Member for Mackay Julieanne Gilbert Photo: Emma Murray
Member for Mackay Julieanne Gilbert Photo: Emma Murray

Bowen Basin ‘ripped off’ by regional jobs scheme: MP claims

DAWSON MP George Christensen must explain why funding for regional jobs and investment was overturned a federal ministerial panel, Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert says.

Mrs Gilbert pointed to a scathing Auditor General inquiry into the Federal Government's $220 million jobs scheme.

The Regional Jobs and Investment Packages is a competitive grants program established to drive economic growth and create jobs in 10 regions across five states, including the Bowen Basin and Wide Bay in Queensland.

The auditor found the government's management of its policy, which was part of a Coalition promise at the 2016 election, suffered from conflicts of interest and intervention by ministers.

An overturn of funding decisions occurred most often in the Bowen Basin and Wide Bay Burnett regions, the auditor also found.

The report details how program guidelines were issued in March 2017 covering the 10 regions with funding identified as available in three streams; local infrastructure, business innovation, and skills and training.

The guidelines quantified the amount available in each region as $30 million for the Bowen Basin, $25 million each for the North Coast of New South Wales and regional Tasmania, and $20 million each for the other seven regions.

In total, 233 projects were awarded $220.5 million in grant funding across the 10 regions.

The grants represent 32 per cent of the estimated total project costs of $688.3 million.

Of the 233 approved projects, four (seeking in total $1.74 million in grant funding) sought and received approval to be exempted from the co-funding requirement.

The Bowen Basin put in 83 applications but only 17 were funded to the tune of $30 million.

"For the Bowen Basin region, only those applications that were recommended for funding

were ranked," the report said.

"No other applications were ranked, including those that had scored higher than the recommended applications but that were unable to be accommodated within the funding available for the region.

"Decisions to not award funding to recommended projects occurred most often for the

Bowen Basin and Wide Bay Burnett regions (where the rate at which these decisions were made was more than three times the average across the other eight regions).

"Overturn funding decisions occurred most often in the Bowen Basin and Wide Bay Burnett regions.

"The electorates covered by those two regions were all held by the Coalition.

"For those regions, as well as the remaining seven regions, the ANAO analysed the overturn decisions in terms of whether there was a strong bias to reduce the amount of grants and/or grant funding in some electorates compared with other electorates in the same region.

"With the caveat that, for some electorates, the number of grants involved was quite small, it was not evident from this analysis that the panel was preferencing some electorates in the region over others." 

Mr Christensen said of the $30 million made available for the Bowen Basin, all of that had been "fully spent". 

"The Mackay, Isaac and Whitsunday regions scored more than half of the funding that was available under the program," he said.

But Mrs Gilbert said the report made it clear that the Bowen Basin region had been "ripped off" and demanded an explanation from Mr Christensen as to why.

"The Palaszczuk Government is funding $615 million in infrastructure in our region supporting 2100 jobs," she said.

"But we have a Federal Government ignoring expert advice about what will boost jobs and investment in regional Queensland.

"What projects that the federal department thought deserved funding had it rejected and why?"

Mr Christensen said he did not have a firm answer on this. 

"I suspect some of (the projects) got knocked on the head just simply because there wasn't enough money to go around," he said. 

Mackay, Isaac and the Whitsundays scored more than half the funding available under the Bowen Basin Regional Jobs and Investment Program, which covered nine local government areas.

This included $2.4m for four projects from Mackay businesses, which created 20 jobs during construction and 64 ongoing jobs.



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