SWIRLING rumours that the Barnett government has reneged on shifting the WA housing department to Fremantle are premature, says mayor Brad Pettitt.
The issue blew up in state parliament this week when Fremantle Labor MP Simone McGurk accused the premier of blackmailing the council by linking its opposition to the Perth Freight Link and port privatisation to the long-mooted Housing move.
The premier responded in kind: “If the member would like us to, we will withdraw from any proposal to put state housing into Fremantle. We will withdraw right now.
“Is that what the member wants—no public housing in Fremantle? We can do that: we can deliver it,” Mr Barnett replied in a fiery exchange.
The issue was first fuelled when the ABC reported WA housing minister Colin Holt had stepped back from a previous commitment, outlined in a finance department master plan in 2012.
Dr Pettitt points out Mr Holt had simply restated the status quo: no decision has yet been made.
“I still hope we can work with the state government and the premier to pull off what would be a major catalytic economic development project for Fremantle,” Dr Pettitt told the Herald, keen to smooth the waters.
During state parliament’s estimates committee this week, the director-general of Housing, Paul White, confirmed his department still wants to move at some point. It’s currently spread over four buildings across the Perth CBD and wants to be under one roof, but he says any move is at least two or three years away.
Dr Pettitt says that’s slower than the council would like, but not unexpected.
He says the council won’t be cowed by the premier’s veiled threat not to criticise other projects: “We are not going to stay silent on other issues of importance that impact on our community and the future of Fremantle,” he said. “Good governance means you cannot and should not include trading off one issue for another.
“A mature relationship is where you can separate those issues out and actually debate each issue on its merits.”
In parliament the premier expressed his respect for Dr Pettitt, but described the port city as “dead in the centre”.
He says moving Housing to Fremantle might cost the government in the long run—against the thrust of Finance’s master plan—but to help kickstart the city the government had gone as far as negotiating with a developer.
“Indeed, we may well go out to tender, and may well move some other government employees to Fremantle,” Mr Barnett said.
Ms McGurk is calling the premier “arrogant and threatening”.
“He obviously has little confidence in his government’s policies to privatise the port, or to build the Perth Freight Link that he has to silence any critique with threats to withhold government investment unless people keep quiet,” she told the Herald. “The decision to invest in Fremantle is not an act of charity.”
She says Mr Holt’s response in estimates indicates he doesn’t know what’s going on in his portfolio.
Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren believes the premier plans to renege on the Housing move and is trying to shift the blame to Fremantle.
“The premier is wiping his hands of the people of Fremantle,” she says. “His actions this week show he no longer cares about the future of Fremantle or the people that live here.”
by STEVE GRANT