Decisions over the fund that rejected a Bega gallery's plans for redevelopment despite the recommendation of an expert panel were made "based on knowledge of the regions and in line with government strategic priorities", according to the state government.
News from the ABC this week that independent assessors had rated the Bega Valley Regional Gallery's (BVRG) $3.4million plans as their top rated project for the NSW Regional Cultural Fund despite it missing out has raised questions over how the arts industry can have confidence in the NSW government's grants process.
Late on Tuesday, a NSW government spokesperson did not directly answer why Bega Valley Shire Council's application for round two of the fund was rejected in 2018, or say why $8million for the Mackay Park Aquatic, Arts and Cultural Centre in Batemans Bay was approved under the same round.
"Final funding decisions from the panel's recommendations were made by the Minister for the Arts in consultation with the Deputy Premier [John Barilaro] based on knowledge of the regions and in line with government strategic priorities to ensure bold and exciting cultural infrastructure for regional NSW," the spokesperson said.
"Consistent with the approach taken with all Regional Growth Funds, the Deputy Premier consulted with local Members of Parliament to ascertain the principal priorities in local areas."
Earlier on Tuesday, Member for Bega Andrew Constance said the community wanted the Twyford Theatre project in Merimbula, and "their dollars were competing with other dollars around the state".
However, the Twyford Theatre project was granted $7.4million in 2018 by the NSW government from the sale of Snowy Hydro assets, not via the Regional Cultural Fund.
"Batemans Bay is getting the cultural centre, Bega Valley is getting Twyford Hall, [and] the council can continue to push its case for its gallery," Mr Constance said.
Nor did the NSW government spokesperson directly answer what a "quality project" was, following comments by former NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin who in 2018 told the Bega District News "quality projects" that councils were coming up with were "getting funded".
The spokesperson said all 136 projects were eligible for funding and demonstrated their capacity to meet the assessment criteria and deliver cultural infrastructure that will provide ongoing social and economic benefits in regional NSW.
"All projects supported under the Regional Cultural Fund will ensure that the people in our regions have access to arts and cultural facilities and are an unprecedented investment in regional arts and culture in NSW," they said.