STAWELL and Ararat residents were able to see the considerable force of the state government on show last week.
On the same day that Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins released the Commission of Inquiry’s report into Ararat Rural City Council, the Victorian Environmental Protection Authority swooped on the Stawell Tyre Yard.
It was not hard to find people in Stawell who asked the entirely reasonable and obvious question: Why hadn’t the government acted sooner?
However, the tyre yard’s owners tried and failed in last-minute legal action to stop the rubber mountain of nine million tyres from being removed due to alleged fire hazards.
Another reasonable question is being asked: Would the state government have taken any real action at all if there hadn’t been a devastating recycling yard fire in the suburbs of Melbourne?
After more than a decade of living in the tyre yard’s shadow, Stawell residents are entitled to answers to those questions.
Over at Ararat, Ms Hutchins appears to be doing her best to get Ararat Rural City Council to back away from its plan to abolish differential rates.
Ararat Rural City councillors are due to vote on a rating strategy on Tuesday night.
The Commission of Inquiry’s report appears to have sided largely with the farmers and agreed that removing a 45 per cent discount for primary producers was not fair.
Having personally attended and reported on the inquiry’s public hearings in Ararat, I was given an brief insight into the struggle that many farmers face in their regions.
In one case, a farmer was left praying for a substantial drought concessional loan from the federal government and was more worried about scraping enough cash to survive day-to-day, let alone pay off rates bills.
I believe that is was unfortunate that no pensioners, city residents or business were able to give public testimony at the hearing, for farmers are surely not the only ones doing it tough.
Low wage growth, retail competition from the internet and high regional unemployment have surely left many people and businesses dreading the next unavoidable bill.
But it shouldn’t be forgotten that the state government, through its rates rise cap, and the federal government, through its assistance grant freezes, have reduced financial flexibility for rural councils.
Rex Martinich is senior journalist for Ararat Advertiser and Stawell Times-News