|Title||FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION REFERENCES COMMITTEE
Regional Partnerships Program
|Committee Name||FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION REFERENCES COMMITTEE
|Questioner|| ACTING CHAIR (Senator Johnston)
|Reference||Regional Partnerships Program
ACTING CHAIR (Senator Johnston) âI declare open this hearing of the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee. Todayâs hearing is part of the committeeâs inquiry into the administration of the Regional Partnerships program and the Sustainable Regions Program. The committee has previously held 14 public hearings for this inquiry and has published a number of submissions, which are available from the committeeâs web page. This morning the committee visited the Karnet Prison Vocational Integration Program project at Harvey, EG Greenâs and then the In Town Centre expansion project here in Bunburyâin other words, the Shoestring Cafe, as it is more adequately known by local people.
This afternoon the committee will take evidence from a number of organisations and individuals, as listed in the hearing program. We will commence the hearing this afternoon by hearing from Mr Owen Jones and Mr Cameron Gilmour, who I welcome here today, along with Mr Jonesâs guide dog, Blaze. It is always important to get the important personalities into the Hansard, Mr Jones!
Evidence given to the committee is protected by parliamentary privilege. This means that witnesses are given broad protection from action arising from what they say and that the Senate has the power to protect them from any action which disadvantages them on account of the evidence given before the committee. Could I remind you that the giving of false or misleading evidence to the committee may constitute a contempt of the Senate. The committee prefers to conduct its hearings in public. However, if there are any matters which you wish to discuss with the committee in private, you can make an application at any time to the committee for us to go in camera, which means that the room will be cleared and you can tell us what you want to tell us about any of the matters that are before the committee.
The committee decided during an earlier meeting that evidence given by all witnesses to this inquiry should be given under oath or by way of affirmation. As stated earlier, whether or not witnesses give evidence under oath or affirmation, providing false or misleading evidence to the committee may constitute a contempt of the Senate. Can I call on Mr Owen Jones and Mr Cameron Gilmour to receive the oath or the affirmation. Mr Jones, do you wish to be sworn or affirmed?
Mr Jones âI am prepared to swear.
ACTING CHAIR âMr Gilmour, do you wish to be sworn or affirmed?
Mr Gilmour âSworn.
ACTING CHAIR âThank you, gentlemen. You have now been sworn in by the secretary. Thank you for coming along today. What would you like to tell us about the Augusta Community Development Association?
Mr Jones âThe Augusta Community Development Association is an organisation that was put together 10 years ago. It is not like a ratepayers association that fights with the council about shire rates and things; it is an association we put together to benefit the community. Its objectives in its constitution are to identify the communityâs objectives and to work towards achieving those goals. So it is a bit different to what ratepayers and electors groups usually do. We are an incorporated body and we have about 85 members from the community. We run on the basis of a main committee and eight or 10 project committees on each of the projects that we are working on at any one time. It seems to work rather well. We have the cooperation and support of the shire council; we work together with them. We have the cooperation and support of the South West Development Commission and we have the cooperation of the South West Area Consultative Committee. We work together with the chamber of commerce and the Augusta-Margaret River Tourism Association to gain benefits for our town and the region.
ACTING CHAIR âHow has the Regional Partnerships program assisted your association?
Mr Jones âThe Regional Partnerships program allowed us to proceed with our regional hydrotherapy pool project. After conducting various leisure needs studies over about 15 or 20 years, the community identified the need for a hydrotherapy pool in the community. It has taken us 10 years of hard work and applying to the state and the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth application was the one that was successful. The problem that Augusta has had is that it has got a population of just over 1,000 people and it has been in recession since the BHP Beenup mine closed about six years ago. The state government promised at the time to look after Augusta and to make sure that action was taken so that people would not be disadvantaged. Unfortunately, all the problems with trees, timber and so on in Manjimup and over that way took over the governmentâs focus and they forgot all about us. We have got about eight shops empty, and the school population has gone down from 130 primary school students to about 95. Generally the town has been in recession.
When the local member of parliament, Mr Prosser, came down and told us that our application had been successful, the feeling of delight in the town was almost palpable. It was really the first nice thing that has happened in Augusta for 10 years. It is a joint cooperative effort, and we were very pleased with the Commonwealth for assisting us. It is a joint community association-shire-Commonwealth project. The day Mr Prosser arrived and made the announcement at the site of the proposed pool, about 30 or 40 people had turned up, and I had only made about three phone calls. So that was the interest in the town.
The community association contributed $22,000 to the project, which was a bequest from a deceased resident, to initiate the project. That was matched by the shire. About 10 years ago they built a shire house in Augusta. That was under the Whitlam governmentâI think it was called the RED scheme. Augusta had one of the highest proportions of unemployment in Australia. The shire, instead of creating jobs with the money, which they were supposed to do, built a house. We kicked up a stink about not creating jobs, so the council resolved that, when the house was sold, the money would go towards a hydrotherapy pool.
Just coincidentally, last year they sold the house. That has enabled the shire to fund the project with their share of the funding, without it adversely affecting ratepayers, for the capital expense of the project. So, with contributions from the community association, the shire and the Commonwealth government, we were able to complete the project. It is a little behind schedule but only to the extent of about a month. It was supposed to be finished by October but at the moment it looks like it will be November.
It has been a very productive exercise. Perhaps I will leave Cam to talk about the uses of the pool and the patronage. It is not just a town facility; it is a regional hydrotherapy centre. It is based in Augusta and people from there to Manjimup, Margaret River, Busselton and all of the surrounding towns will come in. We based everything on a predecessor at Jamestown in South Australia. They acquired, with a grant from this same source two years ago, a pool from the Sydney Olympics. With your assistance again and that of their council, their community worked together. Their population is about the same as ours. The demographic is about the same. They have surrounding towns as well. It has been operating for two years and it is operating at a profit.
So it is a delightful project where we can all join together and we do not have to worry about future costs and more cost to the community. The pool is a specifically purpose-built pool. It comes from America. It is widely used over there. It was selected by the Sydney Olympics committee as the best available hydrotherapy pool. Jamestown was lucky enough to acquire one. With your assistance it is in. Because it is of a size that will take a maximum group of six people exercising in the pool together, it only costs $10 a day to operate, including filtration and heating, so it is affordable. It is going to be great for Augusta but also for the regional community for rehabilitation and fitness. I will leave Cam to talk about those aspects of it.
ACTING CHAIR âThank you. Mr Gilmour, tell us a bit more about the pool. How big is it? How many people do you anticipate using it?
Mr Gilmour âIt is not much longer than this table and it is about as square as what we have in front of us. It is about 15 by 10. We intend to have only individuals under training going into the pool. It is designed for people to use who have all sorts of complaints. Also, its alternative is for the use of sportsmen. You can adjust the flow of water so that you are swimming against it in a very short area. The temperature is running at about 30 degrees all of the time. That assists leg joints and movements. We have it all set up for volunteers to work there, from first aid people to people on duty. Our pool is running a little bit behind time because of the weather. We have had such bad weather since 1 May. In actual fact, you could swim in the hole at present. Other than that, we are making great progress.
Getting it to this stage was rather unique. Mr Jones has covered a fair bit, but to get it to this stage and to push the nonbelievers asideâbecause a lot of them did not want it to happenâwe had to go out into the community and say: âThis is what the government is doing for us. We are going to make this an achievable event.â We got everybody working together, as Owen has explained, right throughout the whole region. So it has become a community effort of support. Then when the information came throughâand Mr Prosser was helping us all of the timeâit was unbelievable. Then our support was like a wave and it started to go forward.
ACTING CHAIR âI take it the Augusta-Margaret River community or the Augusta communityâ
Mr Gilmour âIt is the Augusta community.
ACTING CHAIR âI take it the age demographic is one of retirees?
Mr Gilmour âThat is right. About 60 per cent of them are retirees, arenât they, Owen?
Mr Jones âIt is 36 per cent.
Mr Gilmour âIn the population most of them are over 60. There is a berth there for you, Sir, if you get into that age group under 90âyou will be welcome in the community.
ACTING CHAIR âI will remember that!
Mr Gilmour âSo we have a strongly ageing group, and there was that support from all ranks of society.
ACTING CHAIR âTell me about the money. What does the total pool project cost? How much did Regional Partnerships contribute? Where did the rest of the funds come from?
Mr Jones âThe community association put in $22,000, Regional Partnerships put in $128,000-oddâ$130,000 in round figuresâand the shire council put in $160,000 but they have already gone over budget to the tune of $50,000. The original application was on the figures I have just quoted, but at the moment it is going to cost the shire $50,000 more than the cost estimates.
ACTING CHAIR âSo the total project value is $350,000 to $360,000?
Mr Jones âYes, that is exactly right.
Mr Gilmour âThe reason it has gone over budget is the change of plans on two occasions. The council have project officers. We cannot control the destiny of what they want to do, particularly when they are being so helpful and they are footing the overbudget side of it. We were not over budget with the original allocation from the Commonwealth.
ACTING CHAIR âAt the moment where is the project at?
Mr Jones âThe pool is in Perth. It is there from America. It is waiting to be installed on the concrete pad in Augusta. The site of the pool is the recreation centre at Augusta, adjacent to the gymnasium. It will be used conjointly at the recreation centre, near the football field, where all the recreational facilities are based. As Cam mentioned, it is not a pool that you swim laps in. There is a big paddlewheel at one end and you swim against the current from it. If I go for a swim, I will put it on âslowâ and go nowhere. If Shane Gould dives in, she can put it on âfastâ and she will go nowhere. It has got a built-in purpose-built exercise station for exercising knees, hips, shoulders, arms and everything else.
ACTING CHAIR âWhat do you anticipate being the average fee for a person who has an arthritis problem, has heard about the pool and travels from somewhere in the regionâsay, Manjimupâto use it? What are you going to charge them?
Mr Jones â$5.50 per session.
ACTING CHAIR âWhat is a session?
Mr Jones âEach session is half an hour. Rather than reinvent the wheel, what we have doneâbecause they started off with ideas and did things that did not work and they have modified what they originally started off doingâis physically adopt everything that they do and the way they do itâ
ACTING CHAIR âIn Jamestown, South Australia?
Mr Jones âYes, because they are making a profit.
Senator STEPHENS âI wish to talk about the project and the program itself. Can you tell us about your relationship with the area consultative committee?
Mr Jones âYes, we have enjoyed an excellent relationship with the South West Area Consultative Committee. Its people are very friendly but very firm. The officer that I had the most dealings with is its project officer, Jan Pedersen. Having done all the homework and decided on all the basic information that was required, we then met with Jan Pedersen, who helped us prepare a draft application. I must say that the draft application was redrafted five times. The committee are very thorough and they do not miss a bloody trickâsorry, perhaps I should not have said that. It was an exhausting process but in the end that did not matter because it was successful.
Ultimately, on the fifth redraft of the whole thingâand things are more difficult for me now than they used to be when I could seeâwhen I had a secretary from the community helping me, I think I said to Jan: âWe canât do any more. We canât be reasonably asked to do any more. We canât put in any more effort. For goodness sake, can we please just put the application in and, if it succeeds, it succeeds and, if it sinks, it sinks.â We went through it over 12 months or more. They are very thorough and completely inquisitive into every little section of everything. It was a big effort for the community to do it. It is probably easier in towns where you get support on these sort of things from the shire council, as a lot of towns do, but while our council was supportive and worked in cooperation it would not give us any resources to help us apart from photocopies. I am a retired human resources manager from the SEC, and I think I had to work harder and do more for the South West Area Consultative Committee on this project than I ever did in 30 years as a manager for the SEC. Then the application went from the South West Area Consultative Committee to Perth, where they had a few inquiries and met their people. Then I think from Perth it will go further to Canberra and whatever their processes are. You guys will know more about that than I do. It was thorough, complete and exhaustive.
Senator STEPHENS âDo you think the fact that it took you five drafts to get there was overly onerous for a community organisation such as yours?
Mr Jones âNo, it was not overly onerous because I realise that for the Commonwealth to provide fundingâand you have the whole nation to look afterâthe people who are considering and recommending that the minister approve these plans have to be pretty sure about what they are doing. In that sense, it is good that it was as onerous as it was. We had had enough, but it was a fair enough process.
Senator STEPHENS âThat is fair enough.
Mr Gilmour âOtherwise it looks dodgy. It is a problem getting everybody working together and doing all the homework, but I do not blame the administration for taking us to task and making things 100 per cent correct so there is no wastage of money.
Senator STEPHENS âHow quickly after the project was approved did you actually get the contracts?
Mr Jones âThe agreement with the Commonwealth was about a month after the announcement. The legally binding contract between the Commonwealth department and ACDA took only about a month.
Mr Gilmour âWe implemented that as soon as possible.
Senator STEPHENS âWere there three payments?
Mr Jones âYes.
Senator STEPHENS âHave you done the final acquittal?
Mr Jones âNo. The project will not be completed until November. We have received the first payment, and in January we had to give a full account of everythingâI think it had to be an audited statement. That first acquittal was done in January. The second one has not yet been paid.
Senator STEPHENS âSo you have not received your second amount?
Mr Jones âNo.
Senator STEPHENS âAre you anticipating that very soon?
Mr Jones âYes. The project has been delayed. We spent a lot of money on professional fees and those sort of things, but the hole in the ground and the concrete is happening as we speak. That will be the time when we seek the second payment. But the first payment wasâ
Mr Gilmour âQuicker.
Mr Jones âYes, it was a large amountâ$128,000 or whatever it was. That enabled the thing to get going.
Senator STEPHENS âDid you have any problems with the department because the project was delayed?
Mr Jones âNo, because in the legally binding contract that we have the project has to be completed in 12 months, and that contract was entered into in October last year. If it is not completed by October this year, there is a clause in the contract that says we have to refund the money. But we are currently talking to the department to try and get an extension of time due to unforeseen delays.
Senator STEPHENS âI am sure that will not be a problem at all.
Mr Gilmour âThe contractors cannot handle the situation; it is beyond them at this stage. But we will achieve the results. The money is all there and the enthusiasm will carry it forward. There will be no worries.
Senator MURRAY âOne of the purposes behind this program is to reach a situation where the community end up feeling they have ownership of the projectâbecause they have to commit a lot of time and energy to getting something upâand to ensure that the funds come from different sources so that there is full motivation and participation. Do you think that the Commonwealthâs share of things, being a third, is a fair way to go?
Mr Gilmour âIt makes the community pull together. You are not running the home of the good shepherdânobody would want to work. That is the situation; it is a community effort. It is like a fish on the line: you do a bit and we will help you, otherwise we will all just lie in the doldrums.
Senator MURRAY âYou mentioned that some people were opposed early on. Was that just because they are opposition types or because they thought the moneyâ
Mr Gilmour âThey are opposition types. You get them everywhere. Some are very influential in other areas.
Mr Jones âAlso, they were under the misapprehension that this was going to be like a heated public poolâa big thing that would run at a loss and cost ratepayers a heap of money every year. They did not have the picture of what it was really all about. Once they became aware of what we were doing and the fact that it would be cost negativeâalthough you still get opposition to anything from a few people, I supposeâthe majority of the community were totally in favour of it. When the pool is in use there can be a physiotherapist giving patients treatment. There can be a sporting or fitness coach, an aerobics instructor or all these sorts of people that are going to use the pool. If the physiotherapist says, âThatâs the exercise I want you to do; do it three times a week and come and see me next week,â under the health laws you cannot have anybody in the pool without somebody in attendance. You have two choices: you can employ somebody or you can have volunteers from the community doing it. We have taken the Jamestown route and got about 50 volunteers in the community already prepared to be there while people are in the pool.
Senator MURRAY âAnother aspect of the program is the intention to create a multiplier effect, so that a dollar spent on this project results in many more dollars being spent in other areas. What are the knock-on effects of this? This is going to be a building next to the community centreâcorrect?
Mr Jones âYes.
Senator MURRAY âYou have mentioned that a physiotherapist will now be able to set up shop thereâyou will have somebody employed. Are there other services and so on which are likely to grow from this so that, in fact, this forms the core of something much larger later on?
Mr Jones âAgain, under the health department laws the person who looks after the water quality has to be specially trained, qualified and certified. Our volunteers have to have St John Ambulance first aid resuscitation certificates and so on. The construction of it is employing builders and plumbers and all the contract workers. Use of the pool will create work for physiotherapists. Enclosed in our application were letters from orthopaedic surgeons stating that this facility is tremendous for the rehabilitation of their patients. So the benefits, perhaps, are not so much in creating other jobs but in bringing more people from the surrounding areas into the town to use the facility, and they may stop and use the local cafe or whatever. Sporting clubs and so on will benefit. So the benefits of physical wellbeing and community support are greater than the financial benefit from creating a number of jobs.
Senator MURRAY âSo your answer is that this will have a multiplier effect.
Mr Jones âYes.
Mr Gilmour âThis pool will be catering to the best part of a 100-mile radius in one direction, and anybody within our shire can use it. There is a difference between the 50 kilometres from Augusta to Margaret River but there is a huge community out in the bush, between us and Nannup, and that will bring these people into the town, which will build up various other projects because they will all be spending a dollar. The reason we went outâas I mentioned beforeâwas to sell the idea. Now that we have got everybody there thinking along the same lines it will boost the whole community. The distance is not a worry. People will be able to use this facility which they have never had before.
Senator MURRAY âThat is the value of community driven projects. If you try and plan stuff centrally you never get outcomes such as you are describing.
Mr Gilmour âIt is not like a shire hall or something like that which they might only ever come to once in a year; this is going to be operational all the time. That is the big thing.
Senator BARNETT âThank you for your presentation. It is a wonderful case study. The last time I was in your part of the world, about six years ago, I visited the Cape Leeuwin cave. Apart from being a very beautiful part of the world, like my home state of Tasmania, the cave is home to a Tasmanian thylacine skeleton. So we have something else in common.
The South West Area Consultative Committee have referred to your project as a case study in their submission to our inquiry. I refer to a statement about your project at the end of their submission. It says:
This outcome has only been possible because of the tenacity of community champions, like Owen Jones, and a unique funding programme like Regional Partnerships.
It is clearly an endorsement of your project and the Regional Partnerships program, so well done on that.
I want to ask a question about the timing of your application and the approval. Senator Stephens asked a little bit about this. According to this document, the application went in on 18 May 2004 and it was approved at the end of August 2004, so we are talking about just a few months for the application to be approved. Were you happy with that process, that once the application went in you got approval within a few months?
Mr Gilmour âI do not think we could have hustled along any faster.
Mr Jones âI would have thought it was a lot longer than that.
Senator BARNETT âThat is what the documentation says. That is why I am asking the question.
Mr Gilmour âI am not going to argue with the documentationâapart from the fact that I cannot see it.
Senator BARNETT âIt does not talk about the expression of interestâthat obviously went in before then, when you would have liaised with the ACCâbut the formal application went in in May.
Mr Jones âAs I said before, the application was prepared and redrafted and the final application went in. I would have thought it was earlier than that but, if that is what the document says, I will accept that that is right.
Senator BARNETT âI am just going through the process. It was three months until you got approval and it was announced. Did Mr Prosser let you know about theâ
Mr Jones âYes, he did.
Senator BARNETT âHe is a very hardworking member. He was obviously on the ball and wanted to let you know as soon as possible. You said that within one month you then had a contract with the department.
Mr Jones âI received a draft contract from the department. About a month, or two months at the most, after Mr Prosser told us that it was successful we received a contract from the department.
Senator BARNETT âWere the terms and conditions of that contract satisfactory to your organisation?
Mr Jones âYes.
Mr Gilmour âYes.
Senator BARNETT âYou then signed and executed the contract?
Mr Jones âWe then executed itâ
Mr Gilmour âStraightaway.
Mr Jones âand returned it to the department. We know we must live within that contract.
Senator BARNETT âExactly. That is my next question. Do you believe you have lived within and met the terms and conditions of the contract?
Mr Jones âYes, definitely.
Mr Gilmour âWe were geared up to go right from the start. Once we had made up the whole deal we had everything in place. It was either to be knocked back or we could go forward.
Senator BARNETT âHas the department, on behalf of the Australian government, met the terms and conditions of the contract?
Mr Gilmour âAt this stage, yes.
Senator BARNETT âThe only issue we have that needs to be put on the table is the time frame. According to the documentation it was meant to be due for construction in the first half of this year, 2005. Does that sound about right?
Mr Jones âYes.
Senator BARNETT âSo it is going over time. How far over time do you think it will be?
Mr Gilmour âIf the good Lord looks after us a bit further we will make the grade and probably only have to apply for a couple of months extension at the most.
Mr Jones âThe shire is employing a project manager and, in turn, a building contractor. Last week I received a new schedule for the completion of the pool. The pool is expected to open on 23 November this year. That makes it about a month over. We signed the contract in October last year and it said it should be completed within 12 months, so we will have to apply for about a monthâs extension to 23 November this year.
Senator BARNETT âBut you have a reasonable expectation that you will meet the terms and conditions of the contract in that time frameâ
Mr Jones âA total expectation.
Senator BARNETT ââand that they will then subsequently fund all of the remaining portion of the amount owed to your organisation?
Mr Jones âDefinitely.
Mr Gilmour âWe have meetings with the shire all the time to make sure things are going correctly.
Senator BARNETT âI think you indicated that you needed an extra $50,000 or $60,000 in funding.
Mr Jones âNo, that is from the shire.
Mr Gilmour âWe are not asking the Commonwealthâ
Senator BARNETT âNo.
Mr Gilmour âThe shire have come to the party because they want to give us better facilities to cope with our gymnasium and the whole lot. You can go through the pool area into the gym or whatever you want. Building the whole complex into that Lesser Hall situation where you have the gymnasium and the whole complex running together is causing the delay. Other than that, we hope to be on time. The reason for that is that we put in the time and effort at the beginning and now we have our flow-on of what to do. Owen and I go down to the shire to have regular meetings with the council executive and the engineer. I did not attend the last one a month ago but Owen was there. We have a hands-on approach all the time and if we do have a problem we can give them a needle.
Senator BARNETT âThat is fine. I do not have a problem with that. That is well explained. The documentation I have talks about your association doing surveys and having planning daysâyou have had several planning days. One of those in 1994 said that more than 94 per cent of the residents nominated the therapy pool as a high priority. From that we can assume that has overwhelming community support.
Mr Gilmour âYes, it has. On our last community planning day, which was last year, we had the same support. We do planning days where everybody can put a tick against a number of projects on a sheet. We have more projects than just the pool. You can see all the people that went along and nominated the pool. Even the ones that had to be pushed there in their wheelchairs put up their nominations.
Senator BARNETT âWell done to your association and thank you very much.
ACTING CHAIR âThank you, gentlemen. I do not think the senators have any further questions. Thank you for coming up from Augusta today, and we wish you all the best for your hydrotherapy pool. I am sure it will be a huge boon to the region, thanks to your foresight and your hard work as volunteers. I think your community will benefit substantially. The Hansard will be on the web site in a week or two, and you will be able to see what everybody else has said. A report that deals with the way Regional Partnerships funding is working Australia wide will be handed down some time in October. You will be able to read all that, and hopefully it will give you a broader understanding of your role in the wider picture of what Regional Partnerships is achieving. Thank you for coming today and have a safe trip home.
Mr Gilmour âWe will make sure that, when we open the hydrotherapy pool, you will get plenty of publicity!
Senator BARNETT âWe will make sure that the chairman puts his name down for an application to access your community at age 65!
Mr Gilmour âOnly if he can meet certain conditions! Thank you very much.