Regional titles – including The Townsville Bulletin, Cairns Post, Gold Coast Bulletin and the Geelong Advertiser – reported that almost $50 million from the National Stronger Regions Fund had been hived off for state capital works.
Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash announced on Wednesday the government would refine the $1 billion scheme to quarantine the funds for regional works only.
The new scheme would be named the Building Better Regions Fund, which will inherit the remaining $495 million from the former fund.
The new fund will target two streams, regional infrastructure projects and community investments.
Geelong Advertiser editor Liam Houlihan said the group’s initial report on the misuse of the fund exposed how Australians outside capital cities could be hoodwinked behind closed doors in Canberra.
“This was a big pot of public money touted as a stronger regions fund but it was being hijacked and going to capitals”
“This was a big pot of public money touted as a stronger regions fund but it was being hijacked and going to capitals,” he said.
“Our splash in April revealed instead of it going to regional second cities like Geelong – more than $33 million was going to suburbs in the capital including, in one case, a $2.5 million business hub in Sunshine just 12km from the Melbourne CBD.
“When the Fair Go campaign started this was one of the first unfair quirks of the system we uncovered. It was laughably absurd capitals were ever able to access it. But if not for the power of newspapers this sick joke would have just rolled on.”
Gold Coast Bulletin editor Cath Webber said the benefit of the Fair Go campaign was that the titles were able to remind politicians in Canberra of the collective might of regional newspapers.
“Fiona Nash’s announcement of restructuring that funding will ensure we can all apply fairly for funds, rather than it being siphoned off up the road in the capital city. Her announcement was a big win for all of us and shows the power of the Fair Go brand.”
Ms Nash said the new scheme would have a fairer assessment process, sorting proposals into categories based on size.
“It’s very hard for smaller and more remote community and volunteer groups or small councils to compete for funding against big capital city councils who have the ability to employ consultants to write grant applications,” she said.
The program is expected to run until 2020, with the potential to be extended after that.
The Sunraysia Daily, a member of the independent Elliott Group, has joined the News Corp Australia Fair Go for the Regions campaign.
Sunraysia Daily editor David Alexander said the campaign was a good opportunity to do something with a national focus that would have an impact on politicians.
“We’re reminding politicians that the country does not stop at the capital cities and there are a lot of people battling in regions. We don’t have access to the same things and the same funding.”
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