Port, deer hot topics at budget hearing

John Ajaka: "To this day I have not seen a single deer."
John Ajaka: "To this day I have not seen a single deer."

Minister for the Illawarra John Ajaka has faced questions about the delivery of the $100 million Port Kembla lease fund and expressed a burning desire to spot some of the region's elusive feral deer during a budget estimates hearing this week.

During 40 minutes of questioning from Labor and Greens representatives, Mr Ajaka was asked to address a mixed bag of topics, including the effects of compulsory business voting on corruption within Wollongong City Council and whether the government planned to use local contractors on infrastructure projects.

Budget estimates are held each year to give ministers the chance to answer questions about the expenditure, performance and effectiveness of their departments.

Mr Ajaka was asked about his Illawarra portfolio in the upper house on Tuesday.

Labor's Helen Westwood kicked off proceedings, asking how much of the Illawarra Infrastructure Fund had been handed over since the money was allocated at the end of last year.

Mr Ajaka was unable to give a figure, instead saying the projects required "a significant amount of planning to ensure that they are done correctly".

"This government is not going to simply hand over money before any work commences," he said.

He said none of the successful applicants had reached the "necessary approval stages" to receive money from the fund, and stated the funding agreements were "commercial in-confidence".

Later, at the request of the Greens' David Shoebridge, debate turned to the Illawarra's "increasing" ruminant problem, causing the minister to disclose he had never seen one of the region's deer.

"I drive down to the Illawarra and back at least once, if not twice, a week. To this day I have not seen a single deer," he said.

Mr Shoebridge suggested the minister should "get off the main roads and visit the suburbs" to see electric fences residents had installed to stop deer, but Mr Ajaka protested he had traversed "32,000 kilometres in 10 months".

"I would love to see one but I have not," Mr Ajaka said.

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