New apology call for Wentworth Falls Preschool community over unlawful SafeWork notices

When Wentworth Falls Preschool was abruptly closed in November 2017 after SafeWork NSW issued asbestos notices, the school community was throw into disarray.

Working parents scrambled to find alternative arrangements for their children, while plans for the much-anticipated Christmas concert were left up in the air.

"It's quite sad to see that our little preschool kids were a pawn is some bigger political picture. I think that's absolutely atrocious," said parent Sarah Elliott, whose son Hayden attended the preschool in 2017.

The Wentworth Falls resident has backed calls by Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill and Cr Romola Hollywood that SafeWork NSW should apologise to the preschool community, not just the council as recommended by the Ombudsman.

SafeWork inspectors visited the preschool on November 28, 2017 following reports by Ray Hadley's 2GB radio show that children were being exposed to asbestos.

But the Ombudsman's report found: "The Wentworth Falls Preschool Prohibition and Improvement notices were issued contrary to law because the Inspector who issued them did not have a reasonable belief... that they were warranted. In the absence of such belief, the Inspector had no power to issue the notices. He issued them because he was told to by his Director. The Inspector had no power to issue the notices, and the Director had no power to direct him to do so."

The report also detailed that even though initial air monitoring results were all below asbestos exposure standards, SafeWork required council to undertake additional tests and keep the preschool closed for another two weeks.

Mayor Greenhill said these actions affected local families.

"Local children were displaced from their preschool because SafeWork NSW was being weaponised against the Blue Mountains City Council. We are calling for the apology that has been recommended by the Ombudsman to extend to the staff, children and parents who were caught up in these very disappointing events," he said.

Ward 2 Councillor Romola Hollywood agreed that children and families at Wentworth Falls Preschool in 2017 deserve an apology.

"The mayor and I were heartbroken by stories, like the one about the young child who turned up to preschool with birthday cakes, excited to share this special day with his friends and teachers, only to be turned away because of a SafeWork notice that never should have been issued and was, indeed, unlawful. This is the human face of the political game that has been played," she said.

Wentworth Falls Anglican Church eventually stepped in to salvage the preschool's Christmas party, but Ms Elliott - who is a member of the Labor Party - said it was still an extremely disruptive experience for the children and parents.

"From a parent's perspective, the kids missed out on those last weeks of the preschool term," she said.

"I also know that a lot parents who relied on the services of the preschool in order for them to work were left scrambling to find alternative arrangements."

Ms Elliott's son is now seven years old and attends Wentworth Falls Public School, but the memories of almost three years ago are still vivid.

"I think an apology for the community is warranted because that should never have happened," she said.