At least the city looks pretty

29 Mar, 2006 08:45 PM
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FARM lobby groups have condemned the latest State Government plans to spend money on non-essential urban projects at the expense of the rural sector.

This includes half a million dollars earmarked for public art for the Perth-to-Mandurah rail project, which includes tall purple and orange poles and a sapphire clock to be built in the city.

At the same time, country residents are still battling for basic fundamental services such as better water, power and internet provisions.

WAFarmers economics executive officer Ross Hardwick said the plans added insult to injury for rural people.

"The Planning and Infrastructure Department can use the new stations on the Mandurah rail line as the place to express artistic flair," he said.

"That should be enough beautification as it is a rail line, not an art gallery.

"Most rural towns have built town entry features to beautify their area with local materials and volunteer labour and these rarely cost more than $1000.

"We want to know why the Mandurah rail line deserves such special treatment."

Mr Hardwick said rural people understood city dwellers needed reliable public transport systems to service the metropolitan area's growing population.

"But what about country people's transport needs?" he asked.

"The Premier's statement in this paper about making it a personal responsibility to deliver basic services to rural people was cheap rhetoric.

"Rural people want realities, like consistently clean drinking water, roads without huge potholes and services that city people take for granted, like internet."

Mr Hardwick said farmers were happy that Main Roads was upgrading the Great Eastern Highway, but maintained the Great Northern Highway needed works done urgently.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) economics committee chairman Garry Hyde echoed Mr Hardwick's sentiments.

Mr Hyde said farmers understood that while the bulk of the people lived in the city they needed such rail projects.

"But the decorative poles are a load of rubbish and a waste of money," he said.

"In terms of roads, it has taken the BHP mine project at Ravensthorpe to get us a decent road between Ravensthorpe and Esperance, despite farmers asking for one for years.

"If the government really wants to help farmers in their current situation then they need to allow us access to new industries like GM crops and biofuels, as well as improving basic services."

PGA property rights chairman Craig Underwood said the government continued to take farmers' land without compensation in the name of conservation, while it spent up large in the city.

"Millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent creating artificial wetlands in the city at housing estates and public land," Mr Underwood said.

"And yet government is annexing wetlands on private rural property at the cost of the landholder."

PGA president Sandy McTaggart said city-centric spending had become a feature of the State Government since one-vote, one-value legislation was passed.

Mr McTaggart said one-vote proponents assured country people they would not be worse off, but the writing was already on the wall.

Premier Alan Carpenter said the government was under pressure to meet the demands of people across all areas of the state.

"We spend 60pc of the road budget in rural areas and more than a third of the state education and training budget, or $1 billion, in the regions," Mr Carpenter said.

"We have also increased funding for the Esperance starling eradication program from $400,000 in 2004-05 to $750,000 in this current budget, which will assist local farmers."

Mr Carpenter said the government's rural commitment was further apparent in the $325,000 commitment to the Avon Industrial Park at Northam for power supply upgrades.

The Premier said pastoral agriculture had been well considered with $2m set aside over the next four years to develop potential ventures in WA pastoral zones.

WAFarmers economics executive officer Ross Hardwick said the $2m was welcomed but pastoralists in the Rangelands region were still crying out for drought assistance, three years after the drought began.

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