Balancing the needs of the regions

Balancing the needs of the regions

News
 Alannah MacTiernan, Minister for Regional Development.

Alannah MacTiernan, Minister for Regional Development.

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The major take away from WAFarmers chief executive officer Trevor Whittington's opinion piece in last week's Farm Weekly was that he needs some specs.

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THE major take away from WAFarmers chief executive officer Trevor Whittington's opinion piece in last week's Farm Weekly was that he needs some specs.

We recommend Trevor turns to page 183 of the State Government Budget Paper 3 - and see a full list of the $4.2 billion in Royalties for Regions funding our government is spending over the next four years.

It's concerning that the head of our State's farming advocacy group doesn't know his way around a budget paper.

Trevor's revision of history on the previous government's treatment of Royalties for Regions needs correcting.

The Blue on Green wars - the never-ending jostling between the Liberal and National parties in Colin Barnett's coalition government - was a structural fault line of the previous government.

The National Party - the needy junior partner - insisted that every cent spent in the regions be jointly announced with a National Party minister and emblazoned with the green Royalties for Regions logo.

The Regional Development Commissions - created in 1993 to drive economic development across the State - become miniature departments of Health and Education, without any of the history or expertise needed to ensure proper use of funds in those critical areas.

A "shadow budget" process emerged, where money was shovelled out the door without any of the independent oversight in place to protect taxpayer funding.

Funding for a hospital?

Warehouse the funding in a Regional Development Commission, make sure a National Party minister announces it, then rinse and repeat.

The result?

The Special Inquiry into Government Projects and Programs, led by John Langoulant, pointed to the mishandling of Royalties for Regions and the Regional Development portfolio as a key contributor to the demise of the State's finances under the previous government.

Trevor looks back on these days - and the $42b debt left behind by the previous government - as the heyday of good governance.

Over the past three years, our government - free of the burden of the Blue on Green wars - has gotten on with delivering for regional WA while bringing the State's finances back under control.

We're funding $4.2b in regional projects across the forward estimates, driven by the expert advice of the relevant departments and with proper scrutiny and oversight of spending.

Take the long-awaited $73.3 million Geraldton Health Campus redevelopment: funded through Royalties for Regions, led by the Department of Health and no need for an orgy of logos and ministers on every update.

Importantly, this has freed up the Regional Development Commissions and the Regional Development team in DPIRD to get on with the task they were created to do - driving economic development.

Programs such as the Regional Economic Development (RED) Grants - worth $28.8m over five years - provides commissions an opportunity to make targeted investments in job-creating projects on the ground in the regions.

These investments have enabled private sector projects in manufacturing, agriculture and tourism to get underway, creating sustainable jobs for our regional communities.

Development commissions have also taken the lead on our government's local content commitments in regional WA, with dedicated local content advisers in every region helping to link small businesses with lucrative government contracts.

In the agricultural space we have delivered desperately-needed certainty to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

The previous government's cuts to the agricultural budget are well known and led to the damaging habit of funding R&D through short-term Royalties for Regions grants.

In our 2019-20 Budget, the McGowan government injected $131m of additional expenditure into the department to provide a stable base moving forward.

Importantly, that included $59m from the Consolidated Account - putting agricultural R&D back into the core business of government, rather than a short-term Royalties for Regions project.

This has allowed DPIRD to get on with delivering critical R&D and biosecurity services for industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown more than ever the importance of a strong and capable department and network of commissions - which have been invaluable in providing regional and industry intelligence to government.

And it was particularly ironic for Trevor to point to telecommunications as an area for increased investment, in the same week that our government announced 63 new mobile base stations across WA and the switch-on of our first complete Digital Farm broadband network.

The Digital Farm program has been a real success - our $5m first round is rolling out enterprise-grade broadband to more than 1200 farm businesses across WA, with another $2m round to be announced in coming weeks.

Projects such as the Bunbury Outer Ring Road and the Bindoon Bypass - while obviously not a favourite of Trevor Whittington's - are critical transport links for regional WA and will be welcomed by regional residents.

We welcome feedback from WAFarmers on budget priorities - that is the organisation doing its job.

My job, as a minister, is to balance the needs of our regional communities, deliver the projects that our regions need and ensure our State's finances remain sustainable.

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