Royalties funding defended by Nats
North West Central MLA Vince Catania has defended Royalties for Regions funding for the Ningaloo Centre after the Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan singled it out as an example of an unsustainable project under the policy.
Nationals MP Mr Catania said the centre had been the subject of 20 years worth of community lobbying in a bid to improve tourism and business opportunities and would drive employment opportunities.
“Exmouth’s economy is based around tourism and the Ningaloo Centre is a tourism project that is going to create employment,” he said,
“Building the facility has created local employment and it is going to drive future employment in the tourism sector, because it’s an iconic piece of infrastructure and something the community has been fighting for for the last 20 years.”
“It has enabled the transformation of Exmouth’s CBD into a workable town centre to allow businesses to be able to function better and provide for growth.”
Mr Catania said local governance issues surrounding the centre which were the subject of a Corruption and Crime Commission investigation last year were separate from its core business case.
It comes after Ms MacTiernan last week confirmed a major shake-up to the Royalties For Regions scheme, suggesting funds would be “re-prioritised” for genuine job and infrastructure programs such as solar power schemes rather than spending on small town recreational centres.
Ms MacTiernan said there had been a lack of rigour around RFR spending and many projects had left country shires saddled with facilities they could not afford to maintain.
The minister said there were several projects coming up that were being considered for funding, which might now be axed under an increased level of scrutiny.
Ms MacTiernan said rather than funding “ribbon-cutting opportunities”, Royalties For Regions should be funding genuine infrastructure projects such as renewable power schemes in the Goldfields that would encourage mining investment.
She zeroed in on the troubled $30 million aquatic research centre at Exmouth, which was at the centre of the CCC inquiry, and moves to suspend the local council.
Ms MacTiernan said she had been made aware research tenants at the facility were paying sub-commercial rates, leaving the Shire to foot the bill for a $70,000 operating subsidy.
She criticised the focus on the construction of recreational facilities, which had left some country towns with buildings that could not be maintained by small pools of ratepayers. “There are question marks and we are finding more and more question marks around the ability of many of these communities with very small rate bases in the future to sustain these,” Ms MacTiernan said.
Labor went to the State election promising to retain RFR but Premier Mark McGowan has pledged to “even out” the program and made regional election promises funded with RFR money.
WA Nationals leader Mia Davies said Labor’s suggestion it would “reprioritise” RFR funding was code for slashing the program and putting the money into projects that should be funded out of general expenditure.
“Royalties for Regions was the most scrutinised spend in government,” Ms Davies said.
“Every project required a business case to be prepared by the department responsible for the project, assessed by the Department of Regional Development and submitted to Cabinet for approval.”
One Nation WA leader Colin Tincknell said his party was open to changing RFR and was ready to have discussions with the Government.
“We are very much in favour of RFR but it can be improved and it can be more flexible,” he said. “I do feel as though the agricultural and South West regions have missed out in important areas of infrastructure — major concerns to the electorate.”
An artist’s impression of the proposed Ningaloo Centre.