Tuesday night’s federal budget included a whopping $20 billion for regional Australia, but some local mayors and voters say the lion’s share of it isn’t intended to be diverted to ports, roads and dams.
Most important points:
- The budget includes more than $20 billion in regional spending
- $7.1 billion in funding has been earmarked for four regions in WA, the NT, Qld and NSW that are already “wealth-creating”
- Regional communities hoped there would be more spending on workers, childcare and housing
For example, $280 million has been set aside for infrastructure work at Lumsden Point in Port Hedland in Western Australia.
Port Hedland Mayor Peter Carter welcomed the money but said it could be difficult to get the job done given the dire shortages of labour, housing and childcare in the Pilbara.
“We need so many houses, we are so far behind the ball. I mean, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?’ he said.
North and Central Queensland are also overloaded with infrastructure money.
But in Tannum Sands, south of Gladstone, single mother Melanie Richardson feared she would soon be homeless as the National Rental Affordability Scheme ended.
“As everyone knows, there is no community housing,” she said.
Turbocharged regions already turbocharged
The regional budget war chest comes in the wake of Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce who reluctantly agrees to support the federal government’s goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The new funding adds to the billions of dollars in regional investments announced in this year’s federal budget, including:
- $7 billion for new dams
- An additional $2 billion for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund (NAIF)
- $1.3 billion for telecommunications, including $811 million for mobile connectivity
- $2 billion for existing measures to boost regional production and education
A staggering $7.1 billion was earmarked for “turbocharging” four regions, which the government recognizes as “creating wealth” for the nation.
They include the Pilbara, Northern and Central Queensland, the Northern Territory, and the Hunter region of New South Wales.
Shadow Minister for Infrastructure Catherine King has not failed to notice that seats in some of these regions will be hotly contested in the upcoming federal elections.
“We know that the National Party and the Morrison administration have taken shape when it comes to pork barrels in the context of an election campaign,” she said.
Port Hedland Mayor Peter Carter warned that such large sums of money should be spent “with caution”, noting that Mr Joyce issued a press release Tuesday night citing $400 million dollars for sealing the Tanami Road as a funding item for the Pilbara.
The Tanami Road is not in the Pilbara but instead connects the Northern Territory to WA’s Kimberley.
“I mean, $400 million for a road in the Pilbara would be nice. But the Tanami track is not in the Pilbara.
“You have to look at it [budget spending] very, very careful, don’t just throw money away. Check out the community to see exactly where it’s headed.”
Louise Belato of the Northern Territory Road Transport Association welcomed the money.
“Tanami Road is said to be the most degraded, unmade road network in Australia,” she said.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the four regions sharing the $7.1 billion were selected based on their proximity to ports.
“The regions are a priority for the coalition. We agree, liberals and nationals, that our regions are hubs for economic growth, jobs, investment and to take advantage of the growing middle class in our region,” he said.