OPINION: Time for state to give back to the Hunter

ALL we need for the Newcastle Art Gallery redevelopment to proceed is $2.5million in the upcoming state budget, $2.5million in the next state budget and $2million in the budget after.

We have $7million from the federal government and we have $7million from council and the community. The state money is all we need to proceed.

At the last project control group meeting for the Newcastle Art Gallery redevelopment on Monday, these were the figures that were presented by the Newcastle City Council director of finance.

He said these amounts would be all we need, given the timing of the construction of the building and the use of the $7million federal government grant and the $7million of council and community money.

On Tuesday night, council voted to halt the redevelopment until a delegation has gone to the Premier to seek the final $7million and then, if successful, to reconsider the redevelopment.

Sydney received $310million in the last state budget for its cultural institutions. If you multiply this amount by three for the next three years, then Sydney may receive $930million over this period.

Newcastle is asking for a total of $7million over this same time.

Is that too much to ask?

Hardly, when you consider our Hunter-based state-owned corporations provide $629.6million in dividend and tax payments to Sydney (‘Hunter a cash cow for the state’ Herald 7/12/12). 

These state-owned corporations include the Newcastle Port Corporation and Hunter Water.

On top of this, we may want to add the coal royalties that Sydney receives from our region.

Sydney receives a figure close to $900million in royalties from the Hunter Region (Economic Assessment of Mining Affected Communities, NSW Trade and Investment, March 2013).

The state government now classifies Newcastle as a ‘‘mining-affected community’’. This is due to Newcastle neighbouring an active mining area, as well as being a thoroughfare for mining traffic, which has a significant impact on our transport infrastructure.

Now that we have this less-than-shiny ‘‘mining-affected community’’ distinction, a little bit of compensation for the dust and transport discomfort that we put up with, would go a long way in Newcastle and the Hunter.

When the figures are so clear; with a total of $1.5billion contribution from the Hunter to the state, it can be seen why the Hunter so strongly believes that it deserves a few small crumbs from Sydney.

We are not just asking for the money without local input, as the community has been fund-raising for over a decade. Fund-raiser after fund-raiser has been held, and a slow and steady sum has been built up over the years.

Institutions such as the Newcastle Permanent Building Society have also contributed, in its case $100,000.

The Art Gallery has also had bequests in the past and there is the possibility of another $1million  in bequests.

These bequests may not be forthcoming if there is no redevelopment to hold them in a safe, secure and watertight facility.

The state government highlights the Newcastle Art Gallery redevelopment as a ‘‘catalyst project’’ for the renewal of Newcastle CBD in its Hunter Regional Strategy for the NSW 2021 document.

Now let us see the state government “walk its talk” and fund this catalyst project.

Everyone in the Hunter wants to see Newcastle city centre revitalised and this is a key way to do so. 

Tim Crakanthorp is a Labor councillor for Ward 2 on Newcastle City Council and  the chair of the Newcastle Art Gallery project control group

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