MERRIWA residents voiced their concerns about a growing disconnection between their community and government representation, particularly after the Merriwa amalgamation in 2004.
During the meet the candidates forum they asked their future representative what they would do to resolve the disconnection and improve liveability in Merriwa.
Robert smith, local Merriwa business owner said the 2004 amalgamation has been a “set and forget,” resulting in a centralisation of services based in Scone and lack of connection and understanding for the people of Merriwa.
“Were lacking people on the ground to connect us to government. What can you do to connect our local community to local government and ensure we get some money?” asked Mr Smith.
In order of appearance.
Steve Reynolds said the answer points to getting people on the local Council. “Put your hand up, run for your council, that’s how you fix things by putting them to your Council,” he said.
Dale McNamara said, “the bucks got to stop at the top, they’ve got to listen to people like you.”
Kirsty O’Connell said State Government should share their services with local government in terms of how information is accessible. She said local government needs to become more customer-centric and an elected person should always represent the community.
David Layzell said Council needs to come across[travel] more often and have consultation with communities, in terms of being available and listening to issues. “If I’m elected, I would be coming along to those consultations trying to get that communication from this side to the other because State Government put the council there too,” he said.
Jeff Drayton said the local member is the best place to start, as well as visiting local business chambers. “David’s right, thats how we find out what’s going on. Labor has an upcoming policy in 2023 where if Councils apply, they can have a referendum to decide whether top de-amalgamate,” he said.
Tracy Norman said the State Government has a program that provides a concierge between business and Councils. “It’s nice to think you’d have an executive manager in all of the smaller areas but to be honest, funding may be an issue for that salary. I see that as the job of the Mayor and the Councillors. When I was mayor, I would go to parts of the shire regularly in my RV mobile office,” she said.
Archie Lea said, “the points you raise should be sent straight to the MP.”
Sue Abbott said more funding needs to come from State Government to local Councils. “With more resources we could do what you suggest, there needs to be more of a presence, the Coalition hangs onto a lot of money because of pet projects. Councils need to be funded better, with less levies and when they are there they need to come back. Then we can service our smaller towns. I take your point that Upper Hunter Shire Council is very Scone-centric and lot of stuff goes into there compared to here,” she said.
Sarah Thompson, Cassilis resident said because all candidate had been talking about the issue of liveability in rural communities, including mentioning being able to work and live from home, how would they solve the telecommunications issue in rural areas which currently have inadequate and unreliable service?
The question was directed to the Nationals and Labor Party candidates only.
David Layzell said communications is a Federal issue and they are working to solve the connectivity problem. He said the State Government is not leaving it solely to the Federal Government and will be pushing for further projects and funding. Mr Layzell said, “the future is very bright . . . I think $300 million has been put in. They’re building 140 new towers to help with mobile reception around the state and 120 are currently being built.” When asked how many towers would be built in the Upper Hunter, he said “I’m not sure, a few.”
Jeff Drayton said there’s still plenty the state can do. He said, “I share your pain” and acknowledged lack of telecommunications is more of an issue more with more people now working from home. Mr Drayton said it is not an issue he’s dealt with directly during his campaign but he would “follow it up.”
For more information on where candidates stand: Voting 101: Upper Hunter by-election.