Widespread anger and dismay. That about sums up the reaction of Queensland councils to the Newman Government’s decision to “refocus” the all-important Royalties for the Regions program to allow not only all councils but state government agencies to bid for program funds. It means that what the LNP promised before the election would be a carefully targeted fund for those councils most impacted by the rapid growth of the resources industry has now became a big bucket of cash for all and sundry. LGAQ President Margaret de Wit was quick to call this for what it was, a complete contradition of the program's original intent. What is more, the LGAQ understands that while councils will bid for $60 million in funding this Royalties for the Regions round, government agencies will be able to access $120 million. All this while many councils have yet to found out how their funding bids for the last round of the program went.
Mayors have lined up to back Cr de Wit’s public criticisms of the Government’s move. Western Downs Mayor Ray Brown went as far as says that Royalties for the Regions had now become a pork barrelling exercise. In Karumba, a meeting of the North West Queensland Regional Organisation of Mayors resolved to write to Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney condemning the decision to redirect funds away from councils and toward government departments.
What really galls the mayors is that the Government is suggesting that the need for funding to ensure local infrastructure can cope with the demands of a rapidly expanding resources industry has passed. Yet in the latest round of the program, project after project that councils have identified as in need of funding is either yet to receive funding or has been knocked back outright.
As for Seeney’s claim that limiting Royalties for the Regions to councils directly impacted by mining was always a “pilot”, someone forgot to tell his department about it. State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Department publications extolling the virtues of Royalties for the Regions mention its application to local government and “local prioritisation” on just about every page.