than doubled in the last five years, and already some operators are saying that they are avoiding Sydney because of congestion.

In July the State government commissioned a report on the matter, asking for recommendations on how to handle the increasing demand. Heading the inquiry was Peter Collins, who was state Liberal leader and Leader of the Opposition from 1995 to 1998. His former seat of Willoughby is now held by Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Collins was also a longtime office in the RAN Reserve, reaching the rank of Captain.

He handed his report to the Government on 6 October. Its contents have not been made public, but in an increasingly common practice, it seems to have been deliberately leaked the Murdoch press. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph has run a splash on it.

It says the Collins report recommends the use of Garden Island, a massive facility in the middle of the city, close to Kings Cross and on the eastern side of Woolloomooloo Bay.

As a military base, Garden Island certainly has the capacity, but agreement would have to be reached with the Navy and the Federal Government to allow its use for commercial purposes. Immigration and other facilities would also have to be built.

The other option considered and rejected by Collins was to move some cruise ships to Botany Bay, which is where most of Sydney’s commercial port activity now takes place. But Port Botany or another facility on Botany Bay would also need new facilities, and it is an unattractive industrial precinct 10 km from the CBD.

The recommendation is likely to reignite debate about the future of Garden Island. It is a prime waterfront location in the middle of Sydney, and ripe for redevelopment. But it is also Australia’s largest naval base, and moving it is not a trivial exercise.

During the 2013 election campaign, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd suggested moving the Navy out of Sydney Harbour, an idea that was ridiculed at the time.  But there is no logical reason for the Navy to be located there.

There have been many suggestions over the years that it be moved to Jervis Bay 150 km south of Sydney, where the Navy already has a presence, or to the north of Australia, possibly Darwin, which is much closer to the areas where the Navy mostly operates.

This is likely to happen eventually. Garden Island is an incredibly valuable and very high profile location. It would make for a massive urban renewal project.

The Daily Telegraph also ran a piece on what a potential redevelopment would look like, with cruise ship facilities, parks and gardens, and apartments. It would be much bigger and more visible than Barangaroo.

Industry body Tourism and Transport Forum Australia (TTF) has called on the NSW Government to adopt Collins’ recommendation for the cruise-ship industry to be allowed permanent access to Garden Island.

TTF Chief Executive Margy Osmond said Australia’s cruise industry is now worth $5 billion annually and needed better facilities. “The cruise industry reference group and its head Peter Collins must be congratulated on coming up with a common sense solution to address Sydney’s looming cruise crisis,” she said.

“Cruise shipping is the most dynamic and fastest growing sector of the Australian visitor economy, and has rapidly become one of the great success stories for Australian tourism.

“But with port facilities at Circular Quay at full capacity, and an increasing number of ships too large to pass beneath Sydney Harbour Bridge to access the White Bay terminal, the only deep-water option in the city which is able to accommodate growth is Garden Island.

“Port Botany is not the answer. The big drawcard is Sydney Harbour. It is not just international tourists that crave the ‘big picture’ moment of sailing through the heads – this is also about Aussie tourists who want to feel that sense of excitement and pride that comes from sailing in and out of their Harbour City.

“I commend the NSW Government and the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey for initiating this review, and I urge them to adopt the recommendations of this report and allow cruise ships to access the infrastructure at Garden Island.”

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