GREG RAY: Seeking our fair share 

WHATEVER side of the track you line yourself up on in the great Newcastle rail debate, there’s one thing that should make you angrier than any other.

Doesn’t matter whether you are pro-train, anti-train or just plain sick of talking and hearing about trains.

What you should be cranky about is the state government’s disgraceful rip-off of Newcastle and the Hunter.

Not just cranky. You should be livid. You should be ready to board a fleet of buses (or a train) and go to Macquarie Street to protest.

Premier Barry O’Farrell announced last week that $25billion would be spent on transport in Sydney over the next four years.

In the Hunter, which has about 10per cent of the population of NSW, he announced $120million to change the location of Newcastle’s heavy rail terminus.

That money comes from a special Hunter Infrastructure Fund (the one that was announced after the cancellation of Tillegra Dam, to reallocate the money that was to have come from Hunter water users to drought-proof the Central Coast) and should, in theory, be on top of general budget spending.

In the normal run of things, the Hunter’s share of spending ought to be 10per cent. 

If things were fair, if there was $25billion for transport in Sydney over four years, there ought to be $2.5billion for the Hunter over the same period. 

With that sort of money, a new city rail terminus would automatically come with a decent alternative arrangement for transport around the city.

The ‘‘let the buses do it’’ option we have been given doesn’t seem to quite cut the mustard. 

For that to be acceptable Newcastle would have to get more buses, more money and staff to run them and a bigger kilometre allowance.

With $2.5billion in capital over four years, we would also have the Scone overpass, the Glendale interchange, Highway 23 finished and maybe even the Fassifern to Hexham freight bypass well on its way.

At least the Coalition actually created the Hunter Infrastructure Fund. 

That is progress, compared to Labor’s previous long and miserable reign. 

But it still isn’t our fair share.

Maybe it’s time for a new political party. 

Or a cross-partisan movement, if that’s possible. 

Maybe it needs to be trans-regional, because other regions are being dudded too. 

We need to ask Canberra to put conditions on GST funding allocations to stop the capital city rip-off.

We need to force the state government to agree to a charter of budget equity that guarantees something approaching per capita fairness in funding for non-capital regions.

Hunter pollies ought to stand together in a solid bloc, demanding no less, irrespective of their partisan loyalties. 

We need to demand our 10per cent of capital and recurrent spending across all state portfolios. 

Imagine the revolution in our region’s health, transport, education, police and justice services and facilities, for starters.

So let’s stop the silly squabbling over whether we can or cannot afford our art gallery upgrade. Or whether we can or cannot afford some decent transport options.

What we can’t afford is to keep fighting among ourselves, because that just lets the government get away with its continual short-changing.

This is not special treatment I’m talking about, although the Sydney politicians and bureaucrats will disagree. 

All I’m asking for is a straight-up, fair deal. No more than what should belong to the Hunter by rights. 

So yell about the rail issue, by all means. It’s your right to have and express your opinion. 

But there’s a bigger problem to fix, and if that gets fixed and we get a fair share of state funds at last, maybe dramas like the rail fight won’t be so intractable.   


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