Scenic Hills Cemetery

17 September 2019

Private Member's Statement

Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) (19:02:45): The constituents in my electorate are tenacious. They have withstood blow upon blow of unfair policy decisions—like the disastrous train timetable, rampant overdevelopment and the lack of lifts at Macquarie Fields station, in contradiction to departmental evidence clearly stating that it was higher on the priority list than other funded stations that just so happen to be located in Liberal held seats—but, despite our needs being constantly ignored by this Government, they refuse to be silent. The Government should take note. We will not stop fighting for the protection of Scenic Hills and we will not be silent about its hypocrisy.

Only last week the member for Mulgoa spoke in this Chamber celebrating that a cemetery proposal for Wallacia had been rejected by the Independent Planning Commission. She lauded the fact that the voices of her community had been heard loud and clear—they did not want the cemetery, it was rejected. The residents in my electorate rightfully think that their voices do not matter to this Government. We too put up an immense fight against the proposed development for Varroville, we called for the protection of Scenic Hills, we wrote submissions and we attended public meetings. We desperately tried to get two successive heritage Ministers to do their job to protect the land around Varroville Homestead. Our voices fell on deaf ears while the voices of the Wallacia community were heard.

This is not the first example of double standards. Last year the Liberal-Nationals Government coughed up more than $27 million to buy the historic Fernhill Estate at Mulgoa for community green open space. That site had been canvassed by the Rookwood General Cemeteries Reserve Trust for a massive new Crown cemetery. It begs the question: What about Varroville and protecting the Scenic Hills for future generations in my local community? Why does green open space in Mulgoa deserve protection any more than green open space in Varroville? Let us recap: a proposed Penrith cemetery, in a Liberal-held electorate, is halted. Meanwhile a proposal for a 136,000‑plot cemetery in the Scenic Hills, in a Labor electorate, is approved. Land touted for a cemetery in Mulgoa is bought by the Liberal-Nationals Government to protect green open space. Meanwhile, the Scenic Hills are sacrificed for the benefit of developers. This Liberal-Nationals Government and its processes just stink. It is one rule for the Liberals, another rule for the rest of us. Our community has had enough of these dreadful double standards.

Speaking of rules, if two successive heritage Ministers had adhered to the rules, my community may not be in this mess. For nearly two years, two heritage Ministers have breached the Heritage Act. They failed to decide whether to accept a Heritage Council's recommendation to protect land surrounding Varroville Homestead. Such a decision could have made the Scenic Hills cemetery development untenable. Let me be clear: the Heritage Act states a Minister must decide on a heritage listing within 14 days of receiving a recommendation from the Heritage Council.

That recommendation was made on 28 September 2017. The 14 days prescribed in the legislation has well and truly lapsed. If the heritage listing had been approved by either Minister, the cemetery development application would have been subjected to more intensive scrutiny under the Heritage Act. Instead, two Ministers sat on their hands and now the overdevelopment floodgates have been opened in the Scenic Hills.

My good friend, the Federal member for Macarthur, recently spoke in the Federal Parliament of this appalling decision to approve the cemetery. He rightfully called out this Liberal-Nationals Government for taking its orders from property developers and vested interests. I applaud my Federal counterpart for sticking up for our local community and for condemning the cemetery's approval. I vehemently reject the argument that the cemetery is in the public interest. The only interest the cemetery will serve is the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust, aided and abetted by a developer-driven Liberal-Nationals Government masquerading this appalling decision as crematoria policy.

In reality, the green light for this controversial cemetery is another example of the Government putting developers first. Local residents expected this Government to protect the Scenic Hills, which has major heritage significance and provides valuable open space for our growing community. Instead, this disastrous decision to approve the cemetery will set in motion a devastating domino effect of new development applications. The green rolling hills are set to be further swallowed up by an extensive road network, function centre and cafes. The insidious incremental nature of this development will forever destroy the Scenic Hills, not enhance it. We have this Liberal-Nationals Government's hypocrisy to thank for the destruction of the Scenic Hills.