Abbott Budget: an attack on regional Australia

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (11:10): I start by congratulating the member for Franklin and the shadow minister for regional development and local government for bringing this motion before the House today. Its timing could not be better, because there are hundreds of delegates from local government organisations in Canberra today talking about the devastating impact of Commonwealth government cuts to the services they are delivering throughout regional Australia.

The member for Gilmore, who has just spoken, seems disappointed that I have not had some time to speak in reference to her contribution. I will do that. I would have thought a member representing regional Australia with one of the highest unemployment levels in the country would have had a bit more to say about their program for dealing with unemployment. It seems to me that the only thing they have to say to the poor unemployed people, in areas like the member for Gilmore's, is: 'For God's sake, don't lose your job, because if you do you're off benefits for six months!' That is the message they are sending to unemployed people. If you want to improve your skills do not look to TAFE, because they are cutting the hell out of funding for TAFE as well.

She talks about areas where funding could be better spent. I will give you one example that puts a spotlight on the priorities of those opposite, particularly the Liberal members of those opposite. There is over $5 billion on a Paid Parental Leave scheme, which is going to disadvantage those who live in regional Australia. Whether they are people on low incomes or no incomes, they will receive nothing out of it.

We know that not all of those on the other side have got their priorities wrong. Some of them actually get it. I see the member for Dawson is going to speak in this debate and I hope that he has something to say about the misspent priorities of the government when it comes to regional Australia, paid parental leave and where they could be spending their money.

Having had a high-profile National Party candidate standing against me in the last election, I took particular interest in National Party policies. I was particularly keen on this document I have here: Our plan for regional Australia. This is the National Party platform, the promises they took to their constituents in the last election. It is actually not a bad document, if you read it closely. They promised to ensure that regional Australia was represented when the big decisions in health were going to be made. The policy says:

Only The Nationals' Regional Health Rescue Plan can ensure that the one third of Australians living in the regions get a fair go from the health system and a fair share of health funding.

And I love this bit:

When health policy decisions are being made, regional concerns must be championed by a dedicated Minister with regional experience and a primary focus on the welfare of regional Australians.

Sounds pretty good. Unfortunately, we learnt that only two weeks ago that minister was not even in the room when the biggest decisions were going to be made in relation to regional and rural health. I know the member for Dawson would not have let that happen. He is a man who is not afraid to stand out—stand up, stand out and talk out—when the interests of his constituents are at risk. I am sure the member for Dawson would have ensured that he had been in the room when this horrible GP tax was being debated and when the cuts to health and hospital funding were being considered.

We know that the cuts to hospital funds are going to have a devastating impact on regional Australia. The Nationals had a bit to say about that in their plan for regional Australia. They said that the Nationals will not support policies that lead to the closure of regional hospitals. I can point to one policy that is going to lead to the closure of regional hospital beds and regional hospitals around this country and that is the decision to rip $55 billion out of hospital funding over the forward estimates. The National Party shadow minister was not even in the room when this decision was being made. It is a damn shame because maybe she could have done something to prevent the $1 billion worth of cuts to regional and other hospitals in New South Wales. It is said that this will lead to the loss of over 300 beds in New South Wales.

If the Nationals are going to stand up for regional Australia, they could start by speaking out on the devastating impact that the GP tax, the hospital cuts, the TAFE cuts and the cuts to local governments—the myriad devastating cuts—are going to have on people in regional Australia. (Time expired)