As you may already know, the Royal Australian Navy has a base at Garden Island, right near the Botanic Gardens and down the road from Kings Cross.
What you may not know is that Garden Island is the Navy's primary operating base on the east coast of Australia.
It has the largest dry dock in the southwest Pacific region, providing strategically important national capability for planned and emergency ship repair, as well as the necessary space for naval vessels to berth.
For the Navy to do its job well, it needs a base in peak condition.
However, unfortunately, the hammerhead crane on Garden Island currently precludes the Navy from having the base it needs. More than 60 years old, the crane hasn't been used for 16 years. It limits our Navy's ability to use the wharf and adjacent berths. It adds a layer of complexity when maintaining and repairing ships.
And the worst part is it costs $720,000 per year just to keep it standing.
It's time for the crane to go.
Built in 1951, it was lifting 250 tonnes when in peak condition. By 1996, the rust was so bad that it was barely lifting 70 tonnes. Compare this to the cranes the Navy now uses, capable of lifting in excess of 800 tonnes.
Even if it were possible to return the crane to a useable and safe condition, it would not deliver a tenth of the capability available from modern cranes.
The difficulties it adds to the Navy are only going to worsen with the arrival of the new landing helicopter docks (LHD) and air warfare destroyers. Our multi-billion dollar LHDs are due to arrive in Sydney next year but the ships won't even be able to open their doors because the crane is in the way. And every centimetre of compromise that is given to the crane takes away from the Navy's ability to use Garden Island to its best advantage.
I would like to be able to say the problems stop there but they don't. The crane also poses a safety risk to Navy personnel.
In 2007, a piece of corroded iron fell 50m from the crane, landing where people work below.
Luckily, no one was injured but it does highlight the risk of such an old piece of equipment. Defence has since built scaffolding and catchment platforms around the crane but these are risk mitigation tools and not solutions.
To get the ball rolling on removing the crane, I have met with both the Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities Minister Tony Burke, and former prime minister Paul Keating. Both agree with me that the crane needs to go. I am currently working with Mr Burke to get the right approvals in place and working with Defence to ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible.
I understand that the crane has been a part of your city's vista for more than 60 years and for some it may be considered an icon of Sydney's past.
But we must also consider the reality of the situation.
Built to help the Navy, it is now an impediment costing $720,000 per year. This is money that our armed forces could otherwise be using to build and enhance their capabilities for the next century, not preserving relics of the past.
It is time for the crane to go.
Jeffrey von Drehnen: 0477 348 476