The heat in the NSW election campaign has ratcheted up a notch on the north coast with Labor calling the Nationals’ promise to partially fund the Ballina marine tower ‘too little too late’ and the Greens accusing Labor of being ‘divided’ over the rail trial.
ALP Ballina candidate Paul Spooner yesterday issued a media release damning the Nationals’ offer of $350,000 and a low-interest loan towards the cost of building a replacement tower saying it was, ‘a cheap pre-election stunt’.
‘This is a very suspicious announcement. It comes with less than 80 days until the state election and without any firm details,’ Mr Spooner said.
‘The Liberal-National government has had almost four years to act – and finally with less than three months until the election, they’ve delivered a pittance.’
He later told Echonetdaily the grant was ‘barely more’ than the $300,000 volunteers have raised and that if the group had wanted a loan ‘they could go to a bank’.
‘If Ballina Council can come up with $1 million for this, it seems likely the state government could do a lot better than that.
‘There’s still a million dollars that needs to be found before this project goes ahead,’ he said.
Mr Spooner denied his comments were reactive and that Labor didn’t have a plan for the tower.
‘I’ve contacted the leader’s office and I’m lobbying to get some funding. I’ve had conversations about the marine tower already. I’ve had a proposal in to look at this and I’m just waiting on an outcome.
‘As you’d be aware it’s been a busy week for the leader but I’m hoping Labor will come to the party in terms of finding some better funding than what’s being offered at the moment,’ Mr Spooner said.
Mr Page told ABC radio this morning he was ‘pretty confident’ the federal government would ‘come good’ with another $1 million to complete the project, however the outcome of that grant application will not be known until after the state election.
ALP ‘divided on rail trail
A prominent northern rivers Greens campaigner has meanwhile accused Labor of being divided over whether the north coast rail line should be reopened or converted into a rail trail.
Sue Stock, who is co-publisher of Nimbin Good Times and an active member of the Greens, told Echonetdaily, ‘It is interesting that Paul Spooner, ALP candidate for Ballina, and Isaac Smith, ALP candidate for Lismore, have such widely differing views on the rail issue. Paul being against the trails and Isaac being gung-ho for them.’
The Greens have consistently called for the return of trains to the line while supporting a bike track within the rail corridor ‘if feasible’.
Mr Smith did not return Echonetdaily’s call for comment but Mr Spooner said a rail trail in Byron Bay would only bring more tourists into a town that is already choking with traffic.
‘To me it seems it’s missing the mark in terms of what the priority is in the Byron Shire area, given the transport difficulties we’re facing for people getting in and around town. That to me seems to be the number one priority that the state government should be looking at.’
‘We need to have a better sense of planning in terms of what’s needed, not just today but what’s going to happen in Byron in 10 to 20 years.
‘We had the West Byron release being approved last year, which is going to exacerbate the issues we’re currently facing.
‘I believe we need to work a lot more collectively. The state government needs to engage a lot more with local council and ensure that what planning is done is around a holistic approach.
‘We need to look at all areas in terms of transportation. One of those areas may be the licencing of buses and how that might provide a solution to transport within the town. Some sort of bus shuttle service that circulates around the town.
Mr Spooner categorically ruled out a return to rail on the line under Labor in the short term.
‘We’re not promising that at the moment but if we’re going down the path of abandoning the rail corridor… I think that’s shortsighted.
‘I think we should be looking at that corridor in and out of Byron Bay as potentially another transport corridor.
‘If traffic is going to get worse, maybe we need to look at what it would look like if we had another option here rather than just using Ewingsdale Road.’
Asked if Mr Smith was a supporter of the rail trail, Mr Spooner responded that he had ‘not had a conversation with Isaac about it.’
‘I do know that other local government areas are supporters of the rail trail idea. I do think the Byron end of the track is somewhat different.
‘I don’t say rail trails are a negative thing. I just think that in this instance, especially over the coming decade, the higher priority is working out how to move people in and out of Byron Bay,’ Mr Spooner said.