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Regional development subject to inquiry

Monday, 26th May, 2008

An inquiry into the way the Federal Government intends to manage the funding of regional infrastructure projects will also examine the alleged abuse of the funding by the previous government.

The Labor Government abolished the former Coalition Government's Regional Partnerships program because it said it had been used for pork barrelling in Coalition-held or marginal seats. But this led to the loss of local grants that the previous government had promised for the building of a pavilion at the racecourse, a new building for the Hearing Resource Centre, money for the city's new pool and for improvements to the White Cliffs' gymkhana grounds.

Gary Gray MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Regional Development, Anthony Albanese, said the The House of Representative Standing Committee will conduct the inquiry. The Parliament has also appointed Independent MP, Tony Windsor to assist the Committee in its consultations.

"In the Budget, the Government signalled a new direction on regional development and will establish a new and accountable Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program to fund local community infrastructure in regional Australia," Mr Gray said. "Good community infrastructure supports towns and communities and attracts greater investment and job opportunities.

"We are committed to consulting widely to develop the new program and make sure that the mismanagement of Regional Partnerships does not re-occur."

To this end, the Committee will consult and report on the future role and structure of the new Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program in order to, Mr Gray said, "invest in genuine and accountable community infrastructure projects."

It will also examine the former government's practices outlined in the Australian National Audit Office report on Regional Partnerships.

"The Government is serious about making sure that regional communities and stakeholders are consulted in the development of the new program - and the House of Representatives Committee will assist us in doing that," Mr Gray said.

"As part of our future policy development, there is value in looking at past practices to see what lessons can be learnt. "The Regional Partnerships program was run so badly that it was beyond repair.

"In contrast, our new program will encourage economic development and invest in genuine community infrastructure initiatives.

"Infrastructure development involves action, not only on larger scale projects like ports and roads, but also on projects which improve the quality of life within local communities."

Mr Gray siad the Government will work closely with the Committee and with local governments and other regional organisations to improve and better coordinate regional infrastructure and services.

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