Wanna see a politician tapdance?
Next week, the NSW Government releases the findings of the inquiry into the sale of farmland at Hurlstone Agricultural High School, nearly a year to the day since the issue first hit the headlines. Since that time, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge and many public statements of varying veracity:
From the time when a bellicose Rees government had factored 239M of land sale proceeds into its forward planning; to a realisation that the plan incorporated a war memorial and flood plains, as well as productive farmland and valuable green space; met by a revolt from local and national politicians, agriculture experts and community groups; to a pitiably one-sided public debate; to an eleventh-hour (and overdue) heritage listing for the land in question; and finally to a low-key public inquiry which has already ‘soft-launched’ its findings to the government ahead of the public release next week.
To my knowledge, there has not been an argument proffered in support of the sell-off, outside of an Excel spreadsheet, and a feeble attempt at wedge politics by the government in accusing Hurlstone of hoarding assets which could be transmogrified into policemen or nurses or teachers for other schools.
The counter-argument has been well-prosecuted by SHEAP, and congratulations should go to the team for their co-ordination and clarification of the important issues in the public debate. Well done, team.
Word is that the inquiry is likely to recommend a small sell-off of land in order to save face, acknowledging the lack of a case for a wholesale sell-off. I believe the inquiry will explicitly encourage the school to re-commit itself to the service of NSW and Australian agricultural education and propose some changes in the schools brief to ensure Hurstone is seen to be making the best use of its land allocation.
What then of the Government’s dreams of a Hurlstone-led budget bailout? It will be awkward: the role of local Labor members will be loudly trumpeted in advocating on behalf of Hurlstone, the state treasury will point to a recovering economy as a reason for not needing as much money (rather than seek to sell more land elsewhere), but later use the inquiry’s ‘snub’ in justification of the state’s further failing financials.
I’m cautiously optimistic – I believe the case has been made for Hurlstone’s Farm. Let’s see on Monday.
UPDATE: Seems The Land has some inside running confirming these suspicions, but suggesting the Inquiry could recommend additional inventment in the school. If true, it’ll certainly upset the government – turning a 9 figure landgrab/windfall into an 8 figure, long-overdue set of repairs for the school.
UPDATE II: SHEAP posts its response to The Land’s preview: cautiously optimistic, maybe overly so. Too early for congratulations just yet. Roll on Monday.
UPDATE III, Nov 15: Some details are leaked: the NSW Government thinks it can do a better job of running the farm, and is proposing relieving Hurlstone of its farm management duties so the school can get on with teaching agriculture. SHEAP’s response – not positive. Roll on Monday.