Mayor hits back in highway stoush

IN THE wake of increasing pressure being put on politicians to fast-track the upgrade of the worst stretch of highway in the state, Coffs Harbour’s mayor and state and local members have been trading verbal blows for a week.

Shadow Roads Minister Andrew Stoner accused Councillor Keith Rhoades of being a Labor mouthpiece on the highway issue.

Cr Rhoades met with Roads Minister David Borger last week and was quick to highlight the outcomes of that dialogue that are likely to see interim safety measures put in place between Urunga and Nambucca Heads.

Here, the mayor responds to Mr Stoner’s accusations of political motivation:

I WOULD like to respond to comments made in the past week by Mr Andrew Stoner, Leader of the National Party in New South Wales. Mr Stoner, I make no apologies for my actions over the past week. Why is it still the fact that local mayors find it necessary to have to speak with government ministers when it should be the job of the local member? Simply, you are not getting outcomes or results.

Why, Mr Stoner, did I have to pick up the phone and get an appointment with the minister within 24 hours to try and get an outcome on behalf of our local communities? Following my representations last week we now have those outcomes that hopefully will save lives on the Pacific Highway south of Urunga, the same outcomes that myself and mayor Mark Troy of Bellingen achieved some five years ago, following the carnage at Bonville while we waited for the Bonville deviation to be commenced.

Why could you not have done, as we the mayors have done, and that is simply pick up the phone and talk to the person who can give you an outcome? It appears that you have a communication problem with the government considering that you are only one or two floors above from the minister’s office. For heaven’s sake walk downstairs and knock on his door and get the results that our community needs to stop the carnage on the Pacific Highway.

Mr Stoner, I am not driven by any political party as you state. My community is well aware that my politics are totally independent. I am not, repeat not, a member of any political party. Your statements in media over the past week and under parliamentary privilege claim by your comments that I am aligned with the Labor Party. Mr Stoner I have many working relationships with many State ministers and members of parliament both Labor, Liberal, Greens and most of all the independent members.

Mr Stoner at no time did I say that you or the member for Coffs Harbour had not made representations to government regarding outstanding works required on the Pacific Highway. I did state that on information I had received at my meeting with the minister that you and the member for Coffs Harbour had made no representations to the minister following the three major accidents near the Hungry Head turnoff. This is confirmed by the statement in media by the member for Coffs Harbour that he has sent a letter to the minister’s office on Monday, November 22, the day before I met with the minister. Why did it take so long Mr Stoner for you to act?

Mr Stoner, you and the member for Coffs Harbour in media last week stated that I am playing politics with carnage on the Pacific Highway. How wrong you are, and how disgraceful to make that comment about the loss of human life on our highway. I have compassion for the families of the victims. Mr Stoner, unlike you I have spent the past 37 years in emergency services with the New South Wales Fire & Rescue which calls on me to attend accidents and the extrication of deceased victims from motor vehicle accidents. I have seen more than my share of fatalities and serious injury as a result of accidents on our highway. My colleagues in Police, SES, Rural Fire Service and Ambulance would rather spend time with our families than attending accidents on the highway. Mr Stoner, those memories and the visions that I have witnessed over those 37 years will never leave me and this is my main drive to stop the carnage. Not playing politics, Mr Stoner. So excuse me for making representation as mayor of Coffs Harbour and on behalf of my colleague Mark Troy, mayor of Bellingen, to get results that will hopefully stop this tragic loss of life. I make no apologies for my actions.

Mr Stoner, for your information I was not upset by you calling me a ‘dog’ in parliament last week under parliamentary privilege. For a person in your position, our communities deserve better and expect better from our leaders than resorting to name calling. Learn the skills of communication, Mr Stoner, and do the job and get the results that our communities expect from our State members.



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