Wollongong is continually missing out on government funding because of a “fractured” and confusing definition of whether the city is metropolitan or regional.
That’s the message from Wollongong City Council and the local business lobby, who joined forces this week to urge Premier Gladys Berejiklian to stop changing the classification of the city.
On Monday, Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery urged councillors to “take a stand and bat for our team in saying we are regional”.
He said the city should write to Ms Berejiklian, and Deputy Premier John Barilaro, asking them to enshrine Wollongong as a regional – not metropolitan – economic centre of NSW.
Supported by the Illawarra Business Chamber, the council will ask the region’s state MPs to join the campaign.
Councillor Bradbery said a “fractured” definition of regional made it difficult to apply for state government funds.
“So often we have missed out on funding simply because its convenient simply for the state government to align us with the Sydney metropolitan area,” he said.
He noted the Illawarra and Shoalhaven Regional Plan – released in 2015 – identified Wollongong as the major “regional” city on the South Coast, but that this had not carried over into funding opportunities.
The Illawarra Business Chamber’s Chris Lamont addressed council, saying allowing Wollongong and Shellharbour to receive regional funding would benefit the whole state.
“In this region for many years now, there has been both inconsistency and uncertainty over whether Wollongong and Shellharbour are classified as regional, and therefore eligible for important state funding grants and programs,” he said.
He said the allocation of proceeds from the lease of the state’s electricity assets – and the two council areas’ ineligibility for the $1.3 billion Regional Growth Fund – was an example of “a fluid and inconsistent definition of regional” (see below).
Mr Lamont said this left the councils to compete in more stringent and competitive funding rounds against projects in metropolitan Sydney, and urged the NSW Government to remove barriers preventing them from applying for regional funds.
“[This] would not only deliver substantial benefits to the Illawarra and NSW, but assist Sydney and Western Sydney in addressing a range of social, economic and business challenges,” he said.
City or country?
For some NSW and federal government regional funds, Wollongong is classed as regional, while for others the city council and community groups are not eligible to apply.
In most cases, the same rules apply for Shellharbour but not for Kiama or the Shoalhaven, despite these areas being included in some definitions – but not all – of the Illawarra. Confused?
When we’re regional
- Both Wollongong and Newcastle were defined as “regional” by under the proposal for local government mergers. When mergers for “regional councils” were called off, this included Wollongong/Shellharbour .
- NSW Resources for Regions – up to $50 million available in 2017/18 for mining affected communities.
- Federal Building Better Regions fund
When we’re metropolitan
- Stronger Country Communities fund – $200 million over the next two years for infrastructure projects in regional NSW including parks, community centres, playgrounds and paths.
- Connecting Country Communities – a fund opening later this year to improve regional voice and data connectivity.
- Regional Sports Infrastructure – open this month to boost participation and performance in sport
- Growing Local Economies – a fund to “support job creation and economic growth in regional NSW”.
- NSW Regional Cultural Fund – a $100 million fund to drive growth in arts, screen, cultural and heritage infrastructure. 92 councils are eligible – but not those in Newcastle, Sydney or Wollongong.
WHAT THEY SAID
“A cynical person might suggest the definition might turn on any given day based on what saves money or gives greater electoral return,” he said.
“A classic example was a first home owners bonus scheme for regional areas – and if you went over the Windang bridge, you got the money.
“But not if you stayed in Wollongong – craziness.”
He noted the boundaries of the Illawarra had been “a moveable feast” over the years, with the inclusion or exclusion of the Shoalhaven at various times.
“The key issue is, are we city or the bush? Are we competing with Sydney metro, or are we competing with the rest of the state?”
“I don’t want Wollongong to be just another southern suburb of Sydney.”
“There is clearly an escarpment and a national park that separates us from Sydney. We are regional, and that’s the status we need to have.”
“We want to be able to attract government departments to be here and increse opportunities for jobs, and we need to be clearly recognised as a region to do that.”
“When the amalgamation between Wollongong and Shell were called off, because the Premier made a decision that regional councils would not be amalgamated… I thought, ‘Yes, finally we’re regional’.”
“Because regional means so much more, and provides us with so much more funding.
“And we are regional – there’s so many outer areas that come to this city for education, employment, lifestyle and medical.”
“Wollongong constantly gets left out. We were told we would get our money from the privatisation of the port, but look what we got in comparison to Newcastle.”
“It is an election year, so now is the time to write a letter. But that’s just one letter… what we need to do, is to educate our community, tell them what you told us this evening – that we’re getting short changed – and encourage them to write and call.”
Cr Dorahy agreed the city was regional, but indicated he believed the focus on the issue was due to the impending council election.