ANDREW Guile is on a mission.
The Shoalhaven City councillor is determined to see a development corporation established to give the region a better shot at attracting government and private sector investment.
To that end he has successfully moved a motion to have council form a working party to approach the NSW government.
“It’s the state government that gives you the permission to put one of these entities together,” he said.
This is the second time Cr Guile has put forward the idea; his first attempt in February was voted down, but during the course of the federal election campaign the suggestion gained momentum after being picked up by Labor candidate Neil Reilly.
Grumblings about the quality of local projects put forward for funding under the $100 million Restart Illawarra program added to its appeal in the business community.
Cr Guile said despite the motion getting across the line at last week’s council meeting, there was still resistance.
“I was expecting to lose because the reluctance was palpable from most councillors,” he said.
“I think it’s really the old politics saying, ‘Look, we’ve never done this before, I’m not sure we’re comfortable doing anything differently to the way we’ve always worked.’”
Changing old approaches to development, according to Cr Guile, is a matter of urgency.
“Unemployment in the Shoalhaven is nudging 13 per cent. To my way of thinking, that’s a disastrous figure. That’s 6000 people we are looking at who cannot get employment.
“So we need serious investment. We’ve got good infrastructure investment coming into the Shoalhaven with whatever version of the next NBN is going to be, but particularly with the road coming down. That’s useful, that’s what we need, but we need to have the private component of investment, which brings business. And what follows that is jobs,” he said.
Cr Guile said the need to change the local approach was laid bare in the recent scramble for a slice of the Restart Illawarra funding pie.
“If you look at the variety of submissions put forward to the Restart Illawarra fund, some of the private industry submissions were bound books whereas we were answering those questions with a couple of paragraphs of information.
“The competition out there to attract funding from government and from other sources is intense.”
Part of the appeal of a development corporation, he said, was to decouple the process of pitching for investment from politics.
“Part of the problem with the process is that we’ve intensely politicised the whole development side of things at whatever level of politics, to be honest,” he said.
“And council having its fingerprints all over every aspect of these projects is ultimately I think unhelpful. At the end of the day we’ve developed by default, not deliberately.”
Cr Guile said the need for a development corporation separate from council was demonstrated by a string of missed funding windfalls.
“While we get a submission together eventually often we are caught flat footed and not ready to put in shovel ready projects. A
lot of them are just not funded, they’re not successful. Council submissions through Regional Development Australia haven’t gone anywhere. Yet you would think that the Shoalhaven being the less developed part of the Far South Coast region would be one of the first places you’d put funding.”
In terms of private sector investment in the region, Cr Guile said a much more proactive approach was needed.
“We’ve got to be out there chasing it. It’s an outreach activity not a pick-up-the-phone-when-it-rings sort of activity. We have nobody in council who is actually making the presentations in the boardrooms of Sydney and Melbourne – to say that the Shoalhaven has all of these resources, all of these opportunities and you need to put
this high up on your list to