MP fights for access to Building Better Regions funding

MP fights for access to Building Better Regions funding

Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie says she will continue to fight for her electorate to access Federal Government grants for regional infrastructure after finding out the Adelaide Hills, including Mt Barker, was not eligible to access the Building Better Regions Fund.

The NXT MP has written a letter to Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash and will be seeking a meeting with the Senator to advocate for the accessibility criteria for the Building Better Regions Fund.

The following is the Hansard copy of Ms Sharkie’s speech on the issue in Federal Parliament this week.

“I echo the honourable member's motion that the National Stronger Regions Fund was indeed successful for New South Wales. However, in areas of Australia it did not reach the lofty heights that it did for the honourable member's home state, or indeed the honourable member's electorate.

The National Stronger Regions Fund invested $632 million into 229 projects. Yet in my home state of South Australia there were only 18 approved projects over the three rounds of funding, with a total investment figure of just over $56 million.

Unfortunately, there were no projects deemed worthy of federal funding in my electorate of Mayo, which has two of the fastest-growing regional areas in Australia. Despite this surprising anomaly, I do support a government initiative that seeks to assist in the strengthening of our regional areas.

It is vitally important to continue to invest in regional Australia. Too often, our regional centres have been left to fend for themselves whilst major metropolitan areas secure buckets of money.

I was initially excited when it was announced that there was going to be a new funding pool for regional infrastructure known as the Building Better Regions Fund, but imagine my dismay when I examined the funding guidelines to find out that much of my electorate, including the regional centres of Mount Barker and most of the Adelaide Hills, has been excluded from being able to access these funds.

Mount Barker sits roughly 40km from the Adelaide CBD on the eastern side of the Adelaide Hills. The region's population is currently estimated at 30,000 and it is predicted to rise to 50,000 within 20 years.

It is exactly the kind of area that would benefit most from this funding pool. Whether it had been an upgrade for a major road or the building of a community hub, these are things that we desperately need in our community.

 It has been raised with me that Mount Barker and the Adelaide Hills are not situated far enough away from Adelaide to be considered regional. To those people I say: you must never have visited my area.

There are several factors that make our region a true regional centre distinct from the Adelaide metropolitan area.

We have a lack of transport, we have long, windy roads and the topography and geography make us far, far away.

What makes this decision by the federal government even harder for me to understand is the fact that the following population centres have been deemed eligible to receive funding under this new scheme: the Gold Coast, with a population of over half a million; Newcastle, with over 310,000 people; the Sunshine Coast, with a population of just under 300,000; and Geelong, less than an hour away from Melbourne and with nearly 200,000 people.

And yet Mount Barker, with its modest regional population of just 30,000 has been deemed ineligible. Townships of 1,000 are not included. In my opinion, this is inconceivable.

I would like to hear what the argument is in favour of including the Gold Coast, which is the sixth-biggest city in Australia and a mere 70 kilometres from the third-biggest city in Australia.

 In a state such as South Australia, where manufacturing is closing down and our unemployment is rising, the federal government has not seen fit to invest in a region that is ready to boom.

Food producing and agriculture in the Adelaide Hills are crying out for national building infrastructure projects to allow them to display their talents to the world.

The best way to attract investment is to build better regions, not throw money at major urban centres like the Gold Coast.

I recently met with the National Growth Areas Alliance, a coalition of local government councils from outer urban and inner regional areas in Australia, and they have put forward a policy plan for long-term government investment in the outer suburbs of our major cities.

This is a dedicated infrastructure fund to replace the ad hoc nature of grant funding. They say that we are about $50 billion behind in investment in these areas. I fully support this idea.

These areas are home to families with small children, retirees and migrants, and they are constantly ignored in favour of metropolitan infrastructure projects. And so, while the honourable member is correct in saying that the National Stronger Regions Fund was successful in helping strengthen many regional areas around Australia—especially in New South Wales—I say that work is not yet finished.

Every state and territory must receive investment in it to make sure that Australia grows well into our future. I will continue to fight for the regional areas in my state that have been incomprehensibly excluded from this new fund.”