Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Ministerial Statements

Regional Budget Statement

6:12 pm

Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Resources) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the regional ministerial budget statement given by the minister in the other place. I want to acknowledge a number of the items that Senator McKenzie has already spoken about and also a number of the things that Senator Allman-Payne has spoken about, which is the very real and distinct challenges for regional Australia. We live in a vast continent. Queensland, in particular, is one of the most decentralised states in all the world, yet that does not seem to have been reflected in any way in this budget.

It is just devastating to listen to interviews with peak bodies, with industry sectors and with communities across Australia as they have reflected on exactly that. They reflected on things like: the lack of funding for first and last mile road spending; the removal of water projects, particularly in northern Australia, as well as right across the country; and the inability of this government to articulate a food security commitment to agricultural production across Australia. This is something that we do incredibly well, and food security and affordable food with good nutritional content is something that we should remain focused on—not just for people who can afford to go to lovely farmers markets in the cities but for people who live in really remote places where their food is not fresh, the nutritional value has fallen and the prices are eye watering. One of the things that the coalition government committed to was expenditure for a cold store in Alice Springs to try and improve the quality of food that's distributed to different parts of the country.

I digress. There is so much to talk about regarding regional Australia. Education is something that Senator Allman-Payne touched on already. I want to go further afield again to the geographically isolated children of the families who work on remote cattle stations and to people in remote mining communities, who do travelling work, whether it's contract work or work in remote communities. These kids and families have really been completely forgotten. They did so much work prior to this election in speaking to Labor ministers about basic support to be able to allow these families to educate their kids. During COVID a lot of parents got firsthand knowledge of what it was like to educate their children. It's hard work, and it's incredibly important work. These kids are missing out. There was no acknowledgement of a number of the issues that were raised with the government and certainly no funding in this budget for them.

I think about the forgotten flood, which is what I've taken to calling the floods in Far North Queensland that ran up through the Leichhardt River and devastated some of those communities. Tens of thousands of head of cattle were strung up in trees and washed out to sea, and there were communities where the water went above head level, through homes and through little classrooms, and yet the disaster relief agency has not even heard of some of these places because the government, in their wisdom, decided that they wouldn't mobilise the Army. Instead, these people have been left completely forgotten, unable to apply for assistance because their address doesn't fit the government's formatted 'Five Smith Street' kind of address profile, which is just incredibly frustrating in this day and age.

We've talked about the increase of the Medicare, but there is still no acknowledgement or limited acknowledgement of the additional training places that we need for nurses in regional places and for GPs in regional places, so I just wonder how deep we're going to let the regions slide and how much disadvantage we're going to bake in. We had plans to be continuously upgrading services, roads and blackspot programs, but, again, under this government they have just been completely politicised and ripped away.

I watched the biosecurity announcement discussion from the agricultural minister. It is really distressing to see that somehow farmers are responsible and not the people who bring in pests and weeds into this country. But it is farmers! Yet, again, in Queensland the state Labor government is pulling biosecurity officers out of regional communities, which means of course that there is no front line, as the minister keeps talking about.

The childcare subsidy—what a terrific announcement if it was available to all Australians, which, of course, it's not. In regional Australia there are very limited childcare centres and even more limited childcare workers, which means that this budget package will only apply it to people who live in inner-city areas. Again, it's another tragedy for women and parents who are trying to go back to work to work in these really important sectors, whether it be tourism or agriculture or—and this is the elephant in the room—the resources sector, because this budget has been funded by the strength of the resources sector, not through any action of this Labor government at all. In fact, Labor has done everything it possibly can to attack the resources sector and the communities that keep this country going. Labor is using this resources windfall to hide their reckless spending, which, as economists and commentators over the last 24 hours have described, will only further drive up inflation, will further drive up interest rates and will further drive up the cost of living for Australians right across the country. So, I guess what they say is true: you will always pay more under Labor.

As for the resources sector, the finance minister was not able to say the words iron ore, coal or gas. In fact, in the Treasurer's speech, last night, he spoke about 'things' we export and 'key exports'. That was as close as he could come to acknowledging the industries that have paid the bills and allowed him to enjoy the coalition-led surplus that he talked about last night. Iron ore exports earned $121 billion for this nation, coal exports earned $128 billion and gas LNG exports earned $91 billion. That is $464 billion that was brought into this country's accounts, yet this government could not even say that word, could not acknowledge those sectors and those employees—14.5 per cent of GDP.

The workforce sector, the income paid to those well-paid jobs, mostly in the regions, is $38.1 billion. The PAYG tax take from those wages has funded much of the government's largesse, yet they could not acknowledge those men and women working in those industries. There was $16.7 billion from oil and gas but not an acknowledgement of them, the industry or the people. Over 40 per cent of the corporate tax take came from oil and gas yet there was no acknowledgement. The Treasurer could not say thank you, could not acknowledge the risk, the hard work and the investment that these businesses have made to access, yes, Australia's resources, but with no acknowledgement of the benefits that they provide to this country. There are 286,000 people directly employed by the resources sector and 1.1 million people indirectly supported but there was no acknowledgement of the resources sector. And guess what? There is no easy replacement for those jobs. The minimum salary in those industries is $150,000 a year, and you are not going to get that polishing solar panels. What is our replacement that we propose to fund this country's fabulous First World lifestyle, particularly if you live in a city? So the regions have definitely got it in the neck.

There has been almost no acknowledgement of the important infrastructure that is required, or of the support for education, for health, for other services that are so desperately needed in regional Australia, yet this Labor government has completely sold them out.


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