Message from the Mayor: 2 June 2023

Published on 02 June 2023

Hello, I'm John Connors, Mayor of the Dungog Shire, bringing you this week's mayoral message.  

Last Thursday and Friday, the general manager and I attended the Country Mayor's Association of NSW meeting at Parliament House in Sydney. Amongst other things, this gave an opportunity for those present to hear from members of the current state government, members of the Cabinet, and Ministers speaking about matters that affect all of NSW but particularly impact upon local government. 

One of the issues that was highlighted, of course was water, which is very dear to people right throughout NSW. The impact of the discussions were less on us because they related to the intention, which is now a reality, of the government legislating and amending the NSW Constitution to forbid the sale of Sydney Water or Hunter Water and then bill in fact went through the lower house I think yesterday. That has little impact, I guess on those in the Dungog Shire, as we are part of Hunter Water and nothing will change. For people throughout a lot of the rest of New South Wales where they have local water authorities, there was a significant push that the government similarly legislated those local and regional water authorities be given the same protection from privatisation as was being given to Sydney Water and Hunter Water. That, I understand, did not succeed as an amendment when the matter came before parliament yesterday.  

Continuing with Parliament, on Tuesday of this week, the Minister for Local Government gave a somewhat unprecedented attack on Council’s throughout NSW, and particularly on the Mayors of those Councils. The attack resulted from a question and he used the question to attack Councils for their lobbying to have the Emergency Service levy either paid for by government or alternatively added as a separate specific item on rate notices. Emergency Service levy is a blatant cost shifting from the state government to local government, to you the ratepayers. It pays obviously for emergency services, fire brigades and the like, but Council only has two sources of revenue, one is rates and the other is government grants. Obviously, the emergency service levy isn’t going to come from government grants, so it has to be paid by you the ratepayer. It's a levy that also is paid by everybody on their building insurance policies where it's called a Fire Service levy or something similar. So there's an argument that's run that it's also a double dipping. The former government had given some reprieve to local government in recent years by subsidising the increase in the Emergency Service levy. That subsidy is now gone and this government is clearly refusing by the very irate tone of the Hansard report of the minister refusing to even consider doing anything rather than making the ratepayers of NSW bear the burden of the Emergency Services levy. In his attack, he suggests that the levy perhaps could be paid by Mayors being paid less and the point was made by the Country Mayors Association in a press release that they have now made, that that was quite an inappropriate criticism. Bearing in mind the small allowance that rural Mayors receive in any event.  

The Clarence Town Bridge saga continues, the discussions and negotiations continue with the Worimi Aboriginal Land Council and they, I’m told, are progressing. But more importantly than those, is the need for the federal government to confirm its funding for the project, and the federal government has failed to do that so far. We have attempted to have the local member Dr. Gillespie pursue the matter. We have attempted to have a meeting with the Minister Catherine King, and we're hopeful that the general manager and I will be able to meet with her in a couple of weeks in Canberra. But if it is that the federal government do not confirm the funding, and do not confirm the additional funding of $5 million that is required, then the project can't proceed. It can't proceed unless it's properly and adequately funded.  

There are, at the moment, as a result of the last Council meeting, some important documents out on exhibition for comment by you, the ratepayers. The largest and most important of those is the Draft Operational Plan and Budget. It’s the budget for the upcoming financial year and it sets out in great detail where the income is coming from, but more importantly, where those monies will be spent and the particular roads, if it's roads, on which they will be spent. So, I encourage people to look at the document, it's online on Council's website, and to make a submission should there be matters that cause them concern or matters they think should be approached in a different way. Also, on public exhibition at the moment, is the Open Space and Recreation Plan. And again, I ask that you access this document on the Council's website and make submissions as you wish to inform Council. Once it comes off exhibition, the submissions that are made will be considered by Council before the plan is ultimately adopted. So, it's important that if you have an issue, now's the time to make it before the plan is ultimately adopted by Council.  

So until next week, goodbye and good luck. 

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