Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Bill 2021

Published on: November 2021

Record: HANSARD-1323879322-120865

Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Bill 2021

Second Reading Debate

Debate resumed from an earlier hour.

Ms JULIA FINN (Granville) (20:03:22):

The Opposition opposes the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Bill 2021, and I strongly oppose it. The bill sets out the objectives and functions of the proposed Greater Sydney Parklands Trust to manage any new parks that the trust may own in the future and existing lands of the associated trust—Centennial Parklands, including Moore and Queens parks, Callan Park, Parramatta Park, Western Sydney Parklands and Fernhill Estate. The Greater Sydney Parklands was established in July 2020 as an administrative arrangement led by an independent board to care for more than 5,000 hectares of existing parklands across Centennial Parklands, Callan Park, Parramatta Park, Western Sydney Parklands and the Fernhill Estate. While there is strategic value to having a unified voice within government for our most significant urban parks, the bill undermines too many of the existing protections our parks enjoy and creates too many opportunities for excessive commercialisation and exclusion. It is an unnecessary trade-off at the expense of communities and heritage.

I love Parramatta Park. I am a regular visitor to the park; in fact, I ran around the park yesterday morning. I also served on the Parramatta Park Trust for 10 years. I am particularly concerned for the future of the park given the track record of the current Government in relation to Parramatta Park. The pandemic has shown us how vital open space is for health and wellbeing. Parramatta Park was gazetted as a public park in 1858 on the site of the former Parramatta Government Domain—over 99.5 hectares. It is our oldest public park. It has remnants of the Cumberland Plain Woodland. It is historically and archaeologically significant and the remains of Aboriginal occupation can be seen within the park. It is the site of the oldest known evidence of Indigenous settlement on the east coast, dating back 35,000 years.

In 1860, the extension of the main western railway line divided the park and necessitated the demolition of Governor Macquarie's stables. In 1913, some of the park was annexed for the construction of Parramatta High School. In 1981, eight hectares was transferred to the Parramatta Stadium Trust. Old Government House sits within the park and is managed very capably by the National Trust. The park is administered by the Parramatta Park Trust pursuant to the Parramatta Park Trust Act 2001. That Act is important for recognising and protecting Parramatta Park. In his second reading speech on the Parramatta Park Trust Bill 2001, Bob Debus, the environment Minister, said:

The purpose of the bill is to recognise the outstanding historical and heritage values of Parramatta Park. The bill achieves this by creating a new trust, revoking the existing regional park and vesting those same lands in the new trust. This mirrors the legislative basis for the protection and management that applies to our other great urban spaces such as Centennial Park and Moore Park, Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain, and Bicentennial Park. It is proper and fitting that the people of western Sydney should have their park protected and managed in the same way.

The objects of the proposed trust are to maintain and develop the Parramatta Park Trust lands; to encourage their use and enjoyment by the public by promoting the recreational, historical, educational and cultural heritage significance of the park, and to ensure the conservation of natural and cultural heritage values of this unique parkland. The functions of the trust are to include making the trust lands available for activities associated with the park; entering into arrangements for the provision of food or other refreshments; and the management of all property vested in the trust. The legislation gives a much-needed ability for the trust to enter into sponsorship agreements and other entrepreneurial arrangements for revenue-raising events and activities.

The legislation recognises the importance of preserving parklands and recreational areas in the ever-expanding urban environment of Sydney. It will ensure that Parramatta Park will be administered by a body that is fully aware of the recreational, historical, scientific, educational and cultural heritage significance of the park, and is also committed to its maintenance, conservation and development both now and into the future. The bill ensures that this parkland will be preserved for the use, enjoyment and benefit of the people of western Sydney and all visitors. It is fitting that, in this year of celebration of one hundred years of our nation, this Government has taken steps to preserve a most significant part of our national heritage—the unique parkland known as Parramatta Park.

Those objectives still remain crucial and should not be watered down. The current trust, which is made up of the same trustees across multiple parks, does not have that focus. Bizarrely, a World Heritage‑listed park does not have any heritage experts on its trust board. I note the concerns of the Alliance for Public Parklands, which believes the bill will reduce community control and open the way for commercial interest to profit from some of Sydney's most iconic parks. The alliance has three main concerns: There is no commitment to adequate government funding, the Minister's powers as proposed are overwhelming and grossly excessive, and community rights to have a say and make decisions about their parks are negligible to non-existent.

I acknowledge that the bill is not as bad as the exposure draft, but the concerns have not been fully addressed across all parks. Parramatta Park is a special part of western Sydney. Over time it has lost parcels of land to a railway line, a golf course, a football stadium, an RSL club, a leagues club and a memorial pool. In 2017, this Government decided to demolish the Parramatta War Memorial Pool to build a bigger stadium and leave space for a commercial building to the north of the stadium that has never been built. That was a move rejected by local residents but that saw even more public land lost. The Government originally said it would partly fund a new pool to replace the one that it took and build it south of the railway line, requiring about 1½ to two hectares.

To excise land from Parramatta Park, legislation and the approval of the New South Wales Parliament is needed. The bill that passed in 2017 did not just excise two hectares to build a new pool; it excised 20 hectares of an 85‑hectare public park—close to a quarter of the oldest public park in Australia and the original Governor Macquarie Domain. Those 20 hectares include all of the park south of the railway line to the Mays Hill Gatehouse, the original main carriage entrance to the park, which led from the World Heritage‑listed Old Government House all the way down to the railway line. The Government also proposed to give commercial interests 50‑year leases over all 20 hectares of that land. Defending the Government's land grab, the spokesperson for the then environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said:

The aquatic centre will only occupy a portion of the Mays Hill site.

That was an admission that the rest of it was a pure land grab. Given that recent track record, the people of Parramatta and western Sydney are right to be sceptical about the plans of the New South Wales Government. I will focus on a number of concerns with the bill, including the heightened importance of public recreation during the pandemic, the UNESCO World Heritage listing and the destruction of Parramatta's heritage by this Government. From my own observations of people exercising during lockdown in the local government areas of concern, Parramatta Park was a hugely popular location. It was busy every day, and even more so once vaccinated locals could meet for picnics. Across Sydney the lockdown highlighted the importance of public recreation and public parklands. Visitation increased enormously as people exercised outside for their physical and mental health.

With the growth of the population of Parramatta, the need for ongoing access to, and support of, Parramatta Park will continue to increase rather than decrease. The proposed people's loop will facilitate that by excluding cars from part of the park. But notably, the consultation on that proposal, which was essentially done by the same organisation as proposed in this bill for the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust, failed to draw attention to the proposed tree removal that will also occur as part of the proposal. If that is how consultation will be done in the future across all of Sydney's iconic parks, that is a huge concern. A proper trust, focused on heritage and community, would not do that. The Parramatta Park Trust can and has achieved much for the park.

In 2010, Parramatta Park, including Old Government House, was one of 11 Australian convict sites listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. That is no small achievement and it took years of commitment. Achieving that recognition was due to the hard work and passion of the then trust chair, the Hon. Tom Uren, and the trustees and staff of the Parramatta Park Trust. Without their local experience, passion and knowledge of heritage, the listing would not have happened. Parramatta Park joined other Australian icons such as the Great Barrier Reef, the Blue Mountains and Kakadu National Park on the World Heritage List. At the time, Tom Uren said:

This great news and the support from Government via additional funding for Parramatta Park bodes well for the future of our Parramatta Park.

Extension of time

The Parramatta Female Factory should have been part of the same listing of the State's most significant convict sites but was not. It was not even on the Register of the National Estate back then. It did not have the advocacy of its custodians like Parramatta Park did. The Parramatta Female Factory was built between 1818 and 1821 and was the destination for many female convicts sent to the colony of New South Wales. It was used as a prison, a hospital, a marriage bureau and an asylum. It was also the site of the first industrial action ever recorded in Australia when the women went on strike 188 years ago over wages and conditions. []

In November 2017, the Parramatta Female Factory was finally inscribed on the National Heritage List. Locals are campaigning for the inclusion of the site on the World Heritage List alongside the other convict sites. This Government has stuck a business hub in the site that clearly does not help celebrate it and tell its story to future generations, which may very well be the Government's point. In the same way that Parramatta's outstanding heritage would not have been recognised through World Heritage listing, I am concerned that the loss of connection as proposed in the exposure draft might not assist the cause of recognising the Parramatta Female Factory as a convict site.

Wisteria Gardens is also of grave concern. Wisteria Gardens are located on the grounds of Cumberland Hospital in Westmead and are adjacent to the north end of Parramatta Park. The status of the gardens is still in limbo while they wait to be transferred from the Western Sydney Local Health District to the Parramatta Park Trust. The community has been waiting for four years and there has been no explanation for the delay. The gardens should be transferred to Parramatta Park to ensure that they are not just preserved for the community to enjoy but also become a thriving community oasis. I acknowledge that the Minister has committed to address this.

It is not just the regular excision of land from Parramatta Park and the delays to the inclusion of Wisteria Gardens that make local people suspicious of the Government's motives. The Royal Oak Hotel, which was established in 1813, was removed by the Government to enable the construction and operation of the Parramatta Light Rail even though the tracks do not cross the land where the hotel stood. While the heritage Cobb & Co stables were retained, the destruction of a 200-year-old building was a huge loss to Parramatta. Similarly, after a three-month campaign the historic Willow Grove homestead was dismantled so that the Government could proceed with its Powerhouse Parramatta project. Some believe this Government unduly made use of the COVID pandemic to send in the bulldozers while most of us were confined to our homes during the hard lockdown. This was not an appropriate way to deal with a very significant heritage building, and its dismantling has been a huge issue for people in my electorate because it was situated in the adjoining electorate of Parramatta. People in the electorate of Granville are very passionate and proud about the history of Parramatta. They love Parramatta Park and they are proud of its history.

I note the growing controversy at Moore Park. The Minister for Planning and Public Spaces has said that car parking will be moved off the grass and a new village precinct with shops and eateries will be built near the football stadium redevelopment, and that the planned partially underground car park is part of the Government's proposal to remove all the remaining on-grass parking. The bill will make it an offence to park vehicles on the grass, yet the underground car park at the Sydney Football Stadium will not be finished in time for its reopening. This is a shared space and stakeholders are furious. This Government's own buildings at Callan Park are decaying, yet it uses its own lack of maintenance as an excuse for 50-year commercial leases for who knows what. Five by five leases will suffice for most desirable activities. There is no transparency about what is being proposed, only a spurious argument about the amount needed to be spent on buildings that this Government owns. There are also great fears of excessive commercialisation at Moore Park.

The Fernhill Estate needs and deserves better protections. While the bill is a tiny step forward, it opens the door for mass commercialisation, and it could close the door on genuine community stewardship and sensible and sensitive use. Western Sydney Parklands advocates have valid concerns about commercialisation and conservation being undermined. In his second reading speech the Minister said the community knows how important our parks are. The Western Sydney Parklands Board and the community trustee boards should not be a group of well-intentioned individuals who ratify decisions already made by the Government under the guise of consultation. They should be able to make their own decisions, with the Greater Sydney Parklands Board setting strategic directions across Sydney in genuine partnership with them. This bill will create more problems than it will solve for our most beloved, iconic and significant parks across Sydney. I oppose the bill and I urge all members to do the same.

Ms FELICITY WILSON (North Shore) (20:17:22):

I support the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Bill 2021. The bill presents a strong and positive vision for our city. I thank the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces for introducing the bill. I am not sure I can think of a greater or more pleasant vision than a "city within a park"—a phrase the Minister uses frequently—where development and growth is enveloped by green and connected parkland. I reflect on my own local community, where we are so fortunate to live within the surrounds of parklands and national park.

When I think about this legislation I think about the success story of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. Pieces of land were under threat from development or from being sold off and lost, putting at risk the cultural, Indigenous and military heritage of the area. Decades ago through community action the land was saved and preserved and put into a trust. To this day that trust has protected and preserved that entity to make sure that we have an amazing open space not just for our local community but also for people across Sydney, New South Wales and Australia, and for visitors from across the globe. The trust has introduced revenue streams that are complementary to the nature and history of the "trust of lands", as we call them. This entity has turned into a sustainable business in the long run while also investing in and ensuring that we have open space that recognises and reflects on our history, heritage and Indigenous culture.

This kind of model can be incredibly successful. There has been a lot of debate, particularly with the Federal Parliament passing legislation on the harbour trust in recent times, about whether the land should be managed at a State or Federal level, but that is a moot point today. The point is a mechanism like this can be incredibly effective in getting great community outcomes and ensuring the preservation of assets and history while also investing in public open spaces. The bill will use the trust model to strike the right governance framework to ensure that good decisions are made for current and future parklands for generations to come, and maybe the parklands around Mosman and Neutral Bay will move into those parklands in the future.

Some members have expressed concerns that the establishment of a single Greater Sydney Parklands Trust to deliver a network of parklands and green open spaces will create a one-size-fits-all approach across our unique parks, but this is simply not true. The harbour trust model contains a range of entities. It does not just include lands in my electorate of North Shore; it also includes lands around, and the islands in, Sydney Harbour and lands in the Eastern Suburbs. The trust uses consultative committees and interacts with local stakeholders to make sure that in each of those areas the local community voice is represented and local interests are always paramount. I know this model can be successful.

Contrary to the concerns of those opposite, the bill recognises that there is no binary way to plan for and fund parklands. Of course, different parks have different environmental and heritage values, and communities use them in completely different ways. The Greater Sydney Parklands Trust will be dynamic in its approach to ensure that local communities will continue to play a role in decisions made about the parks that they know and love. For instance, the rich architectural history of Callan Park that the member for Balmain fights for will not be lost, just as the iconic sports fields in Moore Park that the member for Vaucluse spoke about earlier will live on. I assure those who are calling for a federation model that this bill achieves that same vision.

The Government will not seek to dictate to stakeholders how these precious spaces are used. Rather it will work with them to create places that everyone can enjoy in partnership with the community. That is why the bill includes key protections that will ensure a top-down and a bottom-up approach to governance and decision‑making. Part 3 of the bill includes a requirement for the trust to ensure that each park has a plan of management that sets out a strategic direction and the principles for how a space is used. This will be not only for current parks managed by Greater Sydney Parklands but also for any new parks that come under its ownership. That echoes many of the ways in which we approach national parks.

The bill offers a holistic approach with the Government's vision for a city within a park. It requires the Greater Sydney Commission to consult with the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust in its metropolitan planning for Greater Sydney. These building blocks will allow the trust to optimise each park's opportunities and to identify any constraints that need to be worked within. Importantly, these plans of management will include checks and balances for leasing activities to ensure that they are appropriate to the uniqueness of each park. For instance, Moore Park is a natural place to consider leases for elite sports fields and training grounds given its proximity to the Sydney Football Stadium.

These leases would be deemed inappropriate at Parramatta Park because it has exceptional World Heritage‑listed cultural significance. The plans will undergo thorough consultation with the wider community in line with an engagement framework that is set out in part 4 of the bill. The purpose of the framework is to provide guidance to the trust on how it consults and engages with the local community. It also guarantees that will be done in a collaborative and transparent way. This measure has been lacking in existing legislation, therefore the bill empowers communities to shape the future of our parks more than ever before.

Members opposite can sometimes forget that the Western Sydney Parklands Act and the Parramatta Park Trust Act have no provisions for community consultation. The provisions in the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Bill 2021 seek to remedy that. Importantly, the bill will provide opportunities for First Nations people to connect to country in these parklands through increased collaboration and consultation with the community. This is an important step towards the practical reconciliation that has not been previously recognised. The framework in the bill sets out further details and procedures for how the trust will interact with community trustee boards. These boards will be established by the trust for each park within the parklands estate in recognition of the importance of balancing a city-wide trust with local representatives.

The board will consist of seven members, who will act as critical local stewards of the parklands and independently represent a wide range of interests and voices. Each member must have demonstrated experience or management skills in community consultation and/or environmental, park, heritage and/or financial management. Community trustee boards will have the functions of providing advice and recommendations from a local perspective to the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust. Their advice will cover all considerations appropriate to each park, including its uses and activities, environmental and heritage assets, plans of management and master plans, and proposed leases and licences.

As the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces outlined, we want to evolve as a city within a park. Places like Parramatta deserve the opportunity to continue to grow, but it is equally important that the community are easily able to escape the hustle and bustle of the beautiful downtown Parramatta CBD to have a picnic, as the member for Granville said, go for a walk or simply sit and enjoy the oaks, pines and wisteria vines in Parramatta Park. I remember quite keenly doing that over my years of going to school in the area. That is why under part 3 of the bill, councils adjacent to parkland estates must also consider any overshadowing impacts when assessing development applications. That will protect the amenity and the environmental and cultural assets of those great parks.

Similarly, the bill puts measures in place to protect development within the parks, where appropriate. The Minister has heard loud and clear that the inner west community are concerned with the overdevelopment at Callan Park. He is regularly speaking with the member for Balmain about that. That is why the bill expressly prohibits hotels or functions centres at the site. The New South Wales Government is listening to the community, which is why it is taking extra steps to safeguard those parks over the long term. Each of our communities deserve to have parklands and access to great public spaces for this city within a park. I commend the bill to the House.

Mr JAMIE PARKER (Balmain) (20:26:09):

On behalf of The Greens I address the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Bill 2021 because public lands are important to us all, especially after COVID. They are incredibly important to me and my community. One reason we have heard so many speeches tonight and seen so much dedication from members and action from community groups, from Mulgoa to Parramatta and Waverly to the inner west, is because we care about Centennial Parklands, Callan Park, Fernhill, Western Sydney Parklands and Parramatta Park. They are all critical places that deserve protection, support and investment.

I acknowledge and thank the Alliance for Public Parklands. It is a grassroots community group that was set up to represent the interests of all five foundation parklands, including Blacktown and District Environment Group, Centennial Park Residents' Association, Friends of Callan Park, Friends of Fernhill and Mulgoa Valley Inc. and North Parramatta Residents' Action Group. I particularly acknowledge the people of western Sydney for their strong advocacy to support parklands. I acknowledge the issues raised by councils, including Penrith, Parramatta, Waverly, Woollahra and the inner west.

I remember on 11 November 2011, just a few short months after I was first elected to represent the Balmain electorate, I spoke for the first time on the case to protect Callan Park. That first speech was almost a decade ago to the day. While that was a significant day, the campaign to save Callan Park started many years before in 1998 when the Carr Government first attempted to sell off and develop parts of it. During that time the community has worked hard to encourage the retention of mental health services, which are the moral heart of Callan Park. We fought to open the park and called on the Government to allow the EOIs to put the empty buildings to good use, and backed the council to develop new sporting facilities. I thank the health Minister for his help to make that happen.

We supported a range of arts and cultural actives, cafes and live music events. In fact, I was proud to speak on opening the Laneway Festival at Callan Park when I was mayor of Leichhardt Council. We want to ensure that can continue. However, Labor and Coalition successive governments dithered. They proposed sell-offs and developments over the past 20 years, during which time Callan Park saw limited investment. The history of what occurred with Callan Park is being experienced in other electorates. The same lack of care and strategic vision for precious public places is happening across Sydney. That history is in my mind as we consider the legislation.

I recognise the Minister's stated aim to create an overarching Sydney agency to protect, improve and identify future significant parklands across Sydney. It is a laudable aim. We strongly support that goal; however, the bill in its current form falls well short of those aims. Post-COVID people have built a deep bond with their public places. They want control over them and want them secured and shielded from exploitation. A major concern at the heart of the bill is that parks must generate their own revenue, rather than parklands being a place that needs investment like schools or hospitals. We do not support compromising the integrity of our parklands through privatisation and excessive commercialisation.

The community has raised concerns that the bill does not contain an effective mechanism to guarantee adequate funding from the New South Wales Government for the maintenance and protection of our parklands. The trust will be created as a corporation as well as a government agency, imposing on it the responsibility to raise funds for day-to-day management, including undertaking and facilitating business activities within the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust [GSPT] estate to maintain and improve the parklands. The risk of opening the door to commercialisation and inappropriate development on existing parklands and ecologically valuable areas is that it could be sacrificed to revenue-raising activities. I have received many calls, emails and Facebook messages from people who use parks across Greater Sydney every day. We want to support our parklands. Locally, we have had a huge response to continue the revitalisation of Callan Park, which has started. Every day during COVID we saw hundreds of thousands of people using those sites. They are incredible and vital places. Our parks deserve much more. They deserve the type of investment that people expect.

Callan Park in my local area is a vibrant place with over 20 organisations, including the headquarters of NSW Ambulance and the oldest community gardens. We Help Ourselves calls Callan Park home. It is one of Sydney's leading drug and alcohol rehab services that has a facility with over 130 beds. I note that on Remembrance Day, Friends of Callan Park highlighted their call for mental health and rehabilitation services for veterans to come to Callan Park. Let us use those historic buildings for their original purpose, which was to support veterans with their convalescence and health care. For all of those reasons, we do not want less; we want more. We want Callan Park to be the moral heart when it comes to mental health and wellness.

Even this year there has been so much activity. I acknowledge the commitment that the Government made to Callan Park. There have already been great heritage upgrades at Gardner's Cottage, also known as Bonny View, and Repatriation Ward B, which has been renovated at a cost of $600,000. The request for expressions of interest for that building have been advertised. I have supported the Balmain and District Football Club, and I am prepared to make a serious investment in that site to ensure that it will have a cafe and other facilities so everyone can use the park. There is the Gary Owen Summer House and the Cane Room, not to mention the $600,000 investment in the magnificent gates at the entry of Callan Park and the $420,000 spent on upgrading lighting on the Bay Run. That is the type of investment we need more of across New South Wales.

We are concerned that there is no adequate mechanism to fulfil the principal objective, which comes to the issue of conserving, restoring and enhancing the natural environment of the parklands estate. The Minister's worthy stated aims and objects are good, but the draft bill needs a stronger mechanism to ensure the trust board carries through on those objects. I note there has been some progress. The existing bill gives sweeping powers to the GSPT board and the Minister of the day. We are concerned that those powers will lead to significant problems without adequate accountability or oversight. The Centennial and Moore Park Trust Act and the Callan Park act exist so that politicians from on all sides govern and manage the parks in an appropriate way.

We are concerned about the private use of parks, which can essentially privatise those spaces for up to 50 years. We do not support the privatisation of parks for private uses and long-term leases. There should also be meaningful community consultation. There is a commitment to develop that framework, but the trustee boards are essentially advisory bodies at the mercy of the GSPT board who can appoint members and dismiss members. It is important that we have proper, adequate and genuine community consultation. We want the community to have a seat at the table so they can be genuinely involved. At Callan Park we want council to be the consent authority so that it can help to determine the future of the park through a proper, sober assessment of developments as they come forward.

Finally, we are concerned that the bill does not create a dedicated trust for Callan Park. We have fought for many years for that important trust and this bill should give us the opportunity to create it. When we look across Greater Sydney and our State, public parklands are critically important. While the objectives that the Minister has proposed are laudable, we want to make sure that it is incumbent on all of us—every local member and every MP—that our parks are supported and not exploited. We move to ensure that in all those cases there are safeguards and appropriate restrictions on the exploitation of those parks. As always, we seek to work constructively. I propose to move a range of amendments to deal with several issues that are particularly relevant to my electorate—and I note that other members will be moving their own amendments.

I would much prefer to keep the Callan Park Act intact. Nevertheless, The Greens will be moving in a collaborative way to make sure that we provide more flexibility and clearly provide for arts and culture. We want to ensure that council can play its role. We want to assure non-governmental organisations, sporting clubs and community organisations that they will not be outbid by private interests. We want to remove any ambiguity and to explicitly include arts, culture, education, health, and food-and-drink activities in the uses for Callan Park. I share the belief of groups like Friends of Callan Park that those uses are already permitted. Under current legislation, we have already held a range of events. As I mentioned, I even opened one of the Laneway music festivals, which was a great event. We have had cafes, provision of food and coffee carts and services on site. But what is important is, if there is any ambiguity, we can clarify those issues for the benefit of the entire community. I will make sure, with the collaboration of the House, that the issues that have been raised relating to the bill will be addressed.

In closing, what is absolutely imperative is that each one of us in this House stands up for our local communities and that we stand up for everyone in Sydney. Parks are not just for their local communities but for everyone in Sydney. We fought so hard for the moral heart of places like Callan Park and to maintain mental health services on those sites, particularly services for veterans. That is why we fought so hard to defend those veteran wards before they were eventually moved out in the mid-2000s. Parks are dynamic places. Places like Callan Park and all the parklands around Greater Sydney are incredibly important places where so much is happening. They are so vital, they are so engaging and they are so active, and they are places for passive recreation. We want to make sure that continues, and that is why The Greens believe a lot of work needs to be done between now and any new proposed laws coming into force.

Dr MARJORIE O'NEILL (Coogee) (20:36:23):

I contribute to debate on the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Bill 2021. I will start by correcting something that the member for North Shore said earlier in the debate. In her contribution, she claimed that what is being proposed is a federated model. It is not a federated model by any chance or by any measure. Her appropriation of that term is highly offensive, particularly to the community groups that have developed a federated model that they put forward to the Minister. The bill introduces the Greater Sydney Parklands [GSP] Trust as a new entity to manage Centennial Park, Moore Park, Callan Park, Parramatta Park and the Western Sydney Parklands. In doing so, the bill will reduce community control over these priceless public parklands and pave the way for commercial interests to profit from some of Sydney's most iconic parks.

The parklands are the lungs of Sydney. They provide vital spaces for local people to take a break from the walls of their apartments and offices and to escape into nature. For generations, those parks have been protected by independent trusts, backed up by the New South Wales Parliament. Generations of people have been able to enjoy the beauty and recreation that those parks have had to offer. It is our responsibility, as legislators and as local representatives, to ensure, protect and safeguard those parks for future generations. The bill makes significant amendments to the existing Acts that govern our city's largest parklands and will forever change the way our parks are managed for the worse. The bill has been a long time in the making and has been developed over a period of 15 months, followed by a green paper, a white paper and exposure draft process. The exposure draft has been subject to considerable criticism by parkland advocates, who have suggested that the leases and licensing provide considerable scope for effective privatisation of our parks and parkland estates, with few checks and very little transparency. I deeply share those sentiments.

Some elements and concerns have been amended and included in the bill; many have not. Along with community groups—including the Alliance for Public Parklands—I have serious concerns that, by centralising control of Centennial Park, Callan Park, Parramatta Park, Fernhill Estate and Western Sydney Parklands under a single authority, the bill looks to give the Minister the power to silence local communities and eradicate their influence. Under this proposal, the existing park trusts will be replaced by the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust, an entity that answers directly to the planning Minister. The proposed community trust boards are merely advisory; members of community trusts will also be hand-picked by the GSP Trust board, which can also summarily dismiss members. Under the bill, the Minister is ultimately responsible for major leases and appointments to the board, has unilateral power to alter park plans of management, and mandatorily directs the trust board.

The bill will give the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces overwhelming and unprecedented power to alter the use of our parks—community parks—without the scrutiny and/or protection of the New South Wales Parliament. It is unequivocally a change for the worse. Not everything on this earth is here to make money and return dividends to shareholders. A park can be a park; it does not have to be anything more. Over the past two years, the importance of our green open spaces has never been more evident, especially in my own electorate, which is one of the most densely populated parts of Sydney. Our green open spaces are precious and must be protected. The bill will undoubtedly facilitate even greater privatisation and commercialisation of our parks, putting them at even greater risk.

For a long time, we have known that this Government has had plans for Moore Park; plans that it has kept in the wings and out of public eye. Avoiding scrutiny under legislation such as this will make the Government's plans possible. As exhibit A, I submit the Tibby Cotter bridge—or, as most people in my local area know it, the "Tibby Cotter bridge to nowhere". In 2020 the $38 million bridge was voted one of the worst public works projects ever built in New South Wales—mind you, the CBD and South East Light Rail was also on the list—used by just one in every 20 people who arrive at Moore Park on match days. Imagine what it is like when it is not a match day. This bridge is so terrible that the Government had to build another footbridge a few meters away that actually follows the natural walking routes. This bridge makes no sense—no sense at all—unless you go back to the Moore Park Master Plan that has a car park at the base of the Tibby Cotter bridge, which will destroy more of our green space. We have known for a very long time that this Government is set to commercialise, sell off and reduce our green open space; the "bridge to nowhere" is just the beginning.

As exhibit B, I submit the hidden plan to build an 8,000- to 10,000-seat indoor sporting arena "close to the CBD" to replace the Sydney Entertainment Centre. The bill would allow such a venue to be built on the land currently protected by the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust. If this Government gets its way, this decision will not need to go through the robust processes of New South Wales Parliament but will simply be made with a stroke of the Minister's pen. This indoor sporting arena plan was part of the infamous Rebuilding the Major Stadia Network scheme, which saw unnecessary total demolition of the Sydney Football Stadium. Again, we have known for a very long time that this Government is set to commercialise, privatise and sell off our precious green space. The Government does not want to share its plans with the people of New South Wales. Those plans are now laid out very clearly in the bill. I do not often agree with the member for Drummoyne, but I have to say he made a very good point in his contribution to the second reading debate: What kind of 25-year lease is needed for a coffee cart? It is a very good question.

Mr John Sidoti:



Fifty-year lease. This is Trojan horse legislation that lacks transparency and probity and cuts out the community. It will fundamentally change the way our parks are managed forever. For those reasons, I will not support the bill. I encourage every single member in this House to do the same.

Ms JO HAYLEN (Summer Hill) (20:44:16):

I speak in debate on the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Bill 2021. COVID-19 has given us all a far greater appreciation of the value of our public parklands. They are oases in our urban environment that allow people to gather and connect, exercise and enjoy the beautiful outdoors. They are refuges for biodiversity, supporting a rich ecology of insects, birds and native mammals. They act as lungs for our concrete jungle, drawing pollution from the air and reducing urban heat. Parks are vital to our environment, to public health and to the vitality of our cities. But like all public spaces, our parklands are under ever-present threat from residential encroachment, underinvestment and, yes, creeping commercialisation.

The bill establishes the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust as the body tasked with managing Centennial Park, Moore Park, Callan Park, Parramatta Park and the Western Sydney Parklands. The bill sets out a series of principles, governing structures and functions by which the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust will operate, including that the trust will have a consultation and engagement framework. One of the key provisions of the bill is its laying out of the trust's ability to offer 25-year leases, with the Minister required to approve leases and licences for periods of over 25 years. The bill requires the creation of community trusts for each park managed by the trust to provide what the Minister in his second reading speech called "advice and recommendations" to the trust. The bill also establishes the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Special Deposits Account, with separate accounts for each of the parks so that, again, to quote the Minister:

… if a parkland is able to generate some funds then those funds are expended within those parklands.

Importantly for inner west residents, the bill makes substantial amendments to the Callan Park (Special Provisions) Act 2002 allowing for substratum acquisition under the park for Sydney Metro and the option of longer, 50‑year leases at Kirkbride, Broughton Hall and the Convalescent Cottages with ministerial approval. Arts and culture, food-and-drink premises and community facilities—including for health and education—will be permitted, but hotels and function centres will not. The bill represents a significant change in direction for how our parklands are managed and, in principle, there is much merit in the notion of conceiving of our parklands as a connected ecology of open spaces across our city. Like many of my colleagues, however, I am very concerned at what might be lying beneath the principles of this bill and share my community's scepticism about its ambitions.

Callan Park is a 60-hectare gem in the middle of Lilyfield. It is beloved by people of the inner west, including residents of my electorate of Summer Hill, who often talk to me of strolling its winding paths, reading a book under the beautiful, sprawling jacarandas or pounding the pavement along the Bay Run—something I did a lot of during our COVID lockdown. Aboriginal middens and rock carvings point to the importance of the site to the Gadigal and Wangal people, and we must acknowledge the continuing connection of local First Nations peoples to the lands that constitute the park. In 1839 the land was bought by Crown Solicitor and police magistrate John Ryan Brenan, who built Garry Owen House and, later, Broughton Hall. The land was sold and was set to be subdivided, only to be purchased as a whole and saved by the Government of the day. What we now know as the Kirkbride complex was soon constructed for use as a mental health facility. The complex was used continually for over 100 years for this purpose until it became the home of the Sydney College of the Arts. Garry Owen House and Broughton Hall are still standing; however, the latter has fallen into disrepair and decay.

A park with a storied history such as this requires urgent investment and support to ensure it enjoys an equally storied future. It needs leadership and out-of-the-box thinking that preserves the rich heritage of the site while also elevating community access and ownership. What it categorically does not need is commercialisation by stealth. I am concerned that what the people of the inner west are being offered in this bill is commercialisation or nothing. Both spell the death knell for Callan Park. One of the defining features of the park and its glorious grounds and buildings is that for much of their history they have been used for the delivery of public services, including the treatment of vulnerable people. We should retain that focus on public services.

I note that Councillor Darcy Byrne has proposed a public high school be situated on the site and that the Government should initiate a feasibility study to consider the options here. I understand Councillor Byrne has written to the member for Balmain, who has responded favourably. There is real merit in this proposal given the extraordinary constraints for high schools across the inner west, particularly for students and families looking to enrol in public co-educational high schools. While all our local schools are exceptional, parents who are looking for a co-educational option in the catchment stretching from Ashfield to Canterbury and beyond are still not able to do so. The Government has failed to expand the catchment and this might present a solution. I will work with my neighbouring MPs and council colleagues—no matter their political stripe—to pursue this option, and I call on the Minister to initiate a feasibility study for a co-educational high school on the site.

TheSydney Morning Herald

I also note the excellent opinion piece published in today by Kerri Glasscock, who is the festival director of the Sydney Fringe and an expert when it comes to rejuvenating our night-time economy. Her piece discusses what is needed at Callan Park. She argues that the exclusion of food and beverage uses may impact the ability of arts and culture industries to thrive at the park. She writes:

Those of us in the cultural sector know that to operate viable businesses you simply cannot have one without the other. Cultural businesses rely on hospitality services to subsidise the loss leader that is the arts, and hospitality businesses rely on cultural activity to drive footfall.

Our arts and cultural industries are struggling. They have gone from lockout to lockdown. They were the first industries to close because of COVID-19 and they are the last ones to reopen. Cultural activities have long been part of the activities at Callan Park, including being home to the NSW Writers' Centre. I also note that Callan Park was home to the much-loved Laneway Festival for many years. These arts and cultural activities should be able to take place at Callan Park both as a way to support these critical industries but also, importantly, to bring more people to the park.

While I think the community members would accept a cafe in the park, or indeed welcome the continued presence of community and arts and cultural organisations—or even the establishment of a new co-educational high school—I am certain they would not accept the open invitation for private interests that is presented by this bill. I have heard from many residents who are outraged at the suggestion that 50-year leases are on the table. They know that 50-year leases are designed to attract larger organisations or companies with little to no connection to local communities. Residents have raised concerns that there are only minimal limitations on the types of industries that could apply for these long-term leases at the park. There is far too much ministerial discretion in the bill, particularly over leases, planning and appointments to the trust. While some may believe the current Minister for Planning and Public Spaces has their best interests at heart, I invite the public to consider whether they would be comfortable with some of his perhaps less enlightened colleagues holding the role and having that level of discretion over our public spaces.

I am also concerned that the bill establishes an onus on individual parks to raise funds to pay for critical upgrades or maintenance. For a park like Callan Park, where the cost of restoring and maintaining heritage buildings stretches into the tens of millions of dollars, we cannot afford to allow commercialisation to be the answer. With our relatively weak culture of philanthropy and no assurance of ongoing funds from this Government, I am concerned there will be mounting pressure to accept creeping commercialisation to support restoration and repairs at the park. While I hope that members of the proposed community trust for Callan Park would be drawn from the many local advocates who so intrinsically know its history and potential, there is little detail on how community trust members would be selected.

Extension of time

We know that they will be hired and fired by the Greater Sydney Trust Board and owe their positions to the new body. We know that they are only able to offer "advice and recommendations", meaning they have no power to directly drive the future direction of the park. In these ways, the bill risks stripping local control of decisions impacting the park and imperils the principles of public ownership that have made it so important to the inner west. I seek a very brief extension of time. []

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