It was a $4.5 million dollar out-of-the-blue election promise that is now under scrutiny due to the process around it.
During a tense election campaign for the marginal seat of Cowper, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a re-elected Coalition government would commit $4.5 million dollars to a tidal pool in Port Macquarie.
He made the announcement on May 9, 2019 during a visit to the town.
The funding was part of the $150 million Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream (FFWSS).
A total of $150 million was spent "supporting the development of female change room facilities at sporting grounds and community swimming facilities across Australia through a new dedicated stream of funding for these activities," according to a Liberal Party press release.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health has told The Port News "the FFWSS Program was not open to applications for grants and projects were selected as election commitments".
The $4.5 million grant was promised despite Port Macquarie-Hastings councillors voting to place on the record that a tidal pool is not a priority for council in May 2018. A feasibility study into the project had not been completed either.
When the Prime Minister announced the funding in May 2019 during a visit to Port Macquarie before the election he described the seat of Cowper as "line-ball".
Retiring Nationals MP Luke Hartsuyker held it on a 4.5% margin but the Nationals were considered vulnerable to a challenge from former independent MP for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott.
Mr Oakeshott was circumspect about suggestions the $4.5 million commitment was "pork-barrelling".
"I don't hear anyone in the community calling to give the money back but the question is how it integrates with other projects," Mr Oakeshott said.
Mr Oakeshott said there are "key projects" that are being ignored.
"The standout project that this town is waiting for is the aquatic centre and rather than helping this project, a tidal pool hinders it because it gets in the way.
"Rather than getting hung up about who played fairly six months ago the main game is how the council integrates the political desire for a tidal pool with the overriding need for a new aquatic centre and makes sure, as much as possible, that sporting funding locally is merit-based and not politically based," he said.
"The upgrade for Wayne Richards Park it is still waiting to happen, the aquatic centre is still waiting to happen, so among all these political sprinklings the key projects are still being ignored."
Nationals MP for Cowper Pat Conaghan rejected criticism of the process.
In a statement to The Port News he said "Port Macquarie is a town of 45,000 people and has only one public swimming pool, so this tidal pool will deliver great sports and recreational benefits, plus the health and tourism benefits from having an alternative to a chlorinated pool".
"Projects of this size and scale always take time to deliver as they need to have their environmental and social impacts and benefits properly assessed," Mr Conaghan said.
Mr Conaghan declined to comment on why this project was selected over other projects.
The Port Macquarie Tidal Pool Committee Incorporated is the recipient of the $4.5 million dollar grant.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said it has been "working with the Port Macquarie Tidal Pool Committee on developing a grant under the Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream Program".
"The department is currently waiting for the Port Macquarie Tidal Pool Committee to provide further information, which will allow the negotiation of a grant agreement," the spokesperson said.
Port Macquarie Tidal Pool Committee Chairman Kathryn Butler, said a feasibility study on the tidal pool funded through a $50 000 grant from the state government, would be completed by the end of March 2020.
Ms Butler said the committee will then prepare a Development Application to submit to Port Macquarie-Hastings Council.
"Before construction can commence there are still a few hurdles to overcome," she said.
Ms Butler added that a tidal pool would be beneficial for the "whole community" and provide a "tourism boost" unlike other projects which have been bandied about.
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