ACT News

Tennis anyone? Jubilant Telopea Park at land swap backdown

Perhaps the ACT government should have known better than to take on the might of the Telopea Park School parents and friends over a patch of land containing four tennis courts and a changing room.

Three times over the past 40 years, the Commonwealth or ACT Governments have sought to reclaim the land for various developments, and in an embarrassing Assembly backflip on Wednesday, three times they have failed.

Telopea Park School PNC members and students celebrating. Front, from left, students Xanthe Merritt, 6, and Martin Millar, 7.
Telopea Park School PNC members and students celebrating. Front, from left, students Xanthe Merritt, 6, and Martin Millar, 7. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Telopea Park School's Parents and Community Association president Paul Haesler said that in this latest battle he had always been confident the Government could be pushed back because its decision was "so manifestly and obviously flawed and unfair."

Still, after drafting close to 20 press releases, running a dozen community meetings and submitting Freedom of Information Requests for hundreds of documents – all completed while juggling his job as a software engineer and helping care for two children -  Mr Haesler said it was a blessed relief the fight was over.

He noted that the community groups which came together possessed considerable organisational and political clout, given their corporate and public sector backgrounds.

Fellow campaigner and federal public servant Rani Austin gave countless hours of her time and effort to help "maintain the integrity of a public education asset" both for her Year 8 daughter and for future generations of students.

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Similarly, Anita Gardner lent her professional communications skills to the effort on behalf of her two children, and because "this was a poor decision taken in secret and what happened to Telopea Park School could happen anywhere."

"As a community we have to stand up and say no to Governments and big money when they act against the best interests of our community. We need to be prepared to defend the things that make where we live, Canberra, great," Ms Gardner said.

None of them are confident another attempted land grab won't happen again in a few years.

Mr Haesler said the fact that the most recent grab included turfing Canberra's oldest not-for-profit childcare centre, the Manuka Occasional Childcare Association, off its premises after 88 years and moving it onto the tennis court land, added community support to the cause.

"We felt the need to defend our tennis courts, but in a sense MOCCA was under existential threat, and they are still not out of the water."

MOCCA director Robby McGarvey said an assurance that MOCCA could stay in its current location on Flinders Way, until an alternative building and site could be provided by the ACT Government was a "huge huge relief."

"Our take from events is that MOCCA gets to stay where it is to the end of the decade – there will be no rush to move us off our land."

Ms McGarvey said she had literally gone into shock last September when she was told the site was being given to the Canberra Services Club and Defence Housing Australia for a joint-development.

MOCCA was later told it would have to fund its new location.

She said Wednesday's Government commitment to rehouse MOCCA meant the service did not have a noose hanging around its head.

"Ultimately we will fight to stay where we have are – and after 88 years we believe we have a right to that site."

"But if we have to go, then at least we have been promised we will have something to go to."