The battle for the increasing crucial state seat of Port Stephens has picked up a notch with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian completing her fourth visit to the electorate in the past six months.
Accompanied by Liberal candidate Jaimie Abbott and Duty MLC Catherine Cusack on February 15, Ms Berejiklian announced a $7 million TAFE package for Nelson Bay, including potentially a new campus at the former Donald Street east carpark.
The money, however, would be strictly dependent on an election victory for the state government, Ms Berejiklian said.
This announcement was followed by a $13,000 commitment - with no strings attached - to install solar panels at the Raymond Terrace Men’s Shed.
"People from Nelson Bay will have access to the training they need to get a job and get ahead with a new, state-of-the-art TAFE campus ... driving a massive expansion of TAFE’s footprint across regional NSW,” Ms Berejiklian said at her Nelson Bay stopover.
“TAFE campuses are the beating hearts of our regional communities and provide access to the education and training people need to get a job and get ahead."
The announcement, however, drew strong criticism from Labor State MP Kate Washington, who accused the government of "destroying TAFE in NSW".
"The Liberals have closed regional TAFE campuses in the Hunter. They have sacked 5,700 TAFE teachers and support staff. They have increased course fees by thousands of dollars, and now there are 175,000 fewer TAFE students in NSW."
Ms Washington added that "no land has been purchased, no site has been identified, no planning work has begun, and no timeline has been committed to … and to add insult to injury, they seem to be unaware that there is already a local TAFE".
Ms Abbott described the TAFE announcement as "an absolute game-changer" for the people of Nelson Bay who until now have never had a major TAFE presence in town.
“For the first time ever people in Nelson Bay will be able to study a broad range of courses at TAFE, improving their ability to get a job. As it stands many have to travel for an hour to access the courses they wish to study at either Maitland or Newcastle."
On the Raymond Terrace Men’s Shed, Ms Abbott was delighted to announce funding for a brand new solar power system.
"The members provide social connections and good relationships to combat loneliness and build resilience, that’s why I am delighted they will receive this funding," she said.
Men’s shed president Robert Bull said that the funding would help take the pressure off the organisation’s monthly energy bill as well as ensuring the shed is more environmentally sustainable.
“The new solar panels will help us lower the cost of powering our workshop as well as allow more power in the grid for community use,” Mr Bull said.