GREG RAY: The forgotten many

LAST week the federal parliamentary Coalition suggested to its NSW counterpart that a two-kilometre buffer zone between houses and gas wells might be a good idea.

In true NSW government fashion, Resources Minister Chris Hartcher told the feds to butt out. I suppose he wanted to just let mining run the state as it usually does, with minimal interference from anybody.

But then, when it became apparent that federal Labor was going to use the anger of Sydney householders at having gas wells under their homes in its election campaign, the Minister for Western Sydney, Barry O'Farrell, stepped in. The buffer zone was a good idea after all.

Mr O'Farrell, whose other job is Premier, may not have noticed that this measure could also protect householders outside of Sydney, but with the gas-drillers now going off their brains about their wasted investment and lost profits, that part may still be fixable. Maybe "no drilling within 130 kilometres of Darling Harbour" might be the way to go.

Honestly, I don't know why the crowd in Macquarie Street and their Sydney-based public service mandarins still even pretend to be looking after the interests of the whole population of NSW.

They should admit they govern a vampire city-state and be done with it.

The rest of us are just a quarry and a money-mine for the big succubus.

Let me hold up just one single copy of the Newcastle Herald for evidence. Make it Wednesday's, because that's what day it is as I write this column.

The opinion page contains references to an article published the day before that revealed about 18,000 Hunter Water customers had sought deferred payment options for hefty water bills. That represents about 8.4 per cent of residential customers (who account for 55 per cent of water sales).

On the letters page of the same paper Lee Stephens, of Islington, writes that he tried to get a deferred payment deal from Hunter Water but they allegedly told him to buzz off. "I was told by Hunter Water that they are no longer doing payment plans," Mr Stephens wrote.

If that's true, the number of people having trouble with their bills might be higher than Hunter Water admits.

Hunter Water is a state enterprise with two shareholders. The Treasurer is one. The Premier/Minister for Western Sydney, Mr O'Farrell, is the other.

These shareholders demand a yearly dividend, and last financial year they sucked $21 million out of Hunter Water.

There's a reason your bills are so high.

Spell it with me: R-I-P-O-F-F.

On the same page of the Herald was another letter from John Hunter doctor Chris Levi, commenting on newly unveiled facts the government had tried to hide about funding for emergency departments.

Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital has the busiest emergency department in NSW. But its funding and its staffing fall miles short of comparable Sydney hospitals.


Another letter, this time from Maree Raftos, asking why the council is demolishing a great chunk of the Civic block for a university project that hasn't got enough money to proceed.

Why does the council do anything?

But think of the University city campus idea and the Newcastle art gallery upgrade.

The first has an alleged promise of $25 million from NSW, but only if the feds cough up some cash. They probably won't, so what is the state promise worth? Zip.

Now for the $21 million art gallery proposal, which has $7 million coming from the council and a promise of $7 million from the feds that might evaporate because the state says it can't afford its one-third share.

Why can't it afford its share? Oh, it already spent more than $300 million on arts projects in Sydney.

So there's nothing left for the second-biggest city in the state, a city serving a region with more people than Tasmania - one of the most productive regions in one of the most prosperous nations on earth.



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