The NSW opposition says it will reinstate ministerial positions for regional areas if Labor is elected to government in March.
Shadow treasurer Ryan Park and shadow minister for the Hunter Kate Washington announced the plan at Raymond Terrace on Wednesday.
Parliamentary secretaries replaced ministers for regional areas such as the Hunter in 2015.
Mr Park said it meant government representatives responsible for those regional areas were no longer “at the decision-making table” when it came to discussions about legislation and funding.
“For too long we’ve had a government that I believe has been focused on Sydney. We need to get beyond that,” he said.
“We think it’s a missed opportunity. We think that the people of the Hunter, as one of the largest – if not the largest – regional economies in the country, deserve a say at the decision-making table of NSW.”
Mr Park said Labor planned to re-introduce ministers for the Hunter, Central Coast, Illawarra, North Coast and rural and broader regional NSW.
“To have parliamentary secretaries is simply not good enough – not when you’re talking about large regions like this that punch well above their weight in terms of their contribution to the economy,” he said.
Ms Washington pointed to decisions she said had “short changed” the region – such as the port deal, lack of action on a new Medowie high school, the sale of Mambo Wetlands and moving train manufacturing contracts offshore – which she said would not have taken place if there was a minister for the Hunter.
"Local industry representatives want to see the ministerial role restored and they’ve told me it makes a real difference,” she said.
“After the Liberal government abolished the minister for the Hunter role, their Sydney-centric approach has ramped up.”
Upper House member Scot MacDonald has been parliamentary secretary for the Hunter for all but two months since 2015. One of his Legislative Council colleagues, Catherine Cusack, briefly held the position in 2017.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian was the most recent minister for the Hunter, when she was NSW treasurer, after the retirement of Upper Hunter MP George Souris left a vacancy in the role.
Mr MacDonald said on Wednesday the title was not important – it was a matter of whether the government treated the region seriously.
He accused Labor of showing “complete disinterest” in the Hunter when it was in government.
“Labor can focus on titles, we’ll concentrate on running a strong government supporting the Hunter and every community across NSW,” he said.