and Lesley Warne
SHELLHARBOUR — The proposal to build a luxury marina and resort at South Shellharbour Beach, south of Wollongong, seems to be once again on the agenda. Visits to the area in the last month by federal treasurer John Kerin and state minister for development and tourism Michael Yabsley have encouraged pro-marina forces.
First announced in 1983, the plan is to dredge away the southern third of the beach, a significant tract of wetland, a public golf course and playing fields to develop a luxury marina for 350 boats. The proposal includes development of a luxury motel/conference centre with a private golf course that is supposed to attract wealthy yacht owners to this working-class area.
Shellharbour has always been a low-cost family tourist destination. The area is earmarked for significant lower cost housing development by the year 2000. The proposed development will be totally out of step with the area, seeking to bring in an upper-class clientele.
The proposed motel will abut a basalt quarry, a view unlikely to appeal to the big spenders. Similar experiments in Wollongong have failed, notably the North Beach Park Royal luxury hotel, which recently went into receivership.
A spokesperson for the No Shellharbour Marina Campaign, Marie Petersen, says, "What we really need is a few more caravans and camping sites, and somewhere to put small boats".
The motel development is to be financed by the sale of 1500 residential blocks at an estimated cost of $200,000 each. The local council, which owns the land, intends to lease 100 hectares to the developers in return for only 10% of the profit from the sale of the housing blocks. The luxury golf course will take another 127 hectares of public land.
The No Shellharbour Marina Campaign feels that it is extremely unlikely that families which can afford $200,000 for a house will want to move to Shellharbour, placing significant doubt over a major aspect of the scheme's financing.
Supporters of the proposal claim that it will create 4000 jobs during construction and 400 long-term jobs. According to the editor of the Illawarra Mercury, the marina "would wipe out much of the Illawarra's unemployment in one stroke".
The campaign disputes this. It estimates that there will be only 133 permanent jobs and as few as 1785 short-term jobs. The campaign points out that several alternate job creation schemes are available in the area: reopening of Shellharbour Quarry, upgrading facilities for low-cost tourism and wetland conservation projects.
The council has never put the plans for the marina on display. Campaign members have "grudgingly" been f the 1985 feasibility study, but had to copy details by hand because they were not allowed to photocopy any of it.
The South Coast Labour Council is opposed to the development in its present form, but has adopted a wait and see attitude in anticipation of a revised proposal. The campaign has attracted the support of the Australian Democrats, with MLC Richard Jones visiting the area to investigate the matter. The Total Environment Centre has also questioned environmental aspects of the proposal.
Petersen claims that "Many people cannot figure out why the scheme is still being pushed forward. Because most people think logically, most people don't really believe it will happen. The real worry is that [the developer] will dig the hole, realise the development will not work and nick off."
When the project was first announced in 1983, only two developers showed interest. The ANZ Bank subsidiary Delfin Property Group Ltd is the council's preferred developer. The council and Delfin have been looking for government assistance for the project over the past eight years; $10 million is needed for earthworks for the marina and a further $15 million for infrastructure. State and federal governments have so far refused to supply financial assistance.
However, Bob Harrison, the local state member (ALP) and former mayor of Shellharbour municipality, has continued to push the proposal. In 1985 Bob Carr, then minister for the environment in the Unsworth government, rezoned the area to clear the way for the marina.
In the last state election campaign, the ALP environment policy prohibited development along the coastal strip to appeal to the green vote. However, this policy specifically exempts the site of the proposed marina. More recently in a visit to the Illawarra, Carr said a Labor government would "support the Shellharbour Marina project — subject to full environmental assessment and public consultation".
Following last month's council elections, the new ALP mayor, Cec Glenholmes', first statement was to say that the marina would definitely go ahead despite significant public opposition demonstrated at the polls.
An alliance of anti-marina forces ran three ex-ALP members in the council elections, one of them, John Cowan, being elected. The other two candidates received 21% and 19.5% of the primary vote in their respective wards.
The ALP conducted a dirty tricks campaign. It placed an $8000 advertisement in the local paper, alleging that the No Shellharbour Marina Campaign is run by a group called the South Coast Socialist Left that "has over the years campaigned vigorously behind the scenes for Shellharbour Council to be swallowed up by an amalgamation with Wollongong". The standing of so-called independents directed preferences away from the anti-marina candidates. Another independent councillor, Michelle Greig, who was not part of the anti-marina alliance, has voiced her opposition to the marina since being elected.
John Cowan says, "South Shellharbour Beach and the adjoining public lands belong to the people of this area. They should not be used for the sole benefit of the wealthy. If public land is sold, any proceeds should be for the benefit of residents only.
"People come into the Shellharbour area because of its wonderful natural attributes. We don't need to emulate Sydney or the Gold Coast.
"Council has spent an enormous amount promoting the project — with no result whatsoever. The incoming council must cancel this expensive marina fantasy."