Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean
Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean Marc Stapelberg

Committee created to deliver grant money to Sydney suburbs

THREE days was all it took for councils in western Sydney to access potentially millions of dollars under the Regional Development Australia Fund.

A new Regional Development Australia committee for Greater Western Sydney is being created by the government to allow RDAF grant money to be delivered for projects in Sydney's western suburbs.

The Greater Western Sydney RDA committee has not been added to official maps of all committee areas, and is understood not to have been established yet.

Despite this, the Federal Government last week allowed applications for funding for 20 projects in western Sydney to proceed to the final stage of assessment - full application - without the committee being in place to scrutinise the merits of the proposals.

Every other RDA committee had to spend three months scrutinising each funding application before deciding on the three best projects to put to the government.

But that lengthy stage of the assessment process lasted just three days for the Greater Western Sydney committee, after which all 20 applications attributed to the committee were approved to proceed to the next stage.

It is understood three of the Greater Western Sydney proposals were already approved to proceed, while the other 17 were only submitted two days before being approved to go ahead.

On Wednesday last week, the government invited expressions of interest for funding from the Greater Western Sydney RDA committee.

A full list of all funding applications allowed to proceed to the next stage was then published online on Friday.

Government documents show the Greater Western Sydney committee was also given until April 24 to submit funding applications, while all other committees have until April 11.

The approval to proceed to full application does not constitute an approval, but is a major milestone towards success for any proposal.All funding applications still need to be assessed by an independent panel, before its recommendations go to Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean.

A spokesman for Mr Crean could not directly answer questions about who made the decision to allow the 19 applications from the Greater Western Sydney committee to proceed to full application.

The spokesman also did not directly answer questions regarding why all Greater Western Sydney proposals were allowed to proceed, while other committees were restricted to just three projects.

A statement from Mr Crean's office said the federal and New South Wales Governments had agreed to establish the new committee last year.

The statement said while the new committee was being established, all applications related to western Sydney under the Sydney RDA committee were invited to proceed to full application, pursuant to examination by the independent panel.

"This means that the soon-to-be-established Western Sydney RDA, does not miss out on a chance for funding in Round Four," the statement reads.

Mr Crean told ABC Radio on Tuesday that western Sydney was not given any special treatment by the government, saying talks about the establishment of the committee began in April last year, despite the committee not being established in the time since.

"We had to go through the formality of getting approval to establish the RDA," he told ABC.

"That was concluded this week, even though discussions had been going for 12 months. No coincidence that this just came out."

The issue sparked outrage from both independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, as well as Mr Crean's opposition counterpart Senator Barnaby Joyce.

It is understood Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor were waiting on a meeting on Wednesday with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Mr Crean to explain the situation.

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