SPEECH - Building Better Regions Fund stocks up Morrison Government's election war chest

27 October 2021

This government likes to talk a big game about supporting the regions, but deep down they're only in it for themselves. Mr Morrison and his mates spend taxpayers' money like it's Liberal Party money, while regional communities like Newcastle get left behind. On Monday in the Newcastle Herald the Nationals candidate for the Hunter called for funding to support the expansion of the Newcastle Art Gallery. According to the article, the Nationals candidate 'spoke with the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce about securing funds for the project after its $10 million Building Better Regions application was unsuccessful'. Honestly, you could not make this stuff up: it was of course his own beloved National Party that had just awarded $300 million of taxpayers' money to coalition targeted seats.

I have long advocated for the expansion of the Newcastle Art Gallery. It's a compelling project. I have often brought it to the attention of this parliament, and the minister directly, in an attempt to secure funds, including in the most recent round of the Building Better Regions Fund. But who knows: perhaps the Nationals candidate has secured himself a sneak peek at the next edition of the pink and green colour-coded spreadsheet? Or he might have time booked in the minister's diary for a sneaky meeting to go and lobby behind closed doors. Let's not forget, the government has still refused to tell us which projects were cut and denied funding because they clearly did not match up with the Morrison government's agenda. How many more projects in my community—like the Newcastle Art Gallery, the Victoria Theatre, the Newcastle Business Club and The Business Centre—have been passed over for projects in coalition seats, despite their being tainted pink? Coming off the back of the sports rorts, which saw Newcastle Olympic Football Club dudded of their funding, even though the department found their excellent project to be completely worthy, Newcastle has fallen victim to another round of regional rorts.

This is why the Morrison-Joyce government won't introduce an independent national integrity commission with teeth—because it would get in the way of all of this rorting business. Even before these latest revelations, the Australian National Audit Office had already announced that they were auditing this billion-dollar program. Since the creation of the Building Better Regions Fund in 2018, a total of 90 per cent—that's right: 90 per cent—of all funding has gone to coalition held and targeted seats. Seriously, how is this justifiable as a regional development policy? Well, it's not. It is not a fair policy. It is not a transparent policy. It is a rort, through and through. This is not about doing what is right for the regions; it's all about keeping the government in power, with Australian taxpayers footing the bill.