Thursday, February 28, 2008

Adelaide’s Walled "defence" Precinct

Residents of Port Adelaide are reeling at the number and scale of plans for their district being made way above their heads by governments and corporations. The Port Waterfront Redevelopment is starting to dominate the inner harbour; presenting a concrete wall of high-priced apartments to other inhabitants of the still mostly working class suburbs nearby. And now comes the news that an eight metre-high "acoustic barrier" is to be erected, removing about four kilometres of public waterfront access and fortifying a precinct for strategic waterfront "defence" (war) industries.

The Northern Lefevre Peninsula Draft Masterplan has been wheeled out at a number of consultation sessions. As is usual in these processes, interested groups and individuals are invited to comment or object to certain proposals. But as the Port Adelaide Branch of the National Trust of South Australia noted late last year, "although consultation has been fairly intense, the scope of that which is subject to consultation is very limited. Many critical issues and major elements have been deemed ‘non negotiable’ in this process and we wish to protest this as inadequate as a consultation process."

The letter was addressed to DefenceSA — a state government body that leads the government of South Australia’s defence industry efforts. It offers "focussed and responsive services to Defence and defence industry to drive the sector’s growth in South Australia and to support the delivery of key defence projects and facilities such as Techport Australia." []

Techport will be located behind the eight metre-high concrete barrier. It will be as high as the distinctive Stobie poles that carry electricity cables in the older parts of the city. According to the agency’s website, Techport will feature:

  • World-class common user shipbuilding infrastructure — including a wharf, runway, dry berth and Australia’s largest shiplift.
  • A 35+ hectare, fully integrated industrial precinct for suppliers.
  • An onsite Maritime Skills Centre - delivering trade and technical skills for a job-ready workforce; a purpose-built, state-of-the-art Air Warfare Destroyer Systems Centre.
  • Access to the national transport network including heavy/wide load roads, a rail spur and deep channel international port.
  • An optical fibre network link to major research, defence and education sites across Australia

With state and federal government sweeteners to industry, the precinct hopes to attract:

  • Civil or military shipbuilding
  • Ship repair and maintenance
  • Systems design and integration
  • Metal fabrication and module construction
  • Blast and paint
  • Warehousing and logistics
  • Precision manufacturing
  • Electronic component supply

"The combination of location, facilities and billion dollar contracts already in place make Techport Australia the prime destination for any business involved in naval and defence-related industries," the website continues. The state government has invested over $400 million so far on the facilities which will host the construction of the Royal Australian Navy’s Air Warfare Destroyers. The money would have been better spent on neglected schools and other crumbling infrastructure. The government is justifying the conversion of SA into an even bigger focus of military industries and activities with the promise of $12 billion worth of military contracts and more than 4,000 direct and indirect jobs.

The figures seem impressive at first sight but the results are by no means in the bag. Jobs in the hub will not make up for the devastating losses in local manufacturing industry in recent years. Mitsubishi is to stop vehicle production at the end of March with the direct loss of 930 jobs and several hundred more at component supplying companies.Each Techport job being anticipated will have cost $3 million worth of "investment" to get started without considering the state government’s outlays. There are many more economical and socially useful way to create jobs.

DefenceSA claims the unusually high fence was imposed on developers by the Environment Protection Agency, which has a reputation in the Port Adelaide area as the most toothless of tigers when it comes to the many environmental challenges facing residents. The National Trust was told that acoustic engineers — who supposedly endorsed the DefenceSA concrete wall — are under contract and would not be authorised to discuss their findings.

The loss of open space for recreation and habitat for local species inflicted by the Pelican Point power station and the Flinders Ports’ facility is to be compounded by the loss of a large chunk of coastline to war industries. Access to the river for fishing and to see the Port River dolphins are to make way for Techport. The Port Adelaide Sailing Club — relocated to make way for luxury portside units — will suffer from is proximity to the strategic industries hub.

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