Scenic Hills Cemetery Development

14 September 2016

Private Members’ Statement

Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) (16:34): To say that the public's trust in our elected institutions, such as this Parliament, and its members has reached an all-time low is an understatement. Time and again the public has been let down by the people and institutions who have not acted as they ought, and today I address this Chamber about another betrayal of the public's trust—this time by a public institution, the Joint Regional Planning Panel [JRPP], and in particular the Sydney West panel. The JRPP has undertaken a tarnished process. I am outraged at its recent decision to approve 136,000 gravesites on the Scenic Hills that forever will destroy one of the last historical, heritage and unique environmental landscapes in metropolitan Sydney.

It is a decision that goes against prolonged and persistent community opposition over many decades as well as reasoned arguments that have been put forward to protect and preserve the Scenic Hills in south-western Sydney. Such a decision further erodes public confidence and trust in our planning system when community voices are not heard whereas better-resourced and powerful vested interests always get their way. The JRPP had two weeks in which to inform the community of its decision since the hearing on 25 August, but made its public announcement on the first working day after the local government elections. This action makes a mockery of electoral accountability and goes against our standard caretaker conventions: Of the two councillors who sat on the JRPP, one was not recontesting and was therefore unaccountable for his decision, and the other may have not been re-elected if his decision to approve the proposal had been made public prior to the local government elections.

I put to the JRPP, both in writing and in person, that in the interests of accountability, procedural fairness and public trust, the hearing should be postponed. After the public hearing I wrote to the chair of the JRPP and raised concerns about any delay in announcing the panel's decision until after the 10 September elections. Surely, if the panel could not be stopped because the process could not be delayed, it was only fair that the members of the public knew the outcome before they voted. The appropriateness of holding a public hearing—with two council representatives making a major decision on behalf of a council in caretaker mode—is more than completely dubious; it is wrong.

Just because the JRPP finished its deliberation, that is not the end of the matter. I, as the member for Macquarie Fields, my community and my colleague the member for Campbelltown will not go away. We will not give up the fight on this most important issue for which we have been fighting over many decades, but we will be seeking every option and starting every campaign to save what is precious to us. I call on the Minister for Planning to reject the JRPP's decision to destroy our Scenic Hills and reject its tarnished decision-making process. I urge the Minister to listen to the thousands of voices in our communities and I urge him to take advice from the submission of the Heritage Council—an independent statutory authority with its own legislation—that urges this 136,000 gravesite cemetery application, replete with its "formal lawn graves, mown areas, memorial terraces, increased site car access, car parking, roads, signage, condolence rooms and formal lines of trees", be rejected.

I say to the Minister for Planning that ignoring consistent community concern and independent statutory advice makes a mockery of our planning system and further erodes public trust. At a time when public discontent with politicians is growing and at a time when public confidence in the planning system is declining, the Minister for Planning must use his powers in this instance to stand up for our communities' concerns and stand with us in rejecting the JRPP's tarnished process as well as its cynically timed public announcement that was designed to avoid electoral accountability.

People all across New South Wales, and in particular south-western Sydney, made their voices known on Saturday with massive double-digit swings against the Baird Liberal Government. If the Minister for Planning chooses to ignore this political reality and side with the JRPP and the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust [CMCT] on the Scenic Hills proposal it is just further evidence that this Government does not care what the community thinks, and the public perception of powerful vested interests taking over our planning system will only continue to solidify. I invite the Minister for Planning to join my community and protect as well as preserve our Scenic Hills. I urge the Minister to reject the JRPP's ill-considered recommendation.