Newcastle Herald Editorial: Exhibition centre plan for the city

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Originally published: Newcastle Herald online, October 7 2014, 9:30pm.

After an uncertain start to campaigning for the coming Newcastle by-election – and, by extension, the general election next March – NSW Labor has picked up the pace.

First, Opposition Leader John Robertson emphatically reversed an earlier reluctance to match funds promised to Newcastle by the Coalition government, announcing his party, if elected, would hand over half the proceeds of the privatisation of the Port of Newcastle. 

Now he’s upped the ante with a promise to build a convention and exhibition centre at Honeysuckle, linked to Hunter Street by a ‘‘skybridge’’.

It’s an interesting idea, if not an entirely new one.

Similar thought-bubbles have emanated from the government over the past few years, perhaps stemming from the ill-fated promise by former premier Barry O’Farrell that his government would bid for the 2017 International Expo to be held in Newcastle.

That was in 2011, and many Novocastrians will recall how Mr O’Farrell flagged Honeysuckle land at Cottage Creek as ideal for the expo.

‘‘I cannot think of a better city to stage expo than Newcastle and we’ve found an ideal site which will showcase the city at its very best,’’ Mr O’Farrell said at the time, noting that the bid would require new convention and performance centres and other amenities.

History records that the promise was discarded when the Coalition took office. State bureaucrats apparently persuaded the government that Newcastle – second city of one of the most prosperous states in Australia – could not compete with Astana, in Kazakhstan, which ultimately won the right to host the expo.

Sadly, and perhaps unfairly, some of the cynicism Newcastle people have managed to acquire towards political promises may cause some to look askance at Mr Robertson’s convention centre undertaking.

That would hardly be surprising, given recent allegations in the Independent Commission Against Corruption, particularly those relating to Labor’s role in crushing Newcastle’s bid for a container terminal.

But while it’s reasonable to treat political promises with care, it’s better to be noticed than ignored and it’s also true that a convention centre of the sort envisaged could be a great asset to Newcastle. Mr Robertson has suggested the centre, if built, could generate $100million a year and create as many as 1700 jobs.

It’s hard to imagine anybody being opposed to the idea – unlike some other thorny civic revitalisation proposals in recent times – so provided the funds were actually made available it is a project that ought to be able to start reasonably quickly.

In theory, that is.

Originally published as: EDITORIAL: Exhibition centre plan for the city 

NSW Labor's Newcastle Convention Centre