Independents join backlash against federal budget cuts to regional and infrastructure programs

Helen Haines and Zoe Daniel call for freed up funds to be reinvested as Sophie Scamps criticises $75m cut from Wakehurst Parkway upgrade

Independent MPs have joined a backlash against the budget’s $9bn of cuts to regional and infrastructure programs, warning funds must be reinvested and not siphoned off for Labor election commitments.

Helen Haines and Zoe Daniel have called for funds freed up from the building better regions fund and urban congestion fund to be reinvested, while Sophie Scamps has protested the $75m cut from the Wakehurst Parkway upgrade.

Tuesday’s budget cut $4.7bn from the infrastructure portfolio, including $769m from the urban congestion fund which delivered 2019 Coalition election commitments like the commuter car park fund.

A further $1.4bn was saved from regional investment including cutting the community development grant and building better regions fund.

Instead, Labor will spend $1bn over three years for competitive grants in the growing regions, regional precincts and partnerships programs.

But two new programs will be delivered through closed grants: $1bn over five years for the priority community infrastructure program and $350m over five years to deliver small-scale community, sport and infrastructure projects.

Haines slammed the government for reducing overall funding for regional development funds and for the fact “the bulk of new regional funding is confined to closed grants programs which will be used to fund Labor’s election promises”.

“Labor criticised the previous government for similar non-competitive grant processes and has talked a big game on bringing integrity and transparency to funding for the regions,” she said.

“It’s not good enough to just do the same thing again.”

Daniel, the MP for Goldstein, noted that five commuter car parks in her electorate – North Brighton, Sandringham, Bentleigh, Hampton and Elsternwick – had been axed.

She said this was “expected” because the commuter car park fund was “emblematic of lack of transparency and pork barrelling”.

“I trust that the government will consider new infrastructure projects within the electorate on their merits and on the basis of a well-established business case,” she told Guardian Australia.

Scamps said it was “very disappointing” the Albanese government had cut $75m from the Wakehurst Parkway upgrade, but partly blamed the New South Wales Coalition government for breaking its promise to build the northern beaches tunnel.

Liberal state infrastructure minister, Rob Stokes, rejected Scamps’ claim the NSW government was to blame, releasing a statement explaining they were “two separate projects”.

“I’m disappointed that Dr Scamps has gone personal,” he said. “Ultimately, my experience is that the community will judge you not on who you blame or what you say but on what you deliver for them.”

Infrastructure Australia has suggested upgrading the Wakehurst Parkway will help alleviate congestion on Sydney’s northern beaches.

Scamps said both the federal and state governments “must do more to fix the major issue facing the Wakehurst Parkway, the recurring flooding that leads to its closure”.

“It is unacceptable that one of the major arterial roads leading to the northern beaches’ only public hospital is closed multiple times every year due to flooding.”

The NSW roads minister, Natalie Ward, noted the state government had provided $18m to the Northern Beaches council for flood mitigation on the parkway.

“I am disappointed that since Dr Scamps [was elected] it has taken just one federal budget for people on the Northern Beaches to be forgotten by the new Labor government,” she said.

The budget slashed two grants programs announced by the Coalition in the March budget as part of a deal to secure Nationals support for net zero: $6.4bn was cut from the energy security and regional development plan and $1.8bn was cut from the regional accelerator program.

On Wednesday the Nationals leader, David Littleproud, told the lower house that Labor had “swung the financial axe to dedicated regional funding that we fought so hard for”.

Littleproud said the Coalition’s “worst fears have been realised” in a budget in which rural and regional Australians were “unapologetically forgotten”.

Earlier, in a statement, Littleproud said the scrapped grants and regional funds “supported small councils that don’t have the capacity to build local infrastructure that was critical to regional communities”.

“Labor has ripped the guts out of regional and rural Australia … Labor has broken the promises, broken the hearts and broken the bank balances of regional and rural families.”

Delivering the regional ministerial budget statement on Wednesday, the infrastructure minister, Catherine King, said “all regional Australians need to have confidence in regional grants processes”.

She promised that the $1bn for the growing regions, regional precincts and partnerships programs would deliver “equitable and fair funding for capital works across our nation”.

In a statement, King said that community development grant projects would have six months to conclude contracts if proponents could demonstrate “they can be delivered in accordance with the government’s new guidelines”.

Labor’s two closed grant programs “deliver election commitments in regional and rural communities”, King said.

Haines also praised the budget for retaining $80m for the Albury Wodonga regional deal and $9.8m for road upgrades in Mansfield.

“During the election, crucial projects were promised to Indi by the former government, and through my discussions with new infrastructure minister Catherine King I have been able to ensure that they are still delivered,” she said.


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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