Road budget spent mostly in bush: MacTiernan

19 Apr, 2006 08:45 PM
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FARM lobby groups' allegations of inadequate government spending in the bush are false, according to Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan.

Ms MacTiernan dismissed such claims as "twaddle" and suggested farmers had made a habit out of attacking the State Government's spending priorities.

"The degree of government subsidy per head of rural population is higher than that of the city population per head," she said.

"In my regional and rural trips I have seen some country health and education facilities far better than in my Armadale electorate.

"Although 74pc of the WA population lives in Perth, 63.7pc of the state road budget will be spent on rural and regional roads in this budget."

Ms MacTiernan said the country school bus service was an excellent example of useful and focused rural and regional spending that assisted many rural residents.

"The country bus service for primary and high schools attracts $80 million a year," she said.

"We also have subsidised air travel for people in remote and rural locations in the Kimberley and patient-assisted transport to Perth.

"Despite the rural attitude to the Mandurah rail line, many farming couples will probably retire down to Mandurah and will want that kind of rail access to Perth at that stage."

The Minister said rural people had advantages from living in the bush, such as less crime, friendlier communities and free natural attractions just outside the farm gate.

She was aware of farmers' concerns over road conditions and encouraged them to address the issues with the appropriate government.

"The Great Northern Highway is a federal road responsibility," Ms MacTiernan said.

"Main Roads is carrying out works on the highway, but the Federal Government decides how much money we get to do that.

"Farmers affected by the state of the Great Northern Highway need to look at a few of the National Art Gallery acquisitions of late and then ask questions of the Federal Transport Minister."

Ms MacTiernan said the Southern Transport Corridor project in the Mid-West and the Karratha-Tom Price link road were two projects that would directly assist farmers and pastoralists.

"The Geraldton Port upgrade alone has saved farmers $2/t because of reduced costs," she said.

The Minister acknowledged understanding about each other's situations was necessary from city and rural people.

But WAFarmers economics executive officer Ross Hardwick said the Minister's 63.7pc rural-spending figure depended on how rural and regional areas were defined.

"Rural roads tend to be delegated as a local government responsibility whereas regional road projects such as the Southern Transport Corridor are state-funded," Mr Hardwick said.

"The projects the Minister has referred to are in regional areas and it is often areas like Bunbury, Busselton and Geraldton that receive the bulk of state road funds.

"We accept we need to lobby the Federal Government about the Great Northern Highway, but it is a two-way shooting match.

"Our own State Government should also be lobbying on our behalf - on their rural constituents' behalf."

Mr Hardwick said all Mid-West farmers appreciated the Geraldton Port upgrade and agreed it had saved them a small amount per tonne.

But mineral dust from iron ore being loaded at the port was contaminating grain shipments and subsequently affecting their prices.

"That is why the proposed Oakajee port north of Geraldton is so important," Mr Hardwick said.

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