Leaders' bitter feud clouding city's future

By Nicole Hasham
Updated November 5 2012 - 3:26pm, first published September 9 2011 - 1:17am
Leaders' bitter feud clouding city's future

Wollongong could well learn a thing or two from the good folk of Georgetown, Delaware.To mark the end of the election season every two years, residents of the tiny United States town gather for a time-honoured ceremony.Marching bands parade, hot rods roar and the crowd chomps on ox meat sandwiches.Then political enemies gather round a sandpit and - quite literally - bury a hatchet.After the bruising cut-and-thrust of modern election campaigns, it's a symbolic attempt to dispel tension and clear the way for bi-partisan co-operation.But the civic state of play in Wollongong this week could not be further from Georgetown's show of goodwill.As tension from the bitter state election campaign engulfed new Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, it was clear that political carnage still lingers - and the axes are sharper than ever.In State Parliament on Tuesday, Wollongong MP Noreen Hay launched a stinging salvo at Mr Bradbery after his court bid to overturn her state election win was thrown out on a technicality.The speech, made under the legal cover of parliamentary privilege, came on the day Mr Bradbery was declared Lord Mayor."I have been involved in politics for a long time and I have never seen a dirtier campaign than the one conducted by Gordon Bradbery and his team," Ms Hay told a handful of MPs."There were lies, there were smears and then there was the misconceived legal challenge."Claiming to "set the record straight", the Labor stalwart described Mr Bradbery's legal team as incompetent and dishonest, and decried the "alliance" of powerful interest groups and media outlets, including this newspaper, which conspired to oust her.Mr Bradbery described the speech as "pretty vitriolic"."I suppose in some respects it was Noreen having her moment of catharsis," he said."She was just letting fly, I suppose, and had the right to do so."Ms Hay later denied she had damaged relations with the new Lord Mayor."I defend my right to correct the record in Parliament [but] I don't think it should affect how we work together in future," she said."I'm more than prepared to work with Gordon as Lord Mayor for the future benefit of Wollongong."But should either leader not feel purged of hostility, there are fears that Wollongong - desperately in need of unity, inspiration and a few good vibes - could be the ultimate victim.Former lord mayor Alex Darling said the pair must repair their relationship for the city to thrive."Gordon will need Noreen to organise meetings at State Parliament and … of course when all the civic functions are on, the state politicians are there," he said."[The lord mayor] will always acknowledge them and thank them for coming along."It's essential that [Mr Bradbery] is seen to be working well with state and federal members."Animosity between the pair first emerged in March when Mr Bradbery, a well-known church minister and political novice, looked set to knock the battle-hardened Ms Hay from her Labor stronghold seat.Through the media and at public meetings they traded blows - Mr Bradbery attempting to link Ms Hay to the Wollongong corruption scandal, the Labor MP accusing Mr Bradbery of plotting to decriminalise heroin and scrap the Gong Shuttle bus service.Barely held tension turned to outright warfare on polling day when doctored Liberal how-to-vote cards were allegedly discovered hidden in Labor's campaign material.The cards falsely directed voters to preference Ms Hay.The MP has consistently denied involvement in the controversy and claims she was unfairly "tarred with the brush of scandal".Wollongong City Council general manager David Farmer is confident the two levels of government will function together despite the acrimony."At another place I worked, there was a similar situation where the mayor and the state member had been former political opponents," he said."I used to do most of the liaising at a state level but the mayor had a good relationship at a federal level."In the end, everyone wants to achieve the best outcomes for the community."But Mr Bradbery's real challenge could lie within, as he tries to corral a diverse crew of councillors - some with long, intertwined histories.New independent and former council staffer Vicki Curran has been a vocal critic of council management, and outspoken independent Greg Petty has aggressively opposed the council's handling of numerous issues, including land rezoning around Helensburgh.Liberals and Greens will take their place on the new council for the first time, and will quickly challenge Labor's traditional control over policy and debate.Among the group is another of Mr Bradbery's former political foes - Liberal Michelle Blicavs, whose refusal to preference him at the March election possibly sealed Ms Hay's win.Ms Blicavs, a conservative Christian, insisted the decision was not related to Mr Bradbery's progressive religious beliefs, but a residue of tension between the two remains.Former Keira MP David Campbell has also served as Wollongong lord mayor, and says the city's leaders - both state and council - must heal old wounds."For the benefit of the residents of Wollongong they each have to get on and do their job," he said."If they do … then a political catfight will fade into the distance."As Wollongong enters a new phase of its civic life, it faces a critical task to rebuild its economy, its public image and confidence in the political establishment.Perhaps, then, it's time to get out the marching bands, gather our pollies and, like the people of Georgetown, bury the hatchet?Mr Bradbery is not convinced."I don't really know if [Ms Hay] would come to the party," he said.And if she did?"Well, I'd have to come in armour."EDITORIAL The queen of Coward's Castle - 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