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Five months on: no sign of the $5.3m Fast Tracked Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Project

John Barilaro told a NSW parliamentary inquiry into the administration of Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund grants in February this year that fast tracked projects (such as the 33km Coastal Walk) had to be able to be completed within six months or started within six months and had to meet the eligibility criteria, which had a $1 million minimum threshold.

VIDEO: Norm Lenehan on Eurobodalla's Spotted Gum Track - video by ESC On Nov 13, 2020 Andrew Constance MP announced "exciting news for both locals and visitors to the Eurobodalla" saying a a new waterside walking trail is on the way.

"Thanks to the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund, co-funded by the NSW and Australian Governments, we’ve announced $5.2m to help deliver the Batemans Bay Coastal Headlands Walking Trail."

"The funding will help with the construction of a 30km accessible walking track, starting at Observation Point in Batehaven - where a new lookout will be built - and stretching south along the headlands to Pretty Point near Mackenzies Beach

"We know the Eurobodalla is home to some of the state’s most beautiful beaches and coastlines. And we’ll soon have yet another reason for visitors to come, stay a little longer and spend money in our local businesses". Council advise on their website that the coastal walking trail linking the headlands and beaches of Batemans Bay's southern shoreline, including construction of a lookout at Observation Point in Batehaven will be funded from $5.25M from the Commonwealth and NSW Government’s Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund, $672,000 from Building Better Regions Fund, $145,000 from Bushfire Regional Tourism Fund, $75,000 from Stronger Country Communities Fund, along with contributions from Rotary Club and Council.

Council say they will "deliver a coastal walking trail to further enhance the area as a nature-based holiday destination." They also forecast that the trail will attract "around 26,000 visitors a year, and the direct spending associated with these visitors is approximately $400,000 per year." But how did the $5.3m for the Coastal Walking Trail come about?

On November 2nd, 2020 Australian Minister for Emergency Management, David Littleproud and NSW Liberal Senator Jim Molan co-announced 49 "fast-tracked" projects jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales Government to support local economic recovery after the fires. The Media release revealed locally in the Federal seat of Gilmore:8 Industry projects worth a total of $17,292,707 million have just been approved in Gilmore by the Australian and New South Wales governments, to boost local economies as communities recover from the 2019-20 bushfires. The announcement included $ 5,250,000 to Batemans Bay Coastal Headlands Walking Trail & Observation Point Viewing Platform (Spotted Gum Track) in Batemans Bay saying " The project will deliver a 30-kilometre accessible walking track and lookout. The track will pass through various local communities and connect a number of beaches, tourist sites and retail precincts. The project will deliver a tourism highlight for visitors to the region, boosting the nature-based tourism economy in the region."

Best not to muddy the waters - Observation Point Viewing Platform & Spotted Gum Track IS NOT the 33km Coastal Walking Track So how are we progressing with the 33km Coastal Walking Track that was funded with $5.3m from the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund. Council advise that High level planning is complete. Detailed design underway for first stage of work at Observation Point. Aim to start construction first half of 2021. It is important to NOTE that the Observation Point Viewing Platform already had $772,500 listed in the 2019/2020 Capital works program that had come from grants that Council had already received, being $672,000 from Building Better Regions Fund, $145,000 from Bushfire Regional Tourism Fund, $75,000 from Stronger Country Communities Fund, along with contributions from Rotary Club and Council. All up over $900,000 was held by Council before the Fast Tracked 33km Coastal Walking Track grant was gifted in November 2020. It is evident that the Observation Point Viewing Platform project was already fully funded which means the $5.3m was destined for the 33km Coastal Walking trail alone. The 'fast-tracked' projects, such as the $5.3m Coastal Walk grant were identified by NSW government without an open application process. The Federal intent to co-fund the fast-tracked projects was that the funding was important to generate jobs and stimulate local economies, which is critical to recovery. John Barilaro told a NSW parliamentary inquiry into the administration of grants in February this year that fast tracked projects had to be able to be completed within six months or started within six months and had to meet the eligibility criteria, which had a $1 million minimum threshold. We are now at the fifth month with no evidence at all of any job creation nor any stimulation of the local economy. Further reading: The 33km "fast-tracked" Coastal Walking Trail funding and process under the spotlight

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