Inner West Independent

Grant cut puts sport on shaky ground

Kids celebrate the opening of Glover Street sports ground at Callan Park, Saturday October 26 / Photo: Long Shot Photography

The abolition of the Federal Government’s Regional Development Australia Fund (RDAF) will cost Leichhardt Council $130,000 for ball court upgrades that had previously been approved under the program.

The RDAF was intended to fund capital infrastructure projects identified as priorities for regional areas and local communities. The previous Labor government had allocated $1 billion under the RDAF, which had so far funded around $700 million of infrastructure projects over four rounds, according to shadow infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese.

Round five was to spend a further $150 million of federal money to co-fund around $300 million of projects. That has now been cancelled, including $131,000 allocated to Leichhardt Council for the upgrade of ball courts to multipurpose sports facilities. The upgrades were to take place at Punch Park, Gladstone Park and Mort Bay in Balmain, and at Cohen Park in Annandale.

Mr Albanese called the Coalition’s decision to curb the funding “mean spirited” and contrary to an election promise.

“It’s not like [the funding] was allocated on any partisan basis,” he told the Inner West Independent. “Every council got a proportion of the funding according to their size, according to the Commonwealth grants formula.”

The Federal Government has promised to replace the RDAF with a “stronger regions” package worth a further $1 billion, but Mr Albanese said there was a lack of detail around the plan, and that urban communities would miss out.

“When they were in government last time, there wasn’t a single community infrastructure project funded in the inner west of Sydney,” he said.

Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne said the projects will still go ahead, but their scope and timing are now up in the air.

“It is disappointing that before the new parliament has even sat once, the Abbott government is cutting, already committed funding, from local infrastructure projects,” he said.

“Mr Abbott promised a government of ‘no surprises’ but this is a particularly nasty surprise for inner west families.”

But the Coalition had announced its intention to cut the fund prior to the election. Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades warned at the time that the abolition of the fund would hurt communities.

“Many councils already have tight budgets due to rate capping and cost shifting, but this funding would have enabled them to build the infrastructure their communities need,’ Mr Rhoades said.

Leichhardt’s decision to proceed with the upgrades comes ahead of a November 26 meeting which will determine whether council applies for a special rate variation, which could see rates rise by 5.46 per cent a year.

Greens Councillor Daniel Kogoy, whose successful motion began the process for this project in October 2012, described the federal government’s decision as “shameful”.

“It looks like we’ll have to wait a while longer for the additional park improvements including badly needed landscaping and public toilet upgrades,” he said.

Mr Kogoy called on state and federal governments to contribute their fair share to Council infrastructure.

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Clarification: the print version of this story referred to funding for “sports grounds”, including the one pictured at Callan Park. The funding cuts affect upgrades to “ball courts” only.

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