12 March 2023

WATCH: Nationals call for Liberal candidate to quit after surprise promise to build the Gobba Bridge

| Chris Roe
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Julia Ham

Liberal candidate Julia Ham says her party will begin work on the Gobba Bridge immediately if elected. Photo: Region.

“Should you decide to vote Liberal, and the Liberal government gets in, that is the commitment, that we will start on the duplication of the bridge.”

This was the surprise commitment from Liberal candidate Julia Ham at last night’s 2023 NSW State Election Debate at the Wagga RSL.

Nationals MLC Wes Fang said his party had been blindsided by the promise, which he described as “backstabbing”, and he has now called on her to resign.

READ ALSO ‘I am definitely not a ghost’: Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate Chris Smith is serious about Wagga

Five of the seven contenders for the seat of Wagga Wagga gathered to make their pitch to a full house of local voters and online viewers at the event, coordinated by Committee 4 Wagga (C4W), Region Riverina, About Regional and The Streaming Guys.

The independent Member for Wagga, Dr Joe McGirr, the Nationals’ Andrianna Benjamin, Labor’s Keryn Foley, the Greens’ Ray Goodlass and Liberal Party’s Ms Ham all attended, while Shooters Fishers and Farmers candidate Chris Smith and Public Education Party representative Raymond Gentles sent their apologies.

election candidates

Candidates make their pitch to Wagga voters. Photo: Region.

The duplication of the Gobbagombalin Bridge to ease congestion on the city’s primary river crossing was high on the agenda in the wake of C4W’s recent survey that demonstrated that 96 per cent of respondents saw it as a priority.

When the question was presented to the candidates, Dr McGirr began by outlining his work to get the project on the Government’s agenda.

“It took a lot of lobbying on my part, directly to the Minister, to say simply, you cannot have a transport plan for Wagga without considering the duplication of the Gobba Bridge, full stop. End of story,” he declared.

“And the Minister, to his credit, agreed with that and as a result, they have agreed to start the work on the feasibility of that project.”

READ ALSO Greens claim top ballot spot as a mystery candidate enters the race for Wagga

When the question was put to Ms Ham, the stakes were raised with a surprise commitment.

“When I decided to stand as a candidate and went to the Liberal Party, I said, ‘I want to stand on this one condition: that I can get a commitment about the duplications of the Gobba Bridge’,” she recounted.

“It took a week, and then the Liberal Party came back and said, ‘You have that commitment’.”

Eyebrows were raised across the room and moderator Genevieve Jacobs pushed for more detail, asking, “When?”

“As soon as we’re in,” came the reply from Ms Ham.

“That is my commitment. That is the only way I stood.”

As Ms Jacobs turned the question to Labor’s Keryn Foley, she quipped, “If the Liberals are going to build it the very second Julia Ham gets elected …” prompting Ms Ham to interrupt with the qualification, “We’ve got to scope it!”

For her part, Ms Foley seemed unprepared for the question but gave a frank response.

“I really don’t know, because I haven’t spoken to (NSW Labor leader) Chris Minns about what the commitment would be for the Gobba Bridge,” she said.

“But I think that good government makes decisions and prioritises on the basis of need.”

Th Greens’ Ray Goodlass was emphatically in support and the Nationals’ Andrianna Benjamin said she would “fight to make sure we get that business case funding” and indicated that she had spoken with Minister Sam Farraway about the need to expedite the project.

Gobbagombalin Bridge

A commitment to the duplication of the Gobba Bridge was high on the agenda for C4W. Photo: Chris Roe.

At the back of the room, Mr Fang had been bouncing on his toes ever since Ms Ham’s promise, clearly wanting clarification of who in the Coalition had authorised the commitment.

While Ms Ham was not available for comment today, Liberal Party insiders have suggested that she misspoke.

Mr Fang was scathing of his Coalition colleagues and said Ms Ham had no option but to quit.

“It was a surprise to be in the room and hear the commitment from Darryl McGuire’s hand-picked candidate,” he said, raising the ghost of the disgraced former Liberal member.

“She broke any number of the clauses within the Coalition agreement around making election commitments of that magnitude.

“It becomes even more of a concern when that portfolio area is Regional Roads and that falls under Minister Sam Farraway, who is a Nat (National Party) and knows nothing about this.

Mr Fang approached Ms Ham after the debate and said she would not clarify the detail of the commitment.

“I don’t believe it’s been through any proper process. She’s refused to tell me which Liberal Minister committed the funding – if any at all,” he said.

“She has only told me that the Liberal Party has committed to it.

”If it is true that she misspoke, then she must resign.”

Wes Fang

Nationals MLC Wes Fang has called on the Liberal Party to clarify its bridge promise. Photo: Chris Roe.

C4W chairman Adam Drummond agreed that the commitment had come as a surprise, but said overall it was a great opportunity to hear directly from the candidates on a broad range of issues.

“The biggest thing to come out of it was actually getting to see how all of the candidates would potentially represent us in Parliament,” he explained.

“Yesterday was a dress rehearsal for how they’ll handle the pressure, how they’ll handle topics that are difficult, that are quite often divisive.

“And by hearing and seeing how they react to that, I think it was a good indication of how they’d represent us in a government setting.”

Original Article published by Chris Roe on Region Riverina.

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