House debates

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Matters of Public Importance

Rural and Regional Australia

3:59 pm

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

At a time when people in the bush are looking for stability, the member for New England follows in the footsteps of his friend and colleague the member for Warringah, providing only doubt and destabilisation. We all heard his recent comments in the media almost daring his fellow National Party members to offer him his old job back—'Come on, I'm up for it; I'd be good.' I looked at him today when he was standing in the chamber to answer the question posed by the member for Hunter. You could see it was almost like a job interview—a role-play for: 'If you had me back, this is how great I can be. Look at what you're missing. Come on, give me a second chance.' Will they give him a second chance? That is the big question. To be frank with you, what a joke. Their constituencies deserve better. Some of the poorest areas in our country are so sadly represented by people who are, quite frankly, just prepared to accept any sort of crumb of leadership.

Let's talk about the many failings of the Liberal-National coalition when it comes to rural and regional Australia. There are the cuts to school funding. They might talk about 'record money being spent'—well, of course the population goes up and the funding goes up, but that just goes up by way of people being born. The higher the population, the more kids there are going to school. It's not actually about real increases to funding for education. And, as was mentioned before, every cut to schools impacts regional and rural schools far more than their city cousins.

Cuts to hospital funding and freezes to the Medicare rebate hurt people in the regional and rural areas far more than people in the cities. We already know there are people with a major health condition, such as cancer, for example. We all know plenty of people who are trying to battle that insidious disease. Well, those living in regional and rural areas have poorer survival rates than those living in the major cities. The further patients living with cancer are from the major cities, the more likely they are to die within five years of contracting cancer. That's totally unacceptable. How can this government continue to navel-gaze when the people of the bush, quite truthfully, are dying from a preventable disease? It's far more serious than the charades put forward in this place.

Of course, the other big white elephant in the room is the NBN. We hear them joking about, 'When you had it, there were no complaints.' We thought of it, we rolled it out, and we would have administered it at a far higher standard than anyone in this joke of a government has ever done. It is the greatest infrastructure project this nation has seen in many decades.

While we're talking about infrastructure: I was privileged to be the deputy chair of a joint select committee put up to look at decentralisation and regional development. I can tell you that we travelled the country, and people from the regions were begging for decent infrastructure. Local government organisations were coming, looking not only for cash but also for creative ideas from a good government to really put some energy and some employment back in the region. Sadly, they are begging for that. Quite interestingly, I can't help but note that, in my tenure as deputy chair, I saw three chairs come through that committee. They were being promoted, demoted and moved all about this unstable government at a rapid rate. One of the most interesting points I did note from that was—if you remember back to April 2017—a dictum put forth from the then minister for regional Australia, Fiona Nash. She said that she was writing to every department to ask why they shouldn't decentralise and that they were going to have to respond by August. Well, 12 months has gone by since that—

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