NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon launches campaign for inquiry into Commonwealth Financial Assistance Grants

PLAN: NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon and councillor James Ryan at Cessnock Road near Peace Park, which local Greens candidates say needs a proper cycleway.
PLAN: NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon and councillor James Ryan at Cessnock Road near Peace Park, which local Greens candidates say needs a proper cycleway.

NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon visited Weston on Wednesday to launch a new campaign for an inquiry into Commonwealth Financial Assistance Grants.

The assistance grant pool is currently given by the federal government to councils to spend on local priorities.

The funding is distributed according to population, but Ms Rhiannon said it should be granted based on financial need and the size of councils’ road network.

Ms Rhiannon said Cessnock was one of the areas “literally being robbed of urgent infrastructure funding” because of the current system.

The senator met with Greens Cessnock council candidates, who said that Cessnock is in much need of a proper cycleway network and better roads.

Councillor and candidate for mayor James Ryan agreed that there should be more equitable road funding for regional councils to help improve the cycleways and roads.

In 2015-16 Cessnock council received $3.4million in assistance grants, $793,101 of which was for roads.

Ms Rhiannon and Cr Ryan compared this to the $3.2million Bankstown received ($754,027 for roads), saying that the length of the road network in Cessnock was almost double that of Bankstown –1,157km in Cessnock and 600km in Bankstown.

Bankstown council area also covers 78 square kilometres, while Cessnock spreads over 1,966 square kilometers.

“Bankstown has a much larger population than Cessnock [but] it should be needs-based,” Cr Ryan said.

The candidates also pointed out that the current system does not factor in tourism numbers.

Greens candidates for Cessnock council Janet Murray, Cr James Ryan, senator Lee Rhiannon, and candidates Cathy Talley and Greg Astill at peace Park.

Greens candidates for Cessnock council Janet Murray, Cr James Ryan, senator Lee Rhiannon, and candidates Cathy Talley and Greg Astill at peace Park.

The meeting was held at Peace Park, with the candidates pointing out the popular park was a dangerous place to access by car or bicycle.

“There is no shoulder to cycle on,” Cr Ryan said.

The candidates also mentioned Hunter Expressway feeder roads and Wollombi Road as in need of repair.

Ms Rhiannon said she would be pushing for an inquiry into the grants when parliament resumes on August 30, and that these problems would be ammunition for her case.

“To be able to give specific examples like that really helps,” she said.