Wollongong councillors have rejected calls to sell off some of the region's waterfront public housing land, labelling the move a "heartless raid on public assets" which would create "enclaves of privilege".
Liberal councillor Bede Crasnich put up the controversial motion at Monday night's Wollongong City Council meeting, asking the council to urge the NSW government to investigate the sale of Housing NSW properties at Wollongong's Cliff Road, Port Kembla's Hill 60 and Bellambi Point.
He acknowledged any sale of public assets was a sensitive subject, but needed to proceed as the properties were built on "some of the nicest areas in our LGA" which could fetch a high price in a private market.
However, this was passionately shouted down by all Labor, Greens and independent councillors, with Cr David Brown instead proposing the council take a broader, more supportive stance of "society's most vulnerable".
‘‘I think it’s a measure of how civilised a society is by how well it treats the least well off,’’ Cr Brown said.
‘‘Why does this motion feel like it’s punishing people who have done nothing wrong? It reeks of downward envy ... and I don’t think we should be promoting a heartless raid of public assets for uncertain outcomes.’’
He said it was ‘‘serendipity society’s battlers have ended up living in some of the nicest areas’’ and they should not be moved away from places with access to public transport and services.
He urged councillors to wait for an outcome of a NSW parliamentary inquiry into social and affordable housing, due in September, before considering the development of a policy to address some of the city’s issues relating to public housing.
In proposing an investigation into the sale, Cr Crasnich said public housing properties along Cliff Road could become cafes and boutique shops or used for tourism if they were sold off.
He also said any proceeds of a sale should be reinvested to build public housing in other areas of Wollongong.
The three other Liberal councillors supported Cr Crasnich’s stance, with Leigh Colacino saying this was ‘‘simply a better rationalisation of public lands’’.
‘‘These three areas are prime real estate ... that will achieve high sales returns,’’ he said.
‘‘If that land is rationalised a greater amount of housing could be supplied for people who are genuinely in need of that assistance.’’
But Janice Kershaw and Vicki Curran said this was just code for kicking people out of their homes.
‘‘Kick them out, relocate, rationalise – no matter what word is used the product is the same,’’ Cr Curran said.
‘‘This is creating suburbs just for the wealthy.
‘‘I think the state government has done a successful but callous job of social and voter cleansing by ‘rationalising’ public housing stock and certainly does not need our council to be encouraging that any further.’’
Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery labelled Cr Crasnich’s proposed sell-off as ‘‘divisive’’ and said the council needed to ‘‘defend and promote the needs of the less fortunate residents in our city’’.
Councillors voted 9-4 to reject Cr Crasnich’s motion, eventually pledging unanimous support for the alternative stance proposed by Cr Brown.