Senate debates

Thursday, 14 November 2013


Grey Electorate: Labor Government Achievements

6:32 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight to make a contribution in the adjournment debate on my favourite subject: the electorate of Grey. I would like to place on the record at the commencement of the 44th Parliament the achievements of Labor government in the 43rd Parliament. This will provide a short synopsis, if you like, of something that can be visible across a number of electorates in Australia—in fact, probably all electorates.

During Labor's time in government we ensured that regional Australia was not left behind. Labor recognised the important link between regional communities and the rest of the country. It is why Labor invested heavily in Grey. A Labor government understands the importance of investing in regional communities around the country. Contrary to what Senator Ian Macdonald often repeats in this chamber, Labor does understand the regions.

During our time in government, we worked hard to ensure the gap between regional Australia and the rest of the country was closing instead of widening. We need to connect Australians all around the country and understand that the work that Australians in regional areas do is essential to the rest of our country. A genuine concern of mine is that Grey will be forgotten by this Liberal government and it is already showing signs, pulling the NBN out of Port Augusta. It is important that investment into regional communities continues under this coalition government.

During my time as a senator I have been fortunate to travel to my duty electorate of Grey on many occasions. Each time my preferred method of travel through the electorate has been by car. Anyone who knows the electorate of Grey knows just how vast the area is. It is one of the largest electorates in the country, covering more than 90 per cent of South Australia. Travelling by road gives you the opportunity to explore much more of the area and to meet more of the local people. I am of firmly of the belief that unless you get out there and talk to people you cannot really be aware of what is going on. You cannot know or understand the issues that are affecting people or what their concerns are unless you hear or see it firsthand. There is no better way of finding out how the electorate is faring.

I have twice visited the APY Lands twice since being elected as a senator for South Australia and I am committed to visiting there each and every year of my term for a minimum of a week. I was fortunate enough on my first visit to represent the then minister for education, the Hon. Peter Garrett, at a trade training centre opening; and visit arts centres which received funding through the Regional Development Australia Fund under the Hon. Simon Crean's carriage. I have seen first hand what can be done. With a modest amount of investment we can have some real outcomes and real achievements.

People of the APY Lands, like all Australians, want the opportunity of a fair go. To stand here today and say with confidence that Labor has invested in those outcomes which hopefully will deliver a fair go in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara communities.

Thanks to Labor, we saw around $46.2 million go into 11 trade training centres across the electorate of Grey. Thanks to Labor, there was $165.9 million provided for 340 projects at 133 schools across the Building the Education Revolution Program. Thanks to Labor, there was $13.76 million allocated to 176 projects under the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program. Labor provided $24.5 million through the Regional Development Australia Fund.

Labor's investment in Job Services Australia saw around 15,000 people in Grey placed in work since the program began. I stand here today to reiterate the importance of continuing to invest in regional communities. Grey and other regional electorates and communities should not be left behind. The Hon. Tony Abbott and the member for Grey should be put on notice to not leave Grey behind. Services and programs which Labor has worked hard to deliver for the good of regional communities should not be slashed. We have heard today about the Commission of Audit; let us hope that the Commission of Audit does not come back with an impact on regional and rural Australia.

Two months after the election, we can already sense a bit of uncertainty about which services the residents of Grey and other regional communities will have and which they will miss out on. It has not taken long, as I have said, for the coalition to swing the axe and cut the NBN in Grey—mainly in Port Augusta, which was set to be connected in the upcoming months. For people who suffer the tyranny of distance, the NBN is critical. The NBN is e-health, e-education and e-learning, No more five- or six-hour trips to the specialist—you may be able to do that with a proper fibre connection, but that has gone. About 70 per cent of Australians support the NBN, which shows that the government is not listening to what people want, and I think that will become clearer and clearer throughout the term of this government. The decisions that are made should be right for and should benefit all Australians.

Another big cut, which we have already seen, is to the Regional Development Australia Fund. Labor had announced earlier in the year that there would be funding of around $150 million in grants for round 5 of the Regional Australia Development Fund. Now we hear that the coalition will only give funding to contracted projects in the RDAF round 5 funding, which could seriously hurt some of the RDAF applications in Grey. What the coalition government fails to recognise is that the Regional Development Australia Fund was designed to stimulate regional economies and create jobs. We also know that there will be a detrimental effect on the residents of Grey if other services and investments made in Grey are scrapped by the coalition government.

It comes down to this. Who loses out in Grey under the Hon. Tony Abbot? Around 9,950 eligible families—around 17,550 children—lose the schoolkids bonus, and 36,500 people in Grey will lose years of super savings. For a 35-year-old plumber, the superannuation guarantee increase under Labor adds up to $74,000 by the time they retire. For a 22-year-old hairdresser, that increase adds up to almost $100,000 by the time they retire at 67. Around 21,800 people in Grey—mostly women—will lose up to $500 if the low income superannuation contribution is slashed; 9,452 young people, single parents and unemployed in Grey will lose the extra help they need to meet the costs of essential services like electricity, gas and water, which is $210 less for eligible singles and $350 less for couples; and 17,300 small businesses will lose the $6,500 instant asset write-off.

The people of Grey and the people who live in regional electorates around this country should not be left behind by government, which may well happen if the government does not make regional Australia a priority. I am hopeful the government will think carefully about any cuts they make and that they understand the negative impacts cuts will have on the residents of Grey.

Mr President, you might have gathered that I am passionate about the electorate of Grey. It is a wonderful electorate to travel around, and it is wonderful to represent its Labor voters and to take every opportunity to advance the cause of regional Australia. It is exceedingly clear to me that the picture of Grey is probably the same as the picture of a number of electorates around Australia. The 43rd Parliament, under the Gillard-Rudd government, delivered for regional Australia. I, and many other senators and members of the House of Representatives, I am sure, have attended many functions in the bush. Not one community has ever said, 'We don't want your school hall', 'We don't want your program,' or 'We don't want your health centre.' No-one has ever said that. They have applauded the Labor government's commitment to regional Australia, which has underpinned rural economies, the employment of apprentices and growth in employment, and it has made those communities much better than they were prior to the Labor period in office.

Let us hope that there is no diminution in that effort or in the recognition of regional Australia and that the coalition continues to build on our advancements.


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