Region to get share of $10b aid

THE Northern Rivers will share in nearly $10 billion in regional funding, announced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday after two independents announced they would give Labor the numbers to retain government.

The news was welcomed with ‘relief’ by Page MPJanelle Saffin – as much for the end of the wait as for the fact Labor had won.

The news was also welcomed by Richmond MP and frontbencher Justine Elliot, who said she ‘looked forward to continuing to deliver positive outcomes for regional areas like our own’.

In a dramatic day, Queensland Independent Bob Katter kicked off proceedings by announcing he would side with the Coalition, but suggested he might fall in behind Labor should Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor go the other way.

The crowd warmed up, the Lyne and New England MPs fronted the cameras about an hour later to announce – eventually – they would back a Gillard Government, giving Labor 76 seats in the Lower House to the Coalition’s 74, including Mr Katter.

Mr Windsor said key points in his decision included Labor’s broadband plan and its approach to climate change.

Mr Oakeshott appeared to channel MasterChef judge Gary Mehigan as he strung out the moment to announce his support for Labor. He said the decision was hard and both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott would make good PMs.

Ms Gillard confirmed she had offered Mr Oakeshott a position in her ministry looking after regional issues. Mr Oakeshott was last night considering that offer.

Ms Gillard said the deal negotiated with the independents meant regional Australia would get its ‘fair share’.

That included a regional focus to the next round of health, hospitals and education funding, and $800 million for a priority regional infrastructure fund.

Another $573 million of the regional infrastructure fund would be spent ‘with the guidance of regional development officers’.

Ms Gillard said the regions would get first bite at the National Broadband Network – although Ms Saffin agreed that had already been the plan for the network’s roll-out.

Combined with existing commitments, the announcements lifted Labor’s regional spend to $9.9 billion, she said.

Ms Saffin last night was reviewing the detail of the regional funding package ahead of a Caucus meeting in Canberra today, but said she hoped it would follow the same model used by the regional infrastructure fund.

That fund had relied on councils to nominate prioritised funding submissions, and Ms Saffin said local councils already had prepared documents from earlier rounds of the infrastructure fund.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said he was disappointed with the Oakeshott-Windsor decision, but also proud at how close the Coalition came to winning the poll.

Nationals Senator Fiona Nash said she was ‘deeply concerned about what a Labor-Greens government will mean for rural and regional Australia’.

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