Byron mayor Simon Richardson has declared the shire has been ‘dudded’ in the most recent round of Regional Development Australia Fund (RDAF) grants, although the organisation says the distribution is easily explicable.
RDAF yesterday announced the results of its fifth funding round, with grants announced for most rural and some urban councils despite applications not yet having been called for.
According to the RDAF website, northern rivers councils will receive funding as follows: Ballina Shire $232,667, Byron Shire $149,681, Clarence Valley $668,200, Kyogle $229,587, Lismore City Council $436,455, Richmond Valley $316,430, Tweed Shire $613,184.
An RDAF media release says that ‘sporting facilities, libraries, town halls, playgrounds and essential community services such as childcare facilities, are expected to benefit from this investment’.
But Mr Richardson told Echonetdaily, ‘the funding… seems to be randomly chosen. There are no identified projects to account for the funding discrepancies and it certainly wasn’t allocated on a population basis. [Byron has] been dudded.’
In fact the funds are notional, councils are only guaranteed a minimum $30,000 funding in the round and have to nominate relevant ‘shovel-ready’ projects to be eligible for the remaining allocated funds.
Nevertheless, the pot of money available to Byron is much less than any of its neighbours and population alone doesn’t account for the discrepancy, as Mr Richardson pointed out.
‘Kyogle has less than a third of [Byron’s] population (approx 8,000) and received much more. Richmond Valley has less population and received more than double us. Clarence Valley has 50,000 to our 30,000, yet received over four times our amount.’
According to a spokesperson Regional Development Australia (RDA) the $105 million total funding will come from the Regional Development Australia Fund and constitutes the final round of funding promised under the deal stitched up with the independents when Labor formed government after the last election.
The RDA spokesperson told Echonetdaily, ‘a base grant of $30,000 will apply for all eligible local governments with the remaining funding in each state or territory to be distributed in the same proportion as the General Purpose funding component of the local government Financial Assistance Grants (as determined by each state and territory local government grants commission).
Echonetdaily put it to RDA that in choosing the state grants commission funding model it was effectively reinforcing a pre-existing bias towards some shires and against others.
The RDA spokesperson said the Financial Assistant Grants (FAGs) model had been in operation since the 1970s and was ‘the most equitable model available’.
Asked whether announcing the funds before projects had even been called for constituted a race to hand out money before the election, the spokesperson simply responded, ‘the government has outlined many times that five rounds of the Regional Development Australia Fund would be delivered during this term of government’.
The spokesperson reiterated that councils and shires will still need to apply for funding for projects but the amounts allocated on http://www.regional.gov.au/regional/programs/rdaf-round-five-funding-allocations.aspx are the maximum amount of funding for each shire and council as based upon by the FAGs model’.