The Public Service Association (PSA) is mounting a fight against the potential privatisation of the Berry Sport and Recreation Centre.
Union representatives will meet with Kiama MP Gareth Ward on Thursday afternoon to talk through the government’s plan for the future of the well-known centre.
Synonymous with school camps, the facility spans 62 hectares of rural farmland on the outskirts of Berry.
However, the PSA fears the site’s accessibility as an outdoor education provider will disappear following any shake-up of its operations.
The Baird government is considering privatising centres across the state, as part of an investigation into ways to improve service delivery.
PSA regional organiser Tony Heathwood fears the Berry centre could be “taken out of community hands and operation for a substantial unknown period of time”.
“Which, if the port’s any indication, [could be] up to 99 years,” Mr Heathwood said, citing the long-term lease of Port Kembla port.
“[Ninety-nine years] is a hell of a long time to lose a community asset, even if it is leased.”
Mr Heathwood said the PSA was also concerned about a “lack of transparency”.
“The government is not open and transparent about the process, in particular, and the cost-benefit to the community,” he said.
“It’s all about a short-term, sugar-hit cash injection.”
The union wants the government to guarantee the Berry centre will remain affordable and accessible to those who use it and an assurance it would remain part of the school curriculum.
Uncertainty also lingers over the future of the 20 staff employed at the centre.
“A lot of those jobs are currently insecure, they’re in temporary employment, so they’ll become more insecure,” he said.
“There’s a concern for their jobs ... going forward.
“The guarantees that the government has made in previous similar privatisations have not proven to be very satisfactory.”
The news of a potential operator shake-up comes after the government allocated money in its 2016-17 budget for the construction of a natural outdoor play space at the Berry centre.
The play space is the first of its kind at such a facility in NSW and will allow children to explore an area sans traditional equipment or “soft fall” surfacing underfoot.
Stage one of that project should be complete this year.
CAMP GROUNDS ‘NOT FOR SALE’
The minister responsible for the state’s sport and recreation centres says the government is exploring ways to improve the facilities, but has no plan to sell them off.
Stuart Ayres, the Minister for Sport, told the Mercury the investigations were in their early stages.
“The NSW government is committed to ensuring sport and recreation centres continue to provide high quality outdoor education programs for schools and sporting groups, as well as key facilities for other community groups to use,” Mr Ayres said.
“There are no plans to sell sport and recreation centres, including at Berry.”
Parliamentary secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward said the government wanted to “maximise these centres and ensure the services and the recreation activities the community wants are occurring there”.
“We will always try and get the best possible use out of public assets for the community. The union will always try and run its scare campaigns,” Mr Ward said.
Mr Ayres said consultation, including with the Public Service Association, was ongoing.