Newcastle Herald, by Michael Parris

Alice Thompson and the Committee for the Hunter’s election wish list.

A leading Hunter lobby group says the region has had some key wins in the election campaign but many important projects and priorities remain outstanding.

Committee for the Hunter has published a list of priorities for the incoming government, including more social housing in the region, a new airport terminal and a transition authority to guide workers and businesses through the clean-energy transition.

A leading Hunter lobby group says the region has had some key wins in the election campaign but many important projects and priorities remain outstanding.

Committee for the Hunter has published a list of priorities for the incoming government, including more social housing in the region, a new airport terminal and a transition authority to guide workers and businesses through the clean-energy transition.

“We are currently marginal seats. There’s a lot of interest, focus and investment,” Ms Thompson said.

“These are the directions we’re giving to candidates and an incoming government on the priorities for the Hunter, and delivering on these priorities will increase our role and contribution to the national economy and national priorities.

“I suppose these are the things that you do locally that will deliver on the national interest.”

The committee is an independent advocacy group which includes representatives from the region’s business, education, charity, industry, local government and tourism sectors.

Ms Thompson has worked as an expert in infrastructure, industry attraction, urban planning and regional development in the public and private sectors.

She was cities and infrastructure adviser to former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and has worked in the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet under Barry O’Farrell and Mike Baird, the Sydney Western City and Aerotropolis Authority, KPMG and Infrastructure Australia during the Rudd and Gillard governments.

Ms Thompson spoke to the Newcastle Herald about how the campaign had matched up against some of the committee’s wish list.

Social housing

The Coalition announced $2 billion in low-cost financing to the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation in the budget, but Ms Thompson said the Hunter needed urgent, direct government investment in social housing.

“The Libs were still sticking to their financing, which we know has not been sufficient to address the urgency and the scale of the stock required,” she said.

“The crisis in availability of social and crisis housing and the demand for that has only heightened since the Coalition established those policies, so it is time to review them.”

She said Labor’s policy provided a “vehicle” for increasing housing stock for low-income earners.

Labor has promised to create a $10 billion fund which would build 20,000 social housing properties and 10,000 affordable homes for frontline workers in its first five years.

It has also pledged $1.2 million for more crisis housing in Newcastle for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

“We are talking about the direct build of social housing, not just the provision of financing to a third party,” Ms Thompson said.

Housing land

Ms Thompson welcomed bipartisan support for upgrading Mandalong Road at Morisset, which will help open up more land in an area earmarked for significant population growth.

“That was a critical project, but there’s still more work to be done across the region, and we’re looking for a strategic approach to it, not an ad hoc approach,” she said.

“We’re looking for a program of works to make a dent sooner. This is a great leap forward, but ad hoc road funding will not resolve the situation we find ourselves in.”

The committee wants infrastructure to unlock 40,000 home sites and 590 hectares of employment land.

Container terminal

The long-running dispute over state government-imposed restrictions on Newcastle’s port operators building a large container terminal is tied up in the courts.

Scott Morrison has said he wants to see the issue resolved so the terminal can proceed, and Labor has campaigned against the financial penalties the port would incur if the project went ahead.

Ms Thompson said the “fundamental blockage is still in place” and will be a task for the next government to sort out.

Airport terminal

“Done. Tick.”

The government announced in the pre-election budget in March that it would spend $55 million on a new terminal at Newcastle Airport to meet the requirement of international flights.

It’s exactly what the airport asked for and complements the $66 million the government is spending on widening and strengthening the runway.

The terminal money comes from the Hunter’s $750 million wedge of the new Energy Security and Regional Development Plan.

High-speed rail

Ms Thompson wants the major parties to combine their policies on high-speed rail to Sydney.

Labor is offering $500 million for rail corridor land acquisition and planning while the government has committed $1 billion to improve and duplicate a 10km section of track on the Central Coast.

“The Labor policy is on high-speed rail and moving that forward: corridor planning and acquisition.

“The Liberal policy is for faster rail, and if you put those two policies together, that’s the right thing to do.

“We are asking for that long-term planning and getting on with it, including making improvements to current services.”


Labor has committed $2.25 million to improve mobile coverage in the Shortland electorate and $2.5 million for new digital TV towers as part of $400 million worth of improvements to non-metro mobile coverage.

The government, via a $1.3 billion response to the 2021 Regional Telecommunications Review, has committed $811.8 million to regional mobile improvements.

It has also announced a $750 million upgrade to the NBN network.

“You’ve got a program, but we want to see that translate into projects on the ground,” Ms Thompson said.

“But I think it has been recognised as a gap and a priority for our region by both parties.”


The government has budgeted $100 million for infrastructure to help Newcastle get ready for commercial hydrogen exports and another $82 million on two hydrogen manufacturing plants on Kooragang Island.

Labor has said it supports the spending.

Ms Thompson said neither party had promised to fund the region’s hydrogen tech industry cluster, NewH2, but she welcomed the $182 million announced.

Energy concierge

The committee wants the next government to fund an office dedicated to promoting, attracting and coordinating investment in clean energy.

Neither party has made a commitment on this.

Public service jobs

The federal budget included two projects of interest to the Hunter committee.

The government plans to set up four Australian Public Service academies attached to regional universities and four remote working hubs for public servants.

“The bluntest way for government to contribute towards the jobs target or our ambitions here in the Hunter is to move public sector jobs here,” Ms Thompson said.

“You want to give us jobs? Put some of yours here.”

She said she had held “really positive discussions” with the APS Commission on Newcastle hosting an academy, which would help align students with job opportunities in the public service.

“I think we’ve got a prospect on this one,” she said.

Transition authority

Hunter leaders have long called for a government entity, with significant funding, to guide the region through a period of economic change.

Neither party has committed to a transition authority.

“There’s a recognition of the challenge of economic change, but we are yet to see investment in a vehicle or mechanism to help our communities and businesses through change,” Ms Thompson said.

“Everyone focuses on the community and workers. There is a real gap in the system which is about supporting the small and medium-sized enterprises in the coal supply chain to diversify.

“My feeling is that this is the bigger vulnerability in terms of job losses and economic activity.”

GP Access

Labor has vowed to restore and maintain full funding to an after-hours service designed to steer people with minor ailments away from emergency departments.

GP Access has cut back services recently due to a funding shortfall.

Local Liberal candidates have written to the health minister asking for the funding to be restored.

HMRI at Maitland

The committee wants to see a Hunter Medical Research Institute research centre at New Maitland Hospital, but neither party has committed to it.

Mental health

“There was a fair bit in the budget, but we want to see investment directly into the Hunter,” Ms Thompson said.