NSW farmers’ representatives have called on the State Government to pay council rates for its growing estate of national parks and other public properties, saying other landholders must increasingly shoulder the burden of road maintenance and pest eradication.”It’s extraordinarily important, not just for farmers, but for the rural communities and for local government in areas where a national park is purchased,” said the NSW Farmers’ Association president, Charles Armstrong, after his executive council made the call at its Sydney conference yesterday.”The Government pays no rates and contributes nothing to the upkeep of the roads, the fences, the weeds in the district.”The 91,000-hectare property Toorale, west of Bourke, contributed to the cost of running the town’s infrastructure when it was a grazing and cotton property, but that stopped after its purchase as part of the federal and state governments’ water buyback scheme a year ago.”As soon as it is purchased for national park, that is a whole contribution area that suddenly drops to zero,” Mr Armstrong said. ”And yet the local bodies looking after the roads in those areas have to maintain those and other services on a smaller budget.”Property owners might eventually take the Government to court over the issue, said the Association’s Murrumbidgee region representative, John Ward.The conference passed his motion yesterday, which means the association will now ask the Government to continue to pay all costs associated with rural property it buys, including rates, water charges, boundary fencing, weed and pest control and public levies.Mr Ward lodged an application with Murrumbidgee Shire Council three years ago to close Four Corners Road, which leads past his Coleambally grape and prune property to Oolambeyan national park, on the grounds that the Government did not pay for its upkeep. He also phoned Deniliquin Shire Council to request that it close the road into another park for the same reason. In neither case did the council act on his request, he said.The farmers’ executive council also decided yesterday to press for public land managers to join other landholders in paying rates that support the state’s Livestock Health and Pest Authorities in their work combating environmental threats to farms.The executive called on the Government to fund the plague locust control program, rather than requiring landholders to do so through LHPA rates.The State Government has lent the Pest Insect Destruction Fund $22 million interest-free to cope with two big locust outbreaks in the past five years and now wanted it paid back in instalments, the meeting was told.Lucy Muirhead, a spokeswoman for the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, John Robertson, said the Government did not intend to change its policy of its being exempt from rates.
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