The state government spoke with pride about the benefits of selling off surplus land on Thursday in response to a Port Stephens petition that asked it buyback a six-hectare parcel of Mambo Wetlands.
Community members who gathered more than 14,000 signatures to bring forward the parliamentary debate sat in the gallery hopeful of a positive outcome but left disappointed.
Having tabled the document, Port Stephens MP Kate Washington spoke about the fears koala carers held for the population if the site was developed but wasted no time going on the attack.
"We are sick of the excuses and sick of the politicking,” she said.
"Perhaps the only thing the government members might understand is the politics of all this and maybe you call look up from your mobile phones for this; if you don't buy back the Mambo wetlands you will never hold this [Port Stephens] seat again.”
In response Myall Coast MP and The Nationals whip Stephen Bromhead outlined how Property NSW had a strong record of recycling under-performing assets to invest in infrastructure, only after undergoing “rigorous assessment”.
He pointed to the $6.6 million sale of the old Newcastle Court House for reinvestment in the Department of Justice of the government’s good work.
Ms Washington was heard to scoff, “$250,000?”, as Mr Bromhead continued: “I want to say to you now... the minister for planning [Anthony Roberts] is currently investigating the potential to purchase the land.
“The NSW Government has provided $145,000 to Port Stephens Council for koala habitat protection projects. This is a matter where it is being reviewed – and I can’t say now because it is still underway – maybe there will be an outcome the community could be pleased with.”
Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen congratulated the efforts of the community in collating the signatures.
“Can I too congratulate you and thank you on your efforts, on this very important issue in your community,” he said.
“I’m not taking away any of the value in your time and effort and passion and belief in the protection of the Mambo Wetlands, at all.”
At this point Mr Johnsen took aim at the opposition, when he reminded the chamber of former Labor MP Tony Kelly whom ICAC had found to have acted corruptly.
“Because of the corruption of the former Labor government and its ministers, Property NSW now has a proper process in place, this includes the one at Salamander Bay there, they are sold in accordance with government policy where independent evaluation advice is obtained and in and in an open market, process is followed to ensure the maximum value for taxpayers,” Mr Johnsen said.
“This furphy of selling off everything we all own as tax payers is absolute garbage. The balance sheet of the state has gone up by over $60 billion. How is Labor going to help you achieve your goals buying back this land when they don’t understand a balance sheet?”
Mambo-Wanda Wetlands Conservation Group secretary Kathy Brown said she was still proud of everyone who gathered the petitions but deeply disappointed with the government.
“The Liberal Party has fobbed off its reply onto the National Party which didn’t seem to have prepared a response of any substance,” she said.
“You would think that the Minster for Planning [Anthony Roberts] would have come up with his own rebuttal.”
Mrs Brown said it was it was disgrace to hear Mr Johnsen and Mr Bromhead defend the sale.
“In the scheme of things $250,000 is nothing. If they wanted to make money out of this then they haven’t done their job, this should have raised a red flag when the property was valued,” she said.
“I think it’s quite right what Kate says; it’s going to take them ages to claim this seat back because there is so much bitterness over this.
“Today’s debate shows they’re still not listening. I would have thought that the government might come out with an announcement today out of embarrassment.”
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