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Monday, 27 May 2013
Page: 3897

Mr MURPHY (Reid) (18:03): I wish to bring to the attention of the parliament today a very important matter concerning the Yaralla Estate, in the heart of my electorate of Reid, at Concord. The estate was vested in the Crown under the Walker Trusts Act 1938 in a magnificent act of philanthropy by the late Dame Eadith Walker. The New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage acknowledges that the Yaralla Estate at Concord is the largest community bequest of its era, being of circa 37 hectares, to survive in an intact form in New South Wales.

The New South Wales Ministry of Health Sydney South West Area Health Service, the SSWAHS, is the present Crown authority responsible for the control, management and administration of the property. In an attempt to move the New South Wales Mounted Police Unit from their Redfern base, the New South Wales O'Farrell government, through the Ministry of Health, had entered into a sweetheart deal to relocate the New South Wales Mounted Police here and evict the current horse owners and assessment lessee from the site. No tender process was entered into. Only now, after the howls of understandable protest from local residents, has the New South Wales Liberal government backed down, but only to quash the previous decision in favour of a tender process which the local community has no confidence in. This does not go far enough, and the O'Farrell government should cancel the notice of eviction and allow the people and the horses to stay on this beautiful environmental oasis. This site was intended to remain for the use and benefit of the people and, quite frankly, this plan goes against the philanthropic acts of Dame Eadith Walker.

Yesterday, I attended a very emotionally charged rally of hundreds of local residents, who are campaigning to save Yaralla and, in particular, allow the horses and their owners to have access to this beautiful land. The rally was held on the site, complete with horses and owners. I wish to read out the very heartfelt address delivered to the people attending the rally by one of my constituents, Ms Alex Gavel. Alex is a local schoolteacher who, here in Canberra, captured the mood of the local people that I represent about the future of the Yaralla Estate. These are Alex's magnificent words:

On behalf of the Yaralla Horses, their owners, and the greater community let us express how thankful we are for the many faces that are here today. It is your passion and encouragement for this plight that inspires us to keep pushing forward in our cause, on your behalf. And it truly is OUR cause. We believe that this issue affects everyone.

Some of you live next door, some agist horses, some walk their dogs, bike ride through the grounds or bring their children to visit the horses.

Yaralla belongs to all of us.

There are many who have felt the need to question our integrity or motivations, claiming that we are just a small 'self-interest group'. Today we would like to set the record straight and tell you some of our story.

My name is Alexandra Gavel. I agist a horse at Yaralla, and consider myself, first and foremost, a member of this amazing community. I was born in the inner-west, I have grown up in the inner west, and I still live and work in the inner west.

Anyone that has had the opportunity to keep their horse at Yaralla, both in the past and present, have always considered it a privilege. But we are by no means a 'privileged' group. We are fellow members of your community, ordinary people!. I am a school teacher at a local high school. There are teenagers that ride their bikes after school to care for their horses, Uni students, parents, a child care worker, health care workers, air craft pilots, government workers, life long residents of Concord West and even the local dog groomer.

I was a 10 year old girl, absolutely obsessed with horses. Every Christmas, every birthday, in fact every day, I pleaded with my parents to buy me a horse. Yet the closest I would ever get was an occasional excursion to a trail riding establishment. Horses were all I ever thought about. As an adult, I actually feel bad for the guilt trips that I put on my parents who were raising three kids, struggling with the expenses of daily living and completely unable to afford the upkeep and care of a horse.

In 1996 a compromise was made and I will never forget the day that I discovered Yaralla Estate. My Dad had heard through a friend about the paddocks at Concord and so he told me we could have a look. Most people here today know the feeling that the 10 year old me was struck by when we drove through the top gates. The disbelief that a place so beautiful existed so close to home, the joy in seeing horses grazing and people riding, and the immediate respect for a very special person who left her property to the people to continue to enjoy as she had.... Thank You Dame Edith Walker for your gift thus far.

We barely made it through the gates when, under direct instruction, we pulled over. The very first horse that I met was Seamus, who still resides at Yaralla, though long retired now. I am sure I petted every horse there that day; Annie, Amber, Buddy, another Buddy, Romeo and Mikail just to name a few.

But the most special pony that I met that day was Willie, otherwise known as 'Yaralla's Captain Willie'. Willie had been one of the first horses on the property and had begun his time at Concord sharing a paddock with cattle. Willie had taught numerous children how to ride and care for horses including me.

My dreams were starting to come true. The opportunity presented itself to lease Willie on weekends. I am sure my parents only consented to this as it was the perfect way for me to learn just how time consuming and difficult it is to care for a horse... Unfortunately for them, this arrangement made me even more committed to my life goal of owning a horse.

Willie passed away 2 years ago in his paddock at Yaralla at the impressive age of 37.... it was a sad day for the Yaralla horse community.

When I finished school the first thing I did was get a job, then a horse. At 17 years old I got my first horse Wiskey, who is here today. Not only has Wiskey taught me so many lessons in the 11 years that we have been together, he has had the privilege of teaching many local kids and adults how to ride.

I cannot explain to you how perceptive Wiskey is. Whenever I am dealing with a lot and feeling completely lost and overwhelmed, it still amazes me how he is able to clear my mind- often best done with a game of hide and seek. These horses are our best friends, our children in some respects. This community has always respected and valued their place in the Inner West. Many residents know the horses by their names, some have even made up their own names for them. But it seems that SLHD think that a 'horse is a horse' and that they can be replaced... according to our critics we need to 'accept change and move on'.

Many of you will agree that Yaralla isn't just about the horses, and that is true for the horse owners as well. Many of us have other ties to the estate that make it so precious. One of the horse owners, a life long resident of concord has shared this unique place with her family. She spent much of her youth around the estate, has raised her 3 kids there, supported her mother through her dialysis treatment at the main house and shared her father's last moments when he suddenly passed away on the estate. Yaralla has always held a special place in my heart too as a place that I have shared over the years with my dad, and as of December my connection to the estate has become even stronger as my fiancé proposed to me at the stairs to the main house. I have no doubt that every person here today has some special memory of Yaralla that they hold dear.

We have finally been given the 'report' that was the basis of our eviction. As a school teacher, let me just state that to call it a 'professional report' is a stretch of the imagination. SLHD have expressed to us that it was written by supposed 'experts' in the field. However, the truth is that it was produced by a project management consultancy with political links to the State Govrenment and SLHD and nowhere in the report are any references made to expert opinions, best practice guidelines or research evidence. The report also discusses the Mounted Police Unit as a preferred tenant, proving that the very purpose of the report was to install the Mounted Police at Yaralla. The decision was already made to evict the current horse owners and the report was commissioned and carried out by SLHD to serve that very purpose. BlueVisions was provided with their briefing … Out with the community and their horses!

Let us make it clear, the purpose of our campaign is not, and never will be, a vendetta against the Mounted Police, nor are we insensitive to the important role this unit fulfills. We respect and commend the Mounted Police for their service to the wider community. However, we fail to see how this nullifies the wishes of Dame Edith Walker to leave the grounds to the people of NSW for the purpose of housing local horses, for Health services and for public space. This is exactly how the grounds have been used for more than 3 decades.

In addition, the Mounted Police, whilst proposing to house horses on the grounds, are a government department none the less. A number of attempts have already been made in years gone by to develop the site. Should another attempt be made, we fear that a fellow government department is far less likely to put up as much of a fight to preserve the site as we have and that this invaluable community resource would be lost forever.

The fact is that Sydney Local Health District—

that is, SLHD—

is a trustee of the land, without ownership of it. Their reasons for eviction are unfounded, biased and in some cases unsubstantiated and completely unfair. Whether lawful or not, their actions are not in the interests of the community and at very least contravene the philanthropist intentions of the Walker Estate when the property was bequeath to the people of NSW.

Do we have a vested interest in the property continuing to function as it has? Yes we do. Indeed, it is our argument that the entire community shares this interest …Yaralla should stay as it is and be used as it is for many generations to come.

So where do we stand now?

SLHD have cancelled their dodgy deal with the Mounted Police Unit and will be putting the Yaralla paddocks out to 'open tender', with the Mounted Police still being identified in a recent Risk assessent report commissioned by the SLHD as the unanimous preferred candidates. Not quite a step forward, merely an attempt to undo their most obvious wrong doing that this community held them accountable for.

However, there is still no certainty that the communities concerns will be considered. How can we be sure that the criteria set by SLHD does not favour a certain applicant such as the MPU? How can we know that the Mounted Police Unit won't just happen to be the 'most ideal' and preferred applicant identified by an O'Farrel government/ SLHD panel.

Regardless of the change in process, the agenda remains unchanged. The Mounted Police were the favored tenant all along and no one in the community should trust that this will be a fair and open process.

Speaking of fair, open and honest …Everyone would have passed the barrier fencing along the Yaralla Driveway today … I ask … how many of you have walked across that land in the last 5 years?? How many of you witnessed in shock as I did the men in masks and suits digging up the dirt??

It has been noted by SLHD that "hazardous" and contaminated waste was identified and subsequently removed from this site within the last 3 days. Workcover has visited the site and informed some residents of the Estate concerned with the acitivities, that it was indeed asbestos that the SLHD had commissioned to move, and it states as such on the workcover applications submitted by contractors.

Why were was there no community announcement, why were the people who access Yaralla not told of the immenent danger or risk and at least provided with a request to avoid the area during the de-contamination phase? … Shame on you SLHD … You continue to cling to your excuses, and your blazae fair regard for the degraded state of the Yaralla paddocks … You state it is due to your expert focus on the provision of Health Care services that you have overlooked our beloved Yaralla … You state you are not experts in management of horse paddocks … Well, I am pretty sure that failure to notify the community and neighbours of Yaralla of asbestos removal on this crown land accessible to the public is a direct and intolerable breach of your duty of care as elite public health care providers!!!

Despite all the opposition that we face, we still believe a solution does exist that will benefit the entire community.

SLHD have continually reminded us throughout our campaign that they 'don't do horses', their priority is local health.

Well guess what—NSW mounted police have a priority too—policing. There is absolutely no guarantee that they have the resources to ensure the upkeep of Yaralla. In fact, if the state of their other spelling facilities around the state is evidence of anything, it is that they are NOT ideal tenants for Yaralla.

Solution—our very own Canada Bay Council IS in the business of managing community spaces. The most obvious way to ensure that the Yaralla paddocks remain a public space is for the Canada Bay Council to manage an interim licence and to apply for the public tender. They can oversee its maintenance and use where the SLHD fell well short of their responsibilities.

Of course, this is easier said than done. The Mayor Angelo Tsirekas has strongly committed to exploring this option, but we, as the community, need to communicate how important this is to us that council support this community campaign for Yaralla.

There is still a bigger issue at hand. As a community we cannot just overlook the gross negligence that SLHD have demonstrated over the past 17 years. As trustees of the Estate there is simply no excuse for the poor dilapidated condition that they allowed the main estate building fall into, regardless of their very recent attempts to prepare it for its new purpose.

There is absolutely no excuse for the lack of care, lack of inspections and lack of support for the condition of the paddocks. Someone needs to be held accountable for this Dr. Anderson CE of the SLHD and Chairman of the Board Ron Phillips.

There is absolutely no excuse for putting the health of the community at risk by dumping hazardous waste on the property. As mentioned previously it has come to our attention late this week that 'hazardous waste' that was dumped as landfill on the estate approximately 4 years ago, known to volunteer members of the Local Heritage society, contains Asbestos. Community members it is time for us all to be outraged with the SLHD. What they have done is completely illegal, completely dishonest and absolutely disgusting!

We must hold the trustees accountable for their gross negligence by pushing that the Yaralla Estate be taken away from SLHD and be put in the hands of a body, such as council, that are better equipped with the resources to maintain a higher standard of upkeep and care.

We need everyone here today to be writing letters to Barry O'Farrell to identify your disillusionment and distrust of the current state government and to the Mayor identifying your support, make phone calls, make your voice be heard. We will continue to fight for this beloved resource, but we need your help. To truly exercise people power we need you, the people. There is still more work to do and we are still a long way from the result we are all working towards.

We thank you for your attendance today and for your continued support … We must make a call for action … We must enforce a change … the horses have 6 days until eviction … This is the thin edge of the wedge … Make your voice be heard!

I too join with Alex Gavel and all the friends of Yaralla Estate and call on the O'Farrell government to cancel the eviction of Alex and all the wonderful— (Time expired)

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 18:18 to 18:31

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Windsor ): It being past 6.30 pm, the debate was interrupted in accordance with standing order 192, and the resumption of the debate made an order of the day for the next meeting .