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Reliance on government funding – is there a better way?

Words // Sonja Johnson, RDA Tropical North CEO

The Australian Government recently announced the winners of the Building Better Regions Fund Round 5. Nationwide, a total of 197 projects to the value of $294 million were approved for funding under the infrastructure projects stream. A further 101 projects to the value of $6.1 million were approved under the community investments stream.

In the Tropical North Queensland region, seven projects shared more than $9.8 million in approved funding. Quite a coup indeed! It was wonderful to see a mix of local government and not-for-profit entities share the bounty, including the Port Douglas Rugby Club with its Clubhouse upgrade, funding for the Cairns Regional Council’s Northern Beaches Leisure Trail and Better Together Community Support Inc.’s Atherton Community Centre. The latter is particularly important for the Tablelands area as the centre currently operates from not fit-for-purpose premises; the funding will enable Better Together to increase the scope of its services to disadvantaged families. Mapoon and Old Mapoon will also see the realisation of a new Ranger Base Visitor Information and Interpretive Centre and Community Youth Centre. The former will leverage the ongoing tourism opportunities through sealing of the Peninsula Development Road, while the latter will enable a multi-purpose facility to support community social aspirations.

In the Community Investments Stream, our region saw three projects receive $134,000, including the Kuranda Traders’ Association – funding will enable development of a much-needed Strategic Recovery Plan; Nintiringanyi Indigenous Corporation’s The Murama Experience, a cultural gathering, mentoring and entertainment event in Cairns; and development of a strategic plan for the biennial Winds of Zenadth Cultural Festival through Torres Shire Council. The Community Investments Stream is a welcome funding opportunity for strategic plan development, in what is traditionally a difficult space for local government and community organisations to source investment.

As a region, there will be a need to collectively get behind projects, source philanthropic and private investment as well as investigate alternative revenue models.

Sonja Johnson RDA Tropical North CEO

Yet there were many worthwhile and important projects from our region that missed out in this most recent funding round. Indeed, the round was over-subscribed, resulting in the Australian Government providing an additional $100 million on top of the originally announced $200 million. While the additional funds are welcome, we cannot rely on such generous gestures in the future, particularly given the current state of government finances due to the pandemic.

One such example is Social Benefit Bonds – a financial instrument that pays a return based on the achievement of agreed social outcomes. Under this model, investors fund the delivery of services targeting an improvement in a specific social outcome. The Bonds enable government, non-government organisations and private investors to work together to address social issues. Achievement of outcomes reduces the need for, and therefore government spending on, acute services. Part of the resulting public sector savings are used to repay investors’ principal and make additional reward payments. These reward payments could be used by non-government organisations to fund much-needed strategies, infrastructure and programs.

Whichever funding and revenue generation models are used will of course be determined by the nuances of the organisation itself, however there is a need for a collective regional approach to minimise cannibalisation of services. Capability development to understand what funding and investment options are available would also assist our region to see these worthwhile projects materialise.

In the meantime, we await announcement of the Building Better Regions Fund Round 6; RDA Tropical North will continue to work with regional stakeholders to maximise our share of funding.

Connect // rdatropicalnorth.org.au

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