18 March 2022

Bungendore High School: confusion and uncertainty the only known-knowns as project drags on

| Max O'Driscoll
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Bungendore High School site

The previously approved Bungendore High School site. Photo: NSW Department of Education.

Senior officials from the Department of Education have told a NSW Budget Estimates committee hearing that the current Bungendore High School site is “not confirmed”, indicating the impact of Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council’s withdrawal of support for the Bungendore Park site at its 27 January meeting.

As a result, the Department of Education is now seeking a compulsory land acquisition.

Since former Member for Monaro John Barilaro’s announcement that Bungendore Park was the preferred location for the school, the competing interests of those wanting to save the park and those wishing to see Bungendore receive its long-awaited high school has divided the local community.

At a March Budget Estimates hearing, Labor MLC Courtney Houssos described the community opposition to the proposal as “overwhelming”.

But Greg Cameron, who supports the school being built on the Bungendore Park site, objected to the characterisation, saying opposition is in no way “overwhelming”.

He also noted that the eight pages of questions about the proposal from Ms Houssos are coming three years after the consultation process began.

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“What the Department of Education did in terms of consultation was, if anything, overkill,” Mr Cameron said.

“[The consultation] was three years, and so when we get to the end of the three-year period, and we are having a council election, Labor and the Greens say ‘well, we don’t like it’.

“There are eight pages of questions that are answerable by reference to the public record, and I’m not questioning the legitimacy of their questions. What I’m saying is that these questions shouldn’t be coming at the end of the process.

“This is not about a nuclear power plant or a toxic waste disposal facility. This is a high school that everyone wants and Labor and the Greens are playing ‘ducks and drakes’ with the process, and that’s what I’m objecting to,” he said.

Mr Cameron believes several ‘Johnny-come-latelys’ have ignored the initial consultation process and are now complaining about the result. He says they must prove that the consultation was wrong now that the process has concluded.

He said that those supporting the school feel blindsided and worry that the project remains on the drawing board.

READ ALSO Queanbeyan High School backflips on controversial decision to move to part-time in-person learning

On the other hand, the Save Bungendore Park group was left frustrated by comments made by Department of Education representatives, particularly when the Head of School Infrastructure, Anthony Manning, was unable to answer questions regarding student capacity and demand, as well as the total cost of the project.

“It shows that either Mr Manning hadn’t seen his own Department’s analysis of projected enrolments, or he knows it’s wrong. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to admit that this shows the school will exceed projected capacity immediately after it opens,” wrote a spokesperson for Save Bungendore Park.

“[The] DoE are clueless about how much the project has cost so far and how much it’s still going to cost. Nichole Overall recently suggested it would be $50 million, which is a huge blowout from the original budget allocation of $34 million, and twice the cost of a bigger, better school in Jerrabomberra.

“It’s clear that this project is in deep trouble and the Department of Education is absolutely struggling. The Department’s Secretary and its Head of School Infrastructure were left floundering.

“They had no good answers for our community, except that ‘the site is not confirmed’, the demand is unknown, the capacity is unknown and the design is not settled,” they said.

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Greg Cameron12:27 pm 21 Mar 22

Budget Estimates was told on March 2 2022 that the school would commence with years 7 and 8:

MURAT DIZDAR [Deputy Secretary, School Performance – South, Department of Education]: I recently went and briefed, alongside my infrastructure colleagues, the [QPRC] council. There are new council members there.

The Hon. COURTNEY HOUSSOS: Who voted against it?

MURAT DIZDAR: From my understanding of the meeting, there are some council members that are supportive of the project and its location. I indicated to the council that, from an operational sense, we will be commencing with years 7 and 8. I think there was a unified message that I got from the council that they are looking forward to high school education provision in their community and, like you indicate, some of that is contested by some members of the community, which Ms Harrisson has also indicated. But there is a universal sentiment that a secondary provision in their locality will be really welcome. We were able to clarify a number of pieces of misinformation that may unfortunately have circulated in the community.

The Hon. COURTNEY HOUSSOS: With respect, Mr Dizdar, I think council has a position that they are opposed to that particular site.

The CHAIR [The Hon Mark Latham]: We will have to take that to the next round.

Greg Cameron11:23 am 21 Mar 22

QPRC voted on January 27 to withdraw support for the Bungendore High School site selected by DoE after a three-year selection process.

A “councillor workshop” with DoE in attendance was conducted on February 16.

Under QPRC’s “Code of Meeting Practice”, information provided to a “councillor workshop” is confidential.

DoE engaged with QPRC about council-owned assets. DoE’s decision to proceed to compulsory acquisition was questioned at a NSW Parliament Budget Estimates Committee hearing on March 2 2022:

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Why did you break off negotiations with the council and decide to go to compulsory acquisition? Is it because of the opposition of the council?

ANTHONY MANNING (Chief Executive, School Infrastructure NSW, DoE): No. We did it because we were having a conversation with the council about the complexity of the land transfer, issues in terms of council administration and the problems around getting it valued. The agreement with council was that as we moved to compulsory acquisition that was a much cleaner, clearer way to deal with it and also gave us security around the site being delivered so we could progress with the development. It gave everybody clarity around what the value would be.

Mr Manning’s advice indicates that QPRC agreed compulsory acquisition was the proper way to deal with QPRC’s high value capital assets.

Five weeks after the workshop, ratepayers are still in the dark about what council is thinking.

Greg Cameron12:00 pm 20 Mar 22

The Department of Education (DOE) proposes student capacity of 450 for Bungendore High School. Subject to confirmation by DoE, student capacity can be expanded to 660, if required.

Average enrolment in the “Capital SA4 Region’s” 15 high schools is 528. The region comprises the Local Government Areas of Eurobodalla, Queanbeyan Palerang Regional, Bega Valley, Snowy Monaro Regional, Hilltops, Goulburn Mulwaree, Upper Lachlan Shire, and Yass Valley.

There are 197 high schools outside of Sydney, with average enrolment of 634.

Greg Cameron11:58 am 20 Mar 22

Budget Estimates, March 2 2022:

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Why did you break off negotiations with the council and decide to go to compulsory acquisition? Is it because of the opposition of the council?

ANTHONY MANNING (Chief Executive, School Infrastructure NSW, DoE): No. We did it because we were having a conversation with the council about the complexity of the land transfer, issues in terms of council administration and the problems around getting it valued. The agreement with council was that as we moved to compulsory acquisition that was a much cleaner, clearer way to deal with it and also gave us security around the site being delivered so we could progress with the development. It gave everybody clarity around what the value would be.

Greg Cameron2:12 pm 19 Mar 22

What information did the Department of Education (DoE) technical experts provide to QPRC at the recent briefing of Councillors? Why is QORC treating information supplied by DoE as confidential? Will DoE publish the information it supplied to QPRC? If not, why did DoE supply QPRC with confidential information? At the end of the three-year consultation process, why should the information that informed the outcome be confidential?

savebungendorepark1:51 pm 20 Mar 22

That information is being kept confidential by the DoE. DoE insisted the briefing was kept confidential. They are free to release any of their own information if they choose. But they’ve constantly refused to do so, including inventing ridiculous justifications to refuse FOI requests.

Greg Cameron2:56 pm 20 Mar 22

The unsourced claim that DoE asked for confidentiality of the information provided to QPRC needs to be verified by both DoE and QPRC. Otherwise, the claim is misleading. The compulsory acquisition process would benefit from DoE and QPRC reaching an agreement about how it can be expedited. Bust as it now stands, the public has no understanding of what DoE and QPRC are talking about, which breeds speculation. If privileged information is being leaked, the best solution is disclosure.

Katrina Iffland1:54 pm 18 Mar 22

If QPRC issue its reasons for withdrawing support for the high school site as requested by David Cameron, perhaps the reasons showing why alternative sites, allegedly found not fit-for-purpose, can also be made public. And please, refrain from (the incorrect) application of ‘commercial inconfidence’, as a reason to avoid transparency. It’s applicable only if the applicant, not the Council, have requested non-disclosure. In any case, documents can be redacted to remove trade secrets;
personal information;
intellectual property;
financial statements; and council
internal processes etc. And for the record, three years’ consultation is naught, if it means the community avoids being landed with a under-sized, White Elephant of a school. Might suit the parents who want their kids enrolled yesterday, but what about the infrastructure’s ability to grow with the community’s next generations? Or are they, like the people in our town with deep connections to the park, collateral damage – roadblocks to short-sighted and expedient wishes of an invested some.

Greg Cameron2:32 pm 18 Mar 22

QPRC Mayor Cr Kenrick Winchester posted on the “Save Bungendore Park [from use by children] group” web site: “When there is further information to be passed on it will be – there has been nothing noteworthy to pass on since my previous statement – we have had no news on the SSDA or the compulsory acquisition.” It is now seven weeks since QPRC withdrew its in principle support for the selected site.

Perhaps DoE could advise the average size of a regional high school in NSW?

Greg Cameron11:05 am 18 Mar 22

The “Save Bungendore Park [from being used by children] group” is objecting to the preferential use of publicly-owned land by children during school hours. Surely there is no better use? The Department of Education (DoE) is responsible for determining if the selected site is “fit for purpose”. QPR Council’s reasons for withdrawing support should have been fully addressed by its recent meeting with DoE technical experts. Might QPRC release the information supplied by DoE at that meeting, so the public can be informed?

savebungendorepark9:12 pm 18 Mar 22

Interesting choice of words there, Greg.

Yes, we are Save Bungendore Park. But we also want to save Bungendore’s kids from a too-small, poorly planned, overcrowded and rushed development project which will damage not just their education, but the whole town.

This entire project has been a politically driven whitewash and the supposed consultation process was a sham.

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