Wollongong `incompetence' comments rapped

Wollongong had been "rewarded for incompetence" when it received a $2.15 million government grant, Federal Opposition spokesman for local government, Scott Morrison, said yesterday.On television and online, the Member for Cook, based in the neighbouring Sutherland Shire, suggested Wollongong City Council did not deserve the grant, announced on Wednesday, because of this year's corruption scandal.He said Wollongong was "arguably the most spectacularly failed council" and believed government grants should include tougher accountability measures."I mean, Wollongong City Council have got more money than any other council in NSW - $2.15 million. Now, if that's not a reward for incompetence, then I don't know what is," he said on ABC television.He reiterated the comments on Sky News: "Yesterday Wollongong City Council got $2.15 million. It was the highest amount paid ... in NSW to a local council. Now if that's a reward for their efforts over the last 12 months, last few years, you know, then I'm appalled."In a media release published on his website he said: "(Wollongong's grant) raises the question about what type of message this sends to local councils about reform, when arguably the most spectacularly failed council took out one of the big prizes in the Prime Minister's Lotto-style announcement."Wollongong City Council received the state's largest funding allocation in the Federal Government's stimulus package on Tuesday.The funds were divided on a formula based largely on demographic profile and size.Mr Morrison's comment drew harsh criticism from Member for Cunningham Sharon Bird, who described the remarks as slurs."(Opposition Leader) Malcolm Turnbull should force Mr Morrison to apologise for slurring the people of Wollongong today," Ms Bird said."That comment by Mr Morrison this morning on national television clearly reveals that Malcolm Turnbull's Liberal Party would strip Wollongong of $2.15 million."The comment also prompted an angry response from Wollongong administrator Gabrielle Kibble."It is unreasonable to suggest the Government should continue to punish 200,000 local residents for the actions of a small group of former council staff and elected representatives," she said."Council has significantly improved its policies and processes, including new reporting measures, appointment of an internal ombudsman and improved consultation practices."Mr Morrison later said Ms Bird was "overstretching the mark" and said he would be happy to debate the issue with her.Asked about his comments he said: "I am not suggesting Wollongong should have received less."He said the Government payment must be tied to accountability and reform measures."In terms of how we go forward we must be demanding councils across the board engage in comprehensive reform," he said."There is no doubt that what happened in Wollongong placed a big stain on local government in Australia and it was a disgrace and an embarrassment. "I am not suggesting that the (funding) decision should have been any different."

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