Hostilities mark the start of the new year in local politics

WHAT should have been good news for the Shoalhaven has been overshadowed by a war of words among local politicians about the way it was announced.

A press release issued on Friday by Kiama MP Gareth Ward, announcing that Shoalhaven had been included in the Illawarra Regional Growth Plan, which will entitle the region to a greater share of infrastructure funding, drew an angry rebuke from Shoalhaven Mayor Joanna Gash on Monday.

Cr Gash was annoyed Mr Ward had announced the decision before Shoalhaven City Council had been notified and that his release had singled out Cr Andrew Guile for special praise.

“I was shown it on Facebook on Saturday morning,” Cr Gash said. “I rang [Minister for the Illawarra] John Ajaka and he was not aware of the announcement and wasn’t happy.”

She said the decision to include Shoalhaven in the plan had come from the Planning Minister but was yet to be ratified by the full NSW Cabinet, which meant the announcement was premature. 

She was also “livid” that Mr Ward’s release singled out Cr Guile, with whom she is often at loggerheads, for praise.

“I want to thank Andrew Guile in particular for first raising this matter with me and for his efforts and advocacy as a member of Shoalhaven City Council which have gone a long way to help ensure this positive outcome,” Mr Ward wrote.

“This is not about claiming credit,” Cr Gash said. “It’s not about Andrew Guile or Jo Gash; it’s about the whole council.”

Mr Ward “unreservedly” apologised for causing friction with his announcement, saying it was not his intention.

“I made representations on behalf of Cr Guile, who asked that the Shoalhaven be included in the Illawarra Regional Growth Plan,” Mr Ward said. 

“I made representations to the Minister of Planning and he responded, advising me that those representations were successful.

“The outcome is the most important and I don’t want to be drawn into arguments between councillors. I would never want to offend the mayor intentionally,” he said.

Cr Guile, however, was not conciliatory.   

“This means a complete bureaucratic refocusing of where the Shoalhaven fits in the future of planning as well as the infrastructure funding that goes with it. This is great news for our region that will lead to further economic growth and employment,” Cr Guile said.

“At the same time, I want to completely condemn the petulant comments of Mayor Joanna Gash about this announcement. If Cr Gash wanted the credit for this positive change in planning direction for the Shoalhaven then she should have supported it from the outset.

“Cr Gash and her party had to be dragged kicking and screaming to change their minds and their votes on this having originally supported the exclusion of the Shoalhaven from the plan,” he said.

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