Newcastle snubbed from NSW grants for ‘bizarre’ reason

Newcastle politicians have told a NSW inquiry into grants programs that a “bizarre” set of rules make it essentially impossible for their city to receive certain types of funding.

That’s because they fall between the cracks when it comes to the definitions of “metropolitan” versus “regional”, Newcastle Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.

“It is very peculiar just to the local government boundaries of the City of Newcastle. Because we’re often classified as either metropolitan in some rounds or regional in some rounds.

“Funding can often be quite a bit easier for our neighbours to attract. It can be very difficult due to the classification and some of the boundaries around funding programs.”

She said Newcastle Basketball’s dilapidated base at Broadmeadow in the city centre was an example of the conundrum at play.

Ms Nelmes said the city government was unable to secure more than $5 million in funding for the $25 million project to rebuild the stadium and eventually had to return the money and seek a new location for the basketball complex in neighbouring Lake Macquarie instead.

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp compared the situation to a Franz Kafka novel in that a maze of “bizarre” bureaucratic rules makes it “not possible” to receive proper arts or sports funding.

“Let me just show you what ‘Kafkaesque’ means to the people of Newcastle, our state’s second largest city,” Mr Crakanthorp said.

He mentioned the Metropolitan Greenspace Program, a grant scheme to develop open outdoor spaces in Sydney and on the Central Coast.

“Newcastle Council can’t apply because we’re designated as a regional centre. Fair enough, if that’s what we are, then why can’t our elderly citizens enjoy the benefits of the wonderful regional seniors travel card?

“Except Newcastle is now metropolitan, and our seniors miss out.”

Their comments came as the fallout continued from the revelation of a cache of sensitive documents that were handed into the same upper house probe after the NSW Premier’s office had tried to destroy them.

The documents revealed a far greater involvement by Premier Gladys Berejiklian in the controversial Stronger Community Fund grants scheme than she had previously let on.

Grilled by reporters on the contents of the documents, Ms Berejiklian didn’t deny her government had engaged in pork barrelling, going on to defend the use of public money to reward loyal voters as “not illegal” and saying it’s something most governments engage in.

Energy Minister Matt Kean went on ABC’s RN radio program on Friday and tried to walk back the Premier’s comment by saying she had misspoken.

“Everyone is entitled to make a mistake,” Mr Kean said.

“If she’s had a slip of the tongue, or if she hasn’t framed her words properly yesterday, I’m sure she’d be the first to stick her hand up. But I’m not going to start criticising Gladys Berejiklian for her performance, especially given the way she’s handled COVID and the bushfires.”

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