Meetings with Ministers
With the announcement of the new Berejiklian State Government Cabinet, General Manager (GM), Coralie Nichols, and I met with three new Ministers who are critical to the future of the Dungog Shire
1) The Minister for Agriculture, Adam Marshall;
2) The Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock; and
3) The Minister for Regional Transport and Roads, Paul Toole.
These meetings were organised with the assistance of the local State Member for the Upper Hunter, Michael Johnsen, who also attended and advocated on behalf of our Shire.
We gave each new Minister an overview of Dungog Shire and the issues and challenges we face. We then discussed with each Minister issues that directly related to their portfolio.
Coralie and I discussed with Minister Marshall the continued importance of agriculture to our local economy. We advised him of the establishment of our Councillor Agriculture Portfolio Group and how the members of this group are challenging themselves to proactively respond to the changing face of agriculture in the Shire. We let him know that we are planning a strategic workshop with our primary producers and key industry stakeholders in 2019 and that we would like to see him involved - he was keen to take part. Michael Johnsen MP, who is now also the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture across NSW has committed to addressing this proposed forum. Please keep an eye out for details to come on this engagement.
We also discussed with Minister Marshall the development of our Rural Lands Strategy and the importance of this Strategy in determining appropriate future development in the Shire. We asked Minister Marshall to investigate how we can get back on track with the agricultural land mapping exercise that the NSW Department of Primary Industries started last year and then suspended due to a re-prioritisation of Local Government Areas to be mapped. Minister Marshall understood Dungog Shire Council’s need for this work to be reignited and acknowledged its importance to us. He has promised to follow this up for us so we can continue with our Rural Lands Strategy.
We asked both Minister Hancock and Minister Toole for their support with making sure the Government moves forward on delivering the promises made by the Coalition prior to the election, particularly the $16 million for bridge funding, and the Government’s promised roads reclassification.
We discussed at length with Minister Toole the pre-election commitments by the former Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, Melinda Pavey, regarding the prioritisation of Dungog’s 124 km of regional roads to be reclassified as State road. Support regarding following up on these promises was forthcoming from both Ministers.
We also outlined to Minister Hancock our Special Rates Variation (SRV) approval and at the same time expressed our disappointment with the State Government imposed $70K Emergency Services Levy, which this year is equivalent to 10% of the first year’s SRV income. While we are supportive of the purpose of the ESL, which is designed to assist firefighters suffering with cancers linked with the use of chemicals in their daily work, we feel this is a State Government cost and that it shouldn’t be shifted to Local Government to pay via rates. Minister Hancock was sympathetic to our argument and advised that she had inherited this issue and promised that she is working on a solution. We let the Minister know we would not be paying the increase in the Levy this financial year.
Finally, we discussed with all three Ministers the Brig O’ Johnston Bridge and the need to find a result that didn’t cost the tax-payer $25-28 million. We pressed each of the Ministers for a fit-for-purpose solution for such a strategically important piece of infrastructure, not just for our growth hot-spot of Clarence Town, but also, for the rest of our Shire. Each Minister was supportive of our stance and agreed to progress this issue at the State Government level.
All in all, the meetings were very positive and encouraging. The GM and I came away with confidence that the government is on track to deliver on its pre-election promises in our Shire and that we will enjoy a positive and productive working relationship with these Ministers and of course our local member Michael Johnsen.
Meeting with the Worimi LALC Chair - Leigh Ridgeway
The GM and I met with the Chair of the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council, Mr Leigh Ridgeway, last week. The meeting was a first step in a longer conversation to help Dungog Shire Council to improve our awareness of Aboriginal culture, to appreciate its beauty, and acknowledge its long and important history. Leigh is wanting to work closely with us on this and we have committed to undertake a three-day Connecting to Country program in August. We will be completing this program with the leadership team from Dungog High School, a collaboration we are really looking forward to. The Mayor and GM at Port Stephens Council will also complete this program with the Worimi LALC. As the Mayor of Dungog Shire, I believe that this is important work and that this program will benefit our relationship with the local Aboriginal community.
Williams River Holiday Park Update
Ratepayers and visitors to Dungog Shire currently have the chance to have their say on the future of the Williams River Holiday Park, with a series of community and stakeholder consultation activities taking place over the next two weeks.
In these activities Council is asking for community feedback on the Holiday Park’s operations ahead of an extraordinary meeting it will hold on June 26 to consider the longer term future of the site.
The consultation process includes an open drop-in “ideas session” to be held at the Clarence Town School of Arts from 5 pm to 7 pm on Thursday June 13, and a community feedback survey designed to capture more information from locals. The return date for the feedback survey is Friday June 14 by post, email or handed in at Council.
These activities are designed to get a wide response from locals, stakeholders and visitors and will help Council match local community aspirations with state agency compliance requirements, council’s capacity to resource infrastructure upgrades and the commercial realities of running a major tourism facility.
A consultation meeting has also been scheduled with the Clarence Town Progress Association.
It is important to understand that Council hasn’t made any decision yet on the reports or their recommendations. We want community feedback on their content and on any other ideas that might be available. It is possible that a very different set of conclusions or a mixture of approaches might ultimately be adopted. This is why the consultation process is so critical and valuable to us.
There is time yet to provide your response to our stakeholder feedback form. To help in this regard, and if you have any questions on the form or the consultation process, please do not hesitate to contact Roger Stephan on 4995 7777.
The deadline for submissions is this Friday June 14th.
Regards Tracy Norman
Dungog Shire Mayor
10 June 2019