Thursday, 15 May 2008
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Would the minister outline how the government is assisting regional development in Australia? Has the government changed the areas in which regional development assistance can be given?
The government are indeed committed to delivering for regional Australia, and our budget on Tuesday night delivered $176 million to fulfil our Better Regions election commitments. Next year we will establish the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, a program that will encourage economic development and invest in local community infrastructure. We provided on Tuesday night $74 million for the new regional development Australian network; $8 million for the Office of Northern Australia, which will be based in Townsville and Darwin; $10 billion for rural and regional road and rail initiatives over the next five years; and $1.9 billion for local government across Australia. All of that is on top of the $20 billion Building Australia Fund that will deliver critical infrastructure for the nation’s regions.
I was intrigued to hear the former government continue to defend their approach to regional development, in particular the Regional Partnerships program. I was intrigued to see the member for Calare and my shadow minister stating that he was worried that Labor had changed regional programs so that city groups could now compete for funding. He argued that Regional Partnerships had excluded funding in the cities, and said of Labor’s approach:
It is going to make a town like Tibboburra in the far north-west, the most isolated town in New South Wales, compete with areas like Wollongong, Newcastle and Sydney.
That backs up comments by the leader of the Nationals, who said on 8 May to the ABC about the Regional Partnerships program:
This program was specifically designed to provide things in small communities. The big cities have got the resources and can often provide, on a commercial basis, projects that are simply unviable in regional areas.
So there you have it—post election the senior members of the National Party and the opposition arguing that Regional Partnerships money was just for regional areas. The reality of course is very different. Regional Partnerships provided $43 million on a political basis for projects in Australia’s capital cities whenever it was convenient.
When you think about regional Australia you think about Orange, Tibooburra, Townsville, Wangaratta—you think of these regional communities around the nation. Well, just before the last election, under the Regional Partnerships program, the former government committed $1.5 million for a surf lifesaving club. Was the surf lifesaving club on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, at Coffs Harbour in New South Wales or perhaps on the Surf Coast in Victoria? No, it was at Bondi Beach. Under the Regional Partnerships program, $1.5 million went to a club at Bondi Beach. But, of course, there is form. It was not just the North Bondi Surf Club in the electorate of the shadow Treasurer, the member for Wentworth, who was under pressure during an election campaign, which received funding. There is form here because in 2004 the then government committed $422,000 for a marine discovery centre, again under the Regional Partnerships—
I understand that they do not want to hear this, but I am happy to talk about Regional Partnerships consistently in this parliament. You would think that the marine discovery centre funded under Regional Partnerships might be on the Great Barrier Reef. But let us not be East Coast centric; it might be at Ningaloo. There are lots of areas where it could be in regional Australia. Oh no, it was at Bondi as well—in the electorate of Wentworth. And it does not stop there. Regional Partnerships had a forerunner—the Regional Assistance Program. Nine hundred thousand dollars went to the electorate of Wentworth. It does not just stop at regional funding. Let us come to roads. The former government had a program called the Strategic Regional Program. It was designed for disadvantaged regional areas suffering from drought. Do you know where $2 million dollars went for a road under the Strategic Regional Program?
You want to hear. When you go to Bondi Beach, go to Campbell Parade. Campbell Parade was funded $2 million under this program. Geography had nothing to do with how regional funding occurred under the former government. It was all about politics. Yet, now they are in opposition, the shadow Treasurer, the member for Wentworth, said just on Tuesday that inefficient programs should be ‘changed, revised, removed’. So when he is part of the government, he is prepared to sit in the cabinet room and take money from regional Australia to funnel it into marginal seats in Sydney. It is all about complete fiscal irresponsibility. That defines this opposition—an opposition that has completely lost its way, an opposition that is prepared to mislead the Australian public when it—
The member for Wentworth is very excited about this. He thinks this is terrific because he is the shadow Treasurer with no idea about economic responsibility, no idea about good infrastructure funding such as that which we are providing—a planned approach to infrastructure development. On the other side, it was all about pork during election campaigns. That is one of the reasons they were rejected last November. They were rejected because they had no long-term plan for the future.