PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENT - Maitland jobs
Ms JENNY AITCHISON (Maitland) (17:17): A few months ago I heard about plans by the Liberal‑Nationals Government to move about 200 Maitland workers to a new government hub in Newcastle.
The reports from members of my community were a cause of great concern for all of us. Stripping jobs out of Maitland CBD not only has the potential to uproot working families, but also to translate to a direct hit on our local economy.
The news prompted me to seek information and clarification through a number of channels.
I wrote to the Premier; the Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional New South Wales, Industry and Trade; the Minister for Finance and Small Business; the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces; the Special Minister of State, Minister for the Public Service and Employee Relations, Aboriginal Affairs and the Arts; and the Minister for Energy and Environment.
In fact, the environment Minister was in the Chamber the last time I spoke about this matter, and after I spoke he undertook to have a meeting with me.
I have since been informed through my office that the Minister does not have any time in his diary to meet with me. I do not know what the time frame is for that lack of time, but I assume it is "ever".
On 20 June this year I raised the issue with the Deputy Premier through a question on notice. I applied for information under the GIPPA Act and I made a private member's statement, as I said. I joined with the Maitland Business Chamber in campaigning to keep these jobs, with a petition that I sent to everyone in my community.
But none of this had any impact. There was a stony silence. No confirmations, no denials; just diversions, avoidance, obfuscation and stony silence from the Government, the Premier and her Ministers, as usual.
I think the Minister for Finance and Small Business might have got one of the parliamentary secretaries to write to me to say, "Everything's going to be alright, Jenny." Strangely enough, I did not find that reassuring given the silence I was experiencing.
I found it particularly frustrating because a document I obtained through freedom of information laws revealed that in‑depth and well‑advanced plans to move Maitland staff to Newcastle have been underway in my community since the preliminary findings of the then Department of Industry's Hunter Accommodation Strategy in—which year?
Way back in 2016 this Government started looking at how it was going to move workers out of my community. That document, which was a briefing for the Hon. Don Harwin—then Minister for Resources, Energy and Utilities, and Arts—was titled "Relocation of staff from Maitland to Newcastle".
But none of the Ministers I approached knew anything about it when they were asked to give an answer on the record.
The options in that document were explored in some depth. They included all 340 staff in Minerals House, Maitland, remaining in the existing building; moving the Division of Resources and Geoscience to the Newcastle building, with the Resources Regulator division remaining in Maitland; and all Department of Planning and Environment staff—all 340—moving to Newcastle.
Talk about centralisation; talk about stealing jobs from regional communities.
The second option was preferred, but there was some concern that the Minister would want to take all the jobs.
This plan proceeded to a ministerial briefing in late 2018 and was put on hold because of the State and Federal elections in quick succession. After the elections were done and dusted, of course, it all came back online.
In May, Minerals House staff were briefed on their impending move to the new 12‑storey, 6,000‑square metre building.
Modelling had been performed on metrics as diverse as the floor space allocation per person and the changes in expected employee commute times: All very detailed evidence that this Government wanted to move jobs out of regional New South Wales into a metropolitan location; compelling evidence that the Berejiklian‑Barilaro Government did, indeed, have a plan to move Maitland jobs to Newcastle even after the Premier came here in question time, after the budget was handed down, and said:
… I assure every community in rural and regional New South Wales that their government jobs are protected …
During budget estimates hearings last Friday, my upper House colleague the Hon. Mick Veitch was able to put my questions directly to the Secretary of the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.
The secretary repeatedly denied that the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment had any plans to move staff from Maitland. In fact, even people who were members of that committee did not speak up, even though their names are on emails that mentioned those plans going ahead.
With this kind of obfuscation and avoidance, my community is not satisfied that the jobs will not be taken out in 2020 when the new building opens.
I call on the Premier to keep her promise and guarantee those jobs.