MPs in war of words over R4R

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
MLC Steve Thomas
Camera IconMLC Steve Thomas Credit: PAUL WEBSTER

Two Capes MPs have fallen out over a bid to review the Nationals’ Royalties for Regions program to include upkeep costs.

In July, South West MLC Steve Thomas offered an olive branch to the Liberals’ former government partners hoping for a united front on the royalties scheme before next year’s election but it was quickly canned by Nationals leader Mia Davies.

This week, Dr Thomas called out Warren-Blackwood Nationals MLA Terry Redman for inconsistency, while Mr Redman accused Dr Thomas of the same.

The stoush follows Dr Thomas’ call for a review of the program to consider ongoing maintenance and upkeep costs for local government beneficiaries of major R4R-funded projects.

Mr Redman said the Liberal MP’s comments “were misguided and not in the best interests of regional WA”.

“Dr Thomas makes it sound like R4R projects were funded with no thought for maintenance or operating expenses and that it created a cost burden for local governments and other authorities,” Mr Redman said. “This is simply not the case, and Dr Thomas should know that as he was a member of the government that oversaw the program.”

Mr Redman said projects — including the Augusta Boat Harbour, the Margaret River Perimeter Road and the Margaret River Heart — were submitted with “an extensive business case, including a budget, and underwent rigorous scrutiny to ensure ongoing costs were manageable”. But the Margaret River Heart has no business plan and costs have skyrocketed beyond initial estimates, with an expected $1.7 million annual impost on ratepayers for the next few years.

Dr Thomas believed “we can do it better”.

“Building things that have significant ongoing maintenance and operational costs for regional communities is an issue we should be addressing,” he said.

“The hysterical comments of Mr Redman simply indicate that the legacy issue is both real and sensitive.”

The Liberal MP pointed to comments last month by Labor’s Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan acknowledging the cost pressures. But Ms MacTiernan also welcomed that Dr Thomas “acknowledged the previous Liberal-National Government mismanagement of R4R imposed considerable cost burdens on some local communities across the State”.

A 2016 Government review found about a third of R4R-funded assets led to increased rates or requests for ongoing funding.

“We are still dealing with these legacy issues and have received a number of requests from local governments for further investment in infrastructure such as solar power systems to help them cope with ongoing operating costs,” the minister said.

Mr Redman told the Times he wanted to see regional communities receive “fair investment”.

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