Hurlstone Agricultural High School Site Bill 2016 - Second Reading

25 August 2016

Second Reading

Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) (1:13): I acknowledge the contributions of all members who have spoken in debate on the Hurlstone Agricultural High School Site Bill 2016—an important bill. This bill preserves Hurlstone's history and presence at Glenfield, and protects precious and valuable public land so that it can be used only for public educational purposes. This bill will prevent the selling out of south-west Sydney's educational future for 30 pieces of silver. To all intents and purposes, this bill is almost identical to a bill that was introduced in 2009 by the then Opposition, and supported by the current Minister for Education, the Hon. Adrian Piccoli. I note with interest the comments of the member for Camden in this place on 4 May when he said, "I have only 10 minutes, but I will be back next week."

I waited and waited but the member for Camden never came back, which does not surprise me because not keeping commitments is typical of the Baird Liberal Government. Let me give the House another example. Minister Piccoli now claims that his position in 2009 was about protecting Hurlstone and agricultural education in the Sydney Basin—not at Glenfield, not in the south-west, but in the Sydney Basin. How quickly the Minister has rewritten history. However, the 2009 public record says something very different. I will give members a few examples.

On 11 March 2009 the then Opposition spokesman for education said, "The plan to sell most of the school is disgusting. It would be one of the great shames to let them do this just because the land has development value." Later, on 29 April, Mr Piccoli went on to add that the Government's plan was "ridiculous", that the Liberal‑Nationals believed the relocation of Hurlstone was "impractical" and that the school should be retained in its current form. Yet again on 24 June Mr Piccoli said that the Liberal-Nationals opposed the sale of land at Hurlstone Agricultural High School. On 25 June 2009 Mr Piccoli presented a bill in this House that specified in clause 5 that the entire Hurlstone site not be sold. In clause 6 it stated that development of the site be restricted to government school purposes. The record speaks for itself; the record is clear.

There was no mention by Mr Piccoli of the Sydney Basin. The Sydney Basin is a recent invention by that master magician and illusionist—the current Minister for Education. The 2009 bill was all about Hurlstone at Glenfield; that was the commitment of the member for Murrumbidgee. The 2009 bill was never about the Sydney Basin. The Minister and his legion of spin doctors know that and the public record proves that it is another broken commitment. More galling than the Minister's refashioning of his commitment to Hurlstone in 2000 and 2009 was his recent support in this House of a stunt by the member for Camden who suggested that Labor's plan for Hurlstone in 2008 was detailed on the back of a coaster.

The Government and this Minister know all about stunts. Let me give the House some examples. The first stunt is a photograph of the Minister with year 11 student Jess Dunn in Hurlstone's foyer pondering Hurlstone's history and archives. The second stunt is a photograph of the Minister with his Nationals colleagues, including Mr Stoner, seeking to reassure the community about Hurlstone's future. The third stunt is a photograph of the Minister and his Federal colleagues Mr Pyne and Mr Mayne in an attempt to stop any selling of school land. This Minister has form when it comes to stunts.

A request for information under the Government Information (Public Access) Act details how, for the grand announcement of Hurlstone's carve up, a tethered cow was requested. One can only speculate why. I suspect that it had something to do with making the scene more agricultural and rural. Appropriately, someone stopped that scam and saw it for what it was—a blatant stunt. Members in this place have witnessed many stunts but the request for a tethered cow has reduced stunt-taking to a new low. The member for Hawkesbury made a valid point and is correct when he said that the decision to sell Hurlstone's land and to relocate it to Hawkesbury is not about education; it is about promising one thing in opposition and doing the opposite thing in government. It is about honouring a commitment to one's community, and it is about credibility. The definition of "credibility" on is, "the quality of being believable or worthy of trust." The website gives the following usage example:

After all those lies, his credibility was at a low ebb.

Credibility is something that is often lacking in this place and it is particularly lacking in the current Minister for Education in relation to his proposed sale of Hurlstone's farm and its relocation to Hawkesbury. Ironically, the credibility of elected representatives is something members of the public are crying out for. It is a quality that costs nothing at all. Credibility cannot be bought; it must be earned and developed over many years through one's actions. How is credibility earned? Let us go back to the definition of "credibility". Credibility is being trustworthy and believable. A corollary to that is being consistent. The voting public are rightly fed up with politicians who are inconsistent—politicians who say one thing but who do another—bellwether politicians who flip-flop with no regard for previous positions or opinions. They often say that circumstances have changed, or they draw a distinction—as one former Prime Minister did—between core and non-core promises.

Public life and public institutions are built on trust, which is why we have institutions such as the Independent Commission Against Corruption. It helps to build and maintain trust in government and it holds governments to account. That is what occurs also in the Legislative Assembly; in this Chamber we hold governments to account without fear or favour. The community, through their elected representatives, hold governments and individuals accountable and, in so doing, help to maintain credibility in our democratic system and our parliamentary institutions.

That brings me back to the bill before the House. The current Minister for Education must be held to account for his actions. His backflip must be noted; the damage that has been done to one of our finest public schools must be detailed; this sellout must be spelt out for all; and the irrefutable damage to the credibility of this place and to members in public office must be exposed. Very few schools in New South Wales have the reputation of Hurlstone Agricultural High School at Glenfield. It consistently ranks as one of the best performing schools in the Higher School Certificate—it is always towards the top. It is a prestigious school with a reputation second to none.

This academic success has bred generations of Australia's leaders including Sir William Keys, Mark Binskin, Professor Alan Trounsen, John Edmondson, VC, former Treasurer the Hon. John Kerin, and the list goes on. Tens of thousands of former students make incredible contributions to their communities away from the spotlight. Apart from an enviable academic reputation, the school has facilities to help teach and promote agriculture. It has a working and functioning farm in the middle of Sydney's growth corridor. It is an asset of immeasurable educational and environmental value. It should be valued as part of our national heritage and we must work to protect such a legacy in the south-west.

For these reasons and others, such as the environmental benefit of maintaining the green space and protecting the green buffer between Liverpool and Campbelltown, Hurlstone in its current form and on its current site is worth preserving. It is worth taking a stand to defend Hurlstone Agricultural High School. The Minister for Education knew this only a few short years ago. In 2008-09 he and his colleagues mounted a fierce defence of Hurlstone. Their opposition to Labor's plans for Hurlstone was absolutely, "Hands off", "Leave Hurlstone alone", "The farm is not for sale and Hurlstone is not moving", were the cries. In opposition, Liberal-Nationals members were outraged.

They were so outraged that they even introduced a bill to protect Hurlstone from greedy developers—a bill identical to the one that is being debated now. What has changed? Why has the Minister done a backflip? Why have those Government members who were so eager to protest now changed their minds? There is only one reason for it. In 2008 and 2009 Mr Piccoli and his parliamentary supporters took the south-west for a ride. They never really believed in the cause of Hurlstone.

They feigned outrage at the time, merely for their own short-term political gain, while at the same time having every intention to sell the land and the farm to the highest bidder when they got into office. There surely can be no other explanation for such a dramatic about turn by the now Minister for Education and his colleagues. No departmental brief could have caused such an about face. In the south-west, the need for Hurlstone and its farm has never been greater. The simple fact is that the Minister never believed—not for one second—in the cause he championed back in 2008-09. He and his colleagues fooled us all.

The tragedy of that is twofold. First, an incredible icon of education in south-western Sydney will be sold. That is tragic. The second tragedy is credibility. Is it any wonder that people have such disdain for politicians? The sale will further erode the trust the public has for this place and the credibility of its members on both sides. That is nothing to be proud of. I urge the Government to support the bill. The alternative, to paraphrase Nietzsche's aphorism, will be that the public will say, "I'm not upset that you lied to me, but I am upset that from now on I won't believe anything you say." If the Minister does not support this bill, the people will no longer believe anything he says. I commend the bill to the House.