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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6194

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) (5:14 PM) —I will respond on local government and the Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia will respond on regional development. The member for Dunkley asked who supported our decision to bring forward the first instalment of the financial assistance grants to local government. The Australian Local Government Association in a media release said:

Councils will also welcome early payment of the first instalment of $479.7 million of $1.9 billion in Financial Assistance Grants to local government.

I say to the member for Dunkley: ask the mayors in the bushfire affected areas in Victoria, for example, whether they supported this measure. Ask them who supported this initiative. The member for Dunkley also raised the issue of the timing of local government funding. We held the Australian Council of Local Government here in Parliament House at the end of last year. It was not attended by the Leader of the Opposition or the Leader of the National Party, but we went ahead anyway and it was an extremely successful event. Mayors from all around the country attended and next week more than 400 mayors will gather here once again for the Australian Council of Local Government held in conjunction with ALGA as requested by local government.

We had a process whereby we dealt with the allocation of the $800 million, both the $250 million to each local government area and the $550 million for strategic projects, in a way that ensured that the funding was provided as soon as was possible, contingent on good processes, including, after consultation with the Audit Office, ensuring that there was good value for taxpayer money. We had a process for the $250 million whereby each council had to have its application in and it had to meet the criteria. Every council in the country benefited from it, unlike the scam under the Regional Partnerships program, condemned by the National Audit Office, whereby 10 coalition seats—every one of them coalition seats—got most of the money under that program.

Under strategic partnerships we also had an appropriate process that ensured that we had outside bodies look at each application to make an assessment of whether it met the guidelines and to do a risk assessment. Under that you will note that 53 per cent of the funding for the $800 million went to Labor seats, 41 per cent, I think the figure was, went to coalition seats and six or thereabouts went to Independent seats. In fact the Labor Party got less than the proportion of seats that we hold in the parliament.

Can you imagine that happening under the former government? Under the former government the amount of Regional Partnerships program funding, the amount of community infrastructure funding for local government in my electorate, for example, was zero—not a cent in 12 years. Every single electorate in this country has benefited, and every single local government area has benefited as well. On the speed of projects, we have delivered $800 million over 18 months. The previous government allocated about $70 million a year for RP and there were some projects that were announced in 2004, such as the Dalby Wambo events centre, where the contract was signed by this government in July 2008. It sat there for four years and nothing happened under RP, something that was criticised by the National Audit Office in their analysis of RP. The parliamentary secretary can talk about RDA.