A group involved in a court case related to contamination at the Barangaroo development site near Sydney Harbour has labelled the NSW government’s action on the matter “corrupt”.
The group alleges Planning Minister Tony Kelly exempted Barangaroo from environmental laws linked to site remediation because he knew he would lose the case in the Land and Environment Court.
Australians for Sustainable Development (AfSD) want the next state government, to be determined at the March 26 election, to start an immediate inquiry into the matter.
AfsD spokesman Ian Campbell called the situation very serious.
“I think it’s corrupt and it’s very unfortunate for the people of Sydney,” he said outside state parliament, where he was joined by action groups, residents, and representatives from the Greens, City of Sydney and the National Trust of Australia.
“(It’s) disenfranchised the public and now it’s sort of overridden the courts.”
Mr Kelly has been accused of undermining the court case by gazetting an order that effectively excises Barangaroo from his department’s own planning laws for managing contamination.
The order was made on Wednesday, three days before the Labor government goes into caretaker mode ahead of the state election which the coalition is tipped to win.
Mr Campbell called Mr Kelly’s actions “the tip of the iceberg”.
“It’s an amazing state of affairs and it’s almost a Royal Commission kind of issue,” he said.
“The incoming government has got to take a very strong stand and get to the bottom of why this has been done.”
City of Sydney councillor John McInerney said he had always believed governments were there to defend the rule of law.
“(But) we have a circumstance here where, in fact, the government is subverting the rule of law, two days before a decision was to be made by the courts,” he said.
“Why have they done that? Obviously, the answer has to be that they expected a decision that would go against them.”
He called on the incoming government to make sure a review began as soon as the state election is over.
“This is a very big development. The City of Sydney needs Barangaroo but it needs it in a proper, managed and correct way,” he said.
Mr McInerney said AfsD president Jack Mundey would take the matter to the Unions NSW, because workers on the site would be the first group in danger of contaminated subsoil.
Reports lodged in the court in December last year claimed the site posed a more serious risk to the health of people and aquatic life than previously indicated by the government and developer Lend Lease.
Toxic substances at the site include arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead, cyanide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as naphthalene, the reports claimed.
A spokesman for Mr Kelly on Wednesday said the site would be subjected to a “stringent” remediation effort under existing major project legislation.