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Origin Storys

In September 1998, the Commonwealth Government unveiled the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust (Harbour Trust) – a statutory agency tasked with rehabilitating former Defence and other Commonwealth lands around Sydney Harbour, conserving their natural and built heritage, and returning them to the people of Australia.

These lands had been hidden away from public view for many years and were derelict, contaminated and in a state of disrepair.

In his speech announcing the Harbour Trust, the Hon. John Howard, then Prime Minister of Australia, described Sydney Harbour as “…probably the world’s greatest harbour. It is one of the great natural beauty spots of our nation. It is the cradle of European settlement in Australia and it is one of those parts of our country which gives immense pride and immense pleasure, not only to the residents of Sydney, but also to all Australians because it wins such wide acclaim around the world.”

The agency’s formation followed years of lobbying by community groups adamant that extraordinary places on Sydney Harbour should be maintained as public spaces rather than sold off for 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.


"[Sydney Harbour] is one of the great natural beauty spots of our nation." – John Howard

Our Portfolio

The Harbour Trust operated on an interim basis until September 2001, when its foundational legislation – the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Act 2001 (SHFT Act) – took effect. A self-funding agency, the Harbour Trust is governed by a Board of Trustees and reports to the Minister for the Environment (Cth). Today, we protect and manage a network of nine harbour gems in line with our Comprehensive Plan and suite of Management Plans (See: Planning).


What We Stand For

Vision: To create and maintain extraordinary places on the World’s Best Harbour that are inspiring, loved and shared.

Mission: To bring to life the natural and cultural heritage of our extraordinary places and leave a lasting legacy for all Australians through a process of conservation, remediation and adaptive reuse.

Values: Open, Accountable, Collaborative, Entrepreneurial, Creative and Integrity.

Objectives: Protect, conserve and interpret the environmental and heritage values of our extraordinary places; maintain suitable land as parks on behalf of the Commonwealth Government and maximise public access to them; enhance the amenity of Sydney Harbour through the management of our extraordinary places; and co-operate with the State and Commonwealth Government agencies as well as councils and the community in furthering these objectives.

Roadmap For The Future

The Commonwealth’s original intention for the Harbour Trust was for the agency to cease operations by 2011. In 2007, however, our foundational legislation was amended to extend the life of the Harbour Trust by 22 years to 2033. This decision reflected the trust the Government and the public had, by then, placed in our agency and their confidence in our ability to revitalise extraordinary places on Sydney Harbour.

Keenly aware of our responsibility to these stakeholders, we continue to map out the future of our harbour gems, determined to leave a lasting legacy for all Australians. Equally, we continue to look within, self-analyse and refine how we operate to ensure we meet evolving community expectations. To learn about our plans for the coming years, see our latest Corporate Plan.

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