Just before Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s media conference on Tuesday afternoon, Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward phoned Marianne Saliba.
On loudspeaker in room crowded with other councillors and senior staff as Cr Saliba sat in her mayoral office, he delivered the news she has been waiting to hear for more than a year.
“It’s off,” he announced.
“Congratulations, it was a mongrel proposal from day one and I know it’s been a rocky ride between you and I over the last few months but I’m glad we arrived at the decision we wanted.”
Speaking to the Mercury the Premier’s announcement that Wollongong and Shellharbour would not merge, Mr Ward reinforced that he had stood up to his party’s plans to merge Illawarra councils from the start.
“I, from day one, have opposed mergers in our region. No one can dispute that,” he said. “I stood up at both public hearings, I made written submissions which were very detailed … and made sure that, in spite of the fact this was a policy that the former Premier was pursuing, I put the interests of our region first and made sure that I stood up to my own party.”
Mr Ward said he hoped both councils would maintain their financial fitness as they remained separate and prepared for an election later this year.
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery commended Mr Ward for his efforts throughout the past year and said he credited the MP for having the Illawarra recognised as a region in the government’s eyes.
“I think Gareth Ward deserved a pat on the back for this decision, because it’s through his efforts that we’ve been recognised as a region that’s separate from metropolitan Sydney,” Cr Bradbery said
“For me, that recognition is just as important as calling the merger off.”