Thursday, 30 March 2006
Questions without Notice
Regional Services: Program Funding
My question is to Senator Campbell, the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. I refer the minister to the government grant of $1.5 million for the dredging of Tumbi Creek under the discredited Regional Partnerships program. Can the minister confirm that despite the approval of funding in 2004 not one cubic metre of silt has been dredged from the mouth of Tumbi Creek? Can the minister confirm that the Tumbi Creek fiasco engineered by this government has cost Wyong Shire Council ratepayers more than $400,000 so far?
The thing about the Regional Partnerships program that is incredibly important in places like Tumbi Creek and Gunnedah and Rockingham in Western Australia and other regional areas right around Australia is that the Australian Labor Party have said that the program is a rort and that this sort of support to regional Australia should be closed down. The people who live around Tumbi Creek know very well that there are two approaches to supporting regional communities in Australia. There is the Labor approach, which is to stop the appropriation of funds to well-deserving regional programs right across the landscape, and there is the Liberal Party and National Party approach, which is to assist them.
There is a difference between the Labor approach to partnering with regional communities and providing funds. The Labor Party want to shut down Regional Partnerships. Last year Mr Lindsay Tanner went on Sunday morning television and said that the Labor Party, if it got elected to government one day, would close down this program and a range of other programs to return savings to the budget. I wrote to his leader, Mr Beazley, and asked whether a project like the one in Rockingham, for example—where Regional Partnerships is helping, with the strong support of Councillor Phil Edman, to ensure that that project goes ahead—would be closed down. Mr Beazley wrote back and said, ‘No, that is one of the good ones. That is all right.’
Labor chooses to attack projects like Tumbi Creek where the local community is trying to put in a long-term solution to the problem of the silting up of the mouth of the estuary. They are going through a proper process of calling for tenders, and of course you have to go through a proper process to ensure that the outcomes—
Mr President, I am deeply appreciative of that reminder. The question was about Regional Partnerships and Tumbi Creek and accountability of that process. I am addressing the question but I am getting constant interjections from a Labor Party senator opposite who is deeply opposed to a coalition government giving financial resources to communities like Tumbi Creek to solve systemic problems within their communities. He is opposed to supporting communities like Gunnedah to get an ethanol plant going there and communities like Rockingham to build a marina facility. Why do these communities come to the federal government looking for this support? It is because the Australian Labor Party systematically ignores regional Australia. It comes up with a series of policies that ignore anyone who lives outside the cappuccino strip or the chardonnay belt of inner Sydney or inner Melbourne.
Mr President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. This question was about Tumbi Creek and whether any dredging had been done. It is not about Rockingham. Would you draw the minister’s attention to the question again, please.
I appreciate the interjection, because it ensures that I am able to inform Senator O’Brien—and I am absolutely hopeful that he asks a supplementary question on this issue, because it is important to the people of Tumbi Creek—that they have advised that they are going to do short-term trials of a system of dredging. They advised the department on 26 March 2006. The Australian government will fund up to two-thirds of the total project cost, with a fixed cap of $570,000 for landfill and the costs of roadwork. I think all senators would want to ensure that the work at Tumbi Creek takes place in a way that ensures that it is effective and also environmentally appropriate. If it takes time to ensure that that occurs, then all of us should support the Tumbi Creek community and not continue to heap scorn on them, as Labor continues to do with them and regional communities around Australia.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Arising from the answer, do I take it that the minister is confirming that the Wyong council has decided it does not want to proceed with the original dredging project? Does the minister now confirm that the council proposes to cut the dredging project in half? I am not sure from the minister’s answer whether or not he has confirmed this. Has the government actually approved this project without announcing it? If it has not announced it, was it intending to delay that until it could generate another stunt for the member for Dobell during next year’s election campaign?
Government senators interjecting—
It is very hard for colleagues on this side to retain their composure when there is this constant attack on regional Australia. This is yet another attack on the people of that electorate, the people that the member for Dobell sticks up for. He has been a supporter of the dredging project. One of the hold-ups, of course, is the approval from the Labor Party controlled state Department of Lands in New South Wales. They have to go through all these sensible approval processes, which I referred to in the initial answer. The department will, of course, approve this when a funding agreement is put in place with Wyong. I mentioned in my previous answer the funding agreement that the department has offered, so no final approval has been made at this stage, according to this brief. But the Australian government will fund up to two-thirds of the cost at a fixed cap of $570,000 excluding GST. And I hope that the member for Dobell does go down there and make an announcement that attracts wide media opportunity and that we expose the hypocrisy of Labor on this issue. (Time expired)