Mayors propose a NR State minister

By ALEX EASTON

THE Northern Rivers will get its own State Government minister if Premier Bob Carr backs a proposal being prepared by the region's mayors.

A spokesman for Mr Carr said the Premier would consider appointing a minister to the region if the mayors put a written proposal to the Government outlining the reasons for wanting one and the responsibilities the portfolio should carry.

Northern Rivers mayors yesterday unanimously backed the idea, saying it would give the region 'a seat at the table' in State Cabinet.

It is a model already used at Wollongong, Newcastle and on the Central Coast, where region- al ministers have long been in place.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Alex Darling said having David Campbell, also the Minister for Small Business and Regional Development, as Minister for Illawarra made it easy to stay in face-to-face contact with other ministers and the Premier.

"I think it's made life very easy for us," Cr Darling said.

"I just rang him today and asked for a meeting with the Premier. He said to put it in writing, which I will, and it will happen."

Cr Darling, an independent heading a Labor council, said he was in near daily contact with Mr Campbell, who, as minister for the region, attend- ed many of the same functions as the Lord Mayor.

Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils head and Kyogle mayor Ernie Bennett raised the idea of a Northern Rivers Minister on Monday.

Yesterday, after Mr Carr's spokesman suggested the Premier would be open to the plan, Cr Bennett said he would write to Mr Carr asking for more details before starting work on a 'full-blown proposal'.

The region's mayors said they would want the minister to act as an advocate for the region in State Cabinet.

The Northern Rivers minister would need to unify regional issues that presently fall under several different ministers.

"Sometimes we're dealing with senior public servants, other times it's ministerially-appointed committees," Ballina mayor Phil Silver said.

"One gets the sense that each of these groups are reporting to their minister, but noone has over-arching responsibility for the Northern Rivers. It's a lack of co-ordination."

The mayors agreed that a minister for the Northern Rivers would have to help tackle a wide range of infrastructure issues, such as the Pacific Highway upgrade, the Lismore Base Hospital redevelopment, and the security of the region's water supply. Policy issues that a Northern Rivers minister could help with included tourism and the cost of housing.



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