OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has given the strongest indication yet a Coalition government would scrap the successful Regional Development Australia Fund.
Mr Abbott was asked during Tuesday's joint party room meeting if the Coalition planned to continue the fund in some form.
The MP told the meeting the RDAF was extremely popular among local councils, which have been among the key beneficiaries.
Mr Abbott suggested the Coalition would not be in a position to commit to a specific regional fund in the lead-up to the election because of Labor's "debt legacy".
"Politics is not about always saying yes to everyone. Sometimes you have to say no, even to sometimes very worthy causes," Mr Abbott said.
"The test of us in politics is not how many goodies we bring to our electorates, but how well we represent our deepest values."
But the Coalition's regional development spokesman, Senator Barnaby Joyce, said a fund would "definitely exist" for "genuine regional development in genuine regional areas".
He said the question to Mr Abbott had actually referred to the $150 million awarded to councils in the latest RDAF round.
"It's not a matter of getting rid of the RDA, it's how we deal with this," Senator Joyce said.
"Obviously, things that are contracted we'll be supporting and things of merit we'll be supporting.
"But like everything. everything, we have to go through the budget and work out exactly what we can and can't do.
"You can't say we're going to be looking at every side of the budget and not regional development."
The RDAF sprang from the agreement independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor struck with Julia Gillard to help Labor form government after the 2010 election.
But the program has drawn criticism, particularly from some Nationals MPs who have consistently criticised the use of RDAF money for what they describe as "urban development".
Senator Joyce accused the government of putting the word "regional" in front of anything they wanted to fund.
"I will be very sympathetic towards genuine regional development issues, but we're not just going to write a black cheque and say anything that this government decides to put the word regional in front of we will therefore honour," he said.
"You can bet your life they'll have the Regional Opera House."
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