Congregation comes to council's defence

MANNING Uniting Church has extended its political advocacy of social issues to political advocacy of Greater Taree City Council.

The congregation of more than 60 people discussed and then directed its church council to write to Lyne MP David Gillespie "to express its extreme disappointment with the comments you have made and the actions you have taken in regard to the provision of previously committed federal funding for essential road and bridge works in the Greater Taree City Council area."

The catalyst for the correspondence was widespread discussion in the congregation about the letter and sent by Mr Gillespie to more than 20,000 people in the Manning Valley.

Church council chairman, John Dun and Manning Uniting Church minister, Reverend Narelle Penman, this week posted the letter to Mr Gillespie and chose to share the congregation decision and content of the letter in a bid to prompt community discussion about the culture of politics and community expectations of political representatives.

The letter to Mr Gillespie reads in part, "Our church members are deeply disappointed that your words and actions seem designed to provoke conflict with GTCC and to seek to drive a wedge between the city council and its constituents. We wonder why you, as our local member, seem intent on attacking our elected council rather than trying to work with it to meet some of the urgent needs of the people."

When discussing the letter, Reverend Penman said, "Here we see bullying between local, state and federal governments. One level of government bullying another. It's time it stopped and it's time we had leadership.

"There is a general feeling in society that we have had enough of that type of politics. I think it's time politicians respectfully hear divergent points of view."

The letter also raised the issue of political point scoring and expressed the church viewpoint that, "political point scoring seems to have been put ahead of the real needs of ordinary people in your electorate. The funding of rural roads and bridges is of vital importance to the fundamental transport needs of members of the local community and their ability to readily access basic services such as schools, shopping centres, workplaces and health services."

Mr Dun emphasised the need for, and expectation of community advocacy by politicians.

"From a Christian perspective, government needs to put the needs of the people first, instead of the systems of government. We need them to be reaching out and working together to look for solutions, instead of politics and politicians being about winners and losers," Mr Dun said.

"It's up to the community to tell our political leaders to work for our community, but they are not. It's up to the community to ensure they make politicians aware of the issues and things that matter."

According to the letter to Mr Gillespie, the things that matter include federal government funding to council.

"There will always be complaints about councils, as there are about every level of government, but there is also a great deal of sympathy for the very difficult task faced by councillors and staff of GTCC. Like all rural councils, GTCC cannot possibly raise sufficient funds to maintain its network of local roads and bridges. More responsibilities have been put on councils without the ability to raise the money to pay for them. Since the disputed $12.5 million was a budgeted items in the federal budget, we cannot understand why you say in your letter to your constituents that the funding was only ever a promise and 'the simple fact is that the money is not there'. We also wonder why you refer to this money as a 'handout', when all rural council are reliant on State and federal funding, as they have not been given the means to self-fund their commitments."

Response from Mr Gillespie's office yesterday: “The correspondence from Mr Dun is just one of thousands I have received in relation to this issue. Both myself and my staff are currently in the process of collating this correspondence and I intend reporting the information I have obtained back to the community in the coming weeks when this process is complete.”

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