With the festive season now behind us, 2023 is about to begin in earnest – and with it will come the realisation for many that we’ll be returning to the ballot boxes in a few short weeks for a state election.
It is expected to be the closest race since the 1991 ‘stalemate’ that saw incumbent Premier Nick Greiner only just fend off a resurgent opposition lead by Bob Carr, and certainly a lot closer than the 2011 landslide that brought the current government to power.
Regardless of who forms the next state government, the reset button will be hit with wholesale ministerial changes required of the coalition following the departure of five key members of cabinet and naturally a new government altogether if Labor prevails.
As the peak group representing businesses across the Illawarra, every election is an opportunity for us to derive greater commitments for our community.
The state government controls many of the budgetary and policy levers affecting the day-to-day operations of businesses, as we saw in excruciating detail during the pandemic years. From licensing of pubs, bars and restaurants to energy policy and payroll tax, it oversees the regulatory environment for businesses, and controls a massive budget that spent $120 billion last year providing health, education and transport services and delivering major infrastructure projects.
More than ever, candidates this election must understand the opportunities for our region, as well as the challenges businesses here face amid what is a cost of doing business crisis. Energy prices are going through the roof, sharp and continuing interest rate rises, lingering supply chain constraints and drastic labour and skills shortages from the pandemic years are worrying all Illawarra businesses this quarter.
It is our job to advocate to those seeking to run our state at election time, to shape their priorities to better serve the Illawarra economy, its community and every business based here.
We can proudly say that the priorities we advocate are well founded, supported by research and evidence and achievable – albeit with the necessary support of government and other stakeholders.
Before Christmas we announced our five key election priorities for the next government of NSW at an event with our state members of parliament and Illawarra First members who represent the major employers of the region in attendance.
The five priorities we believe must be adopted by the next government of NSW include:
1. Fund a $10 million Illawarra-Shoalhaven Rail Network Resilience Masterplan
The problem: The region needs to be connected to the growing economy of South Western Sydney – and can no longer reply on antiquated rail connectivity, which failed during recent weather events.
The ask: $10 million to fund a Southern Rail Network Resilience Plan that includes a full consideration of the South Western Sydney Illawarra Rail Line concept proposed by Business Illawarra.
2. Address the critical housing shortage facing key workers in our region
The problem: Employers in the region are facing an unprecedented shortage of key workers, being exacerbated by an acute lack of affordable housing in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven.
The ask: Business Illawarra is seeking urgent action from the NSW Government to provide greater access to affordable housing for key workers in the region. Business Illawarra will shortly release a major housing research and strategy document and seek further commitments in accordance with its recommendations from both major parties.
3. Make the Illawarra an energy generation, renewables and clean manufacturing powerhouse
The problem: Clear funding commitments from the next government of NSW are needed to ensure the region reaches its potential to supply the nation with affordable, clean energy.
The ask: Deliver investment to the region for a range of renewable energy and clean manufacturing programs being delivered across NSW. This should include funding to support the further development of the Port Kembla Hydrogen Hub and Clean Manufacturing Precinct and the Illawarra Renewable Energy Zone.
4. Deliver a world-class Illawarra Sport and Entertainment Precinct
The problem: The Illawarra needs an iconic sports and entertainment precinct to truly be competitive as a world standard destination, which must include a state-of-the-art convention centre, major hotel developments and revitalised public spaces.
The ask: Advance the redevelopment of the Illawarra Sports and Entertainment Precinct with a big vision in mind. Following Business Illawarra’s advocacy, funding is already allocated in the state budget for the master planning and business case development.
5. One Illawarra-Shoalhaven region, one definition
The problem: As a united regional economy, the Illawarra-Shoalhaven should no longer be divided by a definitional issue meaning Wollongong, as ‘metro’ cannot access funding that the other local government areas can, as ‘regional’.
The ask: This should be brought into alignment as per the definition used by the Greater Cities Commission - ‘Illawarra-Shoalhaven City’.