It has already become clear that the people of NSW are dealing with a government that doesn’t listen, but the residents of Parramatta face the double whammy of having a local MP who doesn’t listen either. Not only has the decision to demolish Parramatta War Memorial Swimming Pool on March 31 been imposed upon the people of Parramatta without any consultation, but the sitting Liberal member, Geoff Lee, has failed to represent his constituents on this matter. With a local MP beholden to his masters on Macquarie Street, and the Parramatta Council conveniently abolished, it has been left to the local community to coordinate opposition to the pool’s demolition.
That opposition, and the anger of the people of Parramatta, manifested itself on February 27 when over 150 residents packed into a local public school to voice their outrage. Mr Lee was blasted by local residents – some of whom admitted to voting for him in 2015 – for failing to represent the people of Parramatta.
I was at the forum, and the overwhelming feeling was that the people of Parramatta had been left voiceless. The son of former Parramatta MP Dan Mahoney summed up the mood: “Geoff, you’ve let the side down and people in Parramatta aren’t happy.”
In order to appreciate the recklessness of the NSW government’s decision, we need only look at the numbers. Parramatta War Memorial Swimming Pool is one of the best public pools in Australia. It’s Olympic standard, has 10 lanes, an Olympic diving tower, a water polo pool, and a kid’s learn to swim pool. Over 160,000 people visit the pool each year, and each week over 300 people go to learn to swim classes, mainly school children.
The justification for the demolition of Parramatta Pool is the replacement of Parramatta Stadium, which holds 20,741 seats, with a new stadium that will hold 30,000 seats. The cost is $300 million of taxpayers’ money. The average attendance for the last 15 matches held at Parramatta Stadium, including games played by both Parramatta Eels and the Western Sydney Wanderers, is 13,586.
The cost of building a replacement pool – which has been promised by the state government but no plans are in sight, making it several years away – is estimated to be $50 million, with only $20 million of that earmarked to come from the state budget, meaning the other $30 million would need to be provided by Parramatta ratepayers, assuming they ever get their council back.
For the people of Parramatta, the numbers speak for themselves. At the cost of $350 million total (assuming there are no blowouts, which there will be), one of the best public swimming pools in Australia, that serves the entire city of Parramatta, is going to be demolished in order that it be replaced by a stadium that can fit 10,000 more people in it, the average attendance of which is already 7000 under capacity.
It’s not too late for the Member for Parramatta to find his voice. It's about time Mr Lee started treating the constituents who put their faith in him at the 2015 election with respect, not contempt. If Mr Lee doesn't stand up in parliament next week to support the local residents fighting this decision, I imagine many voters will be strongly considering their options at the next election.
If Mr Lee needs inspiration, he need only turn to his party colleagues. On February 3, 2017, Brad Hazzard, the Minister for Health, said that the decision to demolish Warringah Aquatic Centre in his electorate of Wakehurst should be made by an elected council. Rob Stokes, the former Minister for Planning who announced the demolition of Parramatta Pool, said that “no matter what happens, it would not be acceptable to have a hiatus where we don’t have a pool [in Warringah].”
I look forward to Geoff Lee remembering who elected him in 2015, because the people of Parramatta will remember his silence when it comes to voting at the 2019 election.
- Aidan Anderson is a PhD student at Sydney University and a former high school English teacher.