Morisset Country Club

30th May 2019

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (17:41:01): To the disappointment of many in my community, the curtain has come down somewhat unexpectedly on Morisset Country Club, which has operated at Morisset for more than 51 years. It was not finances or bad management which ultimately saw the doors close last week; in fact, its current trading position was quite strong. Rather, the private owner of the site has taken vacant possession of its asset, with plans yet to be revealed. The golf course and facilities sit on 90 hectares of land. They were acquired by the Drysdale family company in 1989 and then leased back to the club under a deal done with the club's board at the time. The company has, I understand, provided the club with rent concessions many times. However, last October Drysdale Metals informed the club's board that it would not offer another long?term lease. Obviously, the original sale was a gamble that has not paid off.

Two weeks ago, the club's board was told it would need to vacate the premises and close the golf course and bowling green. It came as a great disappointment to many. In recent years the club had worked its way back to a good financial position, due mainly to the excellent work of its board, headed by President Erica Ford. Although the club and associated facilities were given until 15 August to fully vacate the site, the doors have been closed since 19 May. The closure has devastated 719 golfing members, some of whom were foundation members. The club also had more than 2,000 social members, 66 lawn bowlers and 30 staff, who are now out of work.

Drysdale Metals has not publicly indicated its intentions for the site. This has caused distress in the local community and fuelled fears that a rezoning might see the site turned over to housing. I understand there are currently no applications to rezone or develop the site with council. While the site's immediate future is not clear, the Drysdales sought to rezone the land in 2013 but were rejected by the councillors at the time. It would be fair to say that while the site could house valuable community facilities in the health and education sectors, many in the community want to see it retained for recreational use and to preserve the parkland nature provided by the golf course.

Personally, I am of the mind that we will cross that bridge when the owners make their intentions known. What concerns me in the short term is a number of matters which extend beyond the fact that 30 people have just lost their jobs and my local area has lost what was a genuine focal point for the local community. The club was a meeting place for people, as well as a place for passive recreation. The club has been—and I believe still is—used as an evacuation centre under the Lake Macquarie Disaster Management Plan. Indeed, it played such a role not so long ago when Dora Creek flooded during what is known as the Pasha Bulker storm in 2007. The club has in the past done an amazing job of assisting local people in such times of desperate need.

Not unimportantly, the club is also the largest venue in the area for private functions and public meetings. Near the club's front doors is a war memorial which becomes the focal point for large gatherings on Remembrance Day and Anzac Day. This club has had a long relationship with the South Lake Macquarie RSL Sub-branch. This RSL Sub-branch is developing a strategy to deal with this loss. However, many in the community will feel this loss of location heavily. On a lesser scale, the site also houses a return and earn reverse vending machine so another location may well need to be found for that as well. Many smaller clubs and groups have lost their regular meeting place, including for bowls and snooker.

Tomorrow I am hosting a meeting with a number of other community leaders in the hope of finding a way forward on these immediate problems. They include the Lake Macquarie mayor and councillors, council staff, senior police and emergency services personnel, the RSL Sub-branch, the PCYC and the local business chamber representatives. As I mentioned earlier, there is no argument that Drysdale Metals has the right to sell its property or pursue other uses, but other impacts go beyond the obvious loss of jobs and a valuable community recreational facility. I hope tomorrow's meeting will allow us to move forward with solutions to some of those impacts. I thank Morisset Country Club and those who have worked for it over the years for everything it has provided to and for the local community.

Website: Read full parliamentary debate here

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