Hurlstone Agricultural High School - Government backflip

16 February 2016

Private Members’ Statement

Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) [1.07 p.m.]: John Edmondson, VC, Mark Binskin, John Kerin, Sir William Keys and Professor Alan Trounson are renowned for their valuable contributions to Australia and the world across a range of disciplines. It is less well known, perhaps, that they are all alumni of one of New South Wales's finest schools, Hurlstone Agricultural High School at Glenfield. It is no coincidence that a school steeped so proudly in tradition and academic excellence has seen so many of its alumni achieve greatness. Hurlstone Agricultural High School consistently ranks among our country's top-performing schools and is the only fully selective, coeducational agricultural high school in south-west Sydney and is a flagship public school for the region. Given Hurlstone's unique history, including its strong ties with the Anzacs through its very own memorial forest, the school is undoubtedly a national treasure that must be preserved in its current form for future generations.

Since the 1920s, Hurlstone Agricultural High School's home has been at Glenfield, and the school has been at the heart of our community. The Hurlstone farm is iconic in our region and its 180 hectares of valuable open green space is vital to the future sustainability of the region. All of Hurlstone's history, heritage and educational opportunities for south-west Sydney are now under threat because of Minister Piccoli's decision to develop the area and destroy Hurlstone at Glenfield. Hurlstone's history and heritage—and indeed its future—should always remain at Glenfield. The irony of moving a wonderful school like Hurlstone, with an enviable reputation built over years, to a part of Sydney that already has its quota of high-achieving State schools, is not lost on me. Baulkham Hills High School and James Ruse Agricultural High School are, for example, not far away. What about south-west Sydney, Minister? The south-west does count in terms of education excellence. I see excellence all the time, not least when I attend school presentation days. I see it at James Meehan High School in Macquarie Fields and I see it at Sarah Redfern High School at Minto. This form of excellence is not measured in terms of school rankings. But it exists in spades, and it is real.

What is not lost on me is the breathtaking hypocrisy of the Baird Liberal Government, which has done a backflip on this issue. The Hurlstone Agricultural High School Site Bill 2009 was introduced by the then Opposition, now Government, to protect the Hurlstone school site at Glenfield forever. Guess who voted for that bill to save Hurlstone from being sold or developed and to ensure that its land was used only for educational purposes? You guessed it: Adrian Piccoli, the then shadow Minister for Education. The same man is now, as Minister for Education, lining up to sell the site and sell out the local school community. In 2009, in his role as shadow Minister for Education and leading advocate to save Hurlstone and its farm from being sold to developers, Mr Piccoli said:

It would be a real shame to let them do this just because the land has development value.

Yes, it is a great shame that the Minister is selling this valuable school to developers when he once clearly strongly opposed it. It is an even greater shame that the Minister cannot keep his word to the Hurlstone students and parents of south-west Sydney.

I could not agree more with the Minister's words—the commitment to ensuring that Hurlstone and its farm remain at Glenfield, where it has been since 1926. It seems that commitment means nothing to the Minister for Education because he is now calling for the bulldozers to carve up Hurlstone's farm for developers. So much for it being "a real shame" to sell this land because of its development value. It seems this Minister has no shame in turning his back on the community of south-west Sydney. He has no shame in going back on his word. It is inconceivable that this could be done without any regard to the future young people of our region, who will not be going to the school when it moves to the Hawkesbury campus.

The campaign to save Hurlstone did not stop there. On 1 April 2009 there was a picture in the local paper showing Mr Piccoli walking along, looking determined, with fellow Nationals Mr Stoner, the member for Lismore, the member for Barwon and the member for Clarence. The photo caption read: "Nationals say no!" and referred to the selling of the Hurlstone school land. That was a joke played on the people of south-west Sydney. It was political opportunism, a photo opportunity used to trick the local community into thinking the Government was committed to saving Hurlstone and its farm from developers. The Minister may think it was an April fool's joke, but the people of my community are not laughing. The Minister can spin the sale however he wants to but, to paraphrase an aphorism of Nietzsche, the people are upset because from now on they cannot believe anything he says. That is right, Minister: People will not believe anything you say.