China, all aboard: Wollongong councillors may join Bradbery

What began as the Lord Mayor's solo journey of economic enlightenment in China could soon become a Contiki tour of Wollongong councillors.

At Monday's Wollongong City Council meeting, councillors voted unanimously to send Councillor Gordon Bradbery on a ratepayer-funded trip to China.

In addition, Cr Greg Petty moved a successful motion to allow councillors to join the eight-day September tour, as long as they could pay their own way.

Councillors leapt aboard with the suggestion that they should be allowed to join the Lord Mayor's tour bus. However, none actually confirmed they would attend.

Debate then turned to whether it would be appropriate for female councillors to share a hotel room with Cr Bradbery to save costs, and - just like on a real Contiki tour - a squabble arose about who would make the best room mate.

Cr Bradbery announced the China trip at a business meeting last month, telling the Mercury it would be a chance to boost international relations and establish stronger trade links.

This caused considerable debate over the past month. Many readers labelled the trip a waste of money and said councils had no role to play in foreign policy.

But councillors strongly disagreed, speaking at length about how much the trip would benefit Wollongong businesses and tourism.

Greens councillor George Takacs said he was extremely supportive of the trip, which is estimated to cost ratepayers $14,000.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery may visit China on business. Main image: NATALIE BEHRING. Image digitally enhanced.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery may visit China on business. Main image: NATALIE BEHRING. Image digitally enhanced.

He said the Wollongong economy was already bolstered by hundreds of Chinese international students at the University of Wollongong, each of whom contributed at least $50,000 to the local economy, helping create about 2500 jobs in the region.

 ‘‘This trip is actually less than the amount required to send councillors to [the local government conference in Sydney], and I believe the benefits to this region of [the] visit to China will outweigh those of  councillors going to the conference,’’ Cr Takacs said.

Liberal councillor Michelle Blicavs agreed, saying the council needed to support other organisations like the university in promoting the Illawarra region.

‘‘I think we should be taking Wollongong to the world, because they won’t come to us,’’ she said.

Cr Bradbery said the trip was a part of his job as Lord Mayor and had been found to ‘‘stack up against objective criteria’’ by council staff.

‘‘I am not into international travel just for the sake of it,’’ he said.

‘‘Anyone that thinks jumping on an international flight is my idea of a good time is seriously deluded.’’

He said the trip was a chance to repay the favour to about 100-150 Chinese delegations that had visited his office since he became Lord Mayor in 2011.

He said the Wollongong delegation would visit IT firm Pactera, which has established a centre employing 35 people at the Innovation Campus.

Cr Bradbery hoped the company would bring their national base to Wollongong, potentially employing 1000 people.