GREG RAY: Walking the fiscal cliff

IF I were Newcastle City Council I think I’d have done exactly what it just did.

To ensure the proposed Anzac memorial cliff walk was built, and linked to the existing Bathers’ Way paths, I’d have hunted about for $1.5million to chip in for the job.

Not that I think the process that led to the point where the council was asked for the money was ideal. Actually, I think it’s pretty odd that councillors were told they wouldn’t have to put their hands into ratepayers’ pockets at all, only to be hit later on with what looks to me like an ultimatum from the NSW government.

Chip in the bucks to link the pathways and the good old state government will do its bit and find $12million to help you finish off the Bathers’ Way, is how the offer has been reported.

What would have happened to the $12million if the council said no to the $1.5million isn’t exactly clear, but we’ve been given the impression there was a link.

It’s a fact that the whole thing has been surrounded by bad politics.

Is it smart to be cutting the blazes out of your public services, whingeing about your deficit, slashing the jobs and pay of little folk and creating panic about your “unsustainable budget”, then suddenly realising you’ve got a lazy $1.5mill to drop over a nearby cliff?

No, it isn’t.

Is it smart for the state government, supposedly keen to have its man re-elected when the time comes, to be so visibly intent on ripping bucks out of the joint that a lousy $1.5million is some kind of deal-breaker?

I don’t think so.

Bad vibes are coming from all directions, especially in the stinky wake of the art gallery mess, that just never seems to end.

But when I try to put all that aside and look at the deal on the table, I still say I’d do what the council has done, even if I was cursing under my breath while I signed the deal.

I’d spend $1.5million to secure another $12million to get the big ticket Bathers’ Way coastal path finished off, to get a decent 2015 Anzac centenary memorial (mostly paid for by BHP) and to link that memorial with the coastal path system.

I might hate feeling held over a barrel by the government, but I think the broader benefits are worth it.

As for the Anzac centenary memorial itself, I prefer useful memorials to purely decorative ones, as a general rule. We’ve got enough neglected plaques and monuments scattered around the place as it is, and the walkway being proposed is a much better idea.

I can understand why Tim Owen has backed the idea, because can anybody seriously want Newcastle to celebrate what will be a momentous anniversary without creating some worthwhile civic keepsake?

My preference would have been to have done something with our criminally neglected old post office building, already the site of one of Australia’s most significant World War I memorials and the place where Novocastrians gathered for decades to mark great and important events.

But with that building still rotting away in tragic limbo, subject to an Aboriginal land claim, it couldn’t work, even if the government had the will to make it so.

In the circumstances, the cliff walk seems a respectable alternative.

Not sure what I think of the idea of plate steel silhouetted soldiers and service people along the walkway. How durable will they be? Will they have sharp edges that might cut people? Will they be vandal-prone? Will they look suitably dignified or might they seem a bit daggy?

I guess I’ll have to wait and see a more refined proposal before I decide.

But in the meantime, while I sympathise with those who feel put upon and abused by having to fork out a lot of money when we were told the project wouldn’t cost us a cent, I still rate the cliff walk a reasonable investment, all things considered.

An artist’s impression of the proposed Anzac memorial walk.

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