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NCA gets $12m with strings attached

Date

Noel Towell

Canberra's struggling National Capital Authority will be thrown a financial lifeline by the Commonwealth in today's federal budget.

The cash-strapped authority will be one of the few parts of the federal bureaucracy to get more money today with an extra $11.9 million over the next four years.

But Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean says the cash comes with the expectation that the authority resolves confusion about its role, duplication with the powers of the territory, and greater recognition by the NCA of the place of the ACT government in planning the city.

The authority will also have a board member nominated by the ACT government as part of the federal government's response to a review of the NCA's operation by former Defence Department secretary Allan Hawke.

The new funding will go a long way to solving the money problems that have dogged the authority for years, with the NCA so short of funds two years ago that it considered whether to classify itself as a going concern in its accounts after auditors raised an official warning about its finances.

Mr Crean said in a statement yesterday that he wanted to see many of Mr Hawke's recommendations adopted so that planning controls over national land could be simplified.

''The report's recommendations included simplifying the planning system and better recognising the role of the ACT government, developing a five-year plan of information and education activities, and refining the NCA's role in fostering awareness of Canberra as the national capital,'' Mr Crean said.

Mr Crean said the budget funding would put the NCA in a better position to carry out its core work.

''This will position the NCA to fulfil its asset management responsibilities, such as civil infrastructure maintenance on roads, paths, street lights and bridges,'' the minister said.

Authority chief executive Gary Rake welcomed the news of the money but said he understood that the federal minister wanted to see changes to the way the NCA did business.

''It's a strong statement of support for what the NCA does and the way that we do it,'' he said. ''It's very clear that the budget announcement and the government's response to the Hawke review go hand in hand.

''They do have one really consistent theme and that's around clarifying our roles, and in 2012-2013 we'll be making a start on this and really making it the highest priority in these reforms.'' Mr Rake said the new money would help the NCA balance its recurrent spending budget but it would still be some years before its capital works effort recovered from the $20 million it is paying for essential maintenance for the Scrivener Dam.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher welcomed the news of a more stable financial future for the authority and said the sometimes stormy relationship between the NCA and ACT Labor was much improved.

''The NCA has been under financial pressure for a couple of years, but I would say that in the past couple of years we've been working very well with the NCA in trying to collaborate better with them,'' Ms Gallagher said.

''That hasn't always been the case in the past and I think Gary [Rake] has put a lot of effort into that relationship and the Hawke review gave us the opportunity again to work with the federal government and the NCA.''

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