By CAITLIN CROWLEY
OVERHAULING the funding pipeline for local councils and improving transparency around which projects receive federal government support are top priorities for the Federal Minister responsible for Regional Development and Local Governments.
Speaking in Toowoomba at the Sustainable Economic Growth for Regional Australia (SEGRA) Summit, Kristy McBain said there needed to be an “evidence-based” approach to investment across the regions.
“The captain’s pick, call, of random infrastructure which we’ve all seen take place previously needs to stop,” she said.
“We have designed a Regional Investment Framework because for far too long we’ve seen ad hoc decisions take place.
“There hasn’t been a transparent framework in which everyone can see – these are the things we want to invest in, these are the reasons we’re going to do it.”
The Regional Investment Framework was announced in the Albanese Government’s May budget and has four priority focus areas; investing in people, places, services and industries.
“We need to value the voices that we’re hearing much more than they have been and value local priorities,” McBain said.
“If the Federal Government can be transparent about its investments, the state government can then hinge its investments off that.”
The Minister also spoke about how funding from federal and state governments had transitioned from “program” to “project”, meaning Councils always needed to “have their hands out” for their next piece of infrastructure.
“Instead of local governments being given autonomy to actually put in place their local priorities, they’re applying for grants constantly for the project that they need done,” she said.
“Instead of program funding which would see them be able to make their own decisions.”
McBain said state and federal governments should consider where “untied grant funding” would actually be the best use of taxpayer money.
She also wants the recovery payment process for local governments after natural disasters to be improved, having experienced the significant gap between when the federal government makes funds available and when councils finally receive the money.
McBain was Mayor of Bega Valley Shire in New South Wales during the Black Summer bushfires.
“The time lag is way too long and we need to make sure we reform the system and streamline it, to make it easy for Councils,” she said.
“Part of my criticisms over the Black Summer Bushfires was this competitive grant funding that came immediately after where we had volunteer not-for-profit groups competing against Councils, competing against business for some economic recovery grants – it was an absolute recipe for disaster.”