No coal dividend for health services

Nurses and patients in the Upper Hunter Valley are still waiting to see the benefits of the mining boom.

The Singleton/Muswellbrook region contributes more to New South Wales state government revenue, and receives less government spending in return, than any other part of the state.

This is revealed in the government’s Economic Assessment of Mining Affected Communities, which calculates how much tax is raised by the state in each Local Government Area and how much each LGA gets back in local infrastructure and services.

The assessment resulted from a pre-election pledge by the NSW Liberal/National coalition of a “Resources for the Regions” policy to put more funding into those communities where the mining industry is a burden on infrastructure and services.

The assessment found that Singleton and neighbouring Muswellbrook LGAs delivered an average $20,468 per resident in taxes, royalties and other revenue to the state government in 2010-11; five times the state average of $4139.

The Singleton/Muswellbrook contribution included a whopping $709 million in mining royalties, or 57% of all state mining royalties.

However, the people of Singleton and Muswellbrook received the lowest total government spending, equivalent to $5396 per head compared to the state average of $6058.

Most mining-affected communities were found to have received more capital and recurrent funding per capita than non-mining LGAs, but Singleton and Muswellbrook were found to receive less funding than other LGAs.

It is widely recognised that the mining industry can place serious strain on a region’s public services, especially health. Muswellbrook has six open cut coal mines close to town. In the period 2007 to 2009, Muswellbrook residents had higher rates of emergency department presentations for both asthma and overall respiratory illness than the remainder of Hunter New England Area Health Service and Sydney.

Singleton and Muswellbrook local government areas have higher rates of cardiovascular disease hospital separations than all of Hunter New England Area Health Service or NSW as a whole.   And Muswellbrook’s demand for health services is growing fast, with a 1.7% population increase last year.

In September 2010, the NSW Department of Planning published an environmental assessment of a proposal to expand the Mt Arthur coal mine, five kilometres south of Muswellbrook. The department noted that “health services are already strained, and the project would strain these services further.”

It approved the project on the assumption that royalties would flow back to the shire to improve health and other services.

However, the nurses of Muswellbrook, who have battled for two years to get funding for one extra emergency department nurse, are still waiting for the benefits of the mining boom to materialise at their local hospital.