Thursday, 13 May 2021
I'm incredibly pleased to speak today on the budget, focusing particularly on the regional Australia element. This would have to be a period of enormous opportunity and growth for the regions in Australia. Despite the incredible impacts of COVID-19, it has been the regions that have continued to power this country. I particularly think of all the workforce in mining camps and agricultural parts of the country who had to go through that initial lockdown period. Those workers had to make the decision to move to a state or a part of the country, sometimes leaving their families behind for a very long period of time, while they dug in and committed to ensuring that Australia continued staying at work, continued mining, continued agriculture, and continued feeding this country. That of course also includes the truck drivers of this nation, the supply chains of this country, that just kept on keeping on despite the challenges of border crossings, of COVID tests and of being away from home. We know that our truck drivers have all the challenges across the land with not enough amenities, and that is something that I know the state governments and territories will be focused on.
Regional Australia, though, is made up of not only industries but also, most importantly, communities and people. So, whilst I'm particularly excited about the $10 billion worth of infrastructure development commitment to regional Australia, I want to touch on a couple of them, like the $400 million for the inland freight route from Mungindi to Charters Towers. This is incredibly important for our truck and transport operators, who are having to deal with roads that have not been maintained sufficiently by that state government. This will give them a safer and smoother passage to transport animals, goods and, sometimes, people.
Money—$240 million—has also been made available for the Cairns Western Arterial Road duplication. Again, this is an important part of allowing our northern Queensland communities to develop. The instant asset write-off—touched on so many times over the last few months—has been an incredible boon to agricultural, mining and other businesses, allowing them to reinvest in capital that improves their businesses and to establish themselves for years to come. That is incredibly important. This budget is not just about money that will be used in the short term; it is about establishing the regions for a generation to come. The telehealth program, which leapt forward by maybe as much as 10 years, allows Australians, particularly in regional Australia, to contact their doctors and to have consultations without leaving their homes. Remember, in regional Australia a doctor might be hours away.
This budget has particularly reinvested in the northern Australia agenda. The northern Australia reinsurance pool—$10 billion over 10 years—will ensure that people who've bought into units, families in homes, people in businesses, can continue to access capital in the north. Of course you cannot do this without insurance, and certainly the insurance market in northern Queensland had failed.
I want to touch on some of those community elements that I mentioned earlier, like the idea of committing to preschool places for Australian children. We know that the education of three- and four-year-olds has a significant and long-lasting benefit on their later educational outcomes. The increase of the child-care subsidy, in part, will affect around 250,000 families. The preschool places will apply to children who live right across this country. We know we have about 1,500 children being educated by distance education because of their geographical isolation. How terrific that that will extend to them!
I want to correct an earlier statement. I believe I said $10 billion; it's $110 billion of rolling infrastructure program over the next 10 years. This is a huge amount of money. It is very significant for developing the part of the country where we grow the food and fibre, we mine the resources and we raise our families. It is a terrific part of the world to be in.
The Northern Australia Beef Roads Program is also a terrific program. Mayors right across the state have called for it, but there's been no greater advocate than the mayor of the Blackall-Tambo shire, Andrew Martin. All the shires between there and Rockhampton have been calling for additional funds. This budget has committed another $100 million towards the Northern Australia Beef Roads Program. We know that improving roads improves safety for truck drivers and it also improves animal welfare outcomes for beef cattle. It means that cattle are transported in a way that has less impact on them and they lose less weight—a terrific outcome for everybody involved.
Water projects have already been touched on by Senator McKenzie. I'll touch on those in the great state of Queensland and particularly the Big Rocks Weir at Charters Towers where $30 million has been committed by the federal government. We are now just waiting for the Queensland government to discover where Charters Towers is so that they too can support the town water supply that this Big Rocks Weir will address. Money has also been made available to Geoscience Australia for the Great Artesian Basin water balance model. How important is this! We'll finally get more accurate information on the water that is available from our terrific water resource in the Great Artesian Basin and understand the recharges and the aquifers that surround it. There's $24 million for the Hells Gate Dam, in addition to the Big Rocks Weir. The Hughenden irrigation scheme business case has $10 million. There is $11 million for that terrific project, the Mareeba-Dimbulah Water Supply Scheme efficiency improvement. And, of course, there's $3 million for the Upper Burdekin feasibility study.
I could go on and on and on about all the terrific announcements in this budget and in recent months, but I specifically want to finish on the amazing support for regional aviation in this country. With the shutdowns that we experienced at the beginning of the COVID crisis last year, we discovered just how much is carried by our regional airlines. It's not just people; it's also freight, medicine, specialists flying to places like Mount Isa to provide cancer treatments. These are all critical areas that are supported by the airline industry. It was immediately apparent to the minister for transport, and he developed the Domestic Aviation Network Support scheme, commonly known as DANS, and the Regional Airline Network Support scheme, RANS. This has been supported by the Remote Airstrip Upgrade Program, with $8.2 million in funding, which is improving emergency landing strips across the north. Of course, there is the Regional Airports Program.
Something that has been little discussed is the Women in the Aviation Industry Initiative. Currently, women in aviation make up only about four per cent of pilots, and even less, as you'd imagine, of the engineers and maintenance crew. So this $4 million of funding assistance will allow support for women to have opportunities to get into the aviation sector—a terrific sector, an incredibly important one in a nation as great and as large as ours. I reflect on the founders of Qantas Airways, who talked about the tyranny of distance and how aviation can solve some of those problems for regional Australia. That is another important element of this incredibly regionally focused budget—something that I'm very proud of and that I know will establish regional Australia for another generation to come.