Tuesday, 23 May 2023
Barker Electorate: Mount Gambier and District Saleyards Transformation Project, Building Better Regions Fund
The Mount Gambier and District Saleyards Transformation Project is a vital project for the Limestone Coast. The formal concept design will feature soft-fall matting, holding pen reconfigurations, cattle yard roofing, sprinkler systems and rainwater harvesting. The upgrade is described as a once-in-a-generation project essential for our region's agricultural sector. In the 2020-21 financial year the saleyards grossed a whopping $157 million in sales, transacting 86,000 head of sheep and 65,000 head of cattle. It's an extremely important infrastructure investment needed for the Limestone Coast's economy.
Its current infrastructure is ageing. The District Council of Grant, who own this important asset, gained bipartisan support for their planned upgrades to the facility prior to the state election last year. Both the Labor and Liberal parties pledged funding to support this vital project. Obviously, with the Labor Party being successful in winning government, they've recommitted to their pledge of $2.7 million, adding to the council's own budgeted contribution of $3 million. The council made an application to the coalition's highly successful Building Better Regions Fund round 6, a funding program that across five rounds has provided a whopping $1.38 billion to nearly 1,300 projects to ensure our regions remain great places to live and visit while helping support important regional industries create jobs.
I was confident with the work that had been done by the proponents that this application would be met with success in round 6, if it was to be successful, just like the applications of previous rounds of the BBRF that saw the Mount Gambier airport upgraded. As we all know, Labor came to government federally and pulled the rug out from under the feet of applicants like the District Council of Grant, which made an application for its saleyards transformation project, a project that was relying on this federal government funding and had their funding options taken away. While the promise of a replacement fund was there, it was very much at arm's length. The project was stalled with nowhere to turn for funding—a state Labor government commitment hanging in the balance because this Labor government here in Canberra—those opposite—is deliberately delaying the rollout of regional funding opportunities. The federal and state ministers responsible were even both together in Mount Gambier recently to cut the ribbon on the largest infrastructure project the City of Mount Gambier has ever seen, a project that, by the way, neither of them had any claim in delivering. Funding commitments of $25,000 were made by state and federal coalition governments. But, I must say, I'm digressing.
My point is that while the federal and state ministers were in town to cut the ribbon, they couldn't find time to meet with anyone from the community to discuss this critically important project. The District Council of Grant asked absolutely. While I would have thought that as a state government election commitment and as a project located in the state minister's own home town, she may have had it at the top of her priority list to talk to the federal minister but, alas, Minister Scriven only just met with Minister King about two weeks ago. It took Minister Scriven a full 12 months to raise the topic with her federal counterpart, a state election commitment that is clearly not much of a priority.
Now that the guidelines have finally been produced for the replacement of BBRF, we learn that the full application process does not open until—wait for it—November 2023. So let's unpack that timing a bit. We expected announcements of funding in the BBRF round 6 to have been made no later than August 2022, with funding budgeted by the coalition government in the 2022-23 financial year. Instead, what we have is a new fund that won't even open for applications until this November, meaning that funding for successful projects won't roll out until the 2024-25 financial year. By my calculations, that is two years since the state government committed their funding to this project, funding that was committed to on a bipartisan basis.
Now everything is going up. People in this place and, indeed, people outside of this place understand that the cost-of-living increases are biting and the cost of construction is increasing as substantially as well. The price of steel and timber materials, all of the things that are needed to build a state-of-the-art saleyards, are going up and up and up. A project that under the Building Better Regions Fund round 6 would have cost $11 million, I anticipate, will cost as much is $15 million. That is $4 million more funding that needs to be sourced. Thanks to the federal Labor governments contempt for our regions, they have delayed the funding opportunities to the point where the project is now going to have to be completely re-costed. In fact, it may no longer be viable. I hope that it remains viable but there needs to be much more money committed by both the state and federal governments to realise this outcome.
The ask from the federal government will now be substantially more. And while our state Labor minister, Minister Scriven, makes no effort to even have a conversation with her colleague here in Canberra for more than 12 months, these costs have gone up. Perhaps she simply can't to get it through. That won't surprise those of us on this side of the chamber; I have had my fair share of closed doors when attempting to engage with Minister King. My request to meet with the Office of Road Safety was left to rot in the minister's in-tray for months. I wrote to the minister twice, requesting to meet the Office of Road Safety, with no reply. I finally got a meeting eight months later.
I thought perhaps South Australian state Labor Minister Scriven might have better luck, but it appears my eight months was a great outcome, considering she had to wait 12 months. I understand that the member for Gippsland wrote to Minister King six times, with no reply, about infrastructure projects in his electorate. Finally, after 10 months, the minister replied to the member for Gippsland—but only after she was caught out on a local radio station. Perhaps the minister is too busy cutting ribbons or encouraging councils not to invite coalition members to the openings of infrastructure projects in their own electorates. What a shame.
After all the saleyards project has been through thanks to the Labor infrastructure delays, they're actually one of the lucky ones. How do I say that? At least they do have a funding avenue. Many small community projects that applied under BBRF round 6 are now excluded from this fund because the guidelines say that the minimum amount that can be requested is $500,000 and that applicants require a 50 per cent co-contribution, meaning only million-dollar projects need apply. That's been felt hard in small local communities. I received an e-mail today from a local community group who are extremely disappointed in the program having a minimum grant amount of $500,000. This figure completely rules out any small regional projects being achieved. That's not Tony Pasin, the member for Barker, on a rant. That's a small community organisation that made application in round 6 of the fund and held hope that those opposite, in pulling the rug from organisations like the BBRF, would have a program to replace it. Unfortunately, you needed to read the fine print. The fine print was 'but only if you've got a project worth a million bucks and only if you've got a lazy $500,000 in reserve to provide as a co- contribution.'
Let's get real. It's a clear example of Labor's contempt for the regions. They either misunderstand the regions or they're completely contemptuous of them. Small regional communities in my electorate don't look like regional communities on the east coast.
If Minister King and Minister Scriven are successful in delivering the saleyards transformation project, it will come years after the coalition would have delivered it under round 6 of the BBRF and it will be at significantly higher cost. Australia's agricultural industry deserves more. It's an industry that's screaming down on its target of $100 billion by 2030, and right now, if the Mount Gambier saleyards transformation project is anything to go by, those opposite are doing very little to support this critical industry at a time when it needs that assistance.