Since 2008, the Royalties for Regions funding program has delivered more than $6 billion into regional communities across Western Australia.
It would be difficult to find a town anywhere in the state not affected – if not completely transformed – by the program.
This is not to say it is without its problems, but overall, regional communities have been improved by the scheme.
New regional development minister Alannah MacTiernan has announced an overhaul of the system. From her comments made in Perth during the week, it seems the new government will take a more “top-down” approach to choosing projects, rather than relying on communities to suggest which projects need funding.
She said the scheme should be directed at job-creating infrastructure, such as renewable energy projects, or projects that do not weigh down local communities with ongoing expenses.
All of this makes sense, but Ms MacTiernan should approach a restructure of the Royalties for Regions funding model with caution.
To say the program is directed towards “ribbon cutting opportunities” is not entirely correct.
A 2014 study on the benefits of Royalties for Regions showed projects were chosen by regional communities to redress the “loss of resources, people and services that are needed to maintain a healthy community”.
In fact, it was not the government forcing Royalties for Regions funding onto communities, but communities choosing the projects which would be supported.
The hallmark of Royalties for Regions was the collaboration between regions and all levels of government.
The study also showed benefits of 65 per cent of Royalties for Regions projects flowing to seniors and the aged. Almost 80 per cent of projects had a demonstrable and direct benefit for Aboriginal people.
There is nothing wrong with tightening the criteria around funding. Rather, it should be welcomed.
Opposition leader Mike Nahan said the Liberal party would support these kinds of reforms and took a policy to the election of refocusing Royalties for Regions on paying for existing projects rather than inventing new ones.
But reform should not be an excuse to gut the program by stealth or as a pot of money to pay for the government’s unfunded pet projects such as renewable energy infrastructure.
Ms MacTiernan can guarantee regional communities will be watching.