Doubt over funding

Doubt has been cast over millions of dollars in federal funding for Latrobe Valley projects, including the long-awaited Moe railway precinct revamp, following revelations the government failed to finalise funding agreements with recipients before the election period.

A spokeswoman for Regional Australia Minister Catherine King confirmed yesterday funding agreements for the $7.5 million Moe revitalisation, $4 million Latrobe Community Health Service training clinic and dental lab in Churchill, and $150,000 Gippsland Workforce Development Plan, announced last month, were yet to be negotiated.

Ms King has insisted the projects are budgeted for and secure under the Labor Government.

The Express understands what was a concrete funding announcement could now hinge on the outcome of the election.

A local Liberal Party member, who did not wish to be named, said they “seriously doubted” the funding would go ahead under a Coalition Government without a funding agreement already in place.

“I have been told by local Coalition MPs and party advisors a Coalition Government could not guarantee any previous government announcements could be funded, as the budget shortfall would require them to look at saving money in all areas,” the source said.

In response to questions from The Express, Federal Member for McMillan Russell Broadbent, whose electorate takes in Moe, could not commit to ensuring the funding went ahead under the Coalition if the agreements were not finalised by Labor.

“Clearly, these (projects) would have been part of the government’s budget and should have been dealt with,” Mr Broadbent said.

“I will need to seek further information on the details of the commitment by the Gillard/Rudd government before making any comment on what decision a Coalition Government might make”

The revelation also calls into question the certainty of a total of $8 million in state and local government funding commitments for the Moe upgrade, which The Express understands are conditional upon the federal funding.

Loss of funding for the railway project would be a cruel blow to the Moe community, which is due to host a public barbecue tomorrow night to celebrate the end of a six-year campaign for the project.

“It would be public humiliation if this money did not come through to Latrobe City and Moe,” Committee for Moe president Manny Gelagotis said.

“They (elected government) will open the door to get a right whack.”

Save Moe’s Future spokesman Tony Flynn said the Moe community would expect any subsequent government to honour the announcement.

“If there is an intention not to honour that, they need to come clean and be honest with the community of Moe now,” Mr Flynn said.

Latrobe City chief executive Paul Buckley said council had received written advice from Ms King the funding had been allocated to the Moe project.

He said it was his view it was “only a matter of process” for funding agreements to be finalised between the Department of Regional Australia and council, along with the proponents of the other projects.

“In my view, it’s a formality and I would expect that whichever government was elected, given that the funding has been announced, the process to progress fairly quickly,” Mr Buckley said. 

A spokesman for deputy premier Peter Ryan said the Coalition Government stood by its $3 million commitment to the Moe project. 

The Moe Railway Revitalisation Project will include construction of a civic hub, library and cafe on the south side of George Street.

Latrobe Community Health Service chief executive Ben Leigh, said the contract process was “in motion” for the training clinic funding and he too had been contacted by Ms King “formalising” the announcement.