Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Ministerial Statements

Regional Budget Statement

5:53 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise to take note of the Regional ministerial budget statement 2023-24, released last night. I fully commend the response by the National Party leader and Shadow Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud in fully attacking and disclosing the real truth about Labor's budget deficit for the regions. If you thought the Labor Party had it in for the regions after the October budget, when they slashed over $22 billion of projects, programs and funding, they left absolutely no doubt last night. There were no new rail programs, no new road funding and no new regional grant funding applications, the types of programs that have underpinned small communities' and regional capitals' need for community and social infrastructure. There was no vision in last night's budget for the nine million of us who do not live in capital cities, who actually underpin the wealth of this nation, the nine million of us that grow clean, green product that feeds and sustains us here, domestically, but that we also export to markets around the globe. I know my colleague Senator McDonald will go into the resources sector in more detail shortly, but without the resources sector from the regions, Jim Chalmers would absolutely have no surplus in last night's budget. So it is very much the wealth producing areas of our nation that have copped it in the neck from a Labor Party that only has its eye and concern on those in capital cities and suburbs.

There were new suburban programs—no worries, tick, tick, tick—but nothing for rural and regional Australia. We are 30 per cent of the population, 40 per cent of our economic output with zero focus and concern of the Labor Party. Was there a plan to deal with the rural doctor shortage? No. Was there a plan to more broadly deal with the lack of primary health care in regional capitals, rural country towns and, appallingly, in remote Indigenous communities? No. No, there wasn't. Was there one additional childcare place for people in country towns and rural capitals? No. They were talking a big game about childcare affordability, but what if you can't even access a place? The affordability of the place means nothing.

This Prime Minister, this government, won the election. We live in a democracy and we respect democratic traditions. He promised to govern for all Australians. For those of us that don't live in capital cities in this country, we ain't feeling it. We are feeling forgotten and neglected. We've seen in the budget an increase in taxes on our trucking industry, on our buses and on heavy vehicles large and small. From the big B-doubles that take cattle from Cloncurry to ports for the live export trade to small delivery vans in regional capitals, every single truck driver will be seeing an increase in the fuel excise to the tune of $1.1 billion over the next three years. That's a tax on every single thing we make and every single thing we produce. The Labor Party like to claim this budget isn't inflationary, yet every decision they seem to make is not putting a downward pressure on inflation.

The highlight of hypocrisy last night was the announcement of a tax on Australian farmers—for what? For a biosecurity system. Australian farmers aren't producing the risk to our biosecurity system. They're actually the ones that were yelling the loudest when this government fumbled our response to foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks in Indonesia and Bali, when those opposite first came to power. It's Australian farmers who have been begging for a tight, sustainable biosecurity system that makes sure that those who are the risk bearers actually pay for it, who are the passengers that are coming through our airports. They are the importers, the bulk commodity importers, with the shipping containers. I am a former agriculture minister. Varroa mite and brown marmorated stink bug are things I didn't know about before I got that role. The brown marmorated stink bug came in on imported Italian plastic chairs in a shipping container, yet we refuse to charge those that are holding the risk. The bulk commodity importers are not paying it. Who are they slugging? Australian farmers, whose skyrocketing input costs mean that they are price takers.

I tell you, John Kerin would absolutely be rolling in his grave, given his love for rural and regional Australia, his adoration for our agriculture industry, to see a Labor Party that, in their first serious budget, does nothing for rural and regional Australia. The Stronger Communities program: gone. The Resilient Regional Leaders program: gone—and the enhanced regional security screening program for regional airports. And heaven forbid we might want to go and see a specialist in a capital city and not have to drive seven hours to get there. Do you know why there's a higher death rate in rural and regional communities? It's because they just choose not to go to the specialist. They can't afford a week off farm or a week away from the kids, so they just don't go to that specialist check-up. So airports are not just important for the import and export of goods. It is about access to health care, access to education, and economic benefits—scrapped.

The national freight and supply chain priorities, the Inland Rail Interface Improvement program: we've heard this government scathing about the Inland Rail. I've been on the ground in regional New South Wales in the last couple of weeks. This is a project that is delivering economic benefits right now. This government has nothing good to say about rural and regional Australia. We've had enough of it. Do you know why they don't vote for you? Because you don't back them. You don't back our industries. You don't back our access to services that you all take for granted. If you want to talk about vulnerable people and communities, we know about them, because we represent them. The eight electorates with the lowest median income level in this country are National Party electorates. Those with the highest Indigenous populations are National Party electorates.

So, we don't come here with some confected concern, some theoretical ideological approach to making things more sustainable. We actually know what is required. You've had this consistent focus on funding huge stadium projects in capital cities or on funding Daniel Andrews's pet project of the suburban rail loop—$2.2 billion—in Victoria, rather than putting it in to road or rail projects which will lower emissions and take freight trucks off roads and make our roads safer. That's another thing you've done: you've cut the road safety funding. So, the only thing in this budget for us out in the regions is the quiet but succinct and very deeply held acknowledgement that this Labor Party doesn't care about those of us who don't live in capitals, and it's hard to not think that that is a very partisan decision to make.

I commend my leader's response in the other place. I condemn Catherine King and her failure to deliver for regional Australia in this budget, and Jim Chalmers and Anthony Albanese. I look forward to the re-election of a coalition government that will once again reinvest in the heart of our nation: rural and regional Australia.


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