Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Ministerial Statements

Regional Budget Statement

6:03 pm

Photo of Penny Allman-PaynePenny Allman-Payne (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I too rise to take note of the statement by the Minister for Infrastructure, Regional Development and Local Government, the regional budget statement. The problems faced by regional Australians are very close to my heart as a regional Queenslander. Regional Australia gives a lot to this country, providing most of the food to the cities and accounting for over half of the money brought in from tourism. But supporting our regions means listening to the people who live there. It means understanding that scratching the surface of regional Australia reveals dark depths of inequality and poverty, particularly in many smaller communities.

People living in regional and remote communities in this country die younger and from preventable causes at rates that are much higher than those of their counterparts in the capital cities. Bridging this divide means acknowledging the unique workforce and inequality problems that undermine prosperity in the regions. I've been travelling around regional Queensland in recent weeks, talking to specialists who work in my community, health specialists who travel into my community, regional doctors and other regional health workers. They tell me that part of attracting to regional Australia a health workforce that is well paid includes making sure that there are good homes and education options for these people and their children, as well as professional development opportunities.

Health intervention is welcome, but, without a house to live in or a way to get there, a lot of regions are already struggling to retain the doctors, nurses and medical undergraduates that they need to get the care that people deserve. Right now there is a shortfall of social and affordable housing in regional areas of 227,000. Thirteen hundred is not even going to slice off the top of that. Rather than genuinely engaging with the scale of the housing crisis, this budget has handwaved away the millions of people who are struggling to keep a roof over their head, especially in the regions. Handing out $1.12 a day in rent assistance while rents increase 10 times faster is a fig leaf thrown into a fire. Getting serious about regional Australia means actually providing housing in regional Australia.

I was elected by the people of Queensland to represent their best interests. That means actually standing up and fighting for them, particularly the 81,500 people without an affordable home in regional Queensland. Funnily enough, for my colleagues in the room, scrapping stage 3 tax cuts would absolutely be a regional budget measure. Right now 12 out of the bottom 20 electorates that are set to receive the absolute least from stage 3 cuts are rural and regional seats. These tax cuts do nothing for regional Australia. In Queensland, this means towns like Bundaberg, Charleville, Gympie and virtually all of south-western Queensland from Toowoomba to the border will get next to nothing in the stage 3 cuts. Scrapping the stage 3 cuts would be a regional measure.

Funding of $40.4 million for schools in Central Australia shows us that the Labor Party knows that public schools aren't properly funded in this country. Plugging the funding shortfall for some schools for only two years does not go anywhere near far enough to put our public education system back on track. Right now, public schools are underfunded across the board. This is felt particularly acutely in regional Australia, where I have spent the bulk of my teaching career, where families without resources to board their kids find themselves in a public school system with dwindling resources and a lack of capacity to really provide for those kids. Teachers should not be stretched to their limits to provide our young people with the basic right to a world-class public education. Right now, the government could untie its hands from the arbitrary 20 per cent cap on funding, and they could lift every public school in this country up to and above the minimum school resource standard. Every budget that we don't do this is another year that cements our education system as amongst the most privatised and underfunded public sectors in the world.

Although regional Australia provides for over half of our tourism dollars, this budget has also extended nothing to protecting the environment that brings that money in. Throwing a couple of million dollars towards world heritage properties does absolutely nothing towards genuinely curbing the incoming biodiversity loss we are facing. There has been no attempt in this budget to address the genuine causes of biodiversity loss or to ban native forest logging. It is not true that the government just can't afford better environmental protection. The budget showed us what Labor prioritises, and it is not the environment.

We also need to see genuine spending on emergency response capacity. An investment of $200 million per year is completely dwarfed by the billions that we continue to heap onto fossil fuel corporations to allow them to accelerate climate change and the resulting environment damage. The continued acceleration of the climate crisis means that the impacts will grow in their cost and the devastation of natural disasters will increase, and this will impact people in regional communities. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority estimated that, to recover the economic losses caused by natural disasters, Australia must invest $3.5 billion every year just on natural disaster mitigation and resilience. But what did we see in the budget? We saw an investment of $200 million per year. It won't even touch the sides.

To realistically prepare regional Australia for insurance costs would involve not opening any new coal or gas projects. This is in line with the scientific consensus of how we avoid climate catastrophe. Resilience and mitigation investment should be drawn from the fossil fuel projects we currently subsidise. As a regional Queenslander and as your Greens representative for regional development, I am here to fight for what the regions need, which is health, housing, a world-class public education, a healthy environment and a sustainable economic future.


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