Hurlstone Inquiry – The Farm Stays

The Hurlstone Inquiry does NOT support the NSW Government’s mini-budget idea of selling the farmland around Hurlstone Agricultural High School for housing. Booyah.

As always, the devil’s in the detail, and we expect a few days of discussion about what Hurlstone would look like IF the NSW Government carries through on its promise to implement the findings. It seems Hurlstone School will be partitioned from Hurlstone Farm and Hurlstone Boarding School. Blessing or Curse?

The inquiry recommends:

  • new facilities be built,
  • more industry partnerships be established,
  • the appointment of a Commercial Manager and advisory board for the farm and the boarding school,
  • the sale of $15M worth of land to fund the recommendations

The major sticking point will be taking the ‘Hurlstone’ out of the ‘Hurlstone Farm’ – expect more debate on that topic.

I think the proposed outcome -saving the green space and the farm to continue the brief of providing Agricultural education for Sydney students on the land around Hurlstone – is the best possible, and an outcome that any Hurlstone supporters should be happy with.

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So You Think You Can Dance: NSW Government

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.

Hurlstone’s Land Fight Gets Some Clout

The battle to save the farm and land at Hurlstone Agricultural High School (my alma mater) from property developers just got tougher: politicians representing the region having returned from their ‘community consultations’ with a clear message – Hurlstone’s farm is not for sale.

The Four Labor MPs- Andrew McDonald (Macquarie Fields), Graham West (Campbelltown), Geoff Corrigan (Camden) and Phil Costa (Wollondilly) are now on record saying they will join the fight and speak directly with Nathan Rees voicing their opposition to the proposal.

Stay tuned, sports fans – there are irresistible forces and immovable objects at play now. In the red corner, the Department of Education already decided that the sale is crucial to local services and has already planned to spend the money they make on the land sale on police, health and education. Team Macarthur leaps the rope to joins the fight in the blue corner, carrying the weight of 2 government ministers, shouting to the crowd as one that the farm ‘should not be sold’.

The opposition to the sale is now so overwhelming that it appears the only people in support of the sale are the bean-counters in the NSW DET and Treasury. If caucus members can’t be convinced of the merits of the sale, is there any more cause to proceed?

The government no doubt is waiting for the outcome of the current inquiry into the sale so they can save some face. It’s up to those who support the continuation of Hurlstone as a practical agricultural education to contribute their submissions to the inquiry and make it obvious to the Powers That Be.

Here’s hoping that the strength of opposition to this insane decision is enough to keep this off the political agenda for another 15 years, at least. As Tiff Spears said in the press – if Team Macarthur can’t change the government’s mind, what good are they?

It’ll be an fascinating test of whether grass-roots democratic process is still important to Labor.

Lessons from the Farm: The Deeper You Dig, The Bigger The Hole

The more we learn about machinations behind the NSW Government’s intentions to sell off Hurlstone Agricultural High School, the sillier it looks. Alan Jones summarises the insanity on his show this morning, with fellow SHEAPer, David Moore.

The Sydney Morning Herald and ABC also show up the sneakiness behind the decision – although it’s likely the government is softening us up to sell ‘more like 50’ hectares of Hurlstone (we suspected as much when it was announced). Gotta haggle.

The SHEAP Website receives a new lease of life today, hot on the heels of today’s Parliamentary Forum. Join it, or Facebook, to keep in touch with the latest.

Hurlstone Quotes – About Environment and Heritage

The School was the first agricultural high school established in Australia and the first in NSW to accommodate boarders. The current site for the school was established in the 1926 and has been responsible for fostering and developing a unique and scientific approach to managing Australia’s rural enterprises. Hurlstone Agricultural High School has been assessed as being of high local significance.

Parsons Brinckerhoff Australia in the Environmental Assessment for the (now-delayed) South West Rail Link in 2006

An independent view from the people the government listened to when setting up the SWRL project, which has been delayed by the mini-budget.

Hurlstone Quotes – About The Future Role Of Agriculture

Investment by governments and international partnerships in research and development is another key part of the productivity equation.
Today, we have improved technology; better farming practices, plant breeding and food distribution systems
But we are constrained by limited available agricultural land and shrinking water resources.
Governments must refocus on investment in agricultural research and development to boost productivity within the constraints of land and resource availability.

The Hon. Tony Burke MP – Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, speaking to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Nov 19, 2008

Commentary from the Federal Government regarding the need to invest in agricultural R and D.

Hurlstone Quotes – About The Budget

The follow quotes are from a meeting of the GENERAL PURPOSE STANDING COMMITTEE No. 2: "Examination of proposed expenditure for the portfolio area: EDUCATION AND TRAINING" of Wednesday 19 November 2008. The full transcript is available on the ‘Save Hurlstone’ FaceBook group.

They are attributed to Mr M. Coutts-Trotter, Director General, Department of Education and Training

…we are going to have a look to see whether some of that site, potentially up to 140 hectares of that site, could be sold, but that is a process that is going to take quite some planning and quite some consultation first and foremost with the school community.

…Obviously there is a history and tradition at Hurlstone that we have to consider and respect, but there are other students and other schools in the southwest of Sydney that are looking for other opportunities – Casula, James Meehan and other schools. If we can find a way that respects and supports the quality of what happens at Hurlstone Agricultural High School but we can also free up many millions of dollars for reinvestment in other public schools as a starting point, I think that is a fair and appropriate thing to do

Q: What if the community said they did not want to sell it, they want to keep it? Your consultation with the community almost presumes that you are going to sell it anyway.
Mr COUTTS-TROTTER: Consultation with the community starts from the starting point that we would like to sell some of the site because it is simply so enormous. It now sits on very valuable land.
Q: It is really about the value of the land?
Mr COUTTS-TROTTER: In part, of course. It is about the value of the land to generate money that can be reinvested in other schools in western and south-western Sydney and other parts of the State.

…I think the fact that the farm runs at a loss is a correct statement, but the indication that that is the reason why we are looking at Hurlstone Agricultural High School as a potential site for some asset sales would be wrong. The reason we are looking at it is we have a chance here to release money for reinvestment in public schools.

Q: Of the 160 hectares at Hurlstone Agricultural High School, how much land are you looking at selling, or have you not made a decision about that?
Mr COUTTS-TROTTER: We have not made a decision. We need to go through a very detailed process of consultation and planning. It is a 160-hectare site. I think the school buildings occupy more than 20 hectares. Obviously there is the issue that has arisen about the memorial forest. I understand the Premier has given a commitment that the memorial forest certainly would not be considered for sale. That just indicates that with a site of that size, we will have to go through a very detailed process of planning and consideration, and that will happen over the next two months.

My main takeaway-from this: during exams and marking, and over the holidays, the school community will be consulted not about if, but how much of the land will be sold.

New FaceBook Group

Everyone loves a sequel :-) Now that the issue of the selling off of Hurlstone’s Memorial Forest has been taken off the table, there’s a need for a new group to fight the good fight against the original decision to sell off Hurlstone’s Land.

The ‘real world’ group is meeting this weekend, and a website is coming soon, but if you’re a supporter and would like to join the fight to save *all* of Hurlstone, join the new ‘Save Hurlstone’ Facebook group and check the ‘Events’ section.