To pave our parks with gold, put up a parking lot (or convention centre)

Now, eight months on, nothing in the draft bill suggests his promises of transparency, collaboration and protection were genuine.

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The bill says the Trust “may” extend and acquire parklands, may consult with community groups. But the test of a good law isn’t whether it allows people to do the right thing. Decency needs no enabling. Laws exist to curb greed, power-lust and self-interest – and this one does none of that.

What does it do? Apart from establishing a vast and unwieldy governance task, it enables the Trust (which already exists) to “grant a lease over any part of the Trust lands for any … commercial purpose, that would directly or indirectly help the Trust achieve its objects”. Such leases can be up to 50 years and need no approval from Parliament or the community. All that’s required is a ministerial tick.

Further, the Trust may commission a government sector agency to “manage, maintain, improve or develop the GSPT estate”. And it may outsource any of its functions to a private corporation. So is there anything to stop a government-sanctioned Disneyworld, sports hotel or 20-storey convention centre popping up beside the duckpond? Probably not.

Not surprisingly, then, Sydney community groups of all stripes, fearing commercialisation by stealth, have mobilised in opposition.

It’s not just about a few coffee carts or restaurants. At Callan Park, there are fears the wonderful and immense Kirkbride complex plus Broughton Hall might be hived off for a business park or function centre.

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At Moore Park, the bill seems to sanction the 2019 unsolicited bid from Carsingha Investments (a consortium of Gerry Harvey, Mark Carnegie, John Singleton, developer Greg Paramor and others) to build a $1.2 billion commercial precinct with buildings up to 20 storeys on the old showgrounds.

At Parramatta, already compromised by the new Lend Lease Eels stadium and its replacement pool on Mays Hill, the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust’s first act was to fell 60 mature trees for a car park. There are fears that more land will be excised for an Eels hotel. A reasonable compensation would be to extend the park to include the heritage-rich Cumberland Hospital site but since the profit-hungry Sydney University already proposes to develop that site, this is not on the cards.

True, these fears could prove unfounded. This bill, in its vagueness, could prove benign. A minister could stack the GSP Trust with philanthropists who would take decisions solely in the interests of posterity. It’s possible, but history suggests otherwise. In law-making, reliance on human decency is pointless and presuming government decency is borderline irrational. But that’s what this bill, which closes off protections of openness and heritage and opens the way to commercial exploitation, does exactly that.

Back in February, Rob Stokes declared he’d understood that “the neoliberal idea of getting the parks to pay for themselves is not good enough”. So the fact he’s doing precisely that makes it hard to trust the new Trust at all.


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