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Harbour Trust Ranger leading visitors at North Head Sanctuary in Manly.

Our purpose

The Harbour Trust was formally established by the Australian Government in 2001 to protect Commonwealth lands, including former Defence sites, and return them to the people of Australia.

Scroll to learn more about the Harbour Trust including our origins, purpose and plans as well as the minister responsible for our agency, our legislation and our organisational structure.

  • On 5 September 1998, the Australian Government announced it would establish a statutory agency – the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust (Harbour Trust) – to rehabilitate prominent former Defence sites on Sydney Harbour and return them to the people of Australia.

    The announcement followed years of advocacy by community groups adamant that surplus Defence sites on Sydney Harbour should be maintained as public spaces and kept safe from redevelopment. These groups, collectively known as the Defenders of Sydney Harbour Foreshores, included Friends of Cockatoo Island, the Headland Preservation Group and Foreshore 2000 Woolwich.

    The Australian Government subsequently announced an interim Harbour Trust on 13 March 1999. The interim agency’s purpose was to undertake planning and consultation with respect to former Defence sites on Sydney Harbour while the legislation was being drafted to formally establish the Harbour Trust. The agency continued to operate on an interim basis until 20 September 2001 when its foundational legislation – the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Act 2001 – took effect and it was able to commence its role formally.

    Initially, the Harbour Trust was due to cease operating in 2033 in accordance with the Act. In June 2021, however, the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Amendment Act 2021 received royal assent and commenced. This established the Harbour Trust as an ongoing entity, with life beyond 2033, and empowered it to protect the sites that had been entrusted to it in perpetuity. During its passage through Parliament, the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Amendment Act 2021 – and the importance of the Harbour Trust’s protected places – had received multi-partisan support.

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  • The Harbour Trust sites include Cockatoo Island / Wareamah, North Head Sanctuary in Manly, Sub Base Platypus in North Sydney and the precincts of Headland Park, Mosman – Chowder Bay / Gooree, Georges Heights and Middle Head / Gubbuh Gubbuh. The agency also manages Woolwich Dock and Parklands, Macquarie Lightstation in Vaucluse and the Former Marine Biological Station at Camp Cove.

    Although the Harbour Trust’s Comprehensive Plan, made in 2003, sets out a vision for the renewal of Snapper Island, this site is currently managed by the Australian Government Department of Finance.

    For further details, see: Our places

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  • The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Act 2001 (Part 2, Clause 6) specifies a series of objectives:

    • To ensure that management of [Harbour Trust] land contributes to enhancing the amenity of the Sydney Harbour region.
    • To protect, conserve, and interpret the environmental and heritage values of [Harbour Trust] land.
    • To maximise public access to [Harbour Trust] land.
    • To establish and manage suitable [Harbour Trust] land as a park on behalf of the Commonwealth as the national government.
    • To co-operate with other Commonwealth bodies that have a connection with any Harbour land in managing that land.
    • To co-operate with New South Wales, affected councils and the community in furthering the above objects.
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  • The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Act 2001 (Part 2, Clause 7) identifies the function of the Harbour Trust as follows:

    • To hold [Harbour Trust] land for and on behalf of the Commonwealth;
    • To undertake community consultation on the management and conservation of [Harbour Trust] land;
    • To do the things referred to in section 38A of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Act 2001 (SHFT Act) before plans take effect for an area of [Harbour Trust] land;
    • To develop draft plans in respect of [Harbour Trust] land and any other Harbour land in furthering the objects, and performing other functions, of the [Harbour Trust];
    • To rehabilitate, remediate, develop, enhance and manage [Harbour Trust] land, by itself and in co-operation with other institutions or persons, in accordance with the plans;
    • To make recommendations to the Minister on plans and the proposed transfer of any [Harbour Trust] land;
    • To promote appreciation of [Harbour Trust] land, in particular its environmental and heritage values;
    • To provide services and funding to other Commonwealth bodies in furthering the objects, and performing other functions, of the [Harbour Trust];
    • Anything incidental to or conducive to the performance of its other functions.
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  • The Harbour Trust’s statutory plans articulate the vision for its protected sites and outline how this vision will be implemented. Established in accordance with the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Act 2001, the Harbour Trust’s Comprehensive Plan is a broad strategic plan that sets out the vision for its sites and provides a framework for their ongoing use.

    The Comprehensive Plan is supported by more detailed Management Plans that prescribe desired outcomes for specific sites or buildings, including suitable uses and how each site’s heritage values are proposed to be interpreted.

    Additionally, the Harbour Trust delivers against commitments outlined in its Corporate Plan. This resource, renewed each year, outlines the agency’s plans and priorities for the next four years. 

    To view the comprehensive, management and master plans, see: Planning and permits

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  • The Harbour Trust is governed by the Members of the Trust and reports to the Minister for the Environment and Water. The Harbour Trust’s day-to-day operations are managed by the executive team and the agency receives advice from the members of its community advisory committees.

    For further information, see: Our organisation and Community and committees .

Helpful link

Interested in learning more about the Harbour Trust and our protected places on Sydney Harbour? Check out the below links.