Regional Australians deserve better.

Regional Australians deserve better. Main Image

By Kristy McBain

26 October 2021

Nobody on this side of the House is saying that the projects that have been funded are unworthy. Let's make that clear. No-one is saying that projects that have been funded on that side of the House are unworthy. What we're saying is that they should be equally funded for communities that we represent, our regional and rural communities. My community of Eden-Monaro is 42,000 square kilometres. It's the 15th largest electorate in this parliament. It's larger than 55 countries. To suggest that the space or the area of your electorate is the reason you should get funding is an absolute farce, because my communities are rural and regional.

It is incredibly frustrating that we have community members who have to move to the cities for opportunities. But when regional funding or funding that is identified as regional is going to metropolitan projects, you can see how that happens. Over 3,600 regional grants have gone to major city projects. There was $16½ million of taxpayer money meant for the regions that went to the Sydney Cricket Ground. There was $10 million of regional money that went to the North Sydney pool. Who gets the benefit of that? If funding goes to a cricket ground in Sydney, it is likely that a cricket club in Cooma or Tumut has missed out. We have tremendous sporting talent in our region—and a shout-out for Jade Allen who debuted for the Sydney Sixers last week. It's an amazing achievement given that she's been doing her pre-season training on facilities that can't even host regional local events.

I understand that some of this funding which goes into the cities will benefit regional people, but not all regional people—let's be clear about that! The fact is that the Building Better Regions Fund, which was supposed to build stronger regional communities into the future, has been a pork-barrelling exercise. Since 2018, 90 per cent of the Building Better Regions Fund has gone to coalition-held or targeted seats, when Labor holds a third of the eligible seats for this fund. And it's unsurprising that this is the case, because coalition MPs were given the opportunity to lobby for projects that didn't quite meet the program's criteria. I wasn't given that opportunity. It is an absolute joke that the Bega War Memorial Pool, which is 65 years old, didn't receive funding and yet the North Sydney pool did. It's an absolute joke!

The last round of the Building Better Regions Fund included a hardship clause for areas to apply for 100 per cent of funding because they've been under extreme circumstances. I could go on and on about how Eden-Monaro has suffered a prolonged drought, had over a million hectares burnt in the Black Summer bushfires and has suffered 28 declared natural disasters in the last couple of years—not to mention the economic impact of COVID lockdowns and border closures—and yet we received a pittance of funding. It's almost like the clause was made for regions hit hardest but that the minister made decisions not on that basis. I have six local councils, all of whom would love money from the Building Better Regions Fund. They have tens of thousands of kilometres of road network, and yet no money came.

The Australian public deserves to know that decisions over grant funding are made based on merit rather than political interest. Councils, businesses and communities across regional Australia need to know that they'll get funding regardless of who their representative is. It's not good enough in 2021 to say, 'Sorry your regional community doesn't matter to us if we don't represent you'.

But it's not a surprise; it's actually not a surprise to people anymore. This is what people want; they're sick of the announcement and no delivery. Last week we spoke about the Emergency Response Fund, which has now grown to $4.7 billion. It has earned $700 million in interest and they've only committed $50 million of the fund. This is a fund for emergency response—for recovery and mitigation projects—but no money has flowed out of that fund yet. Australians are sick and tired of the continued and increasing misuse of taxpayers funding, and regional Australians are fed up with the power plays in the coalition that demand where the money goes. We need to restore faith in our democracy and this will only happen with a change of government. Regional Australians deserve better.