Merger fallout: Unity a bridge too far for Bradbery and Saliba

Unity a bridge too far: Shellharbour mayor Marianne Saliba and Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery meet at Windang Bridge. Picture: Adam McLean.
Unity a bridge too far: Shellharbour mayor Marianne Saliba and Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery meet at Windang Bridge. Picture: Adam McLean.

As Marianne Saliba and Gordon Bradbery met at the border of their two cities on Wednesday, the merger of Shellharbour and Wollongong seemed like water under the Windang Bridge.

But, behind the scenes - after more than a year of heated public debate - an undercurrent of tension remained between the two leaders.

Relations turned decidedly frosty between Crs Bradbery and Saliba early last year, when it emerged that the former was not keen to fight as hard to stave off the government’s merger plans.

At one point, Cr Saliba was thrown out of a public Wollongong meeting by Cr Bradbery, yelling “You lied, Gordon” as she left the room.

And it seems this tension has not completely dissipated with Tuesday’s revelation.

While Shellharbour celebrated, Cr Bradbery instead chose to “stir the pot” and continue to highlight divisions between the two cities.

On breakfast radio, he called the southern city “a dormitory suburb” and labelled its landmark marina a “boat hole and an edifice”.

Asked what prompted such derisive comments, Cr Bradbery said he said he was simply telling the truth and defending the interests of Wollongong.

He also dismissed the suggestion Shellharbour’s legal action had “saved” Wollongong from a merger.

“We said the numbers didn’t stack up with the merger, but I don’t think we needed saving from anything,” he said. “Whether we merged or not, Wollongong is booming and it wasn’t going to lose out in the merger.”

He said Shellharbour’s case was likely to have fallen over in the courts if the government had continued to pursue the merger agenda.

“What saved Wollongong and Shellharbour from having more of a drawn out merger situation was Mike Baird resigning,” Cr Bradbery said.

“It’s a combination of circumstances, there was the Orange by-election with the Nats losing that seat, and Barilaro saying regional amalgamations are off the agenda, and there’s also Gareth [Ward] who got it through that we should be considered as a region.”

Cr Bradbery’s comments ruffled Cr Saliba, who called them “bizarre”,  however she said his hostility would not affect their professional relationship.

“Gordon really needs to do a little bit of research about our ‘boat pond’ – this is a $3.7 billion project,” she said.

“I think he’s probably a bit bitter that it didn’t go the way he was expecting – I’m not sure. If this had been the other way around I would have picked up the phone and congratulated him.

“I will work with Gordon, no doubt about it, because I’m a professional and I will always do what’s best for the community of Shellharbour,”

“No matter what my personal relationships are that will not interfere with my role as the mayor of Shelharbour City.”

Both city leaders have confirmed their plans to run for re-election at the September 9 elections.