TOOT protest picture taken in 2005 at the Lismore railway station, a year after the State Government axed the Casino-Murwillumbah rail service.
TOOT protest picture taken in 2005 at the Lismore railway station, a year after the State Government axed the Casino-Murwillumbah rail service.

Rudd's $143m payday for Northern Rivers residents

THOUSANDS of Northern Rivers school students may be graced with new libraries, halls, science and language labs under the Federal Government's multi-billion-dollar stimulus package.

But projects that would ensure the region's long-term economic sustainability will lie dormant.

And while many community leaders welcomed one-off $950 payments for tens of thousands of families and students, the key priorities for the local economy - health care and the re-establishment of the Casino to Murwillumbah railway - do not factor into the $42 billion spending spree.

Announced on Tuesday, the package is aimed at schools, roads, community projects, and the hip pocket.

It is designed to stave off the impact of the global financial crisis by encouraging spending and generating jobs.

Locally, this could mean $3.4 million for a pool and aquatic centre at Evans Head, the revitalisation of Woodlark Street in central Lismore, $2.3 million for footpath and cycleway upgrades in Kyogle, and $2 million for a cultural and leisure centre at Lennox Head.

Every school in the area would be also eligible to apply for capital works and maintenance funding from a $14.7 billion national pool.

But while most welcomed the package, there was scepticism about the long-term benefits for the region.

“There's not a good history of the region getting good allocations,” Southern Cross University Pro Vice-Chancellor Neal Ryan said.

Professor Ryan said the rail line was the area's most important infrastructure need - and would also address concerns about greenhouse gas emissions associated with transport.

“The opening of the rail line would achieve both goals,” the public policy expert said.

Federal Labor MP Janelle Saffin said she would support a State funding application for the railway - which many would like expanded into a regular commuter service and ultimately extended into Queensland.

However, the State Government, which was responsible for closing the line, has made no such moves.

Public transport advocate, NSW Greens MLC Ian Cohen, last year asked the Federal Government to consider redeveloping the line.

Health services are also key concerns for local leaders, but have been left off the stimulus package target list.

Lismore Nationals MP Thomas George said the expansion of Lismore Base Hospital, known as stage three, was the most vital project.

“Stage three is the most needed infrastructure project for the whole of the area,” he said. “The facilities can't cope.”

Catherine Cusack, the Lennox Head-based Liberal MLC and Opposition environment spokeswoman, agreed.

“We are in desperate need of a one-off injection of funding of $80 to $100 million,” Ms Cusack said.

Expanded health facilities would also mean an increase in regional public service jobs, she said.


What's needed: Redevelopment of the Casino-Murwillumbah rail line and its expansion into Qld 

Cost: Between $30 million and $280 million, not including Qld link 

Long-term benefit: Local commuter transport service, increased tourism, better access to south-east Qld 


What's needed: Expansion of the entire hospital

Cost: $80 to $100 million 

Long-term benefit: More long-term jobs, better health services, particularly for the burgeoning older population, less stress on existing services, jobs in construction 


What's needed: Improvement of east-west road links 

Cost: More than $600 million 

Long-term benefit: Allow agribusinesses in Casino and Kyogle to expand and link with Qld, improve travel for rural residents travelling to Lismore and the coast  

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