PRIME Minister Tony Abbott is being asked for 21 minutes to discuss the issues at the heart of the 21-day Campaign for Better Roads and Safer Bridges Petition.
Around 18,000 Manning Valley residents put pen to petition to demonstrate their support for three core issues relating to federal government funding of infrastructure in the Greater Taree City Council area.
Counting continues but as at 9pm on April 9 the official count was 17,496 signatures. It is tipped to exceed 18,000 by the deadline of today, Friday April 11.
The catalyst for the petition is the federal government decision to withdraw $11.4 million stage two funding allocated to the Greater Taree City Council's Roads and Bridges Package. The petition requests the funding be restored to council, the federal government allocate additional funds to council for its roads and bridges program and it establish and fund structures for providing direct funding to rural local government areas for roads and bridges.
Petitioner and councillor Peter Epov secured the support of deputy mayor Robyn Jenkins, councillor Brad Christensen and collectively they worked to rally hundreds of volunteers and kick start the campaign that is now being branded the "People's Petition" by Cr Epov.
The petition is "a very clear and distinct mandate for action" according to Cr Epov, and yesterday he chose to progress the issue to the desk of Prime Minister Tony Abbott with a request for a meeting.
"I have only asked for 21 minutes to express the concerns of the Manning Valley as listed in our petition. These 21 minutes represent the 21 days that we dedicated to securing the 18,000-odd petition signatures.
"Mr Abbott has promised to be the Prime Minister for all Australians, surely he will be able find 21 minutes in his schedule to hear the entreaty of the people of the Manning," Cr Epov said.
Cr Epov said he also invited Mr Abbott to visit the "Manning Valley to see our dire circumstances first hand" and "given the urgency of the situation" said that a delegation of representatives would "travel anywhere to meet him."
Cr Epov described the petition as "an unequivocal triumph for the Manning Valley ... and a powerful mandate."
"This issue does not stop at 18,000 signatures," Cr Epov said.
The letter to the Prime Minister is the next step in a "strategic integrated national lobby campaign."
"We will not stop at just delivering and tabling the petition in the House of Representatives, there is a great deal more to be done. For us the real work starts today and that is turning the People's Petition into constructive outcomes."
Cr Epov contends the Manning Valley is the epicentre of a national crisis in rural roads and bridges funding with a $300 million backlog.
"We are on the precipice of a national rural roads and bridges funding crisis with over $24.5 billion in infrastructure rated as poor or very poor," he explained.
"These 17,496 signatures are not just the strongest possible mandate to publicly campaign on the issue of better and safer roads and bridges in Canberra and Sydney, but a decisive expression and a confirmation from a majority of people in the Manning Valley, in the clearest possible terms, that we have a major roads and bridges funding crisis, which must be urgently addressed.
"The aim of this campaign was and still is to unite the community to focus on one singular objective of fixing our roads and bridges.
"It is not a political campaign against any party nor any individual, it is about constructively addressing a complex set of problems and finding the appropriate solutions, solutions which are available and in the hands of the federal and State governments.
"We set out to demonstrate the strength of public opinion and concern and we have overwhelmingly achieved this."
According to Cr Epov another objective of the petition process was to encourage the community to participate in the democratic process.
"The people have played their part in the democratic process, through this petition they have expressed their very clear opinion in the loudest possible voice, in the strongest possible terms and now it is up to the politicians in Canberra and Sydney to listen."