The Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Bill (GSPT) – currently open for public comment – includes three pages of amendments to the Callan Park (Special Provisions) Act. They cover pages 34-36 of the Bill which runs to 50 pages[i].
Here are the key reasons to reject those amendments.
We note the provisions in the Bill are not merely ‘amendments’ – they are changes that would effectively gut the Act and protections for Callan Park.
1. The Bill will strip Callan Park of important protections
At present there are checks and balances in the Callan Park Act that spell out what the state government can and cannot do to Callan Park. These provisions include a requirement to show parliament the details of any lease longer than 10 years and a condition that either house of parliament can disallow the lease if it is considered to be not in the public interest. Given the government of the day rarely has a majority in the upper house of parliament this is a very strong protection. The Bill seeks to eliminate this proviso in favour of giving this power to the Minister.
The other vital protection the Bill seeks to abolish is that any development application or activity at Callan Park must be determined by the local Council. This gives residents a chance to have a real say and puts decisions on what happens at Callan Park at arms-length from the Minister. The Bill would give this power to the Minister and the GSP Trust board.
Recent history – the Circular Quay café leases, Barangaroo etc – confirms that untrammelled Ministerial power over public property is not a good idea whoever the government of the day is.
2. Privatisation is a real danger under sweeping powers proposed for the GSP Trust
The Bill nominates parts of Callan Park – Kirkbride, The Convalescent Cottages and Broughton Hall -that would be eligible for leases of 50 years and commercial uses. Such leases are privatisation by another name.
The Bill gives the GSPT the power to compulsorily acquire public and private land; Includes the power to form, or participate in the formation of private subsidiary corporations and joint ventures; Includes a clause that a contravention (of the rules) regarding disclosure of pecuniary interest DOES NOT invalidate a decision of the Board. These powers are extraordinary and would allow for unilateral decision-making at arms’ length even from the Minister.
3. The Bill undermines the social purpose (what Jamie Parker, MP calls the ‘moral heart’) of Callan Park.
Callan Park was originally purchased for what was intended to be a humane mental health hospital back in 1873. During World War I the adjacent Broughton Hall estate was donated by the Langton family for the treatment of shell-shocked soldiers and was later incorporated into Callan Park. The hospital closed in 2008 but the community and the former Leichhardt Council have always considered that mental health and well-being uses should have priority at Callan Park, along with some education and community uses. This was the reason why Callan Park was reserved for not-for-profit tenants under the Callan Park Act.
Now the Bill seeks to open up the site for commercial, for-profit tenants, which we believe will forever eliminate the potential for much-needed modern community mental health services at Callan Park, as well as leases for social enterprises and Not for Profit activities that could be provided here in the interests of the health and well-being of the community.
4. There is no Callan Park Trust
The Bill completely ignores the case for a Callan Park & Broughton Hall Trust to manage the whole of Callan Park, as is appropriate for a heritage site. This has been a long-standing demand of the community and Council for more than 20 years. Instead the Bill seeks to put Callan Park under the day-to-day management of the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust board which is comprised of appointees from the legal and developer industry ‘big end of town’ whose accountability to the public is unclear.
5. The Bill does not mandate community consultation and it allows for a 2 year consultation hiatus that will obliterate any meaningful public scrutiny or response to proposals
The Bill provides that consultative ‘community trustee boards may be established’ for the five foundation parklands currently within the Greater Sydney Parklands agency portfolio. The bill says ‘… if there is a community trustee board for Callan Park’, certain regulations will cover such a board.
The powers of any such community trustee board are very limited under the Bill. The members of these trustee boards are to be appointed by the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust board and can be dismissed by the Trust Chair. No grounds for any such dismissal are provided in the Bill.
So much for assurances about genuine community participation given by the Minister and the Chair and CEO of the Greater Sydney Parklands agency.
In any case, the Trust is NOT required to have an approved consultation and engagement framework until 2 years after establishment of the Trust, removing public scrutiny entirely from its’ decision-making and actions in the meantime.
6. The Bill’s assurances about Not for Profit lease priorities are a smokescreen
The Bill says the Minister and the Trust must give priority to not-for-profits in granting leases at Callan Park. If this is the case, then why hasn’t the not-for-profit consortium which was successful in its bid for Kirkbride been granted a lease? How will Not for Profits ‘compete’ against commercial tenderers who can afford big rents? What guarantee is there that potentials for good social and public health outcomes would trump commercial revenues when decisions are being made – particularly given the makeup of the GSPT Board?
7. There is confusion in the Bill’s provisions – and possibly scope for further secret arrangements
In December last year the Minister secretly divided Callan Park into two parts. One part, comprising 62%, was vested in the Centennial Park & Moore Park Trust which will be controlled by the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust, and the other 38% stayed under the ownership of NSW Health. The powers granted to the Trust would seem to apply to only 62% of the site yet the Bill extends those powers to sections not owned by the Trust.
The most valuable heritage buildings – Kirkbride, Convalescent Cottages and Broughton Hall – explicitly named in the Bill as available for 50-year commercial leases – do not belong to the GSP Trust OR NSW Planning. They belong to NSW Health.
Is it the intention of NSW Health to cede ownership of all or parts of its 38% to the Trust? Are there more secret deals being done over Callan Park without scrutiny or any reference to the public?
8. Is the ambulance service section of Callan Park next for commercialisation?
The Ambulance Service is scheduled to move out of Callan Park in a few years. This potentially opens up a prime area, adjacent to Balmain Road, for commercial development. It is not currently part of the Greater Sydney Parklands management sector of Callan Park. We are reminded that when the state government was trying to sell-off Callan Park in 2001-2002, this area was slated for multi-storey accommodation development. We are concerned that If NSW Health ‘hands over’ this area to the GSPT, commercial development could be permitted under the provisions of the current Bill.
9. The Bill includes unnecessary changes to the Act
The Callan Park Act says that new development must stay within the footprint and envelope of existing buildings. The Bill seeks to amend the Act so that accessibility ramps and minor modifications can be added outside the footprint – but there is no evidence that Council has ever intended to block minor modifications like this or that the Act prevents them.
The Bill also includes an amendment that allows the ‘substratum’ of Callan Park to be sold for a ‘public purpose’. The justification given to Jamie Parker, MP is that this amendment is necessary in order for the Metro tunnel to go under Callan Park, but that seems unlikely as this is not the case with residential freehold. However, it may be necessary for the future privatisation of that Metro. Certainly, this needs checking by Council lawyers.
The Planning Minister’s comments about needing to change the Act in order to put cafes and coffee carts in Callan Park is misleading. What café, restaurant or coffee cart wants or needs a 50 year lease? Cafes are already allowed under the Act, and a proposal for two are included in the Callan Park Master Plan. Sydney College of the Arts ran a café on site for years without being troubled by the Act. This legislation is designed to allow for commercialisation and profit.
10. The Exposure Draft is difficult for the public to decipher and the online feedback process is inadequate
The feedback process merely summarises the selling points for the legislation – issue slike amendments to the Callan Park Act are not mentioned. It requires respondents to quote relevant clauses and references in any comments. It is not useful and would daunt most members of the public who had an intention to provide genuine feedback. It is a tick-the-box exercise and will result in very limited community comment.
A note on the Alliance for Public Parklands
This Bill has grave implications for public parklands across Greater Sydney and beyond. This is not a ‘NIMBY’ or local issue.
- Friends of Callan Park is a member of the Alliance for Public Parklands.
- This is a large group of community advocates and activists representing the interests of all of the five foundation GSP parklands, including:
Blacktown & District Environment Group Inc (BDEG)
Centennial Park Residents’ Association (CPRA)
Friends of Fernhill and Mulgoa Valley Inc (FFMV)
North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group Inc (NPRAG)
- Group members have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that they will work co-operatively and pro-actively to fight the GSPT Bill
- The group has decided to campaign against the Bill being tabled at all, rather than ‘tinkering at the edges’ with amendments.
- The Alliance for Public Parklands’ principal objections to the legislation can be summarised as follows:
- It does not proportionately reflect or support the proposed Greater Sydney Parklands Trust’s principal Objects; providing NO protections for five iconic parklands across Sydney and setting an alarming model for future public parklands across the State.
- It is a framework for asset recycling and lacks ANY FUNDING COMMITMENT FROM THE NSW GOVERNMENT.
- Our public parks should be open for public access to both heritage buildings and precious green open space. They should NOT be for sale or privatisation including hotels, business hubs and transport infrastructure such as highways and car parks.
- See over for APP’s principal objections to the Draft Legislation and how to join the campaign.
Principal Objections – Greater Sydney Parklands Trust – Draft Exposure Bill
- THE BILL SPECIFIES NO EXPLICIT REFLECTIONS OR MECHANISMS TO FULFILL THE PRINCIPAL OBJECT OF THE GSPT ‘TO CONSERVE, RESTORE AND ENHANCE THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT OF THE PARKLANDS ESTATE’
There are few mentions of ecology, habitat, wildlife, biodiversity or landscape within the document let alone any ‘vision’ for the desired future environmental and natural characteristics of parklands. There is no climate context within the document.
- THE BILL GIVES THE GSP BOARD SWEEPING, UNPRECEDENTED POWERS WITHOUT THE NEED FOR PROPER ACCOUNTABILITY OR OVERSIGHT
- THE BILL PERMITS DISPOSAL/SURRENDER OF PUBLIC LANDS and THE BILL PERMITS 25 YEAR COMMERCIAL LEASES WITHOUT MINISTERIAL CONSENT/UP TO 50 YEARS WITH MINISTERIAL CONSENT
The Bill allows that the Trust may propose to surrender land within the GSPT estate to the Crown to be dedicated for an (undefined) ‘public purpose’ and/or ‘a road’. This clause allows for transport infrastructure and tourism activities (for example) to make further encroachments on existing parklands and also allows for the GSPT to determine what a ‘public purpose’ is.
These provisions allows for effective alienation and privatisation of lands and buildings within the five foundation parklands and indicates that the GSP Trust Board’s focus will be on revenue-raising.
6 The Bill does not mandate community consultation and it allows for a 2 year consultation hiatus that will obliterate any meaningful public scrutiny or response to proposals. (See elaboration on this earlier in the document).
7 THE BILL CONCENTRATES TOO MUCH POWER IN THE HANDS OF THE MINISTER OF THE DAY, LEAVING OUR PARKS VULNERABLE TO POLITICS, LOBBY GROUPS AND ASSOCIATED DEVELOPERS
This is why, for example, the Centennial and Moore Park Trust Act was established in 1983 and the Callan Park (Special Provisions) Act in 2002 to protect and safeguard the Parklands from all sides of politics for future generations. All the major protections within those Acts would be removed.
The Alliance for Public Parklands has been active for months, anticipating a bill that would be catastrophic, not just for Callan Park, but for the other parklands across Sydney. We have been and continue to lobby against the bill and we have created a website and petition that calls for the Bill to be rejected in its’ entirety.
We are urging the public to support the Alliance for Public Parklands’ campaign as well as the Friends of Callan Park campaign as we believe this is a State-significant issue. Please consider signing the petition, which you will find here:
 Foundation group of GSP parklands: Callan Park, Centennial & Moore Parks, Parramatta Park, Fern Hill Estate & Mulgoa Valley and Western Sydney Parklands.
[i] You can read the Bill here: https://www.dpie.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/471862/Draft-Exposure-Bill.pdf
The Callan Park (Special Provisions) Act can be read here: