Federal budget 2021: Money for bush fund in budget as Australians move away from cities

Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Nationals Michael McCormack. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Nationals Michael McCormack. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The government will pledge an extra $250 million to the controversial Building Better Regions Fund in next week's budget, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack will announce on Wednesday.

Australia's regions have driven our nation through the worst of the pandemic and we are emerging in great shape," Mr McCormack will tell the Regional Australia Institute, in an address that will outline a series of measures for people in the bush to be part of Tuesday's budget.

The extra $250 million for a sixth round of the fund will be described as a "vote of confidence in the future of our regions" by the leader of the Nationals.

A billion dollars has already been poured into the fund, with broad guidelines covering infrastructure projects, events, strategic regional plans, leadership and capacity-building projects.

The use of the fund has come under fire in recent months, after documents released under Freedom of Information showed Mr McCormack and a group of ministers had intervened in the decisions made on a third of the projects.

The national audit office has listed the design and delivery of the program on its list of potential audits for next financial year.

More than $22 million will be in the budget for water infrastructure projects in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia.

There will also be funds to help regional communities rebuild after the pandemic, with $5.7 million going to a Rebuilding Regional Communities Program.

"The program will offer grants across two streams to community organisations to help with the Covid recovery," Mr McCormack will say.

"The Micro Projects stream will provide small grants of up to $10,000 for communities in regional Australia with fewer than 50,000 people to help sustain local organisations and their work.

"The Covid Recovery stream will provide up to $50,000 for larger projects which enhance the process of recovery of communities affected by the COVID19 pandemic."

Mr McCormack is expected to sing the praises of regional Australia in the speech, saying those in the regions "got the entire nation through this pandemic".

"Whether it was through the tens of thousands of workers in the resources sector, or indeed the farmers in our agriculture industry who drove the value of agriculture in this country from a $60 billion enterprise to a $66 billion enterprise - it was the regions that kept the country going," a preview of the speech says.

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New statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows many city dwellers are swapping their apartments for the bush, with internal migration figures showing the highest rate of people moving from cities to the country on record in 2020. Almost 43,000 more people went from the city to the country last year, more than double that in 2019.

"In the 2020 calendar year, 233,100 people arrived to live in regional areas and 190,200 people departed for the capitals," the bureau's director of demography Phil Browning said.

"This resulted in a net gain of 43,000 people for the regions, up from 18,900 in 2019."

Sydney experienced the greatest net loss of people, with Melbourne coming in second.

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This story More money for bush fund as Australians move away from cities first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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