Keating attacks Garrett over concert on 'sacred land'


Former prime minister Paul Keating has savaged a decision to fence off the Domain for 16 days for two Midnight Oil concerts, questioning why front man Peter Garrett would "feel in any way comfortable squatting and profiting from Sydney's central piece of public land".

But on the eve of the first concert on Saturday, Mr Garrett fired back, arguing that if the Domain was good enough for political rallies held by Mr Keating's mentor, former NSW Premier Jack Lang, "it is good enough for Midnight Oil".

Two-metre high fencing, some topped with spikes, was erected around the perimeter of the Domain between NSW Parliament and the Art Gallery of NSW this week and will remain in place until November 21.

Apart from access to paths through the Domain, the public will be shut out from the green space to accommodate successive weekend Midnight Oil concerts.

Tickets for the events are being advertised at $81.50 for concession, $99.90 for general admission and $159.90 for a grandstand seat.

Mr Keating, who has previously criticised a push from the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust to open its lands to increasing numbers of commercial activities, slammed the move.

"The trust feels compelled to raise revenues to provide facilities the public generally neither want nor need," he told Fairfax Media.

"The trust prostitutes its remit by alienating central public recreational lands to commercial purposes.

"They might feel some protections on this occasion because Midnight Oil has not unreasonably enjoyed such long popularity."

Mr Keating questioned Mr Garrett's involvement, given his past as president of the Australian Conservation Foundation and federal Labor environment and heritage minister.

"I'm surprised, having long espoused environmental and conservationist credentials that Peter Garrett would feel in any way comfortable squatting and profiting from Sydney's central piece of public land".

In apparent reference to Mr Garrett's high profile advocacy for Indigenous causes, Mr Keating added: "Peter knows all about sacred sites. This one is Sydney's."

In a statement, Mr Garrett said: "I'm a supporter of Paul Keating and most of his campaigns but if he feels it is wrong to share the Domain with 40,000 Sydneysiders then I have to disagree.

"The money we pay for the privilege of playing here all goes to the Botanic Gardens Trust who use it for education, science and horticulture.

"Surely if The Domain was good enough for Paul's mentor Jack Lang it is good enough for Midnight Oil."

However, the decision was also panned by Ian Kiernan, patron of the Friends of Sydney Harbour, as "a bloody land grab".

"The trust has got to realise that they are there to serve us, not to turn into a commercial entity, which is what they're doing," he said.

A trust spokesman said tthe Midnight Oil concert "is a paid event, open to the public [and] 48,000 members of the public are expected to attend the event in the Domain over the period of the two concerts".

He said the area in question - which the trust calls "The Philip Precinct" - "is the only area with restrictions for the concert".

"There are still many areas of the Domain available right now including Tarpeian Way, numerous sporting fields, Mrs Macquaries Point, Fleet Steps and others."

He said such closures "occupy less than 10 per cent of the year, a reasonable balance in ensuring that the Domain can continue to function as an important venue for a range of cultural and social events that attract many hundreds of thousands of people every year."

In 2014, Mr Keating and Mr Keirnan criticised a draft masterplan for the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain championed by trust chief executive Kim Ellis.

Mr Keating described the plan, which included a five-star hotel, harbourside viewing platforms and a permanent sound shell in the Domain - as "the most appalling and outrageous plan Sydney has ever seen for the misappropriation of its public lands".

This story Keating attacks Garrett over concert on 'sacred land' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.