The Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) is mounting a concerted push to get Premier Colin Barnett’s government to restore its key regional infrastructure funding program that was unceremoniously slashed under the 2013/14 State Budget.
As the next State Budget in May fast approaches, WALGA President Troy Pickard is spearheading a fresh campaign to persuade Treasurer Troy Buswell to restore substantial funding to the Country Local Government Fund (CLGF) to tackle a $2 billion backlog of stalled projects that were put on ice because of the last budgets cuts.
The campaign by the councils has been spurred on by what WALGA claims are “reports that Royalties for Regions funds are flowing in quicker than they can be spent.”
The topic of the WA government allocating funding generated by lucrative mining and resources royalties is a visceral one in the West where many communities see huge investments in the mining and minerals industry in their own back yard, only to watch the wealth sent back to the cities.
Since 2008, the WA government had allocated funds in the CLGF through its Royalties for Regions program that was created by the National Party of WA to redirect government spending into rural areas to maintain their infrastructure and help keep regional areas economically viable.
The annual allocations from the state government were especially welcomed by regional councils that sorely needed extra money to help maintain their key infrastructure that catered for both rural and mining communities.
The highest allocation under the CLGF was $94 million in the 2011/12 financial year.
However regional councils were forced to absorb a surprise sting in 2012/13 Budget when the overall allocation was cut to $58 million and even further down to $31 million in the 2013/14 Budget.
Funding figures as presented in the 2013/14 Budget papers looked even grimmer for local governments with the 2014/15 forward estimate for the CLGF allocation put at just $41 million and plummeting to $6 million in 2015/16.
According to WALGA, the state government announced in May 2013 that it would scale back the CLGF so that only “existing projects” would be completed.
The main justification in WALGA’s attempt to persuade the state government to restore money under the CLGF is that the funding is needed to improve regional infrastructure to the point that it encourages more people move to and to live in country areas.
The WA capital of Perth has over recent years earned an unenviable reputation as one of the most expensive cities in Australia thanks to money flowing from the mining boom that has pushed up property prices, salaries and even the price of food and beer.
Mr Pickard argued that restored regional funding “redress the population pressure in the metropolitan area”.
“A review of the Country Local Government Fund found that it had been well managed and provided necessary community infrastructure,” Mr Pickard said.
He said Royalty for Regions funds will assist regional areas in “creating modern, vibrant communities” by delivering housing, infrastructure upgrades, health and education facilities and business development opportunities of a “high standard”.
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