The state government has now published its Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Bill for public comment. In summary, it would destroy key protections for Callan Park and open the site to privatisation and commercialisation. Callan Park would not longer be dedicated to health, education and community uses on a not-for-profit basis.
Moreover, the site would be at the mercy of the Ministers for Planning and Health. Parliamentary and Council checks and balances on the government’s power to do deals at Callan Park would be abolished.
As for long-held community demand for a Callan Park & Broughton Hall Trust to manage the whole of Callan Park on behalf of the community that has been rejected. Instead Ministers and a Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Board would make the decisions. Under the Bill, Callan Park would not even necessarily have a community consultation committee.
Buried in the Bill – at page 34! – are amendments to the Callan Park (Special Provisions) Act 2002 that would gut the protections afforded to Callan Park by that Act.
The two vital protections that this Bill seeks to abolish are as follows.
The first is a parliamentary one. Contrary to what the Minister for Planning says, under the Act leases longer than 10 years are possible at Callan Park but such leases must lay on the table of both houses of state parliament for 15 sitting days and either house can disallow a lease by majority vote. This is a very good protection against dodgy deals, especially considering that the government does not have a majority in the Upper House. The Bill would abolish that protection.
The second protection the Bill takes aim at is Council’s power at Callan Park. Under the Act, all DAs must be determined by the local Council. This is a further level of protection. Residents get say and DAs are decided at arms length from the Minister – even with these unfortunate planning panels. The Bill seeks to abolish this too.
So there would be no checks and balances on the Ministers’ powers. (We use the plural because half of Callan Park falls under the control of the Minister for Planning and the other half the Minister for Health. The split was carried out at the end of last year in a bizarre and secret act. Something we reported don earlier this year when we discovered it.)
As well as undermining vital protections and diminishing the power of parliament and Council vis-à-vis the Ministers, the Bill also seeks to undermine social welfare and mental health uses at Callan Park. It explicitly seeks commercial tenants for Kirkbride, Convalescent Cottages and Broughton Hall – these are not the odd cottage or small building. Kirkbride alone is 25,000 square metres of floor space. It covers almost 5 hectares. I bring up Kirkbride because the state government ran an EOI process last year and a consortium of social welfare NGOs won the process and have been waiting for 9 months to sign the lease. Now that looks very unlikely. Big bucks beckon – the local MP Jamie Parker speculates that the government wants to lease the properties for reception centres and business parks.
So on the score of protections, democracy and the social value of Callan Park, this new Bill should be rejected. The future of Callan Park as a place dedicated to the mental and physical health of people is very much at stake.