Shire Council CEO Tim Tamlin and I travelled to Sale to attend a parliamentary inquiry into rate capping and coal seam gas mining.
The rate capping inquiry was to gather input from the Gippsland area shires and was basically the same as one of council’s own public presentation sessions where ratepayers can submit ideas to council on items of interest.
It was interesting being on the “other side of the table” in this case but it was very useful.
We had nine parliamentarians on the panel and each of us were able to speak to the topic and also answer questions from the panel members.
The panel took copious notes and hopefully our input will be reflected in future policy.
One point I put to the panel was that the real problem was not rate capping as such but the fact that the government had reduced over time the amounts of money it gave to the shires (cost shifting).
Later one of the panel members asked for specific examples of cost shifting and I informed him of the libraries which used to be paid for 80 per cent by government and 20 per cent by the shire but which was now the other way around and we now paid for 80 per cent of the library costs.
I also made the point that in the rural areas we pay double to triple what suburban ratepayers get billed and we end up with fewer services.
We all agree it costs more to service country areas of course but the suggestion I made was that government grants should be increased in rural areas so that the cost of living in all areas (by rates bill) should be similar and not dependent upon where one lives.
The coal seam gas panel was conducted the same way and all the shires stressed the need for the moratorium to continue and I made the point with regard to South Gippsland that I saw no place for an unproven practice like fracking to be conducted within the nation’s food-bowl area.
We need to protect our food producing farmland from such activities.
Most of council lobbying like this is done out of sight of the public so it was good to have this one in a public forum.
Many people from South Gippsland turned up to listen and take part too.
It was good to see such a strong community involvement.
Related to this theme would be the good news we received at council a couple of days later when we were notified that South Gippsland was to receive an extra $5+ million during the next two years for work on our road network.
It is welcome news and I look forward to the list of projects from the engineering department that we can consider spending that money on.
The figure is significant when one considers that the capital works budget is around $15 million per year.
Cr Don Hill, Tarwin Valley Ward, Wild Dog Valley.