Nationals leader Warren Truss has confirmed that, if elected, the coalition will abolish the $2.5 billion Regional Development Australia Fund (RDAF), replacing it with a $1 billion ‘stronger regions’ fund, slashing the money available for regional development projects by almost two thirds.
Mr Truss has gone further, saying the coalition would tear up any agreements already made under round five of the RDAF if contracts had not already been let.
The announcement has prompted Local Government NSW (LGNSW), the body covering all NSW councils, to call on Tony Abbott to honour offers made in the recent $150-million round if he is elected at tomorrow’s federal election.
The Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sports had not finalised any applications received for round five of the RDAF before the caretaker period began and therefore no funding agreements have yet been signed with any council.
Joint President of Local Government NSW, Cr Ray Donald, said it was concerning that there was now uncertainty around the pledged funding for community infrastructure.
‘The department should be allowed to continue to process applications received and politics should not get in the way of vital funding for communities across Australia,’ Cr Donald said.
‘There are many community projects in NSW and across Australia that are now in limbo due to the uncertainty surrounding the RDAF funding.
‘If this funding is cancelled, it would be a major blow for councils looking to build community infrastructure.’
Joint president of Local Government NSW, Cr Keith Rhoades, said councils had applied for the grants in good faith.
‘Many councils already have tight budgets due to rate capping and cost shifting, but this funding would have enabled them to build the infrastructure their communities need,’ Cr Rhoades said.
‘These are projects which have been painstakingly put together by councils and their communities and have involved a large investment of time and resources.
‘We believe there is a moral obligation for a new government to honour the successful project applications and we call on Mr Abbott to commit to the RDAF funding if elected.’
The $150 million allocated to round five of the RDAF was announced by the then local government minister Anthony Albanese MP at the Local Government National General Assembly in June this year. Under this round of funding, $105 million was allocated to regional and rural councils and $45 million to metropolitan councils.
The RDAF was established by the Gillard government after the last election as part of its agreement with regional independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor.