As the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics.
So when you’ve got 52 of them in a year (albeit about 18 actual sitting weeks), there’s no doubt 12 months feels like an eternity for Illawarra parliamentarians and their constituents alike.
An analysis of the Mercury website’s most-read political stories of 2017 shows a February 28 article titled “Penalty rate cuts ‘a gift’ for young people: Sudmalis” topped the list.
The story featured comment from Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis on the back of Fair Work Commission ruling to slash Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for some workers.
“It’s not cutting wages, it’s opening the door for more hours of employment and in a regional area like Gilmore, with almost double the national youth unemployment, that’s a gift; that is a gift for our young people to get a foot in the door of employment,” Ms Sudmalis told the Mercury at the time.
The comment didn’t sit well with many, particularly the unions, and Ms Sudmalis was brought to tears amid repeated questioning from Labor about the comment in the Parliament the next day.
The second-most read political yarn this year was one from April, which told of a Labor MP accusing Wollongong City Council of planning to cover up its use of imported steel.
The revelation, from Wollongong MP Paul Scully, came after a galvanised steel pole, marked as being manufactured in Vietnam, was spotted in a Warrawong laneway.
Other stories that ranked highly, in terms of page views, included: an August piece telling of a spat between Kiama MP Gareth Ward and Shellharbour Mayor Marianne Saliba over the Albion Park Rail bypass; the region’s federal budget winners and losers; and one from last month in which Mr Ward broke his silence on Opal fares planned for the Gong Shuttle by stating free bus users feel “entitled to pay nothing”.
Other topics that didn’t feature prominently in the most-read list but did get people talking, were Mr Ward being confronted by a pair of extortionists in a New York hotel in August after ordering a massage online; as well as the NSW government’s council merger backflip and its decision not to go ahead with a planned public-private partnership at Shellharbour Hospital.
The Mercury asked each of the region’s state and federal MPs to compile a list of their respective highlights and lowlights from the 2017 political year.
Here’s a snapshot:
HOW ILLAWARRA POLLIES SAW 2017
- Progress on F6 extension after nearly 70 years
- Turning the first sod of the new Bulli Hospital
- Funding boost for education maintenance
- Announcing the Otford Tunnel upgrade
- The failure of the Assisted Dying Bill in Parliament
- Steel Protection Bill passing upper house
- Fight to save Shellharbour Hospital from privatisation
- Council merger fight
- Gong Shuttle campaign
- Steel Protection Bill voted down in lower house
- Gong Shuttle fare proposal
- Government’s $2.5b spend on Sydney stadiums
- Community fight to keep the Gong Shuttle free
- Backflip on privatisation of public health services
- Cruise ship visits, Elton John concert, royal visit
- No Unanderra station lifts
- Government refusal to add carriages on South Coast Line to ease overcrowding
- Gong Shuttle fare proposal
- Finishing the Berry bypass
- Securing funding for the Berry-Bomaderry upgrade
- Tender to design, construct Albion Park Rail bypass
- Securing major changes to steel procurement in NSW
- The Dragons not making the NRL grand final
- Ongoing challenges in convincing either side of federal politics to fund the Princes Highway
- Forcing the Liberals into a backflip on forced council mergers
- Forcing the Liberals into a backflip on Shellharbour public hospital
- Holding the government to account on the Albion Park Rail bypass
- There are no lowlights. I wake up everyday proud to represent this amazing electorate
- Marriage equality achieved on floor of Parliament
- Grants for community and volunteer groups
- Federal govt backflip on Illawarra Legal Centre cuts
- Prime Ministerial visit to Illawarra with no engagement with locals and no commitments
- Penalty rates being cut for low-paid workers
- Continuous NBN problems
- Parliament passing a law to make marriage equality happen
- NSW government dropping plan to privatise Shellharbour Hospital
- Jimmy Barnes’ tweet to Josh Frydenberg
- Federal Parliament’s dual citizenship crisis.
- Lousy NBN service, slow connection speeds
- Increase in South Coast unemployment and youth unemployment rates
- Passing of the man who made soccer the number one sport in Australia - Les Murray
*Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis did not respond.