Gong-born John Ajaka's tough road to top

Newly appointed Minister for the Illawarra John Ajaka kept a low profile on his first day on the job yesterday, spending the afternoon in briefings to learn about his new portfolios.

Mr Ajaka, 57, was sworn in as Minister for Disability Services and Ageing and the Illawarra yesterday.

The upper house MLC was unavailable for an interview with the Mercury in the afternoon.

The new minister’s wife Mary and six daughters – Natacha, Chanel, Holly, Maddy, Isabella and Gabrielle – attended Government House as he officially assumed his first cabinet role.

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In his maiden speech to Parliament in 2007, Mr Ajaka revealed he was born in the Illawarra to Lebanese migrant parents who travelled to Australia to work in Port Kembla’s steelworks.

‘‘My mother and father travelled to Australia from Lebanon in the early 1950s with my older brother and sister, Albert and Eva, in tow,’’ he told Parliament.

‘‘After being billeted with a family in Wollongong my dad went to work shovelling coal into the furnaces at BHP and found us a house in Corrimal.’’

From there, his family moved to Rockdale where he joined the Army Cadets, boxed and played rugby league.

He remains a passionate fan of the St George Illawarra Dragons.

Mr Ajaka was 27 when he opened his first law firm in Rockdale, then later went on to serve as a Liberal councillor on Rockdale City Council.

‘‘For a little Lebanese kid from Wollongong, the son of immigrants, I felt exceptionally blessed,’’ he said.

‘‘It was not an easy road for me, as I am sure it is not an easy road for many others, be they immigrants or first- or even second-generation Australians.’’

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He used his maiden speech to speak out against the government’s Middle Eastern Crime Squad, saying a continual reference to Middle Eastern criminals served to ‘‘drive wedges further into our society’’.

Speaking to the Mercury in the past, Mr Ajaka has criticised Labor for its spending in the Illawarra.

In 2009, he slammed the then Labor government for allowing staffing shortages to cause the Bulli emergency department to close, saying the arrangements were dangerous and could result in ‘‘tragic and unnecessary death’’.

Mr Ajaka is also on the record speaking out about the ‘‘crumbs’’ given to the Illawarra by Labor in the 2009 budget.

It remains to be seen if he will maintain similar views about his own party’s treatment of the hospital and Illawarra budget allocation during his tenure in the Illawarra Minister’s role.

Mr Ajaka is expected to visit the region early next week to make an announcement on the 22 projects going through to the next round of the $100-million Port Kembla lease funding.

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