Port row fires up council meeting

Community campaigner Paul Matters, who interrupted last night’s Wollongong council meeting. Fiery interjections from the public gallery prompted Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery to temporarily suspend proceedings at last night’s Wollongong City Council meeting.

Former South Coast Labour Council representative and community campaigner Paul Matters repeatedly refused Cr Bradbery’s requests for silence while the council was discussing the privatisation of Port Kembla port.

Independent councillor Vicki Curran had called on fellow councillors to support urgent reconsideration of the issue, asking for a meeting with representatives from Port Botany and Newcastle ports to develop a strategy to oppose the privatisation; a meeting between the council and the state government to express people’s concerns; and for the council to hold a referendum-style poll that would survey the thoughts of every Wollongong resident.

‘‘There was no mandate for this, it was never brought to the people of Wollongong before the [2011] election,’’ Cr Curran said in support of the poll.

Labor councillor David Brown agreed with all of Cr Curran’s points except the poll, because of its high cost, expected to be up to $600,000.

He instead called for the council to invite Premier Barry O’Farrell and Minister for the Illawarra Greg Pearce to a public meeting to explain the rationale for privatising the port.

However, Cr Brown’s speech drew the ire of Mr Matters, who repeatedly heckled Cr Brown from the public gallery.

Mr Matters continued his fiery retorts when Liberal councillor Michelle Blicavs stood to speak in favour of the privatisation, prompting Cr Bradbery to declare his conduct disorderly.

Cr Bradbery then suspended the meeting for 15 minutes, with councillors withdrawing to an adjoining room while council staff tried to calm the situation.

Once debate resumed, Cr Blicavs was joined by only fellow Liberal councillor Bede Crasnich in speaking comprehensively in favour of the privatisation.

Liberal councillors Leigh Colacino and John Dorahy broke ranks with their hard-line party position, both saying they agreed with the sentiment from councillors Curran and Brown.

However, each said the city needed to be realistic.

‘‘I think privatisation of the port is a good idea. However, I think it’s being done in the wrong way,’’ Cr Colacino said.

Cr Dorahy said: ‘‘We need to look at the overall benefit for the community and that’s about getting jobs. I think those jobs will come with leasing the port.’’

The duo eventually joined councillors Crasnich and Blicavs in voting against the motion.

Cr Bradbery spoke against the privatisation, saying he had seen too many public entities sold off to the highest private bidder.

‘‘The port is an asset that belongs to the people of NSW, and more importantly, to the people of this city,’’ he said.

‘‘There isn’t a business case for this. From my perspective this whole thing needs to be re-


The council resolved to abandon the poll, however it will invite Mr O’Farrell and Mr Pearce to answer the community’s concerns at a public meeting.

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