BLC 12
23 Oct 2014 4 Respondents
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By David Seedhouse
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Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott's sister opposes government's approval of Middle Head aged care


'There will be thousands of Sydneysiders disappointed with this decision': Jane Vincent on the Middle Head aged-care home plan. Photo: Matt Buchanan

One of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's three sisters has joined the chorus of condemnation of the federal government's decision to green light a plan for a privately owned aged-care facility on public parklands at Middle Head.

Jane Vincent, the eldest of the three Abbott sisters, told Fairfax that 'like me, there will be thousands of Sydneysiders disappointed with this decision'.

Ms Vincent, who lives in Mosman, said it was difficult for her to speak out given her family connections, and that 'my first loyalty in life is to my brother'.

But she said the government had underestimated community opposition to the proposal and that it should be overturned. She said the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, which has guardianship of former defence lands around the harbour including the planned site of the aged-care facility, had 'not worked with local organisations as well as they could have'.

Opponents of the proposal, which will convert the disused regimental headquarters of the 10 terminal buildings at Middle Head into an 89-bed aged-care facility, say the plan amounts to effective privatisation of a section of prime public parkland. They also see it as a worrying precedent for other publicly owned harbourside areas. 

The plan required the approval of both the board of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and Environment Minister Greg Hunt or his delegate. Both approvals were announced in tandem on Thursday by Mr Hunt's parliamentary secretary, Simon Birmingham.

Senator Birmingham said the plan for the aged-care facility was a 'rejuvenation' of the 10-terminal site, which offered the 'best adaptive re-use for the site to address a shortage of aged-care facilities on Sydney's lower north shore'.

He said $3.5 million would be invested in new landscaping around the site, creating new lookouts, walking trails and other public amenities.

But the National Trust said the decision set  a 'really bad precedent' because it discounted the heritage significance of the site. 

The Headland Preservation Group also slammed the decision, with president Linda Bergin saying 'most in the community would be horrified that the site is effectively being sold off to a developer'.  She says the group is considering legal options for stopping the development. 

A director of the company that will run the facility, Teelia Peploe, said an aged-care home would add 'to the fabric of community life in the Middle Head vicinity, and the lower north shore generally'.  The decision was also welcomed by the Tourism and Transport Forum which said improved public access to the site would benefit visitors and locals. 

Senator Birmingham insists the site will be leased for only 25 years, but opponents say it will be impossible to dislodge elderly residents as the lease term draws to an end.

A former long-standing member of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust board, Brigadier Kevin O'Brien, said the decision flew against the principle that former defence lands were handed to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust to keep 'for all the people of Australia - not just a small number of well-heeled' aged-care residents.

Deborah Snow with Lisa Visentin

It is proposed that a privately owned aged-care facility on public parklands at Middle Head should go ahead