Legislative Council 9 September 2015 – CITY PLANNING


The Hon. DANIEL MOOKHEY [6.50 p.m.]: Tonight I inform the House about the changes being proposed for the city of Parramatta. Parramatta was the second Australian city built by Arthur Phillip following the arrival of the British to this continent in 1788. Ten months younger than Sydney, Parramatta became the colony’s hub when it became apparent that the lack of arable land near Sydney Cove meant certain starvation for the colony’s 1,000 soldiers, administrators and convicts if they remained rooted to the harbour. Governor Phillip’s choice to relocate the colony’s heart in the west meant that Parramatta was the stage upon which so many of Australia’s most historic episodes were played, including the beginning of agriculture by James Ruse at Experiment Farm; the emergence of Australia’s first export industry, the wool industry, at Elizabeth Farm; the Castle Hill convict rebellion, that is, the march on Parramatta by convicts determined to return to Ireland; the Cataract Gorge massacre ordered by Governor Macquarie from his chambers in George Street, Parramatta; and the Parramatta Female Factory uprising, the site of Australia’s first industrial action when female convicts rioted in response to a cut in rations and poor conditions.

Each of these episodes from Australia’s social history lives on in Parramatta’s streets, parks and buildings. Each side of politics has recognised this. So much of Australia’s social history is entwined in these streets, parks and buildings. These streets, parks and buildings need to be preserved and protected for every Australian. Parramatta has always had to contend with the dreams and occasional flights of fancy of planners, developers, mayors, real estate moguls and bureaucrats. Pleasingly, nary a year goes by without some glossy plan for Parramatta appearing on the front pages of the Sydney Morning Herald. The people of Parramatta are ambitious and it is right that they are. The question is not whether Parramatta’s ambitions should be subordinate to Parramatta’s heritage but how to leverage Parramatta’s heritage in service of its ambitions. We need to decide how to redesign it so that the city’s core is not just the precinct surrounding Parramatta station but also the heritage precincts on the city fringe. We need to decide how to pedestrianise the heritage parks, how to re-purpose the heritage buildings, and how to couple these changes with a plan for expanded urban density so that more people can live close to Parramatta’s core. These are challenges that historic cities like Parramatta have to address.

Cities like Boston City, which answer questions like these correctly, create natural spurs for their growth. Cities like Philadelphia, which answer these questions incorrectly, surrender their comparative advantage in an age where cities are nearly as paramount as nations. This is an age in which cities compete with each other. Parramatta’s answer is imminent. The answer will arrive with the Planning Minister’s decisions about the future of the Cumberland heritage precinct. The Minister will have to decide if Urban Growth’s proposed 30-storey towers will be built in the vicinity of Old Government House and next to the Female Factory. These are sites currently being assessed for World Heritage status—a fitting tribute to buildings so important. It is troubling that the implications of this nominee status have not yet dawned on the Minister for Planning.

Last week in budget estimates, my colleague the Hon. Penny Sharpe asked the Minister if the Cumberland precinct’s potential World Heritage status is being factored into the planning processes that the Minister is responsible for. The Minister could not answer. It is concerning for the people of Parramatta that the Minister responsible for determining the future of one of Australia’s most historic districts is ignorant of how its future is being assessed. It follows many other acts of ignorance and callousness for which this Minister and UrbanGrowth are responsible. Indeed, the mistrust between UrbanGrowth and the people of Parramatta is the reason the people of Parramatta are organising themselves.

The people of Parramatta are forming fine, cross-partisan organisations like the North Parramatta Residents Action Group, led by the redoubtable Suzette Meade. They have been organising petitions, like the 12,000-person petition that will soon be introduced into this place. The people of Parramatta have been partnering with icons like Jack Mundey and unions like the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union [CFMEU] to impose green bans to preserve Parramatta’s heritage, as was announced last week. People like Suzette Meade and unions like the CFMEU should not have to resort to citizen activism in order to have the Minister discharge his duties diligently and they should at least receive a hearing from the member for Parramatta. It is no credit to the Minister, the member for Parramatta or the Government that they have not.

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