Vision 2020 reports on the year gone and what’s in store for 2015

February 11, 2015

Bingara and District Vision 2020 held its Annual General Meeting at the Imperial Hotel last Thursday, February 5. The treasurer reported that the organisation will still have a healthy bank balance after commitments to projects that are not yet completed are met.

Outstanding projects include a ‘what’s-on’ sign to go on the IGA building, a plaque for the Family Tree Orchard, and the Gwydir wide directory.

The following were elected to the executive committee for 2015: John Bishton (president), Philippa Morris (vice-president and secretary/treasurer), with committee members Alec Lucke, Barry Rogers, Erik Ozols and Garry McDouall.

As John Bishton was unable to attend the meeting due to a prior commitment, the executive will meet soon to arrange a program for the year.

Those attending the meeting enjoyed an informative presentation from Craig Cahill of Water NSW.  The president’s report covered the main events of the year and dealt at some length with the threat to our shire from proposed cuts in local government spending.

President’s Report
“I would like to begin by thanking Rick Hutton and other committee members for their support during the year; Rick’s contribution to V2020 since it was established has been exceptional, and we are all sorry that he is not standing for re-election, but all appreciate his immense contribution since V2020 began, and hope that he will return refreshed next year. Rick is winding up the Family Tree Orchard at the Living Classroom, which will be an important and visible attraction as people drive into town.

“I would also like to thank the Community Mutual for their support of our dinner evenings with speakers during the year.

“Much of the work undertaken this year by V2020 has been behind the scenes; the What’s On sign took quite a while to arrange but it will be erected by Bingara IGA shortly. Bingara Tourist Information staff have kindly agreed to keep it updated.

“Adam Marshall MP, state member for Northern Tablelands spoke to us earlier in the year about his vision for smaller towns and in June Penny Blatchford was asked to speak. Her talk on how to run a pressure group caused a furore because it coincided with an application for CSG exploration in the shire. Unfortunately some people were convinced that she had been invited to speak in order to undermine the application, and did not see her activities to prevent exploration as democracy in action, but rather as interfering with business. Subsequent events showed that the Gwydir shire residents can create an instant pressure group, and the application has since been withdrawn.

“At the beginning of 2014 a V2020 sub-committee was formed to look at the potential for local government reform to adversely affect the town and whole shire. John Bishton was quite correct in seeing this as the big issue for 2014, and the release of ‘Fit for the Future’ has heralded a new era in local government.

“To be blunt, our research indicates that the state doesn’t really care if country towns have swimming pools, visitor information services, HACC rooms, sports facilities or anything else as long as the books balance according to their rules (especially around depreciation).

“It is a case of user pays; unfortunately rural residents have less money to pay with, and it costs more to provide services to them – a metre of water pipe in Double Bay serves more residents than a metre of water pipe in Gravesend.

“State government sees LGAs as population blocks without consideration to land area or type, and apparently assumes that economies of scale come with services being provided to a large number of people, regardless of the distance between them. It also ignores the immense economic contribution made by shires to their regional economies. Although Adam Marshall has said that there will be no forced amalgamations, the caveat was that councils must conform to ‘Fit for the Future’ to avoid them.

.“V2020 hosted a meeting about possible amalgamation in Bingara in December, and another one jointly with the Warialda Chamber of Commerce. Working together as a shire, and not counting the toys in each other’s playpens is essential to our collective future. History shows that allies win wars – you only have to look at Waterloo.

“Plenty of people comment unfavourably on shire activities, but few appear to base their opinions on reliable information.

“The man on the slasher may be cutting council grass, paid for from rates, or state owned grass for which council is paid by state; development application fees are set by the state and they take a levy out of the fee; dog registrations are set by the state, but councils keeps all the proceeds. Admission fees to sports grounds and swimming pools are set by councils, and are hugely subsidised to allow all access to these facilities. The Gwydir shire has a particularly tough job, because it is duplicating services in two small towns, which together are smaller than the one main centre in most other shires. This makes Gwydir a special case.

“There has been a howl of protest about proposed rates increases, and some seriously uninformed howls from people who don’t understand that the increases do not apply to rubbish collection fees and water charges. Quite a lot don’t understand the concept of rateable value.

“The conclusion reached by our sub-committee is that a rate increase is a great deal less undesirable than the other options of amalgamation or the ‘rural council’ model, which is a council eviscerated, decimated and emasculated, providing only the most basic of services. As council is the shire’s largest employer, decisions taken over the next few months are crucial to both towns, because cuts will have a greater impact here than in other shires with larger populations and more employers.

"V2020 hopes to run more forums and to involve Professor Dollery from UNE who recently published an article in the SMH, suggesting that shire councils have been ‘dudded’ by the state government, which has created unattainable targets for councils’ expenditure.

“In conclusion, the state is driving this agenda and we all, regardless of political persuasion, need to pressure state candidates of all parties to ensure fair play and social justice for small rural shires. For Vision 2020, we need to move into the future fully aware of new rules of engagement and determined to make a success of Bingara and district whilst being mindful of external pressures.

“The other night I was sitting outside the Imperial chatting to two Germans called Klaus and Hans who had quite literally dropped out of the sky (as happens in Bingara). One of them asked ‘Why is this town so neat and pretty?’ They had been staying in Manilla and were very conscious of the difference; we were able to say that council takes care of this town. “