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Royalties for Regions Bill 2009

Extract from Hansard [ASSEMBLY – Thursday, 20 August 2009]

MS A.S. CARLES (Fremantle) [3.52 pm]: I would like to say at the outset that the Greens (WA) support the premise of royalties for regions. In fact, it has been our policy for quite a while that at least 25 per cent of royalties retained by the state, after federal grants fiscal adjustments, is to be returned to regions, over and above current provisions of state services.

Mr B.J. Grylls: I do not recall hearing that prior to the election, member for Fremantle.

Ms A.S. CARLES: That is the Greens’ policy, and we have always supported regional people. However, even though the Greens support the Royalties for Regions Bill in theory, we cannot support the bill in its current form without a means to introduce accountability and to prescribe the way the money can be spent. Absolutely nothing in the bill makes the minister accountable for how he spends fund money and there is nothing that makes the decisions of the proposed Western Australian Regional Development Trust publicly available and transparent. It has no key performance indicators to measure the spending and no way to assess whether the bill achieves its stated purpose. We say that spending should be required to be in line with promises made by the Nationals at the time it was selling this package, namely, it needs to be new money for projects that have not already been promised and were not funded previously. The money must be for new projects, and the member for Armadale previously spoke at length about this requirement. The money is not supposed to replace things that government would ordinarily give to the regions. We have seen some problems in that area already.

Specific allocations should be set aside to address Indigenous disadvantage in the regions. That was spoken about at the time of the election, but this bill contains nothing for Indigenous people.

In local decision making, councils should have a direct mechanism whereby they can have a say in how the money is spent. We know that this seems to be happening in practice but, once again, it is not guaranteed in the legislation. There should also be a requirement that the money be spent on capital rather than recurrent items so that the money is wisely invested for the future of the regions. The Greens want to see regional spending that provides a long-term sustainable benefit to the people in regional WA. Spending should be about improving services in such things as affordable housing, education and health in the regions. At the moment it looks like a lot of this money is going on footpaths and roads. We notice a lot of spending on tourism. Whilst that is important, the issue of homelessness and affordable housing is a massive issue in regional WA, and that needs to be addressed first.

We also have concerns about the formation of the trust and the members of the trust. There is nothing stopping the minister choosing his friends to sit on the trust. I notice that one requirement is for a chairperson from a regional development commission.

Mr B.J. Grylls: The member for Fremantle will be pleasantly surprised.

Ms A.S. CARLES: Good, I hope so, because the five other people can be handpicked by the minister. While I am not suggesting any impropriety here, the possibility exists for a minister to simply handpick his or her friends. These friends would not even need to be regional friends; they could be people who live in Perth. The legislation should include guidelines that prescribe who is eligible to sit on this trust to ensure a broad representation of interests and expertise. For example, there should be a regional representative, a sustainability expert, a financial expert, an Indigenous representative and an elected community representative. They are just ideas of how the membership of that trust could be prescribed.

The member for Armadale referred to the issue of cost shifting, so I will not go into it too much, but it is a major problem with this bill. The issue of how funding can be shifted to avoid missing federal grants came up in a briefing that I was given. There are issues with the three per cent cuts being confused, and, of course, the 2007-08 funding has been pulled out and rebadged. We are concerned about these cost-shifting problems.

I would like to mention a point about democracy. It is worth remembering that the Nationals polled 4.7 per cent of the vote at the last state election, while the Greens represent 12 per cent of the voter base. The Greens have three times the voter base! However, I stand here as one person, so I must concede that the Nationals are much better at getting lower house seats than the Greens; that is for sure!

Mr P. Papalia: His head is three times bigger than yours!

Ms A.S. CARLES: And he has a lot more money at his disposal!

I represent three times the voter base of the Nationals. If we Greens had the equivalent power— – that is, a fund capped at $3 billion, which is three times the $1 billion the National Party has under its control— – we would be investing that money for the next generation in renewable energy throughout the state to solve problems that we are creating now, and we would creating a safe future for our kids. That is what we would be up to.

Mr B.J. Grylls: Sounds like a good campaign for the next election.

Ms A.S. CARLES: The next election, here we come!

To conclude, I would like to say that this legislation gives extraordinary and unprecedented power to the minister, and without appropriate accountability through checks and balances, the Greens cannot support it in its current form.

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