Senate debates

Monday, 24 June 2013


Regional Australia

10:58 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution in this last opportunity of the 43rd Parliament to talk about regional Australia, and in particular what the Labor government is doing in not leaving regional Australia behind. As I have stated here often, I make it a habit to travel my duty electorate of Grey as often as I am able. Anyone who has listened to me speak here knows that not only is it one of my favourite subjects but I consider it to be very important topic.

This government knows that it is of the utmost importance that we continue building on what is being done in and for regional Australia. I want to take this opportunity to reiterate some of the really important figures to get anyone who thinks regional Australia has been left behind by this federal government to think again. I will focus on Grey, one of the largest regional electorates in this country. Significant investments that have and that will make a difference to communities have been made in the electorate of Grey, investments that will continue to serve and benefit the locals in that electorate for many years to come. We have significant investment towards skill improvements in Grey. As of 30 April this year, around $46.25 million has been approved for 11 trade training centre projects benefitting 52 schools in total, of which 47 are in the electorate of Grey. These trade training centres are bringing communities closer and providing more opportunities and—most importantly—career prospects for young people in regional Australia. This is providing the young people of Grey the opportunity to learn a skill with modern and relevant tools and giving them the work experience necessary to help build stronger regional economies.

In regional areas, young people are among our greatest resources. It is essential to provide the funding for school based training to give opportunities to young people who want to stay in their rural communities. We have seen great evidence of that right throughout the electorate of Grey. Their skills will be of benefit to the economy in regional areas and therefore will be of great benefit to the wider Australian community.

I have talked before of the various trade training centre openings that I have been fortunate enough to attend and of the locals who talk to me and tell me how excited they are by the opportunities that these investments will bring. You will not read about this in the newspapers—you certainly will not hear about it from those on the other side. But you do hear this stuff from locals when you spend time in regional communities.

What is abundantly clear in all regional areas of Australia—and particularly in the regional electorate of Grey—is they get great use out of their facilities. Some of the schools that I have visited have got exceptional longevity out of their infrastructure. These new investments will also be around for many, many years to come. I cannot tell you enough about the gratitude of regional Australia that these investments have been made, allowing their kids to learn skills, connect with the regional economy, connect with regional employers and—when they leave school—go straight into some useful full-time and exciting work.

We have also seen close to $167 million approved for around 340 BER, including the building or upgrading of 63 classrooms and 31 libraries. These are community libraries that are open on a Saturday for the whole community to use—for the grey nomads to come in and use the internet. They are brilliant facilities. Thirty-six multipurpose halls and 12 science and/or language centres have also been built or upgraded. We have built, upgraded and modernised school buildings to provide current and future students with modern and reliable infrastructure so that they are not left beyond. This government sees the importance of investing in people who will grow up to lead this country. We have also seen around 5,400 computers installed under the Digital Education Revolution through the national secondary schools computer fund. Once again, this is an investment for the future—the future of the students and the future of Australia.

Among the other things that we have seen in Grey, under the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure program around $13.76 million has been allocated to 176 projects in Grey. There has been around $27.3 million provided to Grey via the Regional Development Australia fund. Importantly, it does not end there. Around 1,160 local families in Grey are benefitting from Australia's first parental leave scheme. More than 9,950 families, or around 17,550 schoolkids, are being helped with their back-to-school costs every year as a result of Labor's schoolkids bonus. The schoolkids bonus sees eligible families get $410 for each child in primary school and $820 for each child in high school.

Family tax benefit A benefits about 5,300 teenagers and children in Grey who are turning 16 over the next five years. Their families will receive up to $4,200 extra in family payments if their child remains at school. Around 2,450 local families are now benefitting from an increase in the childcare rebate. This rebate has increased from 30 per cent to 50 per cent. That has delivered up to $7,500 per child per year and is going a long way in helping parents to meet the cost of full-time child care.

Importantly, close to 20,500 local pensioners are benefitting from Labor's historic pension reforms, including the biggest increase to the pension in 100 years. Single pensioners on the maximum rate are receiving $207 extra a fortnight. Couples on the maximum rate are receiving, combined, an extra $236 a fortnight. The retirement savings of around 61,700 local workers will receive a boost from 1 July, with Labor increasing superannuation from nine per cent to 9.25 per cent. That will eventually rise to 12 per cent. Students will also benefit from 1 July, with more than 2,200 local students and young apprentices set to receive a second advance payment worth up to $90.

There is so much potential in regional Australia. This has been recognised by the investment that this Labor government has made. It is important that we place on the record the good work that we do in these regional electorates. It is extremely important that we repeat at every opportunity what we have done in these electorates to combat the negativity of those opposite. I have lost count of the number of times that one particular senator opposite has said that this Labor government does not care about regional Australia. If you took that at face value and did not do the analysis or study or have a look at it, people could be fooled into thinking that is a correct statement.

In the brief time I have had tonight I think I have detailed clearly and concisely the historic investments that the Labor government has made in one of the largest regional seats in Australia. Many people in those towns and communities, which I have visited and in which I have been fortunate enough to have officiated at functions, have expressed their gratitude to the Gillard federal government with respect to the enormous commitments through the BER, the trades training centres and through Minister Simon Crean's efforts in the Regional Development Australia Fund. These things have brought home investments in great communities that are going to deliver good results and will repay tenfold the investment in infrastructure with the development of young people in regional Australia working professionally, surviving, growing those economies and making their communities proud.