The NSW government has dumped the position of Minister for the Illawarra, instead appointing Kiama MP Gareth Ward parliamentary secretary for the region.
In a surprise move, NSW Premier Mike Baird announced he would scrap all regional ministries – except that of Western Sydney, which he holds – while revealing his new cabinet line-up on Wednesday.
Mr Ward, whose regional responsibilities will extend to the South Coast, said his new role meant he would report to the cabinet and hold his government to its Illawarra election commitments.
The Illawarra ministry was established by Labor in 2003 to give the region heavyweight representation in Macquarie Street, however Mr Ward said the new, lesser position would not disadvantage residents.
‘‘It’s not really any different, because the regional ministries were always attached to something else anyway. My job is to be the region’s voice in the government and that’s what I intend to do,’’ he said.
But Labor’s Illawarra spokesman, Keira MP Ryan Park, said Mr Ward would not be in the cabinet room in his new position, meaning he would not be directly involved in making decisions for the Illawarra.
‘‘Decisions are not made by parliamentary secretaries and I am disgusted that, in the first week of the new term of government, they have decided the Illawarra is not worth having a cabinet minister,’’ Mr Park said.
‘‘This shows a very Sydney-centric Liberal government ... the Minister for Western Sydney remains but the rest of the state gets left behind.’’
Mr Park said he would speak to Opposition Leader Luke Foley about continuing to advocate for the region as shadow minister for the Illawarra.
The now-defunct ministry has been something of a poisoned chalice over the past 12 years, with five of the six ministers who have held the position being disgraced, sacked or forced to resign over their behaviour.
Former Heathcote MP Paul McLeay resigned in 2010 after admitting accessing gambling and adult sites on his government-issued computer.
He followed Keira MP David Campbell who was filmed leaving a sex club, and Kiama MP Matt Brown who quit after involvement in a post-budget party where he reportedly danced in his underwear, an allegation he denies.
Another Labor Illawarra minister, Eric Roozendaal, has been embroiled in the Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into illegal political donations.
No official findings have been made against the former treasurer, however he was suspended by the Labor Party in 2012 over claims he received a new car at a heavily discounted price in return for favours for Eddie Obeid, and quit Parliament in 2013.
The Liberals’ first Illawarra appointee, Greg Pearce, was also sacked after allegedly being drunk in Parliament – which he denies – and for failing to disclose a conflict of interest over a board appointment at Sydney Water.
The most recent Illawarra advocate, John Ajaka, managed to break the portfolio’s curse and Mr Ward also shrugged off any suggestion he might bring the appointment into disrepute.
‘‘History is history, and this is about the future,’’ he said.
‘‘I intend to not let the region down and the Parliament and the government will be in no doubt about what we need.’’