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NSW Premier Keneally in the hot seat

Kristina Keneally’s performance has yielded hits and misses in the past year, with critics and supporters made and lost in the local community reports Robert Burton-Bradley in Central of 15 December 2009.

In the planning portfolio, Ms Keneally was praised for approving the Pemulwuy Block redevelopment for Redfern’s Indigenous community.

After 10 years of delays and a public fight between former planning minister Frank Sartor and CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Company Mick Mundine, Ms Keneally backed down from the Government’s long-held view that all Aboriginal housing needed to be removed from The Block.

“She came down here and met with us and she listened, something that had not happened before with Frank of others,” Mr Mundine said.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore MP cautiously welcomed the news that Ms Keneally had been elevated to the Premiership. Ms Keneally and Cr Moore have clashed on local issues in the past, especially development, but now appear committed to working together.

Some argue the main challenges facing the area and Ms Keneally are yet to be tackled, including Geoff Turnbull from REDWatch.

According to Mr Turnbull, solving the myriad issues facing an area of such pronounced social inequality as Redfern-Waterloo requires an integrated, whole-of-government approach.

“Government departments operate within their silos and the failure to address complex needs across the departmental divides remains an ongoing problem in an area where high needs people are concentrated,” he said.

While some social programs and projects including apprenticeships for Indigenous youth and the Eveleigh Farmers markets have been successful under Redfern Waterloo Authority (RWA) chief Roy Wakelin-King, questions about the redevelopment remain. An overall strategy for tackling disadvantage in the area has stalled, and almost two years after it was promised, a blueprint for the redevelopment of North Eveleigh, a major component of the work undertaken by the RWA, remains incomplete. And the badly needed upgrade of Redfern Station does not even have a start date.

But Mr Turnbull said there was now a chance Ms Keneally could further deliver on her promises to improve the area, having local knowledge and the “clout” of the premiership.

“Redfern Waterloo’s problems are not unique, they are just concentrated, so if the new Premier can get her Minister’s working together to address the issues? she will have gone a long way towards having developed the key to improved human services delivery across the whole state.”

In Rosebery, the mood toward the new Premier remains cool after her perceived non-involvement as Heffron MP in a fight against a Sydney Council garbage depot and a back flip on a proposed Hillsong mega church. Ms Keneally also had accepted a political donation of $600 from Hillsong. It took a huge effort by constituents and the Rosebery Residents’ Action Group to get her to represent the residents’ view in the Hillsong affair, after she originally publicly supported the mega-church plan for Rosebery before she had gauged the community’s feelings.

Graeme Grace, spokesperson for Rosebery Residents’ Action Group, said residents appreciated her backing when it came, but said they were seeing a repeat on the Sydney Council plans for a depot in Rosebery.

“Arrogantly, she has told us to represent ourselves. We expect much better from someone elected and paid to represent us. Perhaps, she should meet less with developers and more with her constituents,’’ Mr Grace said.

However, social worker Michael Shreenan praised the new Premier.

“We believe the local community will be very proud that their local member has been elected to be the Premier of NSW,” he said.

“Due to her approachable and empathetic nature, she is remarkably well-connected to local people, community organisations, and isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and get into the thick of it all.”