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.
“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.
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.