Report by Marcus O’Dean
At the outset, I’ll say that these are my personal recollections of the subject meeting and events in the leadup, the views expressed are my own and not to be taken as representative of those of any organisation mentioned below.
Last Monday, April 14th, I attended a Community Consultation Meeting at Maroubra Surf Club at 5.30pm and was pleasantly surprised that there were no sandwiches, nor was there free beer on tap, like previous meetings; but more on that later.
Convening the meeting, among others, was a Mr John Owens, ex Army Officer, ex Department of Defence in property management and now employed as the Principal Private Secretary to the Minister of Finance, responsible for management of the Commonwealth’s extensive property portfolio – the Department of Finance and Deregulation (DOFAD) is the relevant department.
The purpose of the meeting was to educate the locals about the measures the Commonwealth was taking to eliminate risk from toxic water runoff to Maroubra Beach and the other way into the Malabar Beach area. There were probably 30 in attendance, roughly halved between local concerned residents and Friends of Malabar Headland (FOMH) and us shooters.
After being educated about the engineering feats (squillions of taxpayer $) the Commonwealth’s contractors were in the process of undertaking, including the construction of two large drainage pits (leacheate ponds) to filter out nasties in the water, we were informed that there weren’t really very many, nor too much of, said nasties in the water, upon analysis. Never mind, the contractor seems to be doing OK out of it.
There is a great deal of “capping” going on that is supposed to eliminate risk from asbestos fibres that may, or may not be, in many locations around the range. Capping consists, in some places, of placing a half metre layer of sandstone over the suspect locations – for hundreds of square metres. Naturally, the Commonwealth relishes such tasks as it keeps their officers employed dreaming up more ways to spend taxpayer funds.
I could go on about the Great Pyramid-al scale of engineering operations, but our concern is obviously continued operation of the centre lot as a functional rifle range. Let me say that operation of said facility has been severely curtailed in recent years by imposing expensive security requirements upon the tenant ie the NSW Rifle Association (NSWRA) due to locals wilfully and illegally trespassing in danger templates for years, despite fencing (repeatedly wilfully cut) and signage being in place to warn that it is a criminal offence against the Commonwealth to stray in there.
Incidentally, I asked if a reported breach (vandalism) of the security fence by a local resident that had been photographed with verified witness reports and subsequently reported to the Commonwealth several months previously had progressed and was met with blank looks, but an assurance that it would be followed up. Small steps.
In addition to this, the NSWRA has been compelled to undertake very expensive building remediation works (with the Commonwealth’s choice of contractor-read expensive) of dubious immediate value at the insistence of DOFAD.
Currently, fullbore shooting is restricted to 300 and 500 metre ranges only, due to essential remedial work being required on the mantlets of the target gallery area. NSWRA has been ready to implement these works for several months with approved labour and certified fill and with all WHS requirements in place, but DOFAD is dragging the chain inexplicably, meaning the ranges from 600 to 800 metres lie dormant, frustrating shooters mightily.
Despite all these irks, there appear to be some positive outcomes from the change of Government. Mr Owens is right on top of his portfolio, it appears, and has obviously been put there to hose down speculation and unreasonable esxpectations, from all quarters. This was signified by no sandwiches and beer, which were previously provided by Labor’s Peter Garrett and Michael Daley, who encouraged DOFAD to go to court to illegally, as it turns out, evict the shooters. They had grand plans of community centres, cycle tracks and all sorts of activities on the site (apart from shooting) and their catering for these meetings was purely meant to give the gatherings a social atmosphere (at taxpayers’ expense and bribery at its most basic). Meanwhile, the public servant who was chiefly responsible for making NSWRA’s life almost unbearable, possibly through a burning desire to punish NSWRA for having the audacity to win a court judgement and costs against his employer, has “gone on leave” – mutterings around the meeting were that it was stress leave, but that is unsubstantiated.
The questions eventually rolled around to the future of the site, most particularly from one strident, not-to-be-pacified resident who asked Mr Owens, “So when is the whole site being returned to us (read people who want shooters off the site NOW)?”
Earlier in the meeting, Mr Owens said that, because DOFAD had new political masters, he had been instructed to take a step back and investigate all possibilities for the future of the site – in other words, back to square one.
He did not rule out keeping the NSWRA there, nor did he rule out alternative development of the site, but in the best Sir Humphrey fashion, he has slowed the whole process down to the point where there may be no definitive answer for some time and ten years was a realistic timeframe to implement said changes, subsequent to a decision being made. He also told us that DOFAD would uphold the conditions of the licence undertaking with NSWRA ie they would not be relocated until a suitable alternative site was found for their activities, because DOFAD did not wish to test an eviction in the courts, due to the negative precedent they had experienced from such a course already. I would still be most cautious in any dealings with DOFAD at any time, taking into account their history.
The shooters came away from the meeting feeling less negative about their future than they could have and the greenies went away well and truly miffed, in my opinion. Despite this personal assessment, I’d caution that we were told by Mr Owens that the Commonwealth most definitely wants to divest itself of Malabar at its earliest convenient opportunity. Don’t count your chickens, shooters. In an interesting development, Owens was not averse to the idea of the SSAA coming back onto the range, while mindful that their beautiful benchrest range had been demolished by DOFAD, on the condition that they are sub-lessee to the NSWRA. In other words, NSWRA would have to control the operations of the SSAA. Negotiations may be shortly underway to see the SSAA back at Malabar. The more bums on seats the better, in my opinion.
My question is, if you are spending all this money, why not facilitate it becoming a seven day a week, multi-disciplinary shooting range that is world class and an attraction for Sydney’s 50,000 licensed shooters and overseas competitors, while making it safe for others to use other parts of the site for controlled outdoor recreation. They do it at Bisley.
P.S. There was one prominent local “identity” who is a shooter and has been a thorn in the side of any parent shooting organisation of which he has been a member and he asked a potentially very damaging question, the gist of which was, “If there is a risk from asbestos or other chemicals, why has the Commonwealth not shut down the site totally?” In other words, “Kick the NSWRA out.” Fortunately, Owens hosed him down most effectively, realising what a troublemaker he was, possibly from prior experience.
With friends(?) like these, do we really have a future?
Side note: the photo accompanying this report, taken in 1974 by old friend Harold Wood, who was present at the meeting, shows three baby boomer shooters who all appeared in the April 2011 Sporting Shooter article titled “The 3 Amigos” – and who attended the meeting. Shooting is Mark Adamson, in orange shirt is yours truly and in jungle green shirt is Michaal Floyd. Sandwiched between us in mauve is Jenny Byrne, Mark’s eventual wife. What this shows is that shooting friendships last a lifetime.