BLOG: Give the job to Gareth Ward for goodness sake

Yesterday the captains of industry and business gathered for a luncheon hosted by the Illawarra Business Chamber to listen to the plans for the region by the NSW Government.

The Government's chief spruiker was the Minister for the Illawarra, Greg Pearce MLC. 

Expectations for the speech were very high.

Would we finally get some answers on the NSW Government's key priorities for infrastructure in the region?

Would we finally get some detail on how the NSW Government would decide which projects will benefit from the $100 million lease proceeds from the Port of Kembla?

Would we finally get to know what the precise criteria is for benchmarking the key infrastructure projects that may be eligible for funding?

Would the NSW Government prioritise just one big project, or a dozen smaller specific projects? 

How much could each project expect?

How would the views of regional stakeholders be considered?

These are key questions everyone wanted answers to yesterday.

Instead we were treated to a boring, bland, typical government tick-a-box speech from a minister who rarely steps foot in the Illawarra.

I must also say that I am rather surprised by the apparent lack of interest in the overall governance of the $100 million Port lease proceeds by the region's business community.

Surely it is a waste of time preparing detailed submissions on projects when the minister is unwilling to provide any firm details on what projects may or may not be eligible for funding?

Even Nick Greiner, Chairman of Infrastructure NSW, has told me, "Infrastructure NSW will assess and recommend projects to the Treasurer and NSW Government."

Minister Pearce so lacks confidence that his so-called Illawarra Regional Action Plan was released in the middle of the night a few weeks ago because it was so embarrassing.

He can't even answer a basic question from me in the Parliament about how many times he has actually visited my electorate to meet with stakeholders.

I wrote to the Treasurer and Minister on several occasions since December last year proposing that RDA Illawarra should be involved in co-ordinating the views of the regional stakeholders and play a leading role in recommending projects for funding.

This would ensure that the Port proceeds remained free of any perception of blatant political decision-making by the NSW Government.

If it's good enough for the Commonwealth Government to utilise RDA Illawarra to determine funding priorities for the region under the Regional Development Australian Fund (RDAF), why should the jointly funded government advisory body be sidelined when deciding how this $100 million could be best used?

But after yesterday's performance it is time for this Minister to hand over his job to someone like Gareth Ward.

I don't always agree with Gareth Ward, especially when he drags his feet on starting the Albion Park Rail Bypass, or when he runs around changing the names of train stations with no public consultation at all.

But at least he comes from the region and lives here, unlike the current minister.

Anna Watson MP is the State Member for Shellharbour

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