ROYALTIES for Regions (RfR), the child of an uneasy marriage between the Liberals, who only wanted power, and The Nationals WA, who were trying to differentiate themselves from the Liberals, is now eight years old.
It has now attained “most favoured child” status by Liberals, Labor and, of course, The Nationals WA, with all now arguing over the child’s future and its educational needs.
All in all, the RfR is even more proof of the statement, attributed to (among others) Count Ciano, son-in-law of Italy’s wartime leader, Mussolini, who declared that “victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”
The Nationals WA have a very simple attitude to RfR – namely “hands off”.
The Liberals either will defend it to the bitter end, or perhaps, it requires “greater emphasis on economic development”.
To a large extent, their views are irrelevant, for its immediate future will be decided by the new, and extremely broke, Labor government and Food and Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan, who is also the minister responsible for RfR.
If called upon to define Labor’s attitude to RfR, the answer would have to start with “that depends”, for there have been several statements from several ministers on its future.
New Treasurer, Ben Wyatt, said he found it “stunning” that the Department of Regional Development would get a one-line allocation in the budget of $1b for RfR, money that would then be spent “without any reference to Treasury or Cabinet”.
He then quoted Treasury as claiming that, in these circumstances, it meant that “it would be very difficult to make informed decisions on the merits of particular (RfR) projects.”
Three weeks later the same journal quoted the 2014 audit as claiming “The RfR is the only State Government program that ensures its projects are approved by Cabinet twice, once through the annual budget process and via a formal submission and business case”.
The queue of those confused should form on my right, but as the advert says, “there’s more.
The Nationals WA new leader Mia Davies has claimed that regional WA is about to head back to “the dark old days of city-centric government”, yet Ms MacTiernan’s comments sound very much like Colin Barnett’s from last year.
The then Premier commented that “The (RfR) emphasis needs to be on developing productive economic infrastructure, areas such as building light industry, improving electricity and water infrastructure and sewerage”.
That all appears good, but it does sound a lot like the thoughts of the various Labor ministers who will be making the RfR rules in future.
Although country people are pretty well united in believing that rural WA had been receiving a poor deal from governments of all colours, not everyone believed that RfR was administered as well as it should have been.
It was common to refer to the RfR program as either a government slush fund or more likely, The National Party WA slush fund, while many would also question the choice of projects funded.
I once suggested to a National polly that instead of specialising in community centres, RfR should find the $300m needed to fix the Tier 3 rail lines but I was told “Not our job”.
Others who claim that the ALP will start using the RfR money to fund items that would normally be funded directly by Treasury, seem to forget that the Barnett government provided much of DAFWA’s and Muresk’s funding from RfR.
But if the government decides to ask rural people about the future of RfR, they will have lots of new halls for their meetings.