THE Coalition’s plan for a National Stronger Regions Fund will be a massive boost for FNQ, which has been sorely neglected under Labor’s Regional Development Australia Fund, says Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch.
“Time and time again I’ve spoken out about the disproportionate amounts of funds that have gone to Labor or key independent seats,” said Mr Entsch. “Here in Leichhardt, in four rounds, we have had just two ‘successful’ projects worth around $5.5 million out of a total of $575 million.
“The Torres Strait Sea Walls, a project that blatantly didn’t fit the criteria, was meant to receive $5 million from Round 2 but more than a year on, the funding still has not been released. The other project, in Round 3, was $480,000 to upgrade the Northern Peninsula Area airport refuelling services hardly an innovative or exciting economic driver.
“Round 5 projects are currently being assessed but I’m not holding my breath.”
Crumbling sea walls on Saibai Island in the Torres Strait
The Coalition’s plan, released yesterday, will deliver a dedicated National Stronger Regions Fund to build social and economic infrastructure that is missing in the regions.
“It’ll have an initial allocation of $200 million per year at least a billion dollars over five years and we expect the amount to increase as the Australian economy recovers,” Mr Entsch said.
“It will be targeted to regions with low socio-economic circumstances and where unemployment levels are higher than the national average; unfortunately Leichhardt ticks both those boxes.
“From Cairns to Port Douglas, Mossman to Cooktown, Weipa to the Torres Strait, I can list plenty of opportunities for new social and community infrastructure. Investment in these will help to address some of the disadvantages that people in regional and remote areas have to deal with.”
Each project will require a 50 per cent matching contribution from the project proponent, local or state government, in the same manner as the old Regional Partnerships program was run under the Howard government.
“Despite all the attacks that Labor threw at the Howard government’s program, our FNQ Area Consultative Committee (ACC) – capably led by Robert Blanckensee as the Chair- was recognised as the best in the country,” Mr Entsch said. “Individuals like Thomas Viera, Sue Fairley and Fred Marchant also did an outstanding job and more than $74.4 million was invested in the region in just four years.
“This investment drove Cyclone Larry recovery, small business seminars, strategic partnerships, assistance to the dairy industry, community enterprise, tourism development, research and development for rural industries and indigenous small business, among others.
“A number of these continue to make a great contribution to our regional economy JCU students at the Large Animal Surgery and Veterinary Teaching Facility in Malanda are receiving world-class training, cocoa plantations in the Daintree now supply highly sought-after Australian-grown and produced chocolate, and the Sugar Industry Reform package contributed to the ongoing viability of the Mossman Central Mill, to name just a few.
“This new fund under a Coalition government will ensure long-overdue recognition of Leichhardt, and the importance of strong regions to our country’s future.”