SIMONE McGURK says the Barnett government is contributing to Fremantle’s retail malaise by failing to properly invest in port city-related infrastructure.
NOT a week goes by when people don’t express to me their despair at Fremantle’s economic woes. To them, the empty shops and general disrepair of the CBD are the foremost symbols of Fremantle’s decline.
The emotion contained in their observations shows there are not many places in WA where residents care about their community as much as here. Their message is clear: Fremantle’s leaders haven’t done enough to realise the city’s full potential.
But there is more to Fremantle’s decline than meets the eye. Not enough attention is given to the role the state government could, and should play, in Fremantle’s rejuvenation. There are too many areas which clearly demonstrate the Barnett government’s neglect.
The reality is a stark contrast to the claim in its own strategic planning framework, Directions 31, that identified Fremantle as a metropolitan strategic centre, a tourist hub and home to Perth’s only container port.
Last year then-planning minister Simon O’Brien announced the relocation of the WA housing department from Perth to Fremantle. Yet the move has been pushed down the list of priorities.
Bringing 1000 public servants to work in Fremantle would inject some verve into the rejuvenation of the port city. Meanwhile, the construction of this significant office space has gone out to tender and its time extended but there has been no announcement on the project.
But it’s not just the new projects the state government is failing to deliver; it is also failing to protect its own heritage assets. The warders’ cottages next to the markets should be a celebration of our rich history. Instead they are a sign of this government’s neglect. Home to prison warders until the early 1990s, the then Labor state government bought them for use as public housing. This government has since decided they are too expensive to maintain, evicted the tenants and left the cottages to rot before our eyes.
The City of Fremantle is looking at the feasibility of investing in their restoration, but understandably it will not enter into this if the business case does not stack up.
I have raised the state of the cottages on numerous occasions, even joining the premier for a visit earlier this year. Yet his government is sitting on its hands, while residents and visitors watch limestone walls crumble, gutters dangle dangerously off roofs and timber beams rot until they can no longer support the building.
All that prevents the cottages from becoming a danger to residents are unsightly construction fences that have decorated the Henderson Street frontages for more than two years—a lovely vista for the thousands of tourists who visit the adjacent Fremantle Markets.
Meanwhile the state government is exposing Freo residents to danger on one of our major pieces of infrastructure. Nine years ago an engineer’s report on the Fremantle Traffic Bridge said it was at risk of collapse if hit by a passing ship or barge. Labor allocated $80 million to the bridge’s replacement but lost government before it was built. WA transport minister Troy Buswell has since reallocated that money to other projects and allowed nothing for this major piece of transport infrastructure that services the port and provides passage to Fremantle to thousands of motorists every day.
And if residents hadn’t by now felt enough of the Barnett government’s contempt for Fremantle, local services also suffer. The plan is to close the emergency department at Fremantle Hospital and the popular Kaleeya Hospital in East Fremantle, which provides maternity services. There is a strong argument for retaining an emergency facility in central Fremantle, particularly as thousands of revellers visit the nearby cappuccino strip every weekend.
The botched handling of possible school amalgamations has only increased uncertainty for schools and local parents, who months after the initial announcement “that school amalgamations are being looked at in Fremantle”, remain no clearer on what the government proposes.
One thing they can be certain of is the Barnett Government is ripping millions from local schools under its cuts to the education budget.
The onus is on the state government to make an immediate and material difference to Fremantle’s fortunes.
As an Opposition MP I will be taking the fight up to the Barnett government to make sure Fremantle gets a better deal than it currently receives.