Yaralla Estate Adjournment Speech: Legislative Council 28/05/13

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Delivered in the Legislative Council May 28, 2013.

Two days ago around 500 people rallied, marched and rode ponies to save community horses on the historic Yaralla Estate at Concord. The Sydney Local Health District issued eviction notices to around 30 owners who agist their horses in the paddocks of the great Edwardian estate at Yaralla, also known as the Dame Eadith Walker Estate. Those eviction notices will take effect this Friday, 31 May.

The removal of the opportunity for local residents to keep a horse in the Yaralla Estate paddocks is a major change in community use. The estate was bequeathed to the State in 1938 and has been set aside for public space and the agistment of horses, as well as health services. Local children can ride horses and families have been able to walk through the paddocks and picnic in the grounds of the estate just 13 kilometres from the city. No expression of interest or public tender process was conducted before the Sydney Local Health District signed over the horse paddocks to the Mounted Police Unit. A secret deal was signed between two arms of the State Government, the Sydney Local Health District and NSW Police Force, to move the mounted police horses to the Yaralla Estate.

I will acquaint members with the process — or, more particularly, the lack of process — that was involved in that secret deal between two arms of government. On 19 April a press release from the Sydney Local Health District announcing the deal to hand over the paddocks to the mounted police informed people that the decision was taken on the basis of an independent audit of the paddocks. That allegedly independent audit was written by a company that secretly donated more than $30,000 to the Liberal Party and engages Liberal Party powerbroker Michael Photios as a paid lobbiest. A front company, AMK Holdings Pty Limited, funnelled $30,000 in donations to the Liberal Party in 2010 and 2011. The place of business of AMK Holdings Pty Limited is at the office of Blue Visions Management Pty Ltd, the company contracted by the Sydney Local Health District to independently audit — we are told — the community horse paddocks at the Yaralla Estate. Blue Visions' management is listed as a client of Michael Photios' firm, Premier State Consulting, on the New South Wales lobbyists register. Mr Photios is a close confidant of both the health Minister, Jillian Skinner, and the Chair of the Sydney Local Health District, Ron Phillips. All three have been leading figures in the Left faction of the New South Wales Liberal Party for 25 years.

This allegedly independent audit was nothing of the sort. It was an exercise in delivering the Government the answer it wanted: the removal of the community horse owners and the handover of the paddocks to the police. Following a public backlash against the secret deal, when 500 people rallied at the Concord RSL Club, NSW Health will now open the licence for horse agistment on the site to tender. However, a briefing note to the Chief Executive Officer of the Sydney Local Health District dated 14 May clearly states that it still intends ultimately to hand over the paddocks to the Mounted Police Unit. The briefing note states:

The NSW Health risk assessment group expressed the unanimous opinion that entering into an arrangement with an organisation such as the NSW Mounted Police Unit would provide the optimum solution for future management of the site.

Ordinary people who have agisted their horses in the estate paddocks for years have been treated with cavalier disregard by the Sydney Local Health District. This is an equine scandal — a horse scandal of far greater substance than the More Joyous affair. Forget the Waterhouses; forget Singo. Ordinary people are being treated with cavalier disregard. I advise the House that I will move to activate my motions on the Notice Paper for an order for papers and for an inquiry by way of a select committee unless the Minister intervenes and does the right thing. Over 500 people at two community meetings have called on her to act. She must, first, grant a stay of execution for the community members who currently agist their horses at the estate and, secondly, work for a shared solution between the police and the community members who have agisted their horses in the paddocks for many years.