Power sell-off: Wollongong shut out of regional funding

"We'll basically be scrambling for the crumbs with Newcastle." - Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery.
"We'll basically be scrambling for the crumbs with Newcastle." - Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery.

Illawarra politicians say Wollongong will be left scrambling for Sydney's crumbs when it comes to getting a share of the NSW government's $20 billion poles and wires fund.

At a briefing by the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet on Wednesday, it emerged that the Wollongong Local Government Area would be classified as "metropolitan" under the terms of the infrastructure fund to be generated from the long-term lease of half the state's electricity assets.

This means it would vie for a share of $14 billion of the revenue along with Sydney and Newcastle, while the rest of the four Illawarra LGAs would be grouped as regional NSW and share in $6 billion.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said this division was cause for great concern, as "lumping" Wollongong with Newcastle and Sydney would limit the region's access to money.

"The brushstrokes that the government has put out for the Sydney metro areas are certainly big ticket items which I would suggest would probably leave us falling between the cracks," Cr Bradbery said.

"So we'll basically be scrambling for the crumbs with Newcastle."

Keira MP and Labor's Illawarra spokesman Ryan Park shared these views, saying projects such as West Connex and the second Sydney harbour crossing would eat up most of the metropolitan share of the fund.

"The Sydney area has already been promised billions of dollars," he said.

"I oppose and have great concerns about this transaction, but I am now even more concerned about the fact that we are going to be isolated from the rest of our region and competing against such large infrastructure projects."

Meantime, Shellharbour MP Anna Watson labelled the government's briefing a "con-sultation", saying it was an attempt to "soften up the Illawarra's business community to support the sell-off of electricity in NSW".

Wollongong's Noreen Hay said she previously raised concerns about the way the government defined the Illawarra, as continually shifting boundaries meant the region kept missing out on money.

Cr Bradbery also said he was worried about the Illawarra's "elastic" nature, as the government had previously stretched the $100 million Port Kembla privatisation fund to cover five electorates instead of four at its convenience.

"One minute Wollongong is part of the Illawarra and the next minute we're excised from regional NSW," he said.

"The Illawarra must be a very elastic entity in the eyes of the NSW government and I hope they will be open to receiving our submissions and answering our concerns about this."

He said dividing Illawarra LGAs would limit the region's ability to form a cohesive pitch, meaning it might miss out on funding for projects such as the South Coast Rail line upgrade.

Minister for the Illawarra John Ajaka rejected claims Wollongong would be disadvantaged by being grouped with metropolitan NSW.

"The NSW government is particularly interested in submissions for transformative infrastructure in and out of the metropolitan area," he said.

"Proposals demonstrating strong net economic benefits for local communities like Wollongong will be well regarded.

"I will be fighting for the maximum funds for the Illawarra, including Wollongong, and encourage people to submit their innovative ideas so they can be considered in the decision making process."

Kiama MP Gareth Ward also dismissed any concerns and said Cr Bradbery should not be "stamping his feet" about the chance to share in a greater portion of money.

"These people are never going to be happy with whatever the government does," he said.


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