Staff gutted as Fisheries Centre’s closure confirmed

SHATTERED staff members have conceded their fight to save the world-renowned Cronulla Fisheries Research Centre is over.

The state government announced on Friday it had rejected the findings of a bipartisan parliamentary committee, and would proceed with the closure of the facility, which opened in 1905.

Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner gave a commitment the site would remain in public ownership, with increased access to the public.

The government has revealed so far only a third of 138 staff had agreed to transfer, while 56 had quit and 17 casual and short-term workers faced redundancy.

A staff spokesman said many of the staff who were transferring were moving within Sydney.

‘‘There is a lot of anger and frustration, a lot of sadness,’’ he said.

‘‘We were relying very much on [inquiry chairman] Fred Nile. He gave every indication he would be able to work something out.

‘‘I imagine, for a lot of people, this is the end - people have to get on with their lives.’’

Assistant secretary of the Public Service Association, Shane O’Brien, said announcing the decision on the eve of a weekend close to Christmas revealed the government as  ‘‘absolutely gutless wonders’’.

“If this is [Premier] Barry O’Farrell’s way of saying ‘Merry Christmas’, we get a pretty clear picture of what he is about,’’ he said.

Mr Nile said he was told the decision had been made by cabinet, which normally sat on Tuesday.

Mr Nile said it appeared, from the official response to the report, the government had not seriously considered the report.‘‘I am very disappointed that the NSW government has not given a positive response to the committee’s report and recommendation that this centre of excellence not be closed,’’ Mr Nile said.

‘‘The only government argument for this closure is its policy of  ‘decentralisation’. I believe this is not a policy of decentralisation but a policy of destruction to smash a working, efficient, high class centre of scientific excellence, for some political agenda.’’

He said it was ‘‘a slap in the face’’ to the community and the committee, and he and fellow Christian Democrat MP Paul Green would review their support for government legislation in the upper house.

Mr Nile said, while they did not have a mandate to obstruct the government, ‘‘there has to be some give and take, and there has not been much give.’’

Liberal MP for Cronulla, Mark Speakman, said he was disappointed, but pleased the site would remain in public hands, with substantial community access.

Sutherland Shire mayor Kent Johns said it was ‘‘a wrong decision from the outset, and does not take the shire seriously’’.

‘‘I am happy for the site to be staying in public hands, but to be honest that doesn’t give people jobs,’’ he said.

Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner said the move would result in the creation of up to 32 jobs in Nowra, 23 in Port Stephens, 21 in Coffs Harbour and five in Wollongong.

About half of the 20 scientists at Cronulla had agreed, or were expected to agree, to transfer.

A managing trust should administer the area.

The most contentious recommendation was that the historic aquarium be demolished.

Aquarium manager David Barker said the proposal was ‘‘outrageous’’, and he hoped the council would stop it.

Mr Harley recommended the Police Marine Area Command, Marine Rescue and Transport Road and Maritime Services be invited to establish a joint rescue facility, with extra wharfs.

Two buildings should be used as educational centres, focusing on Aboriginal heritage, marine scientific research history and local Cronulla history and heritage.

The report said the Steven Walter Children’s Cancer Foundation had applied to use a house on the site as a facility for parents and their children to live in the last stages of their children’s lives.

It was recommended the foundation be invited to present its case to the new trust.

Mr Harley said his recommendations were ‘‘simple and utilitarian’’.

‘‘They are based on the assumption that this land ‘belongs’ to the people of Cronulla who will cherish its Aboriginal history, protect its heritage value, acknowledge the magnificence of its marine science history and protect and utilise the site for future generations,’’ he said.

Mr Harley said he had rejected proposed uses for boat or canoes, aged care, ‘‘men’s shed” and facilities for artists and others ‘‘in residence’’.


‘‘It’s ridiculous to say it’s about decentralisation because the majority of people are moving closer to the city.’’ — A staff spokesman

‘‘If this is Barry O’Farrell’s way of saying, ‘Merry Christmas,’ we get a pretty clear picture of what he is about.’’ — Assistant secretary, Public Service Association, Shane O’Brien

‘‘I am happy for the site to be staying in public hands, but to be honest that doesn’t give people jobs’’. - Sutherland mayor Kent Johns

‘‘As part of our policy for a Decade of Decentralisation, the NSW government is committed to boosting employment, economic and social benefits to regional and rural NSW.’’ - Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner

■ What do you think of these proposals?

Future awaits:  Various uses have been proposed for the ‘‘magnificent’’ site.

Future awaits: Various uses have been proposed for the ‘‘magnificent’’ site.

Way in or out? Picture: Chris Lane

Way in or out? Picture: Chris Lane


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