Infrastructure and politics

THE Hunter missed out badly in the first round of federal government regional infrastructure funding. New guidelines for the second round seem tailor-made to ensure it misses out again.

In the first allocation of funds intended to reward the regions that were fuelling Australia’s resources boom, Queensland and Western Australia got $1billion, leaving just $2million for the Hunter.

The government promised, following an outcry, that the coal-rich Hunter would be properly looked after.

But new guidelines suggest the federal government now expects state governments to provide dollar-for-dollar funding for projects.

That would be enough to inspire despair in the Hunter even if Labor was in power in NSW. After all, it was NSW Labor that seemed so disappointed when the Rudd government funded the Hunter Expressway over Sydney projects.

Now that the Coalition holds power in NSW – and has a political interest in preventing Labor from looking good in the eyes of voters – some Hunter people might fear the situation will be even worse.

The Hunter is perceived to be at a disadvantage to begin with, since federal Labor seems far more interested in winning votes in Queensland and Western Australia than in rewarding the Hunter for its nation-building role.

Then there’s the disagreement over coal royalties. NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has lifted royalty rates, taking advantage of a foolish loophole that Labor left in its mining tax legislation. That has led to threats from the federal government to wind back other payments to NSW, to make up for the Premier’s cash-grab.

Perhaps the Hunter will defy the odds and win a fair share of the federal funds, but the new guidelines seem almost designed to cast the region as a victim of partisan political crossfire.

Fear of faulty facts

ACROSS the world, buyers of second-hand books make the mental leap involved in understanding that some information in some old books might be out of date.

But Newcastle City Council professes to be so worried that Novocastrians might not grasp the concept that it has preferred to pulp thousands of volumes rather than give them to charities to sell.

According to the council’s general manager, Phil Pearce, the library is ‘‘concerned about the ongoing use of out-of-date non-fiction material that could contain misleading or wrong information’’.

It’s a remarkable piece of reasoning, and one that hasn’t impressed councillor Aaron Buman, who tried to persuade the council almost six months ago to let the Samaritans rescue the library’s unwanted books from destruction.

But so seriously does the council appear to take its perceived duty of care to potential users of redundant printed information that it proposes to keep pulping books for another two months, when it has agreed to call for expressions of interest from charities.

To many ratepayers the episode may seem less illustrative of careful policy than of simple inertia and wastefulness.

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