Northern NSW Nats bangin' on minister's doors
NORTHERN NSW and The Nationals gained political strength in parliament this week when new Premier Gladys Berejiklian promoted Melinda Pavey, Chris Gulaptis and Ben Franklin.
Member for Oxley on the NSW mid-North Coast Melinda Pavey became the state's new Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, taking over from fellow Nationals member Duncan Gay.
Mrs Pavey officially entered politics in 2002 when she joined the Legislative Council at the age of 33.
Nine years later she became Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Health when former NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell declined to give her a position on cabinet after she had served as Shadow Emergency Services Spokeswoman.
Mrs Pavey told reporters at a press conference she was "a country girl" who knew how important roads were in regional NSW.
A spokesman said her top three priories were road safety; building regional capacity in terms of a workforce and business opportunities; and continuing to fix country roads and rail.
Ben Franklin: not the Minister for the North Coast
MLC Ben Franklin has taken two Parliamentary Secretary titles: Renewable Energy and Northern NSW.
Labor Shadow Minister for the North Coast Walt Secord said Ms Berejiklian's decision not to restore his official counterpart position showed The Nationals were "unwilling or unable to represent the North Coast".
"Former Premier Mike Baird scrapped the position of Minister for the North Coast after the 2015 state election and since then the region has missed out on having a voice at the Cabinet Table," Mr Secord said.
"The North Coast missed out under Premier Mike Baird because the region wasn't represented in the Cabinet Room when decisions were made.
"Health and hospitals on the North Coast have deteriorated with patients waiting for hours at Ballina and Byron hospitals for treatment; schools are overcrowded and police numbers are well under their promised levels."
But Mr Franklin dismissed Mr Secord's concerns, saying every minister had portfolios that included the north coast as a focus and he would be meeting with cabinet four times each year as part of his new role.
"Informally, I know the ministers personally," he said, "I'll just go bang on their doors".
Mr Franklin was about to be sworn in when he spoke to The Northern Star, promising to make sure people on the north coast "get our fair share".
"There is nothing more important than ensuring regional jobs and the economy in the north part of the state is strong," he said.
"When there are government initiatives announced I'll make sure the north coast is considered."
Mr Franklin has previously said he'd like to see the Northern Rivers become the California of Australia for leadership in renewable energy industries and eco technology.
"The North Coast is such a special part of the world with an existing commitment to renewable energy," he said, "I've had a number of meetings with councils about what they're doing".
Byron Shire Council had a "peer-to-peer energy trading scheme pilot", he said.
"That's the sort of thing I'd like to see rolled out across the state but that's only an aspirational idea at the moment."
He said he was "incredibly excited" about the opportunities of his dual roles.
Chris Gulaptis: speaking up for country people
Mr Gulaptis said he was honoured and privileged to serve under as parliamentary secretary under Premier Berejiklian and Deputy Premier John Barilaro.
"This is a role where I would like to ensure that the aspirations and lifestyles of country people are taken into account," he said, "I have to answer to the new Minister for Planning Anthony Roberts".
The two politicians worked closely together to eradicate coal seam gas mining from the Northern Rivers when Mr Robers was the Minister for Energy and Resources, Mr Gulaptis said.
"I found him to be very understanding and appreciative of the concerns the communities had regarding CSG, he was iinstrumental in buying back the CSG licences."
Mr Gulaptis said key priorities for his new responsibility were outlined in the the North Coast Draft Regional Plan, expected to be finalised this financial quarter.
Enhancing "major growth areas" like Tweed, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Lismore - "the administrative centre of the Northern Rivers" - were on the agenda along with "ensuring satellite communities played a role" in areas such as alternative housing.
Better transport for regional NSW
He emphasised the need for better transport infrastructure and services in regional NSW.
"It's a fundamental basic necessity in regional areas to have the best possible transport system that we can afford - if you haven't got a car you can't travel to a job interview, health appointment and so on."
He said he had recently chaired a committee looking at community transport in regional areas and recommendations included better coordination of existing services, including new regional transport coordinators, improved disability access at train stations and fuel cards for people who met certain criteria.
"There are other things we can do," he said, "things like Uber and providing subsidies for people who can't afford to travel in their own right or who are too old or too sick."
He said Uniting Care Casino Transport Team, a volunteer service chauffeuring elderly patients to specialist medical appointments across northern NSW and as far as Brisbane, was a unique example of community transport that needed government support.
"I've made a request that they get some funding to the transport minister - I did that before Christmas -hopefully I'll see something soon."