Senate Inquiry exposes flawed Commonwealth land sale process at Pooh corner.

In 2001 a Senate Inquiry looked into the way the Department of Defence sold off surplus public land.

The terms of reference for the Senate Inquiry included, "How the Australian Defence Organisation (ADO) decides whether property is surplus to requirements and the management or disposal of surplus property."

The Senate Inquiry exposed a shoddy public consultation practices within the department of defence when selling off surplus public land.

The high conservation status of Pooh corner was raised by former Brisbane City Mayor Jim Soorley who in January 2001 gave evidence to the Senate Inquiry in Brisbane. Jim Soorley slammed the way the department of defence was disposing of high conservation land at Wacol (Pooh corner). See below.

In March 2001, the Defence Departments, representatives who included Mr Corey, Mr Bain, Ms Clark gave evidence that no formal public consultation occured when selling off surplus public land and admitted it could be a lot better (for all involved) if a formal public consultation process took place before the land was put up for sale. See below.

Unfortunately to date, this formal public consultation process has yet to be adopted by the Department of Defence. This lack of consultation has already cause great conflict when the Federal government attempted to sell surplus defence land in Victoria at Point Nepean in 2002-2003.


Official Committee Hansard


Reference: Disposal of Defence properties


[Page 279]

Councillor Soorley-

The defence department are in the process of selling a lot of land out at Wacol. They are
running around saying to people, 'This has all sort of potential. Bulldoze the trees. It is worth a
million dollars.' It is not. We have said very clearly to the defence department that there are
environmental constraints on the land at Wacol, and the environmental constraints on that land
are clearly enunciated in the city plan. It is part of a green corridor. We have spent millions of
dollars purchasing part of the green corridor. But the defence department thinks that they can
mislead and convince developers that they can do whatever they like on that site and they will
not have to wear the consequences. So we actually have a flawed process,…..

[Page 280 -281]
CHAIR-Thanks very much. Just on the issue of Wacol, it is not something that we had on
our plate today, but it raises the issue. I know the site. It is a fairly extensive site. What are the
constraints in place there in terms of the town plan? If you cannot give us that directly now you
can take that on notice and get back to us so that we can have some sort of example, given the
vastness of the site. It would also be helpful if you can give us some indication as to what sorts
of discussions have taken place with Defence on the disposal of that land.

Councillor Soorley- It is a part of the green corridor to the south of the city. We have spent
about $20 million purchasing land at Karawatha. We are still in the process of purchasing land
to ensure that between Logan and Brisbane, two very intense developments, there is a green
corridor. It is one of the most significant ecosystems left in south-east Queensland. We are out
there paying a lot of money to get the corridor to ensure that the flora and fauna has an
ecosystem that is sustainable. The Wacol land goes on in terms of Greenbank, which is a very
significant part of that overall corridor and habitat. We have said that some development can
take place but that there are significant environmental constraints. I am sure council officers can
get the actual documentation of the discussions between us and the defence department for you.
Our overall concept and master planning is very clear.

They (commonwealth govt.) are currently talking to developers. They are currently ignoring that process in those discussions with developers. The developers all come to us eventually anyway. They ask the Commonwealth, 'What restraints are on this?' and they are told, 'There are none. You can do whatever you like.' Then they (developers) come and sit down with us and we say 'If you buy that you are going to have major problems.' It is a flawed process. If they (commonwealth govt.) actually sat down with us and said, 'Let us do the overall master plan for this piece of land so that it does comply with the city plan and our overall strategic plan,' then they will know what can be developed and what cannot, and we will get a better outcome all round. We get the best outcome for the community in the sense that the significant environmental land is preserved and protected, and you get the better out-come because you know that where development can take place you will know the intensity and maximise your return. We can make sure that council officers document those discussions for you.


Note: sections in paratheses added by Friends of Pooh Corner for clarity.


Official Committee Hansard


Reference: Disposal of Defence properties
Monday, 26 March 2001


[Pages 676-678]

CHAIR- The Brisbane City Council claims there is no formal process between Defence and
the council when planning for the disposal of Defence land. Is this true and, if so, why? What
should be done to remedy the situation if it is true?

Mr Corey- The words are probably very careful there, and there probably is no formal
proposal as a matter of process. But as a matter of course we engage the council at the earliest
stage in any of our sites. That has been the case for Annerley, Wacol and Yeronga because the
council hold the authority to rezone and the future use of the site is in their hands, it is not in
ours. So I think that is perhaps mischievous.

CHAIR- Mischievous, right. So if there is no formal process, you are saying there is clearly
an informal process.

Mr Corey- There is, and we have followed it on every occasion. If I am wrong, correct me.

Mr Bain- In fact, Senator, on 12 July 1999, Liz Clark provided advice to the Brisbane City
Council of Defence properties in the Brisbane area which were up for disposal-that is one
letter. There has been continuous consultation since that time on all of our properties up there,
so they are well aware of what we are doing.

CHAIR- When you say that, who do they formally correspond with? Is there a planning
division within the Brisbane City Council?

Mr Bain-Yes. Mr Kevin Cronin is our principal point of contact and he is in the
development assessment area.

Ms Clark-He is our point of contact with the Brisbane City Council, nominated by
Councillor Soorley. We have a chronology here that we will submit. I usually speak with or visit
with Mr Cronin every two to three months, so there is that informal process where we go
through all our properties, detail where we are at and what is coming up in the future.

CHAIR-Putting aside Brisbane, is that informal process repeated with other councils? Do
you have the same type of informal process without it being regimented and rigorous?

Mr Corey-In Victoria we do, we engage the council at the earliest stage. In South Australia
and Western Australia we have not had the same because there have been fewer experiences. In
New South Wales, yes, we engage the council because they are vital to the outcome.

CHAIR-What I am trying to get at is this: is there a broad template that officers of your
department use in dealing with the councils? Is there a set procedure, a set process, a set way in
which you approach the council, who you approach, the sorts of details you give to the council?

Mr Corey-You have to understand that there are only two directors in this organisation-
one in Sydney and Liz-and they have staff of four and five respectively. So it is quite a tightly
controlled group.

CHAIR-I understand that.

Mr Corey-While we do not have it formalised and written down-that is, this is a step by
step way you approach it-Liz would advise her staff on each occasion: 'This is how you will
proceed through this disposal.' Bernard Blackley would do exactly the same thing.

CHAIR-That may well be known within the organisation, but it is not known outside.

Mr Corey-No.

CHAIR-Seeing that you are getting to the stage where you have a substantial number of
Defence properties that are now becoming available for disposal-and they are not insignificant
sites either in terms of size or perceived heritage values-and that this is an area where the
public have no understanding or knowledge of the practices and procedures adopted by
Defence, it may well be that therein lies some of the scepticism, if I can use that word, that they
may have of the way in which Defence Estate operates.

Mr Corey-I accept that. It is quite likely. It may be that we need to develop some more
formal processes in broad terms that can be communicated to councils and the community more

CHAIR-It just seems to me that, instead of running into brick walls all the time-

Mr Corey-I am not suggesting that by putting this process out the brick walls will be

CHAIR-No, I am not suggesting that either. But it may well be that-