On July 7, the Independent published a media release – Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund (BLER); $24.5 million local windfall – and elsewhere in today’s paper there is coverage of Federal Member for Page Kevin Hogan, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis and Clarence Valley Council’s (CVC) mayor, Jim Simmons, welcoming the windfall – but don’t expect any clarity around how the projects were selected.
In December 2020, the Independent revealed that CVC did not apply for the $2.7million in BLER funding, which paid for the construction of Shores Drive/Yamba Road roundabout – CVC’s general manager, Ashley Lindsay, said at the time that when the NSW Government asked CVC to nominate “shovel-ready projects that can help with stimulus of the local economy” that CVC “didn’t know what it was for”.
This time around, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said that steps have been taken to avoid pork-barrelling.
When asked about the roundabout (last year), he said bushfires had impacted CVC’s “normal budgetary spend throughout the region”, assumed that “council put in an application” and was successful by “meeting the criteria”.
He said he wanted to “see more tourists” visiting Yamba, which leads to more “economic activity”.
He acknowledged there “was no direct [fire] impact on [Yamba] business houses, [but] they were certainly supported by Job keeper and seeker, but for Covid, not necessarily bushfires”.
“It’s a positive in my mind, there’s nothing incorrect in the process,” he said.
Last week, however, when asked if he assessed the Shores Drive roundabout as being part of previous pork-barrelling, Mr Gulaptis said, “Absolutely.”
This time around, Mr Gulaptis said BLER applications were “purely assessed at arm’s length from any politician”.
“And it was done specifically because of the furore about sports rorts and grants that were pork-barrelling grants,” he said
“[The current round 2 BLER grants] were all determined by the department at arm’s length from any politicians.”
The Independent lodged an enquiry with CVC: “Great news re the funding for the Yamba and Maclean projects, however, a few logistical/ethical questions are raised as a result.
GH: Given that CVC has already exceeded its approximate $60m p/a capacity to construct [capital] projects by $48m and now an additional $20m-plus has been allocated with the $2m for roads, $13m for Yamba community hub (CVC share – $2m) and $5m for Maclean civic hall and various other smaller grants – how does CVC expect to manage these projects to meet grant deadlines (“be able to commence within six months of the funding deed being executed by the Department and be completed by 30 June 2023”)?
CVC: “We are currently planning resources and will be having discussions with funding bodies in the coming months to exercise variations where we can.”
GH: Can CVC please explain how the Yamba and Maclean projects meet the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery category criteria (enabling infrastructure, industry and business development, social development, natural environment and resource development, built environment adaption), specifically in relation to how these projects relate to the 2019/20 bushfires, given that there were virtually no negative economic impacts caused by bushfires in Maclean or Yamba?
CVC: No response received.
GH: The objective of the BLER Fund is, apart from “creating jobs and boosting the economy (Hogan, Gulaptis, Simmons)”, to “strengthen community resilience and reduce the impact future natural disasters will have on our communities” and with the proviso that “the majority of funding should be committed to the areas most impacted by the fires” – can CVC please explain how these criteria were addressed and how completing of the projects will “strengthen community resilience” in relation to future natural disasters?
CVC: Both Treelands Drive Community Centre and Maclean Civic Hall have capacity to act as places for gathering and gaining information in times of disaster.
Mr Gulaptis said that the bushfires were a drain on CVC’s resources – the clean-up, the recovery team, fighting the disasters, etcetera – and that “those resources, basically, come out of [CVC’s] budget.
“So, we’re providing them with some economic recovery, because of the monies that they’ve lost throughout the disaster,” he said.