THE NSW government is continuing to push on with the controversial sale of its 17.9 hectare Scone TAFE campus at Flemington Drive, Scone.
The plans were revealed in January this year when a real estate agent put a listing online, however a parliamentary inquiry has heard that Racing NSW sent a letter to the NSW government in July 2020 expressing an interest in purchasing the site.
Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee was grilled by Labor MPs over the sale of the campus during Monday's budget estimates.
The hearing also heard that Mr Lee met with Racing NSW on August 6 last year to discuss the sale of the campus.
Racing NSW has since confirmed it offered the more than $3.2 million for the campus - higher than what it cost to build the site which opened in 1996 - and intend to utilise it as an educational facility offering a range of courses for the thoroughbred industry.
When asked what was discussed during the meeting, Mr Lee told the hearing "I can't remember".
NSW Labor Leader Jodi McKay held a press conference at the Scone campus on Tuesday alongside Shadow Minister for the Hunter Clayton Barr and Labor's Spokesperson for the Upper Hunter John Graham.
"It just defies any explanation that this minister can't remember what happened in that meeting," Ms McKay said.
"He knows full well that Scone TAFE campus and the sale of this campus, the privatisation of this campus, was discussed in that meeting.
"That means there have been secret negotiations going on about the sale of this campus since at least mid last year."
Despite strong backlash from the community, including Upper Hunter Shire Council (UHSC) who called on the NSW government last week to immediately cease any proposal to sell Scone TAFE, Upper Hunter MP Micahel Johnsen has maintained support for the sale, which he claims was only drawn to his attention after the ad had been published.
He stated he strongly believes the facility should remain as a local educational place for equine and agricultural courses, delivered by a registered training organization.
"I believe that should the sale be approved, then funds from a sale of the site should be invested in capital upgrades for other local TAFE NSW facilities," he told ACM on Tuesday.
A smaller-scale $6.5 million TAFE NSW Scone Connected Learning Centre (CLC) was opened in the Scone CBD in July 2019.
At the time, Mr Johnsen confirmed Racing NSW had expressed interest in buying the racecourse and land surrounding the campus which it intended to transform into a 120-hectare training centre of excellence.
He also told ACM in 2019 Scone's traditional TAFE campus at Flemington Drive would remain fully functional, "catering to the more face-to-face and practical courses".
But on Tuesday, while supporting the sale, he said it would not result in a loss in delivery of courses.
"The CLCs continue to deliver exemplary vocational training and education to our local community," he said.
"In fact, enrolments have substantially increased since the Connected Learning Centre has been in operation."