Shellharbour MP Anna Watson has called for the new Shellharbour Hospital to be the women's hospital for the Illawarra.
In a wide ranging forum at the Dapto Ribbonwood centre, Illawarra state election candidates faced a crowd of mostly women and answered their question on what each of them and their parties would do for women in the Illawarra.
Ms Watson pledged that the new Shellharbour Hospital, set to open in 2028, would provide a full suite of services for women and children, including gynaecological services, an eating disorder unit and a maternity ward.
Current plans for the new hospital do not include a birthing unit and maternity ward, something that Ms Watson has spoken out against in the past.
On hospitals and health, Greens candidates for Wollongong, Cath Blakey, and Keira, Kit Docker, pledged to implement nurse to patient ratios, including for midwives, as well as a 15 per cent pay rise.
Wollongong Labor candidate Paul Scully said Labor would scrap the public sector wage cap of 2.5 per cent, however Labor has stopped short of endorsing the nurses and midwives union's call for staff-patient ratios.
Shellharbour Mayor Chris Homer, who is running as an independent for the state seat of Shellharbour pledged to pull on the "levers" at both the state and local level and eschew what he termed "grubby politics".
Mr Scully countered that local MPs were able to work across the aisle on issues of major local importance, with the six Illawarra MPs - himself, Ms Watson, Kiama Liberal-turned-independent MP Gareth Ward, Labor Keira MP Ryan Park, South Coast Liberal MP Shelley Hancock and Heathcote Liberal MP Lee Evans - working together on the Shellharbour Hospital proposal.
MC Anna Bacik, interim CEO of peak advocacy body the Community Industry Group, also asked questions on behalf of the audience covering the candidates' approach to housing, with older women and women and children fleeing domestic violence some of the most at risk of homelessness.
Mr Scully, who is Labor's planning spokesperson, said an elected Labor government would collapse Property SNW and the Department of Communities and Justice into the one organisation, so that the land holder and service provider were not two separate entities.
"The worst landlord in NSW is the Land and Housing Corporation," Mr Scully said.
Ms Blakey, who is also a Wollongong councillor, said governments at a state and local level could aim higher, citing her push to increase the city's housing targets to see a 30 per cent affordable housing target in new developments.
"Housing should be for people, not for profit," Mr Docker concurred.
Mr Homer said an "intergovernmental agreement" was needed on housing across all levels of government, and said in his experience as a finance and mortgage broker, the issue was complex, multilayered and multilevel.
"It's a crisis, there's no doubt about it," Mr Homer said.
Another questioner raised the issue of family law courts and the separation of women and children.
All candidates agreed more needed to be done in this area, particularly in including the issue of domestic violence and consent in education while acknowledging Ms Watson's work to criminalise coercive control in NSW, despite the ultimately "watered down" bill that passed Parliament last year.
Mr Scully called out the lack of government representation in the region, with no candidates from the Liberal or National parties present, saying the current government "did not care" about the region.
As the discussion was opened to the floor, indigenous advocate Dr Jodi Edwards spoke about her struggle to "close the gap" on her own, through education, employment, health and housing.
"I went all the way to the Minister and said you can't have two arms and just cut one off to suit yourself, you either allow me to close the gap or you stop with all the banter," Dr Edwards said.
Calling for a scheme that would allow her to buy her own home where she had been living and raising her children in, Dr Edwards detailed the barriers that prevented women, and in particular, Indigenous women from achieving their dreams.
"Whoever sitting up there tonight that gets in in this next election, set some parameters so that we can buy our houses for ourselves," she said. "We are strong emancipated Indigenous women and we want to close the gap for ourselves."
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