By Jen White
The Leadership Illawarra Program cohort visited NSW Parliament House on Wednesday 9 March. The visit was hosted by the member for Kiama, Gareth ward and his neighbouring Member for Shellharbour, Anna Watson. Such was the banter between the two that at times it was easy to forget they sit on opposite sides of the chamber.
The cohort was ushered into the Waratah Room where the MPs introduced themselves and welcomed us to Parliament House.
Both were asked what they considered to be the region's biggest challenges and they didn't need any prompting. Gareth's three key priorities are employment, infrastructure and innovation, while not surprisingly, the Albion Park Rail by-pass sits high on Anna's list, followed by Shellharbour Public Hospital upgrade and the Dapto/West Dapto expansion.
Anna also spoke about her desire to see stronger links forged between the Illawarra and Western Sydney and is encouraging the region's MPs and business chambers to drive a move to tap into the lucrative market. Gareth supports the push, especially to take advantage of Sydney's second airport at Badgery's Creek.
They were asked about their thoughts on the Navy relocating from Garden Island to Port Kembla and the impact it would have on the Wollongong economy and while both are in favour of such a move - and the jobs growth and economic boost it would bring to the region - they recognise it would be a long-term venture. Gareth believes the region should be chasing projects that are positive but realistic.
The pair spent a very informal 40 minutes over lunch chatting to us and answering questions with their entertaining banter (and barbs) thrown in.
They chatted about why people go into politics - Gareth was passionately against a land release in the Shoalhaven while Anna was raised in a strong Labour Party family.
Anna didn't miss a chance to raise the Albion Park Bypass (and Gareth was quick to remind her of the Government's allocation of $3 million in 2015-16 to continue planning the project) while other topics of discussion included the F6 extension, the age old question of when lifts will be built at Unanderra railway station and their combined "attack" on the minor parties.
The NSW Parliament was Australia's first parliament and the building was originally Sydney's first permanent hospital, built in 1816.
We were all impressed by Gareth's extensive knowledge of both the traditions and the people who have served in parliament.
Question Time was approaching so the pair showed us to our seats in the gallery and left to arm themselves for battle.
And what a debacle was Question Time! At times the Speaker Shelley Hancock sounded like a headmistress trying to control the rowdiest, naughtiest students you could imagine. "There is too much noise in the chamber" she bellowed. "Trust me, this afternoon members will be out if they continue to carry on."
We could only imagine the bemusement of senior representatives from Syrian, Japanese and Chinese governments as they tried to follow play time in the House.
Noreen Hay managed to get in a mention of Unanderra railway station lifts, while Keira MP Ryan Park was rebuked for his outbursts. Maybe Noreen shouldn't have raised her head. The Premier Mike Baird, responding to a Dorothy Dixer on the government's infrastructure program, focussed his attention on the Member for Wollongong reminding her that "she came out before the election and told the world there was going to be a new convention centre built in Wollongong, but then her leaders came out and said no, no, no" to jeers from government members.
Debate quickly degenerated from there. On that note the cohort decided we had seen enough of Question Time in action and left the gallery.
We may not have been overly impressed with the behaviour in Question Time but were very fortunate and grateful for the opportunity to spend time with Gareth and Anna, who both genuinely have the region's best interest at heart.
Blog posts written by the Leadership Illawarra Program.