Monday, April 5, 2010

Don't take "no" for an answer.

TD8 Action Group
PO Elands NSW 2429

Hon David Campbell, Minister for Transport
Mr Gavin Hill, Policy Advisor
Mr Joe Krsul, Asset Manager RTA Hunter Region,
Hon Barbara Perry, Minister for Local Government
Hon Kristina Keneally, Premier of NSW

Dear representatives and staff of the people of NSW,

Re: Letter from David Campbell MP to TD8 Action Group dated 19 March 2010 re Marlee and Duffs Bridges.

We wish to bring to your attention a serious error contained in the above letter (attached), which may indicate mistaken advice upon which the Minister for Transport has subsequently made a wrong decision.

Mr Campbell, your letter states: "I am advised that the (Greater Taree City) council receives funding assistance through ... the Timber Bridge Replacement Program for bridges on regional roads".

In fact, this council receives no such funding because none of its numerous failing timber bridges are on "regional roads". They are all on local roads, or roads which were shifted from regional to local as is the case with Marlee and Duffs Bridges.

This was the whole reason why we, and our Council, made the long trip with our detailed submission, to meet with you, Mr Campbell, and you, Mr Hill, on 15 December 2009. We thought it was very clear, and certainly you, Mr Krsul, are aware, that your RTA Timber Bridge program completely excludes the Greater Taree LGA, leaving us disadvantaged compared with other LGAs, some of which have had multiple bridges funded.

Mr Hill, you will recall we even stressed to you by phone (Friday 12 March), that this unfair exclusion renders the Minister morally obligated, if not technically, to provide assistance to Greater Taree. We are at a total loss as to how this error has been made.

Please, Mr Campbell, on the basis of this clarification now, reconsider your decision.

Your response has been: "the RTA is not in a position to provide supplementary funding". We were not asking the RTA; we are asking you for ministerial discretionary funding. Our State and Federal MPs, and Michael Pappadopoulos in the RTA, told us that you have access to such funds for additional projects considered on merit. Is this not the case?

Since you have deemed these bridges, on a State-designated tourist route (to the State's highest single-drop waterfall), do not merit State support, and you are fully aware of Council's inability to cope without State assistance, what do you suggest Council should do?

The Percy Allan Report, Are Councils Sustainable?, recommended in 2006 that Commonwealth and State Governments increase their grants by $200 million a year. In our council alone, the infrastructure backlog is now $170million. Professor Allan recognises "the special problems of rural councils, which, because of their vast road networks and narrow rate bases, will only survive with increased grant funding". (P. Allan, p.7) What is your response to Percy Allan's recommendations?

Why, in the RTA's recent NSW Road Classification Review, was there a net shift of resources away from rural roads and in favour of Sydney roads? (Final Report 2007, p.22) How does this help the special problems of rural councils mentioned above?

We are told by Council that for 50 years there has been "State cost shifting of services and infrastructure onto local councils". (Building a Better Future, Frequently Asked Questions, GTCC, p.4) Why did this happen? If State cost shifting is partly to blame for our infrastructure problems, then surely the State should contribute to the solutions? What savings can the State make in other areas in order to place a higher priority on roads and bridges?

If an accident occurs because of a substandard road where it has been financially impossible for the local council to maintain it, who is liable? Can councils cost shift back up to the State? If the State Transport Minister hasn't the funds to ensure all the roads in NSW are safe, shouldn't the State in turn seek to cost shift back up to the Commonwealth?

Ms Perry, is it fair that our Council should now be seeking a massive rate increase of 57.4% over four years (12% per annum compounding) in an attempt to cost shift the burden of chronic government cost shifting unilaterally onto the ratepayers of Greater Taree?

Isn't it time all levels of government started to work as one? We've heard enough blame shifting. Local councils deserve more than 5% of the public resource pool. (Percy Allan, p.7)

The ratepayers are prepared for some increase, and indeed should be paying a fair rate that is comparable to other LGAs, but an increase this size will surely cause hardship to many struggling families in this low socio-economic region. We are already facing steep increases in power and water bills. A sudden rate increase may be the last nail in the coffin, particularly for young families of modest income enticed into home ownership by well-intentioned government schemes.

Ms Keneally, as our Premier, please show the people of Greater Taree, and all the statewide, nationwide and worldwide visitors who are drawn to this beautiful region, that you care and are proud of what we have to offer. Crumbling roads and bridges reflect so poorly on this State and are a hazard for all road users. Please show us the compassion that your Transport Minister could not seem to muster. Please influence him to reverse his decision regarding Council's modest request for $2 million - less than a 50% contribution - towards the replacement of Marlee and Duffs Bridges. This gesture will ease the pain and burden of a community facing an insurmountable infrastructure nightmare.

We look forward to replies from all addressees to this letter.

Thankyou for taking careful note of our views.

Yours sincerely,

Ms Sandra Kwa
Mr David Marks
Mr Ken Cameron
Mr Colin Hurrell
Ms Janeece Irving
Ms Rosemary Lembke


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