Anyone watching Monday night’s Four Corners program “The New Wave” on chronic unemployment in the Wollongong area would have seen NSW Premier Nathan Rees hosting a community Cabinet meeting in the recession-devastated city.

He promised the audience an Illawarra Jobs Summit, held last Thursday. You would have expected a full turn-out of local Labor MPs, but there wasn’t.

On the day Rees was trying to shore up support in the ALP’s south coast stronghold and Matt Brown, MP for neighbouring Kiama, was at Sydney’s five-star Hilton Hotel. He was hosting another function altogether — a fund-raiser for his re-election campaign in March 2011.

Single seats were $100 each plus a donation of $150 with cheques payable to “Kiama State Campaign Account”.

The guests celebrated Brown’s 10 years in parliament by strapping on the nosebag to devour a three-course lunch washed down by “fine wines from award-winning vineyards in the emerging Shoalhaven Coast wine region”.

Wine buffs are yet to become familiar with the chocolaty, caramely, pineapply Chateau Nowra sav blanc which carries just a hint of gooseberry.

Another Labor MP from the region, Paul McLeay (Heathcote), chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, was absent too. He was on a taxpayer-funded trip to New Zealand to deliver a paper entitled “Improving Public Financial Accountability”, a subject on which his government has highly dubious expertise.

Brown is one of Labor’s most successful fund-raisers. Records provided by the Greens show he raised a staggering $221,647 in the 2007 election year but, since the changes to declaration rules, his money-raising for the current year has collapsed.

Brown dramatically lost his position as Police Minister last year just 72 hours into the job when it was revealed he had engaged in exotic dancing techniques while dressed in his underpants during an exuberant party in his office following Treasurer Michael Costa’s last Budget.

In defence of his absence from the jobs summit, Brown’s staff have suggested that the Hilton Hotel bash and the summit had fallen inadvertently on the same day: but that doesn’t explain why he didn’t leave Sydney after lunch at 3pm to attend the final session of the talkfest in Wollongong.

At the very least it shows that Labor MPs are increasingly ill-disciplined. More seriously, it is an example of disrespect or even contempt for the Premier. Just imagine the fury if a local MP failed to attend a jobs summit that either Neville Wran or Bob Carr had organized. An explosion would have echoed off the walls fracturing the plaster and the language would have brought tears to the eyes of the average shearer.

As Matthew Carney’s moving Four Corners report revealed, youth unemployment in Wollongong is running at 40 per cent and getting worse by the week.

Brown has fireproofed himself from the impact of the economic crisis: during the peak of the property boom he managed to acquire a portfolio of 18 homes in NSW and New Zealand and sold six of them last year.

Can Labor hold Brown’s Kiama seat in two years’ time? At present, the electorate’s voters are so angry they’d elect a cattle dog rather than the former corporate lawyer.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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