THE national media caravan rolled into the Shoalhaven yesterday with Opposition leader Tony Abbott.
Mr Abbott made a number of appearances to support Liberal candidate Ann Sudmalis, including attending a community forum in the Nowra School of Arts.
A large crowd of Gilmore residents, which Ms Sudmalis said had been “randomly selected” and sent invitations in the mail, attended the forum where after a short address Mr Abbott answered a number of questions on varying subjects from the floor.
Dressed in one of his blue ties, he was confronted with issues such health, education, care for veterans, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, superannuation, small business, Aboriginal affairs, looking after youth, supermarkets harming farmers, road and rail transport and even the site for Sydney’s next airport.
He was asked how he could make federal politics more appealing to Generation Y.
But perhaps the question that got the biggest cheer was asked by Shoalhaven Australia Day Citizen of the Year Marilyn Bevan-Williams regarding a third bridge crossing of the Shoalhaven River.
In an impassionate plea Mrs Bevan- Williams begged Mr Abbott for money for a third crossing.
“Our beautiful old bridge is almost falling down, we need some money, Tony,” she said.
“Our grand old lady is about to collapse and that would leave us with one bridge – we have an ambulance station on the northern side of the river, the fire station to the south and as it is the area often gets stuck in gridlock – often in an emergency, ambulances can’t get through – we need a third crossing.”
She said if it could include rail as well that service could then be continued further south to areas like Huskisson and Ulladulla which would create lots of employment and be great for tourism.
While not promising anything, Mr Abbott said he was well aware of the problem.
“Every January my family and I drive down from Sydney towards Sussex Inlet to the Berrara Beach Park – it is beautiful but travelling down and back is not ideal,” he said.
“I haven’t come today to make a promise but nevertheless I have come to listen to what’s the top priority for the people of the Shoalhaven – Ann and Jo have told me as far as they are concerned a third crossing is probably the number one local issue. I have got the message loud and clear and we will do our best to get something constructive to say later on in this campaign.”
In a further question he said he would like to see the Princes Highway between Nowra and Gerringong upgraded.
“Sure it would be great to have a fast train between Nowra and Sydney but it would also be good if we didn’t have that terrible and dangerous section of road from here Nowra through Berry and up to Gerringong,” he said.
“So, what do we do?
“Well, in the case of the Federal Government we are going to have this organisation, Infrastructure Australia, which will do its best to rationally and as scientifically as you can look at various infrastructure projects and rank the best on public cost benefit - then all levels of governments will be able to fund what they choose to be the one that makes most sense.”
He was also tackled on whether or not he would make promises he knows he can’t keep.
Outside, secretary of the South Coast Labour Council Arthur Rorris cut a lonely figure after being refused entry because he did not have printed invitations to the event.