GREG RAY: Viva fiscal fairness

WHAT I want our Hunter politicians to push for, night and day, week in and week out, is for this region to get its fair share of state spending.

This will be very hard, I know.

To quote, again, former lord mayor John McNaughton: ‘‘Sydney runs the show because of 93 seats in the NSW Parliament, 65 are in Sydney.’’ 

‘‘If 20 [of those Sydney seats] are hard-core Liberal and 20 are hard-core Labor then it’s all about the other 20 or so that could go either way.’’

But even though the political system is totally and unfairly stacked against us, let’s stop accepting the consequences of that.

My preference would be to abolish the states altogether and fund every part of Australia honestly and fairly direct from the Commonwealth, without vampire state capitals sucking everybody else dry.

A new state based in northern NSW would be a distant second preference.

But I’m happy to start at a simpler point and I’d like to invite anybody who is interested to start hammering with me.

The Hunter represents about 10per cent of the state population, give or take a smidgen.

On that basis alone, without even considering the massive extra grunt our region puts into state production and wealth creation, the Hunter should get about 10per cent of state spending.

Capital and recurrent. Every year.

This is what I want our local politicians to fight for.

When I see ridiculous arguments like the one over funding for Newcastle Art Gallery it just about makes my blood boil.

Here’s why:

Not long ago the NSW arts minister, George Souris (member for the Upper Hunter, believe it or not), was boasting that the arts would get $377million spent on them this financial year.

How much of that do you reckon is coming to the Hunter?

About three-fifths of sweet FA.

We should be getting about 10per cent, which would be about $37million.

Sure, many of the Sydney galleries and so on that get most of the money are there for the benefit of the whole state.

But the same is true of Newcastle’s brilliant art collection. It is world-class and  deserves to be properly displayed.

All the state government is being asked for is 20per cent of what we should  get every year in the Hunter, for arts alone.

And that’s just one portfolio.

Back in 2005 the Hunter Business Chamber did a survey of spending and reported some dismal findings.

At that time, capital expenditure on schools was averaging just 2.6per cent of the education department’s capital budget. Only 3.5per cent of TAFE’s state capital budget was being spent in the Hunter. 

Over the six-year period the chamber measured, the health department had spent on average 5.5per cent of its capital funding budget in the Hunter. The Hunter had  received on average only 3.6per cent of road funding over that period.

The Newcastle Port Corporation’s capital funding was only 4per cent of the combined budget of NSW port corporations.

In 2010 the chamber revisited the issue and found little improvement. 

The 10-year average for infrastructure investment in the Hunter showed the following proportion from annual budgets: schools 2.8per cent; TAFE 3.8per cent; health 5.1per cent; roads 5.3per cent; police 6.6per cent; rail 3.6per cent; and the Port Corporation 4.3per cent.

And, by the way, if we are speaking of matters artistic and cultural, the chamber noted in 2005 that the government had managed to find $48million for an 800-seat theatre for the Sydney Theatre Company as well as $20million for art galleries and museums in Blacktown, Windsor, Liverpool and Campbelltown. 

How much had it pledged, at that time, for Newcastle’s art gallery upgrade?

Um, $15,000.

We are getting shafted by an electoral system and a capital city bureaucratic mindset that is utterly loaded against us.

It must be time to start making a big fuss about this rip-off. Viva la 10per cent!

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