STATE government has abandoned plans for a fourth layer of government for councils in the state’s Far West and is instead dangling a $20 million carrot if they form two joint organisations.
Road upgrades, boosts to tourism, and better air services are in the wings for Balranald, Cobar, Broken Hill, Central Darling, Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke, and Wentworth if they agree to the terms.
Council representatives were presented with the plan for the first time today in Sydney.
So far, 90 per cent of councils across regional NSW (about 70) had volunteered to join a Joint Organisation since government’s reforms last year, with $3.3m seed funding allocated across 11 groups.
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Government says the Joint Organisation strategy allows for better resource sharing, job creation and better pathway to big regional infrastructure, services and facilities.
“Joint Organisations in the Far West would mean better collaboration across government, which would lead to better planning and more big-picture projects,” said Member for Barwon Kevin Humphries.
Labor, however, alleged the eight councils were required to sign legally binding “confidentiality deeds” not to disclose the details of the meetings with government.
“The so-called “bucket of money” they were promised today has a few holes in it,” added Opposition local government spokesman Peter Primrose. “The Government even re-announced funding that was in last year’s budget as ‘new funding’.’’
It is understood government’s ideal Far West situation would be for Balranald, Broken Hill, Central Darling, and Wentworth to form a southern joint organisation, and for Bourke, Brewarrina, Cobar, and Walgett to form a northern group.
The Southern group is further along in its decision.
A decision is due by the end of May.
The $20m package replaces the scrapped Far West Initiative, which in 2016 proposed a Regional Authority to sit above eight Far West councils.
The Far West region covers around 40 per cent of NSW and has a population of around 48,000 people, less than one per cent of the state’s total population.
Most of the local government areas consist of towns with between 2000 to 7000 people, except the Unincorporated Area, which had a population of 700 at the 2011 Census, and Broken Hill, which has a population of 19,000.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro said government’s proposal was a good deal for the Far West.
“We are doing everything we can to make regional NSW a location of choice - where people can get great jobs, run great businesses and enjoy a great lifestyle - and a commitment from Far West councils to join a Joint Organisation would no doubt go a long way in helping achieve that for the people living in the region,” he said.
The proposed funding package includes:
- $250,000 to each Joint Organisation to update existing western road plans in their region
- $500,000 to each Joint Organisation to employ an Executive Officer and any support staff required
- $250,000 to each Joint Organisation towards planning support with NSW Public Works;
- $5 million to each Joint Organisation to invest in tourism and culture infrastructure projects to grow the visitor economy; and
- Funding to re-establish Far West Air Services to Cobar, Bourke and Lightning Ridge or Walgett with the opportunity to upgrade airport facilities in both the north and south.
Funding from the $20 million package will be made available in the new financial year.