Opinion: Regional funds mostly for one region it seems

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By Andrew Falloon

As your local Member of Parliament I do not let politics get in the way of good outcomes for South Canterbury.

It’s why I’ve worked with the Government on things like Mycoplasma bovis, to try to improve the flow of information from MPI, and improve the speed of compensation payments to affected farmers.

Granted, it can be more difficult when a Government makes announcements so contrary to our best interests.

We’ve seen that recently with the first Budget of the Ardern-Peters Government, where they’ve broken promises over things like universal cheaper GP visits, 1800 additional frontline police, and funding to abolish school donations.

But I’ll always back initiatives that will benefit our region, no matter who proposes them.

In recent months I’ve written to the Government supporting local applications for money from Regional Development Minister Shane Jones’ billion dollar provincial growth fund.

Since the fund was announced I’ve had grave concerns it would be used as a political slush-fund, with some worthy projects funded, but a great many that simply do not stack up.

But I’ve put those concerns aside and supported local applications going up in the simple view that if the funds are to be doled out, then better that our district is in the queue along with the rest.

As part of the Budget process, Mr Jones fronted up to my Parliamentary Committee recently to answer questions about his spending.

At the committee it was revealed that 60% of the billion dollar fund has so far been invested in just one region – his home region of Northland.

I had a number of questions as to how that could be, when the entire South Island has received just 2%-3% of the fund despite putting in 15% of the applications.

In response, in between the bull proverbial and the bluster, was one nugget of honesty – “to the winner goes the booty”.

Unfortunately that is how he sees taxpayers’ money – as something he’s won as part of an election result.

More troubling, he went on to make a claim that the reason Northland has received so much was strong advocacy from Mayor John Carter, and that all the mayors of the South Island do not have such skills.

I have no doubt that John Carter is a hardworking mayor, but to suggest that he’s half a billion dollars better than every mayor in the South Island is not just disparaging but absurd.

It reinforces my fear that Mr Jones is using this fund for one simple purpose – to shore up support in the Northland electorate to try to save the NZ First party in 2020.

So far the Timaru district hasn’t received a cent of Shane Jones’ fund. Our tax dollars are going to pay for projects in other parts of New Zealand, predominantly Northland.

I’ll do my best to change that, but in light of Mr Jones’ responses, you’ll forgive me if I’m sceptical.

Andrew Falloon is the MP for Rangitata