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Launceston council received $10m drought grant for 'creative precinct'

By state political reporter Emily Baker, Thursday July 9, 2020 - 12:16 EST
ABC licensed image
The money will go towards a new creative precinct on a car park in Launceston's CBD. - ABC licensed

The Federal Government awarded Launceston, in Tasmania's north, a $10-million drought recovery grant to help build a "creative precinct" in the city's CBD, while knocking back a request for help from an east coast council that suffered one of its driest years on record.

The City of Launceston was one of the three local government areas in Australia to receive a full $10-million grant under the most recently announced Building Better Regions Fund infrastructure grants program.

According to the eligibility criteria, approved projects had to provide economic benefit to areas that were either drought declared, had suffered a significant decline in rainfall or could demonstrate economic or employment decline because of drought.

Grants ranged from $20,000 to the $10 million — grants for the full amount were awarded to Launceston's council as well as the Coffs Harbour City Council and Ballina Shire Council, both in New South Wales.

Launceston's funding was announced last month by Bass Liberal MHR Bridget Archer, Bass Liberal MHA Michael Ferguson and Launceston mayor Albert van Zetten.

The money will go towards a new creative precinct on a car park in the city's CBD.

Independent Member for Clark Andrew Wilkie labelled the drought grant awarded to the City of Launceston a "rort".

He said the Hobart City Council, within his electorate, was told not to apply for the funding as only the Glamorgan Spring Bay and Break O'Day councils on Tasmania's east coast were eligible within the state.

"Launceston sits in the Bass electorate and clearly the Government thinks it's OK to unashamedly pork barrel to try and ensure the Liberal member's [Ms Archer] re-election," Mr Wilkie said.

"You'd think they would have been scared off from doing this, for a while at least, by the scandalous embarrassment ."

, and the seat has changed hands at eight of the last 10 federal elections.

But a spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the creative precinct project demonstrated a "direct benefit" for a drought-affected region.

"This project was one of 163 funded through $207 million of available funding," the spokesman said.

"As individual applications are considered commercial-in-confidence, any specific enquiries about the application submitted by Launceston City Council should be directed to the council."

The City of Launceston chief executive Michael Stretton also defended the funding.

"The application for funding was made through a collaboration between the Coordinator General's Office and the City of Launceston in December 2019, and was required to meet a range of eligibility criteria," he said.

"At the time of the submission, Launceston and the wider northern region were identified as areas of severe rainfall deficiency, with waterway flows consistent with those seen during the millennial drought."

'Feel-good project for a marginal Liberal seat'

At a meeting in December, Glamorgan Spring Bay Council on Tasmania's east coast resolved to apply for funding to upgrade the Triabunna Wharf, develop a business case for a new mountain bike trail and write an economic development plan.

The requests came to a total of $295,000.

However, the cash-strapped council — — was not listed as among recipients of the Building Better Regions grants.

That council's mayor Debbie Wisby could not be contacted for comment.

Lyons Labor MHR Brian Mitchell, whose electorate takes in Tasmania's east coast, said the drought funding given to Launceston was "absolutely scandalous and outrageous".

"There are plenty of areas in the state that could do with drought funding for worthy projects," Mr Mitchell said.

"This is just a feel-good project for a marginal Liberal seat."

Tasmania's east coast has .

Mr Wilkie has written to Mr McCormack for clarification on why Launceston received drought funding, when the Hobart council was told not to apply.

"Not only did the Government misuse $10 million in one electorate, it also told the mayor in another electorate to not even apply for a grant, which had the effect of not only favouring one electorate but explicitly disadvantaging another," Mr Wilkie said.

The Break O'Day Council received $30,000 under the Building Better Region Fund's community investments program to help develop a recreational trails strategy.


© ABC 2020

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