Minister Jumps the Gun on Super-School

The Minister for Education, Andrew Barr, jumped the gun last week by announcing the start of construction of the new super-school in West Belconnen. The ACT Government has not yet received official approval for the project.

The ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA) confirmed yesterday that it has not yet approved the development application for the school. Objections to the application were lodged by some local residents and ACTPLA is yet to rule on these objections (as at the time of writing).

The Minister conducted a formal ‘turning the sod’ ceremony at the site of the new super-school last week. It appears that he was more concerned about getting a photo opportunity in the local media than adhering to the planning legislation for which he is also responsible as Planning Minister.

The ‘turning the sod’ ceremony traditionally represents the formal start of a building project. Indeed, the Canberra Times report (8 August) stated that the ceremony marked the beginning of work on the super-school. If the Minister wasn’t announcing the start of construction, one wonders what the event was all about.

The Minister has acted unlawfully and subverted ACT planning processes by his actions. Objections have been lodged against the project in good faith and according to the due statutory process. Whatever the merits or otherwise of these objections, the Minister has effectively prejudiced the case against them by announcing that construction will start before there has been a formal decision on the objections.

This is a failure of due process. It could also be seen as a blatant attempt to coerce ACTPLA to give the go-ahead for the super-school.

The super-school project has been characterised by a failure of due process right from the start. The ACT Government adopted a ‘take or leave it’ approach by telling parents that the old Ginninderra high school would close in any case if they did not accept the super-school proposal.

The Government failed to establish a genuine consultation process around the proposal and refused to supply adequate information on the proposal or to examine the educational, financial and social impact of closing schools in the area.

The ACT Government has consistently ridden roughshod over parent concerns about the loss of access to neighbourhood schools associated with the building of the super-school and its potential to lead to further school closures in the region. It is now apparent that the Government is prepared to ignore its own planning laws in order to get its way.

Trevor Cobbold
14 August 2007

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