Congratulations to the Deaf community for attending the Deaf Children Australia consultation about the sale of its assets related to the iconic Blue Stone Building. Quite rightly the Deaf community are concerned about any sale of assets related to the historic blue Stone Building on St Kilda Road. Tough questions were asked, some answered and others not. The Deaf community must remain diligent and ensure they have as much input as possible into any decisions on sales of assets or otherwise. Congratulations must also be provided to Deaf Children Australia for having the courage to hold the consultation meeting. Lets hope it will be the first of many before any decisions are made. The following report is based on information provided by various readers of The Rebuttal. Names have not been used. This is because the focus should be on the issues and not the individuals.
The consultation commenced with some information on the history of the property. Some of the land at the current property was donated by the Government of the day whilst other parts were purchased by the school, the Victorian School for the Deaf, over the years. There is much history connected wit the property and this has resulted in much of it being heritage listed. What this means is that much of the property is protected from development and only certain parts of the property can be sold. This means that Deaf Children Australia are limited in their options in terms of being able to make money from the property,
Part of the problem with being based at the iconic Blue Stone buildings is that they are heritage listed. Maintaining and repairing the building is a constant drain on resources. For example the basement area currently requires some work that will require considerable capital. There were some discussions about turning it into a Centre for Deaf Children if the Deaf community are responsive to the idea. If the area where the current primary school was located is sold there were suggestions that a second storey could be built on top of the current Cook Centre and the primary school could be relocated there. The Fenton Hall area is not heritage listed and is being considered as part of a sale.
This is the gist of the information that was provided to the Deaf community. Questions were asked about previous sales of assets such as the Princess Elizabeth Junior School and assets that were sold when the current CEO of Deaf Children Australia was based at the Deaf Society in South Australia. It was pointed out that such sales did not appear to have benefited the Deaf community in South Australia as it nearly closed in 2007 only to be saved by a merger with Townsend House. The focus on these questions was to raise the point that sale of assets does not always reap benefits. There was a certain amount of skepticism of a sale based on the fact that the community does not feel there have been benefits for the Deaf community from past sales of assets.
Interestingly some poor decision making of the past was raised. Not the least being the failed lottery of Deaf Children Australia a few years ago. (the first prize was to be to the value of $1 million) This author was actually on the Board of Deaf Children Australia at that time. It is fair to say that the author actively supported the lottery decision. In the end the lottery was actually cancelled and ticket purchases refunded. A very substantial amount of money was lost on the lottery that was mostly allocated to marketing the lottery. Reviews of the lottery debacle of the time found that insufficient market research had been conducted as to how people would respond to the lottery and that ticket prices were too high. It’s easy to say that hindsight is a wonderful thing but the reality is that the management and Board of DCA at the time, including this author, did not do their home work and acted in haste. It was a very poor decision indeed that led to very substantial losses. Members at the meeting were quite right to raise this issue as it raises questions of past decision making. They have a right to know if lessons have been learnt from the past and if processes have been put in place to ensure a repetition of such mistakes does not reoccur.
Other pointed questions were asked . Attendees wanted to know if there was a valuation of the land that was proposed for sale. This information was deemed confidential as it might jeopardise any negotiations if it became common knowledge. Knowing the internal valuation could lead to a buyer bidding substantially less than they might otherwise. Questions were asked as to the existence of a budget and business plan related to any proposed developments. The answer to this was rather vague – apparently the consultation was the “first step”. Presumably other consultations will occur and the Deaf community will have an active input into any development plans.
Deaf Children Australia spoke about a vision for DCA for the next 150 years. Quite rightly questions were asked as to how the sale was going to contribute to sustainability for the next 150 years. Questions were raised about appropriate business management and governance of the process. Clearly the Deaf community wanted to ensure transparency and accountability were in place. The only response to this line of questioning was that it was “noted”
The consultation that occurred on the 8th of July is apparently part of an 18 month process to have a plan in place by 2016, in time for the 150 year celebrations. Clearly there is much that still needs to be done. Although discussions of the sale 0f assets appear to have been happening for sometime it is clear that the Board and management of DCA want to ensure proper consultation and planning occur before any decisions are made. For this they should be congratulated. Even so, it is important that the Deaf community remain diligent, ask questions and seek answers. Hopefully lessons from past sales of Deaf community assets have been learnt and that the Deaf community can have an active input in any decisions that are made.
# This report has been put together using feedback from Deaf community members that attended the consultation. It is possible that inaccuracies may occur. People that attended the meeting are encouraged to use the comments section to clarify information or add any information that they feel is important.#