All around Australia, local councils struggle to get sufficient finance for major projects. Consistency to achieve it isn’t helped in many cases by state governments that are unconsciously blind to the necessity of using regional and rural cities, towns and regions to fix the infrastructure nightmares of capital cities.
All that is another story in itself, but the fact is the 1993 Local Government Act changes by then NSW Premier Nick Greiner – which never helped regional NSW – also contributed to Greiner losing his job and his party losing government.
Both lost sight of the notion, one held by many, that governments of all tiers are not businesses as such, but providers of public amenities and services.
All we seem to hear about from the federal and NSW governments in recent years is about them “getting the budget back into surplus”, or they are announcing some sell off of state-owned assets as though both are good for everyone and all organisations, including local government.
When Paul Keating first mooted a GST (and Labor’s union-based MPs prematurely crushed it), John Howard succeeded in its implementation as a fair (“everyone pays”) tax. It, too, has not been the panacea for raising revenue for public amenities, resources and services. In fact, as we more and more are learning, and the banking Royal Commission proved it beyond doubt, big businesses are simply evading company taxes or not paying any at all, and are ripping people off at all levels.
While we persist with our overgoverned, leaderless (for the most part), bloated three-tier system of government, we in regional Australia are not going to be able to provide the amenities and services needed to ensure our towns and cities are sustained, but that we can entice people away from the metropolises which are now gobbling up revenue incessantly. These observations are raised in the context of at least three projects planned in Wagga: strengthening of the levee bank, parking and rail trails. There are others.
All three seem to have been on the radar forever. Admittedly, in more recent times and perhaps significantly since the arrival of a new general manager, the levee’s overdue upgrade is closer to fruition; as it should be.
Many community leaders have said it is the most significant project in recent history, vital to the city’s long-time future.
Parking in the city and more importantly about the hospital and medical precinct has been an ongoing issue without any appropriate resolution.
The job now facing councillors is not to ask staff for yet another report, but to simply listen to the people, abandon the obsession against paid parking, stop procrastinating and fix it. Recent DA letters from John Goonan and Peter Dolden are a start for councillors who should shred previous reports – listen to the people.
Finally, the rail trail. The concept has worldwide acceptance and has done wonders for local communities and tourism. Here in Wagga (and the Riverina) we are back-pedalling. Mount up councillors, time to get on your bikes!
Many readers agree with DA letter writer Terry Ahearn’s assessment: “In the old days the city was always put first. The directors need to be pulled right back on the bit and councillors take control”.
What might also do wonders is the amalgamation of state and local administrations into a system of regional governments working direct with Canberra for national decentralisation.