Cessnock finally recognised as mining-affected community

Cessnock councillor, Bryce Gibson.

Cessnock councillor, Bryce Gibson.

Cessnock is now on the list to receive a part of the $160 million funding for infrastructure projects, after being listed under the NSW Government’s Resources for Regions program for 2014-2015.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional Infrastructure and Services, Andrew Stoner announced last Tuesday that the list of towns eligible for Resources for Regions funding would now encompass more mining-affected communities, including Cessnock.

“Ours is a hard working community, and due to the sheer size of our LGA, it is welcome news that Cessnock can now apply for Resources for Regions funding,” Cessnock Mayor, Cr. Bob Pynsent said.

“Now that we are considered as an eligible city for the funding, we hope to receive the funds needed for critical regional infrastructure projects and at this stage we are going to focus on road improvements.”

Cessnock City Council will determine the priority projects in the coming months.

Liberal councillors Bryce Gibson, Cordelia Troy and Rod Doherty warmly welcomed the hard-fought inclusion on the Resources for Regions funding list.

A notice of motion by Cr. Gibson at council’s November 6, 2013 meeting asked council to apply and lobby for inclusion in the funding program.

Cr. Gibson said the announcement was “a great day for the people of the Cessnock region”.

“As a long-affected mining area, the Cessnock region was looking for its fair share of this $160 million dollar fund,” Cr. Gibson, president of the newly-formed Cessnock Liberal Party branch said.

“After multiple phone calls and unofficial meetings driven by myself and councillors Troy and Doherty over many weeks with NSW Government MPs, it shows that even though the Cessnock region has little or no representation within the NSW Government, it will not be forgotten like it had been for 16 years before 2011.”

Labor councillor Morgan Campbell tweeted that the allocation of funding was “a win for common sense”.

But Member for Cessnock Clayton Barr labelled it a “pork-barrelling exercise”, as $130 million of the $160 million has already been spent.

Cessnock, along with the Broken Hill and Maitland, will join the existing eligible local government areas of Cobar, Lithgow, Mid-Western, Muswellbrook, Narrabri, Newcastle, Singleton and Wollongong on the list of communities that can apply for Resources for Regions funding.

A Nationals’ initiative prior to the 2011 election, Resources for Regions has provided $130 million in funding for critical infrastructure projects in mining-affected areas, including the $9.5 million upgrade of Ulan Road in Mudgee, $2.5 million for upgrades to the airport runway at Cobra, and $12.3 million to support the Narrabri Water Supply Augmentation project.

“Mining is a critical contributor to the NSW economy and a crucial job creator in the regions, but it puts extra pressure on everything from schools to hospitals, roads to recreational facilities and housing to child care services,” Mr. Stoner said.

“Over the four years of Resources for Regions, the NSW Liberal and Nationals Government will provide at least $160 million to communities experiencing unique direct and indirect pressures on their infrastructure and services as a result of mining activity.”

Nationals Duty MLC for Cessnock, Trevor Khan said the program was developed because the party “saw the need to ensure that some of the royalty monies generated by mining returned to the regions that created the wealth”.

Mr. Khan said identifying the eligible LGAs was a robust and transparent process.

The assessment criteria was expanded to include mining-related royalties (total and per capita), truck movements and employment taken into consideration.

Mr. Khan congratulated the councillors and staff of Cessnock City Council for the strength of their submission for the program.

“For too long Cessnock has been ignored, despite the best efforts of many locals. This Nationals-inspired program is an opportunity for additional funding to be made available to strengthen the facilities and infrastructure of Cessnock,” he said.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) welcomed the broadening of the program but said more investment in community services was needed.

CFMEU Mining and Energy General Vice President Wayne McAndrew said the amount of funding support provided to mining communities needs to be significantly increased and it must be spent on services that support the community – not just mining operations.

“NSW’s Resources for Regions program is a good start but it needs more investment,” Mr. McAndrew said.

“Furthermore, it is currently mostly allocated to infrastructure like roads that are either public works the government should be undertaking anyway or that directly benefit mining companies.

“We need more investment in social infrastructure like schools and sporting grounds to attract residents and support strong, thriving communities in mining regions into the future.”