THE HERALD'S OPINION: Newcastle traders deserve Sydney-style light rail compensation

ONCE again it seems that there is one rule for Sydney, and another for Newcastle.

In Sydney, the state government has agreed to compensate businesses affected by the construction of the George Street light rail.

Newcastle traders – like their counterparts in Sydney – have been lobbying for assistance for some time. Down south, the government said “yes”, and employed a former federal Treasury official and the accounting firm Ernst and Young to assess the losses of George Street traders.

And not just George Street. The Sydney “rent relief” scheme reportedly applies all the way along the line to Randwick.

As far as Newcastle is concerned, the government has repeatedly said that financial compensation is not on the table. When the Member for Newcastle, Tim Crakanthorp, asked in state parliament about any compensation or assistance to be offered the affected traders, he was told: “Place managers will be available for businesses to contact at any stage to discuss issues and concerns. Signage will be in place to promote businesses, and access will be maintained for customers and deliveries.”

With businesses already reporting noticeable losses, affected traders deserve more than some new signs and a bureaucrat to talk to. 

 Following the government’s line, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald, says George Street is very different from Hunter Street and that the Sydney project has taken longer to build.

That may be the case, but East End Newcastle traders have also had to deal with the disruption caused by the Supercars build. As well, virtually all of the Newcastle businesses would have fewer customers, to start with, than their Sydney counterparts. The gap between success and failure, then, is likely to be far smaller.

The government keeps talking about short-term pain for long-term gain with the Revitalising Newcastle program, but the fear has always been that the short-term pain may prove terminal for some businesses.

The Sydney compensation plan shows the government recognises this likelihood, so if businesses are worth looking after in the capital, they are worth looking after in the state’s second city. The time is ripe for the Hunter Business Chamber and other regional representatives to give the call for compensation an almighty push.

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