It has been a tale of two very different visits to Wollongong for Julia Gillard.When the Prime Minister came to Wollongong two months ago it was on the back of 1100 job losses at BlueScope Steel’s Port Kembla plant and the mood was sullen.She promised to stand ‘‘shoulder-to-shoulder’’ with the people of the Illawarra. However, when she upped and left without making any commitment to the region’s identified key projects, tempers began to fray in the city. Indeed, some in the business community have been canvassing support to form a Committee for Wollongong to supplant what some had come to regard as a lame Regional Development Australia (RDA) Illawarra.The Prime Minister stated plainly that her first visit was a reconnaissance mission. And yesterday, she addressed any concerns about government inaction by fast-tracking our connection to the National Broadband Network and allocating $25million to making the Maldon-Dombarton freight rail link ‘‘shovel ready’’.While cynicism remains around the Maldon-Dombarton project, Ms Gillard’s attendance at RDA’s Transforming Illawarra conference marked a good day for her. More importantly, it was a good day for Wollongong.The excitement at the conference over the NBN was palpable. The opportunities that could arise from our connection to the technology permeated through various sessions and was all the talk in between. RDA Illawarra could not be more chuffed.NBN is far more than just faster internet, a point made by former Tasmanian premier David Bartlett, who now works for ‘‘digital futures’’ enterprise Explor.He says the NBN will offer communities, businesses and individuals new opportunities to create wealth, to communicate and to find solutions to old problems. The Federal Opposition would like to pull the plug on the NBN, which reflects the view of many people who say it is too expensive for what it will achieve.However, we believe the generations ahead will look back and see the roll-out as an example of enlightened thinking.And, in the Illawarra, we are finally seeing in some tangible ways how our ‘‘old economy’’ can be transformed to the benefit of everyone.
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