GREG Piper has a few constituents who dismiss him as a lightweight state member because, being an Independent, he “will never be in government”.
But the veteran Lake Macquarie MP reckons they’re missing the point.
“As an Independent, I’m never in opposition,” he said.
In a week when another State Budget prompted Hunter Labor MPs to complain that their electorates had again been largely snubbed by the Coalition government, you can see what Mr Piper means.
Compared to neighbouring electorates, Lake Macquarie fared well in the State Budget.
There was confirmation of funding for projects such as the Service NSW office in Toronto, sewerage for Wyee and lifts for Wyee station, upgrades for Wangi Wangi and Speers Point public schools, Rathmines Community Hall and Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery, as well as for social housing and a freight rail corridor – among others.
It all made for a very satisfying week for Mr Piper. Perhaps it was also vindication of his methods.
”You have to be realistic in your approach to the government,” Mr Piper told the Lakes Mail.
“You can’t go in expecting that the government will give in to whatever the demand of the week is. But some things are really significant, so you have to mount your case.”
The case Mr Piper mounted for a Service NSW office in Toronto was a good example of that.
He gathered information on how the closure of the RTA office in Toronto in 2015 had impacted his constituents, and how difficult it was for Toronto locals to travel to the Service NSW office in Warners Bay using public transport. He coordinated a petition of almost 12,000 signatures, and debated the matter in Parliament.
“So we built our argument based on fact,” he said.
Patience is required, too.
“You have to understand that sometimes it actually takes quite a while for [the government] to deliver something because they have programs and they have budgets,” he said.
“So unless you’re talking about something small that can be delivered from petty cash, then it’s got to go into a program somewhere.”
Mr Piper said engaging with the right people in Macquarie Street was also essential.
“I’ll often catch up with a minister, or the Premier, it doesn’t matter who it is… it might be walking down for a division, it might be just before Question Time, or I’ll go to see them in their office.
“It’s really important to use all of these opportunities, but you can’t just be a whinger. You’ve got to have a good argument.
“You’ve got to engage with ministers and engage with their staff. The ministers can’t be controlling everything, and be on top of everything, so you’ve got to know the right staff members,” he said.
Being Independent also means that Mr Piper isn’t required to toe a party political line.
“I think I give fair and frank commentary on the government and how they’re going,” he said.
This week, for example, he was critical of the government’s decision not to fund the rail bridge over the train tracks between Glendale and Cardiff, part of the Lake Macquarie Transport Interchange.
Mr Piper said the transport interchange had been endorsed by the Hunter Economic Development Corporation, the combined Hunter Councils, the Property Council and various others who “can see the patently obvious benefits it would bring”.
The government said council had put forward modelling for a bridge that did not reach a “cost benefit ratio greater than one”.
Mr Piper wasn’t copping that.
“The council’s modelling had shown a significant positive cost-benefit analysis, so to be told now by the government that it’s in the negative beggars belief,” Mr Piper said.
“I should point out also that the money spent shifting the light rail from the corridor to Hunter Street would have paid for the entire interchange project, and I know which one will do more for public transport.”
Mr Piper said there was another key point of difference to his approach to dealing with the government.
“I’m more likely to acknowledge the good things they do than, perhaps, the opposition members are, and I think that’s a great position to be in on the crossbench,” he said.
“I’m not beholden to the negativity that seems to dominate our political discourse. I don’t know how we change that, but I think it would be good for the community if we could.”