Talks to continue on road funding

MEMBER for Lyne Dr David Gillespie arranged for a private meeting between himself, representatives from Greater Taree City Council and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, while he was in town on a whirlwind tour of the electorate.

Council had requested the meeting at the end of January, following discussions with Dr Gillespie.

On the agenda was further discussion of the loss of $11.4 million in Roads and Bridges funding, which has been polarising Dr Gillespie and council since December last year.

Attending were council's acting general manager Ron Posselt, mayor Paul Hogan and deputy mayor Robyn Jenkins, along with Mr Truss and Dr Gillespie.

Following the meeting it was all smiles from Mr Posselt who felt that the meeting had gone well and there was an intent to "continue discussions" into the future.

"It's been a fair learning curve for everyone," Mr Posselt said.

"The meeting was amicable and we are very grateful to Dr Gillespie for arranging it for us.

"We were able to provide Mr Truss with information about the state of our roads and other things he may not have been aware of, while he was able to provide us with information about views of government that we had not been privy to."

Mr Posselt added that council was pleased to be able to meet with the Deputy Prime Minister in their own "backyard".

"We had a cordial meeting where council was able to directly inform the Deputy Prime Minister of the community's concern," agreed mayor Hogan.

"The Deputy Prime Minister explained the position of the government. We fully understand the financial constraints of the government and accept the need for fiscal responsibility; however, I have asked the Deputy Prime Minister to clarify the statement he has made in the past that all Commonwealth Infrastructure Grant funding will be honoured by this Government.

"On that basis, discussions remain open between the parties," concluded the mayor.

Council also took the opportunity to suggest structural change in the funding of local government from the Commonwealth, as was noted by deputy mayor Robyn Jenkins.

"Such structural change would see the current Financial Assistance Grants targeted to regional road and bridge infrastructure," said Cr Jenkins. "Rural and regional councils have been struggling with deteriorating infrastructure for decades and the current funding model has done little to address this.

"We believe the system requires fundamental change so that already-scarce funds are targeted infrastructure in Regional Australia", said Cr Jenkins.

A short media conference was held inside the electorate office following the discussions with council, where Mr Truss took the opportunity to explain new government programs the Federal government had put in place and to reiterate their commitment to the Roads to Recovery Program.

However, he reiterated Dr Gillespie's previous comments about the $11.4 million that was to make up part two of the Roads and Bridges Funding for Greater Taree City Council, saying "The project no longer exists".

Instead he touched on new programs the Coalition Government have in place, or that are coming forward in the future, where council could apply for grants for the now unfunded projects.

"We have a new bridges program, to repair or replace older bridges," Mr Truss said, before describing it as "strange" to think that the government would honour election promises of the previous government.

When asked if the withdrawal of part two of the funding agreement meant that $1.1million had been wasted, Mr Truss said it was "difficult to compare".

"It's not specific, a little bit obscure," he said.

"That funding was announced in 2010 and there's an obvious link between the two occurrences.. but no one has written the rule book on this."

Mr Truss said such a thing hadn't happened before where part one of funding had been released, without part two coming through.

"We're trying to find a constructive way forward," he added.

Mr Truss was also questioned about the $10 million which has been secured for the Northern Gateway Hub, after there have been suggestions of late that the funds should be transferred to cover the loss of the roads and bridges funding.

"If the Gateway proceeds, we will honour it," he said.