PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has broken another promise, leaving remote Queenslanders disconnected.
Two months after shaking hands with the Prime Minister on a funding agreement that would see fibre optic cable delivered to Barcoo and Diamantina shires, the two mayors received news that instead of being guaranteed funding, they would have to put in an application through the federal government’s Stronger Regions program.
Speaking at the LGAQ Bush Councils convention in St George this week, Diamantina mayor Geoff Morton said they were advised a fortnight ago that the promise had been deferred and they were to go into the competitive market of Stronger Regions instead.
“We were of the understanding that $7 million had been quarantined for this project but instead we have to go into a $200 million competitive pool,” he said.
A similar proposal was submitted to the Stronger Regions first round of funding and was knocked back.
Cr Morton said when they were told by deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss of the application’s knock-back at the drought funding announcement at Longreach in early May, they decided to appeal to the Prime Minister.
“Mr Truss told us it looked dead in the water so we decided to see the boss instead,” he said. “That’s when we got the commitment of the federal government putting up a third of the money, on the condition of the state and local governments coming to the party.”
Barcoo shire mayor Julie Groves said the Prime Minister understood what was being asked for.
“When he suggested going thirds, we agreed to raise our level of funding there and then, and we shook on it,” she said.
The latest application from the two shires, which had to be submitted by today, has asked the federal government for a contribution of $6 million.
The shires have raised the amount they are able to contribute to $4.75 million. They had originally committed $3 million and increased that to $4 million after speaking with Mr Abbott in Longreach.
The Member for Maranoa, Bruce Scott has described the change of heart from the federal government as a need to go through a process of assessment, “just as election commitments do”.
“This is how we deliver,” he said. “The auditor-general has to give it the tick and value for money has to be identified.”
At the time of the handshake in May, Mr Scott was nearly as excited as the two mayors, describing it as “just the sort of thing” government should invest in”.
He said the application from Barcoo and Diamantina, which would provide 700km of optic fibre to connect Bedourie, Birdsville, Jundah, Stonehenge and Windorah communities to the national optic fibre network, had the criteria needed and cost benefit analysis applied, and he was hopeful the formal application would be successful.
Cr Morton said he remained confident in the integrity of the Prime Minister’s word and his handshake.
“I’d like to think this has only put us back six months, but the concern is that mobile blackspot work may now take priority in Telstra’s program.
“They had put time aside for our work and had machines ready to go. They had a start date of July.”
Cr Groves added that an interim agreement had already been signed.
“After the excitement of meeting with the Prime Minister, this is very disappointing,” she said.