I make a contribution to debate on the Greater Cities Commission Bill 2022. I do so as a representative of communities in the Hunter and the Central Coast regions. It is understandable that a change as significant as that proposed by the bill has caused some anxiety amongst those communities, and there are questions that I will be asking on their behalf. I start by thanking both Minister Stokes and the shadow Minister, my colleague the member for Wollongong, who I acknowledge is in the Chamber. I thank him for his attendance. I thank both of them for engaging with members as they have, particularly with those members whose communities will be affected, and for providing members with information regarding the Greater Cities Commission.

As the shadow Minister has made clear, Labor will not be opposing the bill. But as a local Hunter and Central Coast MP, I am sceptical—and there is scepticism in the community—as to whether the commission will provide additional funding for the region and not just another layer of bureaucracy. This is a real problem and a real concern. I hope that I am wrong and I hope that the community's scepticism is not proven correct. I refer now to my community's concerns. My first question is: Will the Minister guarantee that the regional grants and funding structure, as it stands, will continue to be accessible to these communities under the new commission structure? That is very important because it is only through these grant programs that regional areas can access money. It is therefore incredibly important that it is not taken away.

Other community concerns about the proposed bill relate to what it must deliver to help take our regions forward. One of the misconceptions, unfortunately, about planning in regions such as the lower Hunter is a supposed lack of planning. I say to the House that this is not the case. Local councils such as City of Newcastle Council, Lake Macquarie City Council, Cessnock City Council, Maitland City Council and Port Stephens Council, along with organisations such as the Committee for the Hunter and the Hunter Joint Organisation, have been putting a lot of work into planning and projects that will be of ongoing benefit to our communities. The problem has been the lack of funding from the State and Federal governments, despite constant requests from our councils, Federal MPs, local State MPs and the local organisations I just mentioned. We need look no further than the Newcastle Art Gallery upgrade. I note that the member for Newcastle is in the Chamber. All the Newcastle MPs are champions. They are all here. The upgrade has also been championed by Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes for years, before the State and Federal governments finally, just weeks ago, came to the party to fund the project. It has taken the best part of two decades to get the funding for it. If members want paragraph and verse on it, the member for Newcastle can fill them in. That is just an example, but there is a whole list of projects across the Hunter and the Central Coast.

And the Illawarra, of course. I have brought forward a couple to demonstrate to the Chamber that they are real projects for which this Government has been asked to provide funding and the requests have fallen on deaf ears. I have the New South Wales budget 2022-23 submission from the Committee for the Hunter. It is a committee set up by this Government, yet the Government does not even listen to it. Again, I note the scepticism. The committee has listed in its submission a great project about affordable housing. Just last week Shelter NSW released a report and, sadly, of the seven worst regions in terms of housing crisis, four were in the Hunter. I note that the member for Maitland, the member for Cessnock, the member for Newcastle and the member for Port Stephens are here.

The affordable housing project is a demonstration of what is really needed in our local government areas and in the Hunter generally. The committee's proposal—$522 million to fund a program enabling infrastructure to unlock 40,000 homes and 590 hectares of employment land—is stuck in the planning pipeline. This is just one example of the planning roadblocks that we face. Another example is a $40 million upgrade to Mandalong Road in Morisset, Lake Macquarie, which will release $1.2 billion in capital investment, 6,500 jobs, 4,500 new homes and 175 hectares of employment land. Those are the sorts of projects that are literally gathering dust on someone's bookshelf. I have one here from Lake Macquarie City Council. This one is a ripper. Everyone will know about it; I think it was a project when I was born.

I acknowledge the interjection of the member for Cessnock. This is the lower Hunter freight bypass, separating freight rail, including coal, from passenger rail between Fassifern and Newcastle. All we hear about is fast rail. Here is step one. This has been at every budget request for as long as I can remember, long before I became a member of Parliament. These projects are shovel ready; we just need the money. If members want to talk about expanding the Hunter's tourism economy, another great opportunity is Newcastle Airport. We have recently seen significant upgrades to Newcastle Airport. It is seeking a further $50 million to upgrade the airport's terminal, which will open up the Hunter to incredible international potential. We want to make sure that the Government is addressing these proposals. I spoke with the airport authorities just two weeks ago who indicated they have had talks with the Government, so I know the Government knows about it. Again, the scepticism is sneaking back in. There is also the recommendation to shift the harness racing from Hunter Park to Cessnock, which is also awaiting funding.

That's right, giddy up! This project would be a major boost for the Cessnock local government area [LGA] but, along with that, it would assist the plans for the Broadmeadow precinct. Again, the member for Newcastle would be able to talk about that project. Of course, it provides those light rail corridors that we are so desperately seeking. I refer to the recently opened Maitland Hospital. I met with the Hunter Medical Research Institute.

The institute is keen to establish a regional research hub at the facility. On the Central Coast, projects include the long‑overdue upgrade to Carters Road, which has consistently fought for funding from this Government. Scenic Drive, running through Budgewoi, is another road that urgently needs upgrades. If the commission is able to provide funding and see that funding flow to our communities for those crucial projects, I say bring it on. That is what we want it to do, but we need guarantees that that is exactly what will be happening and that it will not just be another layer of bureaucracy standing in the way of creating all of these projects.

The commission simply cannot become another level of bureaucracy that is full of Sydney bureaucrats telling the people of the Hunter and the Central Coast what is best for them, nor can it be a means by which money is taken from the regions to be spent on Liberal-held seats in Sydney. We will not cop that. For this commission to succeed, it must respect the independent identity of all of these areas and the agencies in each of the regions, whom we regard very highly, while enabling better communication between government departments. While we have seen some positive forward planning from the Greater Sydney Commission, which the member for Lakemba just spoke to, Sydney remains a divided city with a lack of transport, health, education and infrastructure investment, particularly in western Sydney. I note that the member for Londonderry is in the Chamber and I hear that she too agrees with these sentiments.

We only have to look at the estimated population growths. Between 2021 and 2041, in the LGA of Blacktown, the population is expected to grow by more than a whopping 200,000 people, in Camden by 180,000 people, in Liverpool by 190,000 people, in Parramatta by 140,000 people and in Penrith by 140,000 people. Whilst two-thirds of the population growth in Sydney will be in western Sydney, we are not seeing the planning for infrastructure and land development reflect this growth. We cannot allow the same planning fails to be repeated in the Hunter, the Central Coast and the Wollongong-Illawarra area.

Thank you very much for granting me a short extension of time, Mr Assistant Speaker. Another concern that has been raised with me by local stakeholders is the impacts of clause 20 of the bill, which states:

A local council in the Six Cities Region is, if requested in writing by the Commission—

(a)to allow the Commission to have access to, and take copies of, documents held by the council that are relevant to the functions of the Commission, and

(b)to provide the Commission with staff and facilities, or other assistance, as may be required to assist the Commission in exercising its functions.

That is a bit heavy-handed, and I would like the Minister to clarify that it is not a cost-shifting exercise whereby the commission will now also be leaning on our local governments to provide staff and facilities—as is listed in the bill—and documents from the local government area. There is concern about that and I would like clarification from the Minister. In addition to that, clause 22 of the bill concerns disclosure of information. I will not read it because it is quite long. Essentially, councils must not disclose information obtained in connection with the administration or execution of the Act unless the disclosure is made, and there are five dot points. The point that I make to the Minister is that I hope it is not a gagging mechanism for councils when decisions are being made by the commission, because that would certainly not be in good faith with our local governments in the areas of the Central Coast and the Hunter. I ask that the Minister please explain that that is not the case, as there is great concern locally that those two clauses are in the bill. As the Hunter and the Central Coast are new councils coming into the Greater Cities Commission, clarification around that would be most appreciated.

I note that the shadow Minister has indicated that Labor will move two very sensible amendments, and I encourage the Government to support them as they will improve the legislation. The shadow Minister has spoken with the Minister, as I understand it, who is always very cooperative. Given that the amendments will improve the bill, I have confidence that the Government will adopt them. In conclusion, I look forward to working with the Minister to achieve the best outcomes for the people of Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast. This very important matter goes to the heart of making sure that our communities are best served by future planning and future infrastructure funding.

The House has just had a debate in which it was pointed out that those on the Government benches are quite delusional when it comes to the way that their spending is presently being undertaken. Members have heard about the tale of two cities in western Sydney, and I spoke about that earlier in my contribution. I hope the bill will be an opportunity to see more money coming into the areas that really need funding in the Central Coast and the Hunter—which Madam Temporary Speaker, the member for Wallsend, and I both represent. The bill is an opportunity, and if it delivers that then there will be bipartisan support. But if it delivers just another layer of bureaucracy and people from Sydney telling us in the Hunter or the Central Coast what we need and when we need it—or if, in fact, it takes money out of the regions—then we will not cop that, and members will hear us back in here louder than we have ever been before. The people in those regions do not deserve that sort of ignorance and arrogance. I like the Minister and I think he is a terrific fellow, so I am sure that that is not the case. But he needs to answer those questions. I have put them all in my contribution, and I know that they will be answered when he speaks in reply. If they are not, I will expect them in writing.