Hillarys MP Rob Johnson has become the first Liberal to publicly call for the abolition of the Royalties for Regions program, telling Parliament it is unaffordable amid rising State debt and the loss of WA’s AAA credit rating.
Describing the policy devised by former Nationals leader Brendon Grylls before the 2008 state election campaign as shrewd and effective, Mr Johnson said it had become a “sacred cow” overdue for debate.
“Is it fair for such a large proportion of the royalties to be used exclusively for the benefit of anointed regions, bearing in mind that there has been and always will be funds spend from the consolidated revenue account in these same areas, Mr Johnson said.
“Only a small percentage of towns are selected for the major programs. Surely we should be spending our money where the need is greatest.”
Royalties for Regions quarantines 25 per cent of the State’s mineral royalties for expenditure outside Perth.
When conceived in 2006, Royalties for Regions was to be about $375 million a year.
In its first full year of operation (2009-10) it netted $897 million, then $993 million in 2010-11.
This year it will be $1.479 billion, before growing to $1.617 billion, $1.803 billion and $1.849 billion in subsequent years.
During a 20 minute speech in which no Nationals MPs were present, Mr Johnson said the policy had harmed the Liberal Party’s standing in Perth and the bush.
“The Liberals have always sought to represent the whole of the community,” he said.
“For this reason we have traditionally enjoyed majority support in regional WA. The Royalties for Regions ploy has significantly diminished the standing of the regional party in WA relative to the National Party, while we also take the full hit in the city for the collateral damage in the form of various broken promises such as the Ellenbrook railway, the light rail and the airport link.
“I remember the words of Tim Marney as the former under treasurer back in 2008 when he warned that Royalties for Regions could cost the State its AAA credit rating.
“My comments are not an attack on the National Party.
“Nevertheless I believe it is now time to abolish the Royalties for Regions policy and the legislation that divides our people into two categories, namely those who get extra from this policy, and those that miss out.
“Surely with the unprecedented debt that we have at the moment, surely now is the time to make the long overdue tough decision and tell our friends in the National Party ‘we can no longer afford to indulge you with this policy’.
“I believe it is wrong to continue with such discrimination against many our citizens.”