Petition pressures Elliot

MINISTER for Ageing Justine Elliot is under growing pressure to restore an $110,000 federal grant for the construction of a long-awaited skateboard park at Tweed Heads South.

Teenagers who initiated the project yesterday joined with North Coast National Party Senator Fiona Nash to call on the Richmond MP to "come good" on the previous overnment's commitment to fund the park.

A petition with more than 500 signatures organised by a local skateboard shop owner also urges the government to end the political buck-passing and provide the crucial funding needed to complete the three-year-old project.

This follows a decision by Tweed Shire Council last month to forge ahead with the $280,000 design stage in the hope that the federal government might come to the party and revive the youngsters' dreams.

Ms Elliot declined to speak yesterday, but issued a press release in which she renewed claims that the National Party lied about providing the funding under the now-discredited Regional Partnerships Program.

Her claims are strongly disputed by National Party MPs, including Ms Elliot's counterpart and shadow Minister for Ageing, Margaret May, who say former Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile had signed off on the grant.

Their view appears to be supported by a recent staff report to the council which says the promised money was conditional on co-funding from the NSW state government, but it was lost because the state failed to give its commitment until the election.

Ms Nash says by then the government had put all grants on hold while it reviewed the program, citing its impact on inflation and alleged lack of transparency.

"In this case, neither argument holds water the $110,000 will have no inflationary impact on a trillion-dollar economy," Ms Nash said.

"The project is clearly worth it, otherwise Tweed council and the state government would not have put up their share of the funding.

"Justine Elliot needs to put the needs of Tweed youth ahead of her political career and use her influence to come good on the commitment from the previous government."

Ms Nash said other local grants approved but not formalised by the previous government had been honoured since the election, including CCTV cameras for Murwillumbah.

A group of teenagers who initiated the funding applications say they are bewildered and disappointed by the turn of events.

"We couldn't believe our luck when Mark Vaile arrived here and announced that we would get the money we asked for," said Brandon Fuller. "But we were pretty wrecked when we learnt that it wasn't going to happen."

Brandon said he and friends decided to embark on the self-help project about three years ago, following advice from staff at the South Tweed Bowls Club who had banned them from skateboarding in the club's car park.

"We are still as keen as to get the skateboard park because it will help keep everyone out of trouble."

He said the nearest facility was at Coolangatta, but it was a "real mission" to get there because no-one in their age group had a licence.

Funding for stage one of the project comprises $75,000 from the Tweed's combined clubs, $30,000 from the NSW Department of Sport and Recreation and $175,000 from the council's own coffers.



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