Tussle over royalties fund

MEMBER for Eyre Graham Jacobs has rejected calls by his Liberal Party colleague, the Perth-based Rob Johnson MLA, to scrap the Royalties for Regions program.

Mr Johnson, who is the member for Hillarys, told state parliament last week that Royalties for Regions was unaffordable and was driving a wedge between country and metropolitan voters.

"I believe it is now time to abolish the Royalties for Regions policy and the legislation that divides our people into two categories, namely those who get extra from this policy and those who miss out," he said.

"Surely with the unprecedented debt that we have at the moment and with it increasing every month, now is the time to make a long-overdue tough decision and tell our friends in the National Party that we can no longer afford to indulge them with this policy."

According to Mr Johnson, the policy was hurting the Liberal Party in country areas.

"The Royalties for Regions ploy has significantly diminished the standing of the Liberal Party in regional WA relative to the National Party, while we also take the full hit in the city for the collateral damage in the form of various broken promises, such as the Ellenbrook railway, the light rail and the airport link," he said.

"Indeed, I remember the words of Tim Marney, the former under-treasurer, back in 2008, when he warned that Royalties for Regions could cost the state its AAA credit rating, and the Nationals at the time said that we could instead give up projects such as the Ellenbrook railway."

Mr Johnson also questioned the fairness of the Royalties for Regions-funded SuperTowns project.

"Let us be clear that most regional communities are not the beneficiaries of projects such as SuperTowns," he said.

"Is it fair for such a large proportion of royalties to be used exclusively for the benefit of anointed regions, bearing in mind that there has been and always will be funds spent from the consolidated account in these same areas?"

However, Dr Jacobs said that Royalties for Regions, which quarantines 25 per cent of the state's mining royalties for regional development, was a fair and equitable policy.

"Western Australia's population is concentrated in Perth, with nearly three-quarters of our total state population. One quarter of our population lives outside it, faced with all the challenges that distance brings," he said.

"The facilities of power, water, roads, good communications are challenging for us and often taken for granted by our city counterparts, let alone human services, including schools, hospitals, doctors, and family and mental health supports.

"Of the total mining royalties in this state, which is a levy mining companies pay for extracting the sovereign wealth of WA, it is reasonable and logical to suggest one quarter of that total stay in the regions where 25 per cent of the people live, faced with all the matters associated with the tyrannies of distance.

"If the state cannot afford the 25 per cent quotient, that is not the fault of the program, as three-quarters goes into state coffers."

While defending Royalties for Regions, Dr Jacobs said there could be some adjustments to the program.

"If I had any criticism of the program, it would be the need for a better spend," he said.

"We need to spend Royalties for Regions funds on strategic, enterprise-building projects and gone are the days of spending on entrance statements, singing toilets and community gardens.

"These regional investments are important and they should be developments that provide jobs and production, but also create environments for people to come and work."

Dr Jacobs also said it was important to ensure Royalties for Regions funding was spent in regional areas.

"I am concerned by the recent announcement of $17 million sporting centres of which half was from Royalties for Regions," he said. 

"The problem is that the $7 million spent on facilities were facilities in Cockburn, Gosnells, Joondalup, Kwinana. The money needs to spent truly in regions and promote development."