Illawarra Labor MPs have vowed to use the final sitting weeks of the NSW parliamentary year to express “every single man, woman and child’s anger” over the government’s decision to end free rides on the Gong Shuttle.
More than 5000 people are already on board a campaign to keep the city-loop service free, but the politicians say they won’t terminate their bus fight until they get answers from Macquarie Street.
The pledge came as Premier Gladys Berejiklian dodged a question about whether she misled Illawarra residents with her 2013 comment, as then Minister for Transport, that the Gong Shuttle “will continue forever more”.
The question, from Wollongong MP Paul Scully, was met with a rowdy reception in the chamber.
“We know that if they [Labor] were still in government it wouldn’t be a popular service … no one would want to catch it,” Ms Berejiklian said.
The Premier then quoted a Mercury story, which said Keira MP Ryan Park had stopped short of pledging a Labor government would reverse the shuttle decision, before reiterating the government’s position.
“Even after January, when people are asked to make a contribution, the state government is still subsidising 75 per cent of that service,” she said.
A second question, from Shellharbour MP Anna Watson, asked the Premier if she agreed with Member for Kiama Gareth Ward’s comment that people in the Illawarra were displaying a sense of entitlement by supporting the Gong Shuttle.
“I completely support the sentiment advocated by the Member for Kiama, because this government has ensured the Illawarra has received more than it ever has in its past,” Ms Berejiklian said.
After listing the government’s budget allocations to various infrastructure projects, the Premier said: “I support the Member for Kiama. The Illawarra has never had it so good”.
Earlier on Tuesday, the first sitting day since Transport for NSW dropped the bombshell that standard Opal fares would be implemented on the Gong Shuttle, Mr Park used a speech to put Liberal MPs on notice.
“In the last week there has been an anger expressed towards the Premier and the parliamentary secretary for the Illawarra and South Coast like we have never, ever seen before,” Mr Park said.
“To give you an example of the rage that exists within the community about this decision, already well over 5000 people have signed a petition that the Member for Wollongong and I have established.”
The Parliament was also told about Sunday’s rally in the Crown Street Mall.
“We had nearly 1000 angry people rally against this stupid decision by an ill-informed government who is yet to explain a single reason why they’ve done it,” he said.