Following is an assessment by the Pastoral Times on the key issues facing our region, and what The Nationals have about them:
Health: Member for Murray Austin Evans says there is a moderate chance of $1.5 million in funding for what are considered essential and urgent upgrades to the entrance and emergency department at Deniliquin Hospital. Local health advocates claim senior personnel from Murrumbidgee Local Health District told them more than a year ago the emergency department was to be upgraded. They believe Deniliquin Hospital has been neglected for decades under National Party representation.
Policing: Mr Evans refused to oppose downgrading of Deniliquin Police Station, which occurred just months after a new $18 million building was opened. When in Opposition, the National Party acknowledged that it was unfair for the Deni Ute Muster to be paying about $100,000 a year in fees for police services and vowed this practice would be reviewed. Nothing has happened.
Water: The Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which is having a significant impact on the viability of local food producers and communities, has been implemented under the watch of The Nationals. Many people, especially those impacted by the Basin Plan, do not believe The Nationals, including Mr Evans, have done enough to stop the damage it is causing.
Snowy Hydro funding: Austin Evans and his leader John Barilaro, during a visit to Deniliquin in October, appeared to support a proposal for Snowy Hydro funding to be used to underpin local water allocations. Commenting on a feasibility study into the proposal Mr Barilaro told the Pastoral Times: ‘‘If there’s a solution to come of this that brings confidence back and ends the anxiety about what’s next, I think it might be a good solution. We should look at a feasibility study. I think there is an opportunity around that, absolutely.’’ There has been no funding for the feasibility study.
Education: Deniliquin High School desperately needs several million dollars in upgrades, but these continue to be ignored by the NSW Coalition Government. Mr Evans has been unable to obtain funding. The school says there has “been an evident shift of local families seeking more modern facilities for their children”, as it struggles with a student population that has declined by 25 per cent in recent years.
Airport upgrade: Edward River Council continues its push for an upgrade to the Deniliquin Airport, which could see the region become a freight hub into Asia. While millions of dollars in various funding streams are poured into Mr Evans’ northern base of Griffith and Leeton, Deniliquin continues to wait for vital infrastructure funding.
Local Government: In May 2016 the NSW Coalition Government announced the merger of Deniliquin and Conargo Councils to form Edward River Council, and the merger of Murray Shire and Wakool Shire to form Murray River Council. This broke a commitment, supported by The Nationals, that there would be no forced local government amalgamations.
Agriculture research: At a time when agricultural research in the region is desperately needed to make the most of reduced water availability, the NSW Coalition Government continues to downgrade research facilities in Deniliquin. Austin Evans has not stopped these downgrades, including the removal of important glasshouse facilities from Deniliquin’s Charlotte St Department of Primary Industries site in 2018.
Population predictions: False population predictions by the NSW Coalition Government’s Department of Planning and Environment could be a reason for Deniliquin being a low priority for vital infrastructure and services. Using a temporary population decline during the Millennium Drought as the basis for its analysis, the Department predicted Deniliquin’s population would decline to 5700 by 2031 (just 12 years away). Subsequent population analysis has shown this prediction to be clearly incorrect, but it has not been changed despite efforts from local government. There are also concerns the prediction is discouraging investment and development in the region.
Timber harvesting: Austin Evans has failed in his attempts to get sustainable timber harvesting returned to the region’s forests. Despite lots of rhetoric, it was something he was never likely to achieve because he has not had the support of city-based Liberal colleagues, in particular Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton. We believe Nationals Leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro will not intervene because he does not want to upset the Liberals.
During his visit to Deniliquin in October the Pastoral Times met with Mr Barilaro and Mr Evans and subsequently sent a letter outlining our concerns on various local issues. That letter has never been acknowledged, nor has a response been received, despite a further request at the end of November.
This letter stated: “Mr Barilaro, as you acknowledged during your visit to Deniliquin our region has been ignored by Governments for far too long. We need remedial action and we need it quickly.” It seems, yet again, we’ve been given nothing but lip service by The Nationals on the important issues which underpin our community.