Full story on BRC’s failed funding applications

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Statement issued by Keith Pitt MP in relation to Bundaberg Regional Council’s ongoing complaints about their failed attempts to secure federal funding:

“I am speaking out today because ratepayers across the Bundaberg region deserve to know the full story. I am absolutely fed up with Bundaberg Regional Council complaining that they’re hard done by. I have tried my best to work with Council behind closed doors over the past two years and have bitten my tongue each time they’ve gone to the media to blame the Federal Government for their financial woes. This will be my last comment on this issue, because I recognise locals just want us to get on with the job we were elected to do.

Not long after I was elected, Council indicated it had applied for federal funding for its multiplex sports complex through Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA). After making further enquiries, I advised Council that other infrastructure funding programs would be better suited. They ignored the advice and, as expected, the Department assessed the project against key eligibility criteria and deemed it ineligible for NDRRA because the proposed multiplex would in no way replace a destroyed or damaged evacuation centre.

Council then decided to follow my recommendation and apply for $8 million through Round One of the National Stronger Regions Fund (NSRF). I provided a letter of support to accompany their multiplex application. I didn’t know it at the time, but their submission – once again – did not meet basic eligibility criteria and was immediately struck out. Mid-way through the assessment process, Council contacted the Department in a mad panic seeking permission to amend their application to meet those criteria. Council expected special treatment, which is simply not allowed. An equal playing field is vital to maintaining the integrity of any competitive tender process.       

Mayor Mal Forman’s accusations this week that the “Bundaberg region continues to be overlooked” demonstrates his inability to accept responsibility for Council’s own failings in Round One. It also shows his ignorance of how Commonwealth funding programs work. The Department assesses each grant application against strict eligibility criteria.  As is the case with Council’s own competitive tender process, the best applications are awarded grants. A project’s success depends not only on its suitability, but also on how many other high quality applications are submitted. There is only a limited amount of funding allocated to a particular grants program. In the case of Round Two NSRF, 513 eligible applications worth $1.5 billion were submitted and 111 projects were approved, totalling $293 million. To put this in perspective, Council’s project was one of 402 nationally that were unsuccessful. Imagine how the Mayor would respond if businesses complained publicly every time their applications for Council tenders were unsuccessful.   

The Mayor claims that Council accepted input from the NSRF experts, Regional Development Australia – Wide Bay Burnett (RDA WBB). If Council did take advice, it did so very selectively. I was not the only one to warn Council against putting all its eggs in one basket. RDA WBB advised all local government applicants to submit more than one project for consideration. It is deeply concerning that the Council didn’t heed that advice, given Mayor Forman is a member of the RDA WBB board. Each NSRF application is assessed on its own individual merit, which means the more applications that are submitted the better our region’s chance of securing federal funding. Had Bundaberg Council been successful with another project, those savings could have been redirected to the Rubyanna Waste Treatment Plant.

I’m as disappointed as anyone that my electorate did not receive funding under Round Two of the NSRF. I, like other politicians, have no influence over the success of NSRF applications. The Department and Auditor-General strictly oversee these programs to ensuring the absolute best use of taxpayers’ funds, and rightly so. I can only hope the Council and other not-for-profit organisations submit applications that are eligible and successful in Round Three.   

Bundaberg Council receives tens-of-millions of dollars from the Federal Government each year for infrastructure, much of which can be spent however Council chooses. They also receive substantial federal funding for environmental programs, aged care services, tourism, events and the like. I regularly lobby Ministers on behalf of Council on a whole range of matters. Asking Council to collaboratively fund even a small project for our region typically results in a prompt “no” response: “we have no money”.

Like households and businesses, all levels of Government must live within their means. As most Australians understand, you can’t continually spend more than you earn. All too often, Bundaberg Council announces new projects without having first considered how it will fund them. The Federal Government is not BRC’s personal ATM. Neither are ratepayers.

Mayor Forman is now threatening to increase rates again. The ratepayers of the Bundaberg region will pass judgement on Council’s inability to balance its own books in March – just as they will have their say on my performance at the 2016 Federal Election.

I stand by my record. The people of Hinkler are my number one priority.”    

 

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