Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean
Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean Marc Stapelberg

Regional funding up in air

MORE than $600 million in funding grants for regional Australia is in doubt after the Federal Government took the razor to the $1.35 billion Regional Development Australia Fund.

The fund has already delivered about $100 million in regional grants, with funding agreements currently being drawn up for a further $250 million for grants under the second round of the program.

But more than $600 million was expected to be given to regional communities bidding for the funding under three more rounds, funded by the mining tax.

Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce yesterday hit out at Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean, calling on him to reveal whether the funding was at threat, and if not, when it would be delivered.

But Mr Crean said reports that the funding was frozen were incorrect, instead using the term "stocktake" to describe the government's agenda to find cost savings.

He said the remaining funding would be delivered, but he failed to provide a timeframe of when the funding would be delivered or how much of the funding would still go ahead.

"I've said our intention since round two was concluded, and I've said this in a number of speeches, that there would be three rounds, all put out and commitments made before the next election," he said.

"I still remain committed to achieving that."

But Senator Joyce said the Minister's answers were a "deliberate avoidance of the transparent truth" and regional Australia did not appreciate "being jerked around".

"Minister Crean must be fair dinkum, call another press conference and this time give the complete answer and explanation," he said.

"What programs that were going to be funded in the current period are either going to be delayed or moved to a period for which this government cannot truly claim responsibility for their oversight?"

The fund was a crucial part of the government's deal with independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor to gain their support.

But neither Mr Oakeshott nor Mr Windsor were available for comment on Thursday.

APN Newsdesk put several questions to the Department of Regional Australia, including when the decision was made to put the remaining rounds of the RDAF on hold.

A spokesman for the department referred all questions back to the Minister's office.

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