Questions Without Notice - Western Sydney, Regional Development Australia Fund
(14:55): My question is to the minister representing the minister for regional Australia, regional development and local government, Senator Conroy. I refer the minister to Regional Development Australia Fund grants in relation to Western Sydney. Can the minister advise why 10 days ago the Prime Minister suddenly invited 19 Western Sydney applicants for funding to submit full RDA Fund applications during her week-long stay in Sydney's west? Why is it now the case, as reported in the Weekend Australian of 16 March, that apparently only three of these funding applications for projects in Western Sydney under the RDA Fund will now be allowed to proceed to full assessment status in this round, and how will those three be selected?
Senator CONROY (Victoria—Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:56): Could I thank the senator for her question. All organisations from Greater Western Sydney which submitted expressions of interest for round 4 of the Regional Development Australia Fund have been invited to submit a full application. All RDA committees have selected three projects to proceed to full application. An additional 17 from Greater Western Sydney were invited on—I think it was—Thursday 7 March this year to submit a full application.
The Australian and New South Wales governments are negotiating a memorandum of understanding to support economic growth and improve liveability in Greater Western Sydney. To ensure that all projects are considered within the framework of this new agreement, all organisations from Greater Western Sydney which submitted an expression of interest for round 4 have been invited to progress to the next stage of the application process.
Projects will be considered for funding from RDAF and any other opportunities which may arise. All applications for RDAF, including those from Greater Western Sydney, will be assessed for eligibility and considered on their merits by an independent advisory panel.
The department of regional Australia and local government grants were announced to proceed to the next stage on, I think, 13 February—and as I have said, that is now just giving you some historical context—and since then, circumstances in Greater Western Sydney have changed. The New South Wales and Australian governments, as I have indicated, have established a memorandum of understanding. Australia is a nation of regions. Peri-urban and outer metropolitan areas are critical to our regional network. Metropolitan centres, peri-urban regions and outer metropolitan centres—
Opposition senators interjecting—
The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence we will proceed.
Senator CONROY: As I was saying, they are critical links in the supply chain and offer higher quality facilities and services to the arts and elite athletes. (Time expired)
Senator PAYNE (New South Wales) (14:59): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question—I will leave aside the question of in what year 30 February occurs. Why did the Prime Minister ask all previously unsuccessful Western Sydney applicants to resubmit full RDA—
The PRESIDENT: The discussion across the front of the chamber makes it impossible to hear Senator Payne. She is entitled to be heard in silence.
Senator PAYNE: Thank you, Mr President. Why did the Prime Minister ask all previously unsuccessful Western Sydney applicants to resubmit full RDA fund applications? What changed between the earlier rejections of those applications and that week's announcements other than the fact that the PM's Google Maps finally landed on Western Sydney that week?
Senator CONROY (Victoria—Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:59): Rounds 3 and 4, as I have indicated, were launched concurrently and are a comprehensive package to address the diverse priorities and needs of the regions. Round 3 provides small grants for projects located in small towns. Round 4 provides grants for strategic infrastructure projects. Each round has its own guidelines. RDA committees have considered all EOIs from across the region and selected up to five projects to proceed to full application for round 3. In round 3—and I am working my way systematically through all of these rounds because they are relevant to the question—440 EOIs were received, seeking more than $162 million in funding, and 216 EOIs, seeking $84.7 million in grant funding and investing $476 million in regional Australia, were selected to proceed to full application. In round 4, 478 applications were received. (Time expired)
Senator PAYNE (New South Wales) (15:00): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. How many other rejected applications from places other than Western Sydney were also invited to resubmit? When will the RDA committee for Western Sydney be fully established? Why should Western Sydney residents see this as anything other than an extension of the Prime Minister's already gratuitously cynical Western Sydney stunt visit?
Senator CONROY (Victoria—Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (15:01): I utterly reject the basis of that question. To describe the Prime Minister's visit in those terms demeans the questioner and demeans the chamber because those opposite—
Honourable senators interjecting—
The PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy will resume his seat. We will have silence on both sides.
Honourable senators interjecting—
The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence on both sides we will proceed.
Senator CONROY: Thank you, Mr President. As I was saying, it demeans the questioner to need to resort to that style of question. I will seek any further information that I can provide. I will see if it is available. I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.