Tweed Shire funds threatened

MILLIONS of dollars in urgent Tweed Shire Council works are under a cloud - along with $900 bonuses for thousands of local people - because of a legal challenge to the Federal Government's economic stimulus spending in the High Court.

A Northern NSW law lecturer and senior National Party member Bryan Pape has challenged the constitutional validity of the tax bonuses due to be paid to most taxpayers within weeks - throwing into doubt the constitutional legality of other Federal Government spending, particularly direct grants to local councils.

His case, which goes to the High Court next Monday, argues that any such spending should be directed through the states.

But under terms of the federal grants, Tweed Shire Council must spend millions on projects such as park beautification, bikeway construction and the provision of CCTV cameras in Kings- cliff and Murwillumbah before September.

Only last Friday, Federal Labor MP for Richmond Justine Elliot announced that over the next five years, local councils across the North Coast would receive unprecedented Federal financial help amounting to about $9 million to maintain and upgrade their local roads.

But she refused to comment on the uncertainty thrown up by the legal challenge.

“As the matter is before the court it is not appropriate for me to comment,” Mrs Elliot said.

“I will say, however, that the stimulus package is not something that the Government has rushed into.

“The Government was very careful in preparing this legislation and is confident of its position.”

A spokesperson for Tweed Shire Council general manager Mike Rayner said the council was proceeding to spend its latest multi-million dollar package from the Federal Government as quickly as possible.

“We have our money and we will be proceeding,” she said.

“A requirement of that funding is it should be expended before September 2009.

“We are on track and just going for it.”

Tweed Nationals president Murray Lees yesterday dissoci- ated his party from the challenge.

“He (Mr Pape) has certainly not got any official backing from the party and he is funding it himself,” Mr Lees said.

President of the Australian Local Government Association Cr Geoff Lake has warned the court case has serious implications for more than $6 billion in payments to councils in recent years.

He warned if the High Court upholds the challenge, councils may have to repay billions, saying that “would cripple commu- nities across Australia and potentially lead to a crisis in the delivery of hundreds of services at the local level."

Last Friday Mrs Elliot announced the Rudd Labor Government would provide North Coast councils with more than $8.75 million from its $1.75 billion Roads to Recovery program.

Under the plan Tweed Shire Council would get another $6,116,770 and Byron Shire Council $2,653,135.

The High Court will hear the case on March 30 and 31 and the Australian Taxation Office has told the court if it is to stop printing cheques, it needs to be told by the close of business on April 2.

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