EXCLUSIVE: 2016 council bungle set tone for troubled Rattler
THE delays and blowouts on the revitalisation of the Mary Valley Rattler have made headlines, but it was a bungle that flew beneath the radar that started it all.
Documents obtained through Right to Information reveal Gympie Regional Council's application for $5million funding under the Building our Regions program was denied because of an error in council's application.
The mistake delayed the project by six months and forced council to seek other options.
As part of its application, the council included $2.6 million already promised from the State Government over the past two years, alongside a $3.2 million ratepayer contribution.
However $600,000 of the $2.6 million was from the Royalties for Regions program - which made the application ineligible under the guidelines.
That fact was a detail that was readily available.
In 2014 The Gympie Times ran articles noting the funds' origin, including when Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney announced the "strategic” funding on August 25, and when the Labor Opposition accused him of pork barrelling LNP electorates with Royalties for Regions.
A Queensland Audit Office report on Royalties for Regions tabled in State Parliament on December 1, 2015 also identified the $600,000 Mary Valley Rattler funding.
Perhaps most awkward of all, however, is that the council's application itself confirms the state's funding by hyperlinking to a Department of State Development webpage that identifies the project as a Royalties for Regions one.
A council spokeswoman admitted council had made a mistake. "This was an error on behalf of council,” she said.
The application was submitted on April 29, 2016, but because of that year's local government elections, Gympie council received an extension on when they could approve the required Expression of Interest.
The Expression of Interest was unanimously endorsed by councillors at their May 4, 2016 meeting.
This was also the date that assessors ruled the application ineligible, noting: "Under the round two BoR program guidelines, an EOI is ineligible if the project is a previous recipient of funding (for this component of this project) from an earlier round of Building our Regions or Royalties for the Regions”.
"This EOI seeks $5 million in funding as part of a $10.8million project to replace and remediate the Valley Rattler's track infrastructure and refurbish existing buildings and rolling stock.
"However, the track infrastructure and rolling stock components of this project were approved for full state government funding ($2.6M) as an R4R project ($0.6M was directly from R4R and $2M from other Queensland Government sources).
"The total project cost has increased by $8.2 million based on the completed business case.
"The original approved funding was conditional on the acceptance of a robust business case.”
Over the next two days the council wrote to the department proposing the council's application be amended to reduce the state's contribution by $600,000 and raise the council's by the same, from $3.2 million to $3.8 million.
Despite the close timing of the resubmission, the council spokeswoman said they had received no advice from the state that the application was ineligible.
She said that after the EOI was endorsed "it was almost immediately realised the application was ineligible through the inclusion of the $600k and (council) made contact via a letter on the 6th of May to rectify the matter”.
"However the State understandably maintained adherence to guidelines, (and) the only formal advice from the State was on the 20th of July when the application had been deemed unsuccessful.”
The assessors noted the reason as "due diligence was not undertaken at EOI stage”.
By then the council had endorsed the $65 Economic Development Levy and made a $3.8 million commitment to the Rattler (with a further $250,000 in start-up costs) to "match the Queensland Government's commitment to the recommencement of the 'Rattler' activities”.
It would then take a further six months for the council to secure funding through the Works for Queensland program, unveiled by the State in January 2017.
Unlike the BoR program that only required works start by June 30, 2017, the W4Q stipulated a November 30, 2017 delivery deadline.
Down the line
Timeline of the failed BoR application
- August 25-29, 2014: LNP's Jeff Seeney announces Royalties for Regions funding for the Rattler, gets accused of pork barrelling by Labor Opposition
- January 31, 2015: Labor wins Queensland Government after election
- December 1, 2015: Audit Office tables report on Royalties for Regions
- March 19, 2016: Gympie council elections
- April 29, 2016: Rattler Building our Regions application lodged by council
- May 4, 2016: Councillors endorse BoR expression of interest for application; State Government initially rules Rattler is ineligible for BoR
- May 5-6, 2016: Council writes to State proposing change to application, removing conflicting $600,000 and increasing council contribution from $3.2 million to $3.8 million
- June 6, 2016: State assessors sign off on application's ineligibility, funding plan remains unchanged
- June 16, 2016: Council adopts budget including $3.8 million contribution for Rattler and $250,000 in start-up costs
- July 20, 2016: State informs council Rattler application is unsuccessful
- January 19, 2017: Works for Queensland program announced, applications to be made by February 10
- February 20, 2017: $4.7m Works for Queensland Rattler funding secured