Nationals label Liberals’ last-minute Royalties grab a ‘slap in the face’ to regional WA

The Nationals have lashed out at The Liberal Party’s decision to cut Royalties for Regions (RfR) by 40 per cent, in order to meet costs in other regional programs, labelling the “midnight hour” decision a “slap in the face” to regional West Australians. 

Liberal’s 2017 election costings, released on Wednesday, outlined the party’s plans for a RfR “realignment”. 

The cut, announced just days from the state general election on March 11, will see the $1 billion capped RfR initiative lose $800 million to general government expenditure.

Through the cut, infrastructure and services funding would be taken from Royalties for Regions rather than through general government expenditure.

WA Nationals members have expressed outrage at the Liberal Party’s decision, including candidate for Roe Peter Rundle who slammed the proposed cuts, stating the they would cut RfR to the bone. 

Mr Rundle said the news was alarming and would be a massive concern for regional West Australians.

“The Liberals waited until ten minutes to midnight to be honest with regional WA about their plans to cut Royalties for Regions to the bone,” Mr Rundle said.

“Both major parties would rather rip funding out of regional communities than stand up to the big miners and make them pay their fair share.

“These planned cuts by the major parties are a slap in the face to regional people and will jeopardise future projects in the Esperance and Wheatbelt regions.”

However Liberals candidate for Roe Graham Jacobs said the party was simply expanding the initiative “with purpose”.

“We as the Liberals do support Royalties for Regions,” Dr Jacobs said. 

“We’ve spent seven billion dollars on infrastructure in the last seven years, we will continue with that program, we’ve gave a commitment.

“We find we’ve actually built a lot of these structures, such as swimming community centres, but what we need now is operational funding and maintenance funding. 

“What we’ve done is put impost onto shires and they have to operate them, they have to actually maintain them and that’s becoming no sustainable for them. 

“What we’ve made as a commitment as liberal is to expand that program with purpose to cover those operational and maintenance costs.”

Member for the Mining and Pastoral Region Dave Grills echoed Mr Rundle’s outrage, stating that while Labor and Liberal would keep the Royalties for Regions name, both parties would divert a substantial chunk of funding to infrastructure and services that should funded as part of general government expenditure.

"The net result is a massive cut to regional funding by both major parties – by nearly a billion dollars over the next two years under the Liberals’ plan," Mr Grills said.

"The Liberal Party have tried to deceive regional WA by attempting to hide these cuts by shuffling money around.”

Premier Colin Barnett told ABC Radio this morning the National’s response was misrepresenting how regional funding was procured and spent.

“The Royalties for Regions program has transformed regional Western Australia: regional cities, small towns, areas that were neglected - totally neglected - by a previous Labor government,” Mr Barnett said.

“So we've caught up. We've caught up in a short period of time by investing billions of dollars into country areas of this state.

“Now, what we've said is that a lot of the infrastructure that's been built - for example, sporting facilities, community centres and the like - the program has funded the capital cost of building them. It hasn't provided for their ongoing operation.

“And as I drive around country areas in Western Australia, a lot of local governments are saying: "Thanks for the lovely new facility, but we can't afford to run it. We can't afford to staff it. We can't afford to turn the air conditioning on.

“So what we're saying is: Royalties for Regions will pay for the ongoing expenses of running these facilities.”