16 July 2012
It may be obvious to most of us in the community however, unfortunately the message seems completely lost to the members of the federal government, particularly those in the Hunter.
With the report in the Newcastle Herald on 13 July – $600 million in infrastructure funding at risk – the politics associated with funding arrangements highlighted a serious flaw that is very disturbing to say the least.
Infrastructure projects such as roads and rail can be and are funded by all levels of government. Over time, legislated obligations, convention, and simple need have developed to the extent where there are often no real clear lines as to where the responsibilities lay.
Local government in NSW is, by any measure, at the financial and political behest of the government of the day, particularly the state government. A key reason is rate pegging and the lack of ability of councils to raise sufficient funds to operate without state or federal government handouts. Yet, the community expectation of its councils is very high in terms of what infrastructure is to be built and then maintained, in a cost effective manner. As a result, there is a clear disconnect between the community expectation and councils ability to meet the demands placed on it.
It is also important to understand that Local Government exists purely as an act of the state parliament.
The state government (or the crown), has trustee level ownership of resources to be managed on behalf of the citizens of the crown, that is, all of us. It will charge royalties to business operators that extract resources, to help fund its activities and responsibilities, in addition to raising taxes,duties and levies.
The federal government has the right to raise taxes (broadly) by way of income taxes and it not only raises sufficient funds to run the business of the commonwealth but also has sufficient excess income to redistribute those monies raised, back to community based organisations and/or state and local governments, usually by way of grants.
This is where it all gets murky. The term ‘grants’ somehow imply a favour is being done for those organisations that receive the grants and this is where politics creeps in. Remember, those favours are using your money.
Given that, our community grows and needs appropriate planning and associated infrastructure to provide a decent lifestyle and set of opportunities for us all to live together in relative harmony and meet the needs of the varying life stages such as schools and aged care facilities. Additionally, the requirement for transport and hospitals are used across all life stages.
In the Hunter, we are blessed with natural resources both above and below the ground and have built a wonderful region to live, work and play in.
Assuming the political operators have some understanding of these facts, it is only more frustrating that political games are played at the expense and to the detriment of our community in the Hunter.
Badly needed infrastructure such as the Scone Overpass, Muswellbrook Bypass and Singleton Bypass should not be victims of what most people see as politics between the state and federal governments.
In Scone, the rail line literally cuts the town in half with all emergency services on one side and half the population, three schools and an airport on the other. Recent media reports highlighted the problems in Scone and I can only agree that, unfortunately, it seems it will take a death to stop the politics.
The federal government claims responsibility for the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) which operates the rail line. The New England Highway falls under the category of the National Highway network, an initiative of Gough Whitlam, funded by successive federal governments since.
All these items of infrastructure have been claimed for credit by federal governments for decades yet now we see a senseless political game played by the current federal government and its local members to try and what? Who is going to win? Win what? All we see are the real risks of deaths and ironically in a fast growing region, run the risk of reinvestment by small business and families away from these communities because they are not being supported by appropriate infrastructure whilst some politicians show no commitment and passion to build the best possible community facilities in their own electorate.
The problem seems to be with the lack of will to make it happen, rather than the ability to do so.
This is an example of where a local member needs to focus on local issues first and foremost. In developing good policy that allows flexibility in the promotion of growth using the purse of the public and private sectors.
In summary, we need attention and outcomes. Don’t beat your political chest about how much money may or may not come to the Hunter, just show some leadership and get the job done for the advancement of the Hunter, not the political purposes of some individuals deluded about their own importance of the role they may play in how we see ourselves in the Hunter.
The Nationals Candidate for Hunter