The people of NSW have elected a Labor government for the first time in 12 years, and this week the Cabinet of Premier Chris Minns was sworn in at Government House, completing the process of orderly regime change in NSW.
It’s said that when you change the government you change the country (or state in this case), so what does this mean for the Illawarra business community?
As our members already know, Business Illawarra has enjoyed a strong, open and honest relationship with senior members of the Labor caucus while in opposition, and they can be assured these ties will only strengthen as we continue our conversation with the new NSW Government.
Of course, we worked equally closely with the former Coalition Government, and I want to pay special tribute to the bipartisan way in which it worked to manage the pandemic and to deliver major developments in our region; particularly the Illawarra Renewable Energy Zone, major upgrades to the Princes Highway and planning for the Picton Road Motorway and the Mount Ousley Interchange.
From here, the Illawarra will undoubtedly find great prominence within the new government, for two main reasons.
The first is access to decision-makers. There will be a step change in the way our region and its community is represented around the Cabinet table with the restoration of a Minister for the Illawarra - last seen in these parts in 2015 when it was changed to a Parliamentary Secretary position.
This position will be the focal point for advocacy on the big issues that matter for our region - which are already well understood the Minister, Ryan Park, who has been representing us for 12 years in opposition. Alongside him, Planning and Public Spaces Minister Paul Scully will be another strong advocate for the region within cabinet.
There is strength in numbers, and the Illawarra Shoalhaven now has from the Member for Shellharbour, Anna Watson, sitting within a government, together with new members for Heathcote (Maryanne Stuart) and South Coast (Liza Butler). The independent member for Kiama, Gareth Ward, sits on the crossbench, in what is arguably a powerful position given the government’s minority status. In short, we now have a major voting bloc within the new government and we need to ensure our advocacy is coordinated and truly cross-regional.
The second reason the Illawarra and its priorities will be elevated within the new government rests on the election commitments we secured during the election campaign.
For anyone who commutes or travels regularly to Sydney, the standout must be the hard-won commitment to a $10 million rail network resilience masterplan for the region, committed to by the now-government following years of advocacy by Business Illawarra and its supporters.
Over decades, passenger and freight rail connectivity have been hampered by the antiquated rail link that services our region, the Illawarra and South Coast line.
A clear commitment to a new rail connection to jobs and recreation in Greater Sydney along the existing Maldon Dombarton corridor has been elusive. So has our simple request for a plan that articulates the costing and timeframe for what we call the South West Illawarra Rail Link, together with incremental improvements can be made to the existing line in the meantime.
The new government should deliver us a plan that provides clarity on when these necessary upgrades will be delivered, so that businesses of all sizes can prepare and our port can continue to expand as a major freight and logistics hub.
Road connectivity in the northern suburbs has been another vexed issue for businesses and residents over many years, and it was pleasing to see $20 million committed by the now-government to investigating the Memorial Drive Extension (Bulli Bypass), supported by a research recommendation made by Business Illawarra back in 2018.
All businesses will benefit from election wins secured by our colleagues at Business NSW. Our collective advocacy on the spiralling cost of doing business – including that 30 per cent of businesses face closure if business conditions don’t change – helped win a $315 energy rebate for 320,000 eligible small businesses and a commitment to no new taxes on business in the next term of government.
We also had advocacy wins on the delivery of three Manufacturing Centres of Excellence - one in the Illawarra, as well as Western Sydney and the Hunter - a commitment to conduct an audit of manufacturing in NSW, $93.7 million to hire 1,000 apprentices and trainees across the NSW Government by 2026, and a promise of 30 per cent affordable housing on government-owned land.
Affordable housing for key workers is something we are advocating strongly for, given the workforce shortages reported by 93 percent of businesses. This issue was acknowledged by Labor during the election, and we expect we’ll be pushing on an open door when we bring our solutions to the new government.
Now, more than ever, businesses and their employees need certainty, and Business Illawarra stands ready to support the government in delivering policy outcomes that will see our businesses continue to flourish and our economy grow.