Thursday, 13 May 2021
by leave—I move:
That the Senate take note of the document.
This year's budget is a budget for the bush. It follows on from the regional budget of last year to cement our government's commitment to rural and regional Australia. Despite the challenges of the past few years in the regions, with drought, flood, fire and now a mouse plague, our regional industries have carried this nation through the COVID pandemic, and that is why our regional investment is the right thing to do for the nation and for our ongoing economic recovery. The pandemic has changed the way we view our regions. With 43,000 Australians opting to make the move from the city to the regions, it is vital that we as a government invest in the infrastructure and services needed to ensure our regions remain the best places in the world to live. From my perspective, regional New South Wales is certainly the best place to live, but it will be even better, thanks to the commitment of the Nationals in this government to continue to deliver services over the great divide.
For the first time ever this is a health budget specifically focused on the almost eight million Australians who live and work in the regions. All Australians, regardless of where they live, should have access to high-quality health care, and that is what we as a government are delivering. To do this we know that we must attract, train and retain doctors in the bush. That is why we are investing for the long term. This year we saw the first intake into the Murray-Darling medical schools, with three of the five campuses located in New South Wales and the campuses in Wagga Wagga and Orange accepting students from February this year. As well as piloting new workforce programs in New South Wales to better support our young doctors, including working with the Murrumbidgee Local Health District, our government is developing a streamlined program to support the National Rural Generalist Pathway and complementing that with training for early-career allied health professionals through an expanded allied health rural generalist pathway. But we know we also need an immediate measure to help our existing regional doctors, and that is why we are providing a new, progressive bulk-billing schedule to better acknowledge the remoteness under the Medicare Benefits Schedule. We understand doctors face greater health complexities and challenges in regional and remote areas, and that is why more than 12,000 GPs across the nation will be eligible for this higher bulk-billing incentive, but only GPs based in regional areas.
We are also looking after those who've looked after us. Rural, regional and remote communities will see improvements to residential aged-care funding models, an expansion of home-care packages, direct funding for infrastructure upgrades and greater support for our aged-care workforce. We are also acutely aware of the need to look after our mental as well as our physical health: $2.3 billion is being invested into mental health and suicide prevention, the largest investment in Australia's history. That includes a new national network of 57 additional mental health treatment centres and satellites as well as expansion of the very successful headspace program, and this will all bolster services for young and old in the bush.
The Nationals have always advocated for better communications in regional areas. We fought for and implemented the Mobile Black Spot Program, which in New South Wales has now seen 284 mobile towers delivered. We've also developed and we are delivering the Regional Connectivity Program, which enables communities to identify the right local solution for better online digital access. Already in New South Wales 15 projects have been funded, including mobile voice and data coverage, fixed wireless, and fibre broadband services. This includes projects like the Murrumbateman fixed wireless network and the connecting the outback project in Boggabri.
Importantly, this budget provides business and personal tax relief. The instant asset write-off has been a boon for small business and farmers across the nation. I personally know of farm machinery suppliers who are struggling to keep up with demand because of the success of this program, so we're extending it. Further to this, over three million low- and middle-income earners in New South Wales alone will receive tax relief of up to about $1,080 over the financial year, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the increased excise rebate for small distilleries and independent brewers. In New South Wales there are 87-plus small distilleries who will benefit from the increase from $100,000 to $350,000 for this rebate, which brings them in line with our very successful wine industry. When this move was announced, it was within hours that I got my first letter from a small distiller saying they are now going to advertise for more staff and reinvest, because with distilleries and breweries, like wineries, a dollar invested in their business is multiple dollars invested in their communities as they boost regional tourism and the hospitality sector as well.
As ever, the Nationals are committed to our regional infrastructure. Roads, rail and freight keep our people moving. We know local roads are just as important as our major highways and corridors. That is why we are investing $278.5 million more in the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program rolled out by local governments and $270 million in New South Wales alone for road safety projects. We are finally investing in the Great Western Highway to improve the flow of traffic over the Great Dividing Range from Katoomba to Lithgow. Our commitment to Inland Rail is ongoing, and we are increasing commitment to the Building Better Regions Fund, providing a sixth round. This fund has already seen 249 projects in New South Wales alone—projects like the Orange City Council central business district revitalisation or the Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Gardens visitor centre.
And jobs; we are always committed to jobs. This budget increases our JobTrainer package to see ongoing investment into the future workforce that we need to support our industries. Working with the states, we're providing free or low-fee access to courses for in-demand industries like agriculture, manufacturing and construction—industries so important to our regional economies. We've also extended the apprenticeship wage subsidy measure, which has been so successful at enabling employers to take on and train new staff—new staff, new skilled work men and women who will then go on to service our towns and our industries.
I could not be more proud of this budget. I could not be more proud of the team I work with to ensure that this budget is focused not just on where our major population centres are but on where our economy is driven from. It is our regional economy, the resources sector, the agricultural sector, that has kept us ticking over for the last few years, and particularly during this pandemic. So I congratulate the government and I congratulate my colleagues. I commend this budget and our regional budget statement to the chamber.