Victorian Nationals Senator, Bridget McKenzie questioned the distribution of almost $1 billion by the Regional Development Australia Fund in Senate estimate hearings last night and asked specifically about its decision not to fund a critically needed job creation application from the Latrobe Valley.
The Government allocated almost $1 billion to the RDAF to support the infrastructure needs and economic growth of Australia’s regions, and in Victoria all but $1 million went to projects in ALP seats.
“Of the $36 million allocated in Victoria, four of the five funding packages went to projects in Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat, all held by Labor. The lead project from Gippsland missed out on funding all together,” Senator McKenzie said.
“This national program is designed to leverage Commonwealth, State, local government, private and not-for-profit investments for the long-term benefit of all communities, not just communities in ALP seats,” she said.
Funding was sought by Gippsland Aeronautics to facilitate the growth of the Latrobe Regional Airport as an aerospace industry centre and to expand regional employment opportunities. The project was to facilitate the expansion of GippsAero creating an additional 150 jobs at the Latrobe Regional Airport and an additional 30 jobs in the region.
The project budget is $6.24 million with funding from all three levels of government: $3 million from the Commonwealth, $2.74 million from the Victorian Government and $500,000 from Latrobe City Council. Council funds and the Victorian Governments funds are contingent on the Commonwealth RDAF funding.
“The Gippsland Committee advised the Government that this project was a priority for the region and requested it be given priority status,” Senator McKenzie said.
“Unfortunately the application was deemed ineligible as it did not include all the required documentation. The RDAF could have asked for the extra information. The Government was well aware that this project is a priority in Gippsland,” Senator McKenzie said in Senate Estimates.
When questioned by Senator McKenzie, the department admitted that the forms under Round 1 of RDAF were not ‘user friendly.’ The department did not anticipate the problems that have arisen especially in relation to what should be included in an application.
“The criteria for the new application forms has not been finalised. The process is disorganised. Gippsland Aeronautics is still waiting for the new forms so it can apply for Round Two funding due in November,” Senator McKenzie said.
“After questioning officials last night, it is clear that the criteria for the new application form has not been finalised and it is mid October, I am not confident that things will be sorted out by November, leaving Gippsland Aeronautics in limbo.”
“In the mean time the Latrobe Valley continues to be disadvantaged under this government. Rather than shoring up support in ALP seats, RDA should be focused on growing local economies in regional areas, irrespective who holds the seat. RDA should stop playing politics and start delivering funding where its needed – and create jobs that will secure our future in regional Australia.”
The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government received 553 applications submitted by local government and not-for-profit organisations. Up to $150 million was approved for investment-ready projects that supported the growth of local communities.