Funds dry up

By Zoe McMaugh

Only two of Edward River Council’s six advocacy strategy priorities have received funding.

And the key regional issue of water security has been totally ignored by the Coalition with the state election just a week away.

NSW Member for Murray Austin Evans says residents should not expect anything else before we head to the polls.

He said he is ‘‘not aware’’ of any further significant funding allocations in the pipeline for the Deniliquin district before the election.

He did say, however, that other items in council’s advocacy strategy may receive commitments and funding should the Coalition be returned to power.

Strategy items to have funding committed include the a truck stop ($400,000 announced in February) and Deniliquin Hospital emergency department access works (to be addressed as part of $3.2 million announced on Monday).

Mr Evans said a schools maintenance backlog allocation of $449 million announced in January will provide $300,000 to Deniliquin High School, but conceded is does fall well short of the requested amount.

Council’s strategy requests $1 million for new science labs, $750,00 to improve the industrial arts and technology rooms and $500,000 for the hospitality rooms.

‘‘I want to catch up with (Deni High principal) Glenn Warren and go through the wish list — I want to go through where this backlog money will be spent and what more we need.

‘‘The other capital items are on the (government’s) list, but we have had no commitments yet.

‘‘They are going through the capital system, but they are not yet approved by the committee.’’

Other big ticket items in council’s strategy include a $20 million request for Deniliquin Airport upgrades — $10 million each from state and federal — as well as continued lobbying for improvement in communications and blackspots and fairer water policy.

Edward River Council Mayor Norm Brennan has queried the airport commitment in particular, given Mr Evans announced $8.4 million for Wentworth Airport just a few weeks ago.

But Mr Evans said the airport request has had to be altered, leading to a delay.

‘‘The program Deni originally applied through needed a benefit:cost ratio better than one, but it came out lower. We have therefore transitioned the application to another program,’’ Mr Evans said,

‘‘The Wentworth ratio was over one.

‘‘They are establishing a flight training school for international students with big numbers there.

‘‘Deni’s plans are a bit more speculative, with minimal commitment.’’

Mr Evans said while largely a Federal Government issue, the NSW Coalition has made a commitment on the blackspot program.

It has earmarked a portion of the sale of Snowy Hydro for the project.

‘‘As part of the Snowy sale we have allocated $400 million to blackspots and data connectivity — $300 million for new towers, which should give us 300 extra towers, and $100 million for connectivity.

‘‘It is one of five ideas for the Snowy money, and it has gone through treasury.

‘‘The $4.2 million going to the regions is locked in with legislation, but what it is used for could still change.’’

Council’s sixth priority area is seeking fairness and balance in the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and demanding no more water be removed from productive use in the Southern Basin.

Mr Evans said the NSW Coalition is working on a suite of ideas to improve water management, including individual valley strategies on infrastructure requirements, raising the Wyangala Dam on the Lachlan and $25 million to invest in the Bradfield Scheme ‘‘to bring more water into the basin’’.

‘‘In the shorter term, we’re chasing the Murray Darling Basin Authority to reverse losses caused by too much being pushed through the choke.

‘‘We are trying to get water into general security accounts.

‘‘We also want to see a reallocation of dilution flows — there is no need for it as there are no high salinity issues, which there hasn’t been for about 20 years.

‘‘We’re also calling for a hard cap on the Barmah choke — we already have one at Tumut and we need something similar at Barmah.’’

The $3.2 million for Deniliquin Hospital announced on Monday is expected to pay for a new maternity nursery, theatre upgrade, pharmacy space, relocation of the oncology clinic, the creation of a treatment space for paediatric and adolescent patients, a new CT scanner and a much-needed reconfiguration of spaces in the emergency department.

While welcomed, local health advocate Shirlee Burge says it’s about ‘‘$80 million short’’ of what the hospital really needs.