I wish to use my time today to discuss an issue that is causing much angst amongst Eyre Peninsula communities, that is, the proposal to increase the NRM levy for ratepayers. There has been a groundswell of opposition from the Eyre Peninsula Local Government Association, local councils, and ratepayers in the region, and rightly so. As someone who was born and bred in Whyalla, I am particularly fortunate to be able to stand up in this place to discuss issues affecting a town that has been such an important part of my life, and I wish to take just a few moments to share with the chamber what Whyalla ratepayers in particular could face with this proposal.
Whyalla residents currently must contribute $2.20 to the EPNRM levy. However, should the proposed increases be approved, Whyalla ratepayers will be forced to pay an extra $51.30 annually, which is no small rise in anyone’s language. The levy would then be increased in 2008-09 to match the rest of the region (currently $105 per household). However, and as Port Lincoln mayor Peter Davis said on radio last week, this year’s cash flow is subsidised by previous years’ retained funds to the value of $1.5 million.
Mayor Davis’ concern for ratepayers in the region is that, without the subsidised cash flow, they could be looking at a contribution of $150 per annum per household. This would be a bitter pill to swallow for the ratepayers within these communities. To be parochial again, if we go back to the $2.20 that Whyalla residents are currently paying then the massive rise is just too much to bear. It would mean that levy funds collected from Whyalla would be at least a third of the total levy income from the entire Eyre Peninsula region.
It must be noted that, out of the 73 current EPNRM projects, just three are directly related to Whyalla. Whyalla Residents and Ratepayers Association president, Mr John Herring, has labelled the proposal `obnoxious, and nothing more than cost shifting from the state government.’ Port Lincoln council CEO Geoff Dodd has called the proposal `excessive’, and Whyalla mayor and Eyre Peninsula LGA president Jim Pollock has asked for some consistency with the rest of the state. Evidently, the state average contribution to the levy is about $25, but people on Eyre Peninsula would be looking at paying well over $100 more than that each year.
Certainly the levy will fund some worthwhile projects, but councils need to exist within their means, and that is why we are seeing such opposition to this excessive proposal. Again, and to reflect on what the proposal means to a town like Whyalla, I repeat that out of the 73 current EPNRM projects just three are directly related to Whyalla, so ratepayers have a right to ask where is the value for money. Whyalla is experiencing some strong growth and prosperity at this time, and this is something for the town to be proud of—I know I am extremely proud. However, there are still many people in the town who are finding it tough to make ends meet, and this proposal will make it that much harder for them. There are many workers, young families and pensioners throughout the entire Eyre Peninsula region who can ill afford such an excessive rise, and these people have a right to ask whether they will be getting some value from the proposed excessive levy rise.
I note that the Eyre Peninsula LGA has written to the environment minister regarding the proposal. I would be extremely interested to see whether the minister can provide any explanation to justify the rise, so I flag that there is a question coming. Certainly, when one looks hard enough there is some useful information on the NRM board’s website, but the government needs to ensure that the broader community is properly consulted about the proposal. From feedback received from ratepayers and councils in the area it is clear that the community will not accept such a big rise without a massive fight. Many of these people expect the government to fund any increase instead of passing the buck onto ratepayers; and perhaps this government, which is collecting a massive $2.7 billion more in revenue each year than did the former Liberal government, could do just that.