Ms JODI MCKAY (Strathfield) [6.53 p.m.]: I never thought I would be standing in this Chamber again looking up at the Deputy-Speaker, not because I did not think he would retain his seat of Lismore but because I did not think I would ever return to Parliament. I bring to the attention of the House the situation faced by the residents of Welfare Street and Flemington Road at Homebush West. I became involved in this issue during my campaign for Strathfield. In December last year a story appeared in the real estate section of the Sydney Morning Herald. Real estate agent Strathfield Partners boasted about its sale of 12 properties in Homebush West, which fetched $10 million for developer Centennial Property Group. Fortunately, journalist Rose Powell of the Sydney Morning Herald decided to take a closer look at this story and exposed a deal involving the Sydney Olympic Park Authority, Strathfield Partners and Centennial Property Group that has put business and making a profit on the sale of government assets ahead of people.
In short, Centennial Property Group made $4.7 million in six months after purchasing the government-owned housing from the Sydney Olympic Park Authority [SOPA]. I read Rose's story and reached out to the residents. In response to my inquiries, the Minister indicated on 5 February that the houses were sold because they were not required for SOPA's business operations. Unfortunately, no consideration was given to the people who lived in these houses. It appears they were expendable when SOPA considered what was best for its business operations. They should have been front of mind in any decision made by SOPA and the New South Wales Government because those tenants were in fact protected under the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act 1948. But they were not front of mind; they were expendable.
Strathfield Partners gave the tenants 30 days to move out and Centennial Property Group made almost $5 million by doing nothing except onselling the government assets. Led by resident Lyn Begnell, the tenants refused to leave and set about challenging the sale, the later subdivision application and the actions of SOPA. It is worth noting that when the houses were sold the land was on a single title, and remains so today. The residents are currently challenging the subdivision application in the Land and Environment Court. Investigations by journalist Wendy Bacon revealed that SOPA still held the title to the land two weeks after the auction took place—so the investors did not even own the properties when they were sold. As Wendy Bacon pointed out in her online blog, "You can't sell a title you don't possess."
What has been forgotten in all the deals involving these 12 houses are the people of Welfare Street and Flemington Road. John Higgins has lived in his house since he was a baby. He is now 67 years old. As the child of the original leaseholder, his father, he is entitled to stay in the property. Bruce Begnell has lived in the Welfare Street house for 50 years. He is legally blind, has diabetes and is cared for by his wife, Lyn. Along with Bob Telfer and Bob Rolls, John and Bruce worked at the State-owned abattoir, which closed in June 1988. They were given protected tenancies and affordable housing in return for a hard day and night's work and minimal income. They believed they had a home for life; they should have had a home for life.
I again refer to Wendy Bacon's online blog. She has raised two pertinent questions: Why did SOPA not deal honestly with its tenants? In fact, bar one letter, SOPA wiped its hands of these people. Why were the properties auctioned in such a rush before the subdivision had taken place? I add to those questions: Who told Strathfield Partners to evict the residents? Was this callous action instigated by it alone? Why did Housing NSW not take the properties, given the shortage of affordable housing in New South Wales? Were the final buyers of the homes, who to this day remain mysterious, aware these tenancies were protected? And why were the tenants not offered alternative accommodation by the New South Wales Government? These questions remain unanswered today.
I particularly mention Lyn Begnell in this House. She has led the campaign to save not only her home but also those of her neighbours. Lyn and her son, Kurt, have become advocates and have taken on SOPA, Strathfield Partners and Centennial Property Group. Their home is at stake and they are refusing to give in, and I say, "All strength to them." The matter remains unresolved. I urge the New South Wales Government to step in and to support these tenants.