Moves toward a public school in Murrumbateman are gaining traction after commitment from both the NSW Liberal and Labor parties were made recently.
On June 12, Member for Goulburn Pru Goward announced that funding in the NSW 2018-19 State Budget, to be released on June 19, would be allocated to begin planning for a new primary school.
Then on June 14, at Murrumbateman Early Childhood Centre Association (MECCA), opposition leader Luke Foley MP announced that a Labor Party government, if elected, would commit $25 million to building and opening a school in the village within its first term.
Yass Valley councillor Mike Reid, who resides in the village and is one of the lead campaigners, welcomed both major parties’ focus on the issue.
“I think it’s fabulous that there’s now commitment and focus from both parties,” Cr Reid said.
“We’ve been working a long time for it. Ken Helm is here today, he started this 40 years ago.”
Asked about the $25m from the Labor Party, Cr Reid said it was a strong amount to meet future needs.
“We could build some recreation grounds and additional facilities for the kids,” he said. “We’re going to need it. Murrumbateman is a growing area.”
Similarly, winemaker and resident Ken Helm said it was a positive step forward.
“It only took 40 years and the great efforts in recent years of councillor Mike Reid and it looks like it is there,” Mr Helm said.
In April 1978, he led a lobbying group of families from Murrumbateman and managed to have the NSW Minister for Education at the time, Eric Bedford, the local member for Burrinjuck, Terry Sheehan, local councillors and lots of families and supporters attend a meeting about reopening the school.
“The Liberals cannot make that commitment”: Luke Foley MP
Mr Foley said that the current government has “done nothing about this”.
“But they learnt that I’m coming [to Murrumbateman] and so we might get some planning done for a school one day,” Mr Foley said.
“There’s something like 13 buses to schools in Yass, Canberra and even Goulburn. It’s unacceptable.
“Under a Labor government, the children here who are at preschool today will be to move into a school in Murrumbateman.
“The Liberals cannot make that commitment.
“All you get from them is something about planning a new school one day,” Mr Foley said.
Mr Foley was joined by Dr Ursula Stephens, Labor candidate for Goulburn, and Dr Mike Kelly, federal member for Eden-Monaro.
Dr Stephens is set to campaign on the matter further, leading up to the 2019 state election.
“This community is sick to death of talks about planning. There’s planning for the Barton Highway and now they’ve got planning for a Murrumbateman school,” she said.
Dr Stephens said the commitment would provide the infrastructure for growth.
Liberals’ decision based on community needs
In an announcement prior to the Labor Party’s announcement, Ms Goward said the Liberals’ decision followed growing community calls for their own school, an assessment of local enrolment projections, and recent changes to the school enrolment policy by the ACT Government.
“A school in Murrumbateman means many children will no longer need to endure long or interstate commutes to the ACT for their education," Ms Goward said.
Treasurer Dominic Perrottet confirmed the funding would be in the NSW Budget, describing it as a “great result” for the Murrumbateman community.
“Huge infrastructure projects and new state-wide programs get all the headlines on budget day, but our government knows there is nothing more important to a community than the future of its children,” he said.
Ms Goward said an immeasurable amount of work had gone into securing a school for Murrumbateman.
“The community has been lobbying for more than a decade and I joined the fight in 2015, but it took all of us together to achieve this result,” she said.
"Words cannot describe how pleased and proud I am for each and every name collected in favour of this school, especially to the driving force that is [Yass Valley councillor] Mike Reid," Ms Goward said.
Yass Valley Council welcomes funding commitment
In a statement, Yass Valley Council (YVC) said that councillors and council staff have wholeheartedly supported the community in its long and spirited fight for a school in Murrumbateman.
“The previous primary school closed in 1973 and council has worked closely with the Murrumbateman Progress Association for more than a decade to advocate for a new primary school to service the rapidly growing population,” it said.
In 2017, YVC entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the NSW Department of Education to investigate and deliver education facility projects.
Murrumbateman continues to experience sustained population growth due to lifestyle, proximity to Canberra and the introduction of other services such as water and sewer.
Even before being elected to council two years ago, Cr Reid was a driving force behind the push to secure a local school.
“A school in Murrumbateman means that many local children will no longer need to endure long commutes to access education,” Cr Reid said.
“Families move to Murrumbateman for the quiet, country lifestyle but unfortunately the children have to travel to Yass or Canberra every school day, and then often back to Canberra on the weekend for other activities.
“A school will become the beating heart of our community. It will keep people in the village, attract new residents and strengthen our community ties and spirit.”
Yass Valley mayor Rowena Abbey welcomed the news and said YVC looked forward to learning more details when the budget is handed down.
“Particularly a timeline for when the community can expect to see the project shovel ready and the dream a reality,” Cr Abbey.
“We thank the NSW Government for listening to the community’s pleas and understanding the need for a local primary school to meet the expanding population growth. It is an important and integral investment in our children’s future.”