Liberals cry foul at lack of Labor pork.

Posted on August 18, 2010 by

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Call it what you will, pollies love a bit of pork barreling. And it’s not always a bad thing if you live in a marginal seat. However things are different if you live in an area with a strong leaning to one side. Well, that’s at least if you ask the opposing team.

The other day we saw Julia Gillard commit $2.1 billion to the Epping-Parramatta rail link . Epping is located in the Maxine McKew’s marginal seat of Bennelong, which she holds with a margin of just 1.4%. This unexpected announcement about the rail link has furthered the concerns of some in the Illawarra region of NSW, who have questioned why no major announcements have been made on similar significant infrastructure projects.

Liberal Candidate Philip Clifford is a property developer turn political hopeful in the electorate of Cunningham. In an interview prior to the Epping announcement being made, he said the Illawarra region missed out on more significant funding because it is a safe Labor area.

“We’ve had 40-50 years of Labor domination in this region. In my view, it’s not really a smart move to have a one-sided competition all the time. We need to get things to a stage where the government of the day is going to take notice of us, and give us the opportunities other areas have been able to develop”

“We have a sitting member in the federal arena who really hasn’t taken a lot of positive steps for the area”

The major issues in Cunningham include access to public transport, housing availability and affordability, infrastructure and unemployment. With an unemployment rate above the state average, and one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the country, the electorate’s major city of Wollongong faces a number of long-term challenges. In the past it has had youth unemployment rates higher than 20%. The region is also waiting for projects like the Maldon-Dombarton rail link and the F6 extension to come on-line. Although outlined as priorities in the past, we’ve heard all but murmurs about them during this campaign.

Sharon Bird is the incumbent Labor MP, and she says it is a long process to actually achieve the green light status on larger projects like the Maldon-Dombarton rail link, a project that’s been on and off the agenda since 1985 as a way to build capacity for the region’s trade activities. A pre-feasibility study released by the Minister for Infrastructure in 2009 found the line could ‘provide a strategic alternative’ to the current line, support Port Kembla’s ‘rapidly expanding commercial activities’, and ‘generate considerable employment within the local construction industry’, yet there are still no guarantees it will actually go ahead.

Sharon Bird says it can take a long time to get these projects off the ground.

“The best thing you can do is be honest with people. I’m a great supporter of the Maldon-Dombarton. That’s why I put it back on the agenda. I’ve also said if it doesn’t stack up I’m not going to ask the Government to build a white elephant with half a billion dollars.”

Admitting it can be frustrating as a backbencher chasing these projects; Ms Bird said continually pursuing these things was all part of the job.

“All the time you’re looking for opportunities to keep it on the agenda and keep promoting it. That’s your job.”

“Backbenchers, I think, are a bit like bowerbirds. You have to hang around, and when something is announced, you go ‘how can we leverage that for a good outcome?’ Then you go in to fight for it.”

Before the Epping-Parramatta announcement was made, Ms Bird rejected the notion that the Government was more likely to give funding to projects in marginal seats, and it all depended on the strength of the case put forward. With only a few more days left of the campaign it’s not looking like there’ll be anything happening soon.

Words – Zach Kitschke

Image – Rowen Atkinson

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Posted in: Zach Kitschke