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Councils snubbed

Wednesday, 3rd March, 2010

Central Darling Shire mayor Ray Longfellow has taken a swipe at the NSW Government over its "lack of commitment" to western NSW councils.

No government minister attended the three-day Western Shires Division conference in Bourke, which wound up yesterday. Around 100 delegates from 13 councils attended the conference which discussed topics ranging from rural doctors to road maintenance. Cr Longfellow, the president of the Western Division, said that Premier Kristina Keneally was invited along with several ministers. "There was general frustration from those who attended about the lack of commitment from the government," he said.

Planning Minister Tony Kelly was to open the conference but was forced to pull out due to a late commitment. Local Government Minister Barbara Perry gave the lack of airservices at Bourke as her excuse. Cr Longfellow noted that the same lack of service was not expected to stop delegates in the west from going about their business. Despite invitations being sent out months ago Cr Longfellow said some of ministers did not even respond. "I think it's downright rude to ignore us. It wasn't as though we put them on the spot to attend."

The snub wasn't confined to the Government, as State Opposition leader Barry O'Farrell also declining an invitation. A number of politicians did attend including the Shadow Minister for Western NSW Kevin Humphries and local MP John Williams. Meanwhile, Cr Longfellow said that the conference covered a range of issues affecting the western region which covers 40 per cent of NSW.

Topics ranged from calls for restriction on water licences being sold to overseas interests, to the rising cost to councils of holding elections. The conference also discussed a proposal that would see NSW regions receive a proportion of mining royalties. Royalties now go into consolidated state revenue but the Association of Mining Related Councils plans to lobby the government to have some of the money returned to mining towns. The association discussed the proposal at a meeting in Newcastle last Friday which was attended by Broken Hill's Deputy Mayor Neville Gasmier and councillor Bob Algate.

Mayor Wincen Cuy said while he supported the concept the councils needed to be careful that they were not left "worse off". He said they had to make sure that it did not result in other government funding being withdrawn. "We want this (royalties) in addition to everything else."

The Bourke conference also supported a motion that called on the NSW Government to continue its funding of the Outback Regional Tourism Organisation. The government has said it will cease funding after 2011 but City Council, in a motion to the conference, said this would result in a more disjointed approach to marketing Outback NSW and lack of development activities.

The conference also supported Broken Hill's concerns about Country Energy's proposal to raise water and electricity prices. Broken Hill now has full voting rights at conferences after it was made a member of the Western Division. Previously it attended as an associate member."It was a good conference," said Mayor Cuy, who attended with Cr Gasmier and Council's General Manager Frank Zaknich. "To have elected people there was good. We had our say and backed our part of the world quite comprehensively."

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