NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian has defended the state government’s proposal to merge Port Stephens and Newcastle councils during a visit to Soldiers Point on Tuesday.
Ms Berejiklian met with Nelson Bay and Districts Business Association president Ryan Palmer and vice president Robert Reeve at Soldiers Point Marina where concerns about the government’s proposed amalgamation with Newcastle City Council were raised.
“The big thing on everyone's lips at the moment is the council merger,” Mr Palmer said.
“I've lived here all my life and I've never seen a subject raise so much passion.
“Everyone is talking about it.
“The consensus around town is that we feel like we're going to be swallowed up and taken over.
“There a lot of unknowns and unless they're put to bed we do feel like it [merger] is a takeover.”
While sympathetic to the Port community’s concerns, Ms Berejiklian said that from a government perspective it was “really hard to get things done” with so many councils.
“Obviously you have the financial savings but it's really important to think about [how] just unmanageable it is when you've got lots of councils,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“For example, when you put out a master plan for something and you ask for comment you're getting hundreds back opposed to a region-perspective.”
Parliamentary secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald MLC joined Ms Berejiklian in Soldiers Point Tuesday morning and at Newcastle Airport later in the day.
The aim of the meetings with business and community leaders was to understand what they believed to be the opportunities and challenges for their communities, Ms Berejiklian said.
“We are investing record amounts in the greater Hunter region as a government and I want to make sure everyone is benefiting from that investment,” she said.
“I'm interested to know, as a government, what we can do to support jobs and new industry.
“Obviously tourism is huge here, but what apart from tourism is really going to drive the jobs of the future.
“I'm really interested to know what business leaders think, what the economic drivers of the future are, what industries are doing to create jobs, what government can do to support more job creation and how has the infrastructure investment we've been making actually turned into jobs on the ground.”