Topics:  federal budget, high-speed rail, pacific highway, regional development australia fund, rob oakeshott, tourism industry regional development fund

Oakeshott 'looking for more funding for the Pacific Highway'

REGIONAL funding remains secure in the lead-up to next week's Federal Budget, despite fears for the long-term future of regional programs, federal independent Rob Oakeshott said on Tuesday.

Mr Oakeshott's warning comes as the Gillard Government grapples with a $17 billion tax revenue shortfall, major structural problems in the tax system and a likely deficit of at least $7.5 billion.

He said he had been assured funding for the Regional Development Australia Fund and the Tourism Industry Regional Development Fund was secure for the 2013-14 year.

But Mr Oakeshott said he would be looking for certainty that regional funding across all portfolios would be secure over the next four years.

"It'd be welcome, but I don't think we're going to see it," he said.

"So long as we keep the current framework of regional programs in place, then, hopefully, we can see more for regional areas in future budgets."

Mr Oakeshott said he would be looking for more funding for the Pacific Highway, which was suffering from a stalemate over funding between the state and federal government.

"The stalemate on the 50:50 or 80:20 funding share is holding the highway back, and it's a very convenient stalemate for both the state and federal government," he said.

"It has basically let both governments off the hook in terms of actually delivering for the people up and down the New South Wales coast."

Mr Oakeshott said he would also be looking for guaranteed funding for the high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Sydney, which he said was an important alternative to road and air travel.

But he said a key issue he has pushed for throughout the past year - direct funding of local roads for councils - was unlikely to get much support in the budget.

Both major parties last year voted down his proposal for a portion of the GST revenue to fund local roads.

"In my view, there seems to be a culture in both parties of trying to wish it away, but it's still there; it's got to be dealt with," he said.

"Particularly in regional areas, local roads are a major issue for people, and most councils simply don't get enough in rates to do anything but patch holes.

"There seems to be a denial by the government and Opposition of accepting any responsibility on local roads, or to take action, and people are worse off for it."

Mr Oakeshott said overall, a sustainable and sound economic strategy, including widespread tax reform, should be a key part of the budget.

"At a national level, we need to see a sustainable budget position and a sound economic strategy to protect jobs and promote growth," he said.

"While we're not going to see it, what we need is comprehensive tax reform - there is a growing urgency that these issues around who we tax and how we tax need to be dealt with."



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