Abbott Government abandons Regional Australia projects

tas_cricket_ground.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (10:35): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) funds were allocated for Regional Development Australia Funding (RDAF) Round 5 in the 2013-14 budget;

(b) RDAF Round 5 provided assistance to local government projects to fund the construction of important pieces of small scale infrastructure to support local communities and regional development;

(c) the Government has:

(i) committed to delivering some, but not all, of the RDAF Round 5 projects; and

(ii) not yet made clear which RDAF Round 5 projects will and will not proceed; and

(2) calls on the Government to:

(a) report to the Parliament on:

(i) what, if any, consultation it had with local governments and Regional Development Australia in choosing the RDAF Round 5 projects it has decided to fund; and

(ii) which, if any, of these projects will be funded under the National Stronger Regions Fund; and

(b) provide certainty to regional communities by committing to fund each RDAF Round 5 project.

There is a growing sense in regional Australia that elected representatives, particularly those from big cities, just do not get the needs of regional Australia. This was most recently and succinctly expressed by the New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries and putative candidate for the seat of Goulburn, in New South Wales, when she said that Barry O'Farrell and the incumbent member just do not get the needs of regional New South Wales.

It would appear that the Premier of New South Wales is not alone, because, when you look at what is going on with the Regional Development Australia Fund, you see a government that is out of touch with the needs of regional communities. The Regional Australia Development Fund round 5 was designed for small-scale projects, local priorities for local communities' infrastructure, which were put forward by elected councils. These projects were filling the gaps in infrastructure development. They were designed to renew dated community-scale infrastructure across the country. Most of the grants, up to 70 per cent of them, about $105 million, were earmarked for regional towns. This money was for small-scale projects, $30,000 to $2 million in value.

Anyone would think, given the bipartisan support we saw in the announcement of these projects before the election, when we saw National Party mayors, Liberal Party mayors and councillors falling over themselves to say, 'Yeah, us too; we're in behind these projects'—and the member for Newcastle, who is in the chamber with me at the moment and has a deep interest in this fund, had a similar experience in her electorate—that, when the coalition parties found themselves in government, bipartisan support for these projects would flow into government. But, regrettably, we see a government that has its priorities all wrong.

In their first three months in government we have seen tax cuts for the big end of town and tax hikes for the rest of us, cuts to benefits, cuts to services and nothing but a deaf ear to the needs of the regional community. They are not even listening to their own members. A few weeks ago we saw the member for Murray courageously step outside the tent to stick up for the needs of her electorate. She begged the government to listen to the needs and support jobs in her electorate, particularly those impacted by the fate of the SPC operation in Shepparton. The member for Murray was ignored by her own federal colleagues. That shows their complete indifference to the needs of those regional communities.

The RDAF was funded in the 2013-14 budget but now seems to have been given the chop by the federal government. The government even axed the funding source for this fund, the minerals resource rent tax. They said it did not deliver any money. It raised $126 million in its first six months of operation. That might seem like not very much money to those opposite, but that is equal to the entire amount of funds that were earmarked for regional Australia in the RDAF round 5 funding, so they could have funded it if they wanted to. They could have funded these projects which were earmarked for regional Australia. They chose not to. Their priorities are all wrong. The shocking truth is that many of the projects in round 5 of Regional Development Australia have already been axed. The rest of them lie in limbo.

Happily, I have to say that some projects will proceed. In Labor's final budget we allocated around $300,000 for the Meals on Wheels project in Rockhampton. The idea of this project, a worthy project that deserved funding, was to replace flood prone and confined kitchen facilities. The government has decided that this project, unlike so many other worthy regional projects that deserve funding, will actually proceed. Deputy Speaker, you cannot argue on the one hand that the reason we are chopping RDAF round 5—and the reason we are refusing to proceed with funding for all of these other projects—is that the funds are not in the budget, if on the other hand you are sneakily going out there and giving the wink and the nod to these projects that you want to get up, like the Rockhampton Meals on Wheels project. I have nothing to say against the Rockhampton project; indeed, it was a project that was approved by Labor in government. But I do say: where is the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development when it comes to the interests of all these other projects?

We often hear that the National Party are the party for regional Australia, but the truth is laid bare by their handling of the Regional Development Australia Fund. The minister sneaks through those communities in the dead of night, opening the projects that were funded by Labor—in fact, he spent most of his Christmas holidays cutting ribbons on Labor's funded projects and taking credit for them—and then nicks off with his chequebook firmly wedged in his back pocket when the real business of being a minister comes to bear. People went into the last election somehow thinking that National Party and Liberal Party members in regional Australia would stick up for regional communities. What people have learned since the election is that nothing could be further from the truth. We are seeing cuts to regional Australia and cuts to funds in projects, and these cuts are hurting jobs.

These are important projects. You have to ask yourself, Deputy Speaker: what would a decent minister for regional Australia do when considering the terrible economic blows that have been wreaked upon many of these regional communities? In South Australia, for instance, they are suffering from the announced closure of Holden. The flow-on effects that that closure is going to have on the components sector will put thousands of jobs at risk. What would a decent minister for regional Australia do in South Australia? He certainly would not scrap the half a million dollars that has been earmarked for the city centre renewal project in Salisbury, in the seat of Makin.

I see that the member for Boothby is in the chamber at the moment. I have not heard much from the member for Boothby. He is not out there defending the half a million dollars that was set aside for the Aldinga District Centre Main Street and Town Square upgrade. I have not heard anything from the member for Boothby—maybe he will put himself on the speaking list for this debate and champion his community. A decent minister for regional development would be out there saying: 'South Australians are suffering. We are going to do something to assist them in their time of need.'

Northern Tasmania is in the grip of recession, and we see the minister not doing one thing for the needs of Northern Tasmania. We see cuts to projects in Devonport, including the upgrade of the Devonport Aquatic Centre, and cuts to projects in Launceston. The Northern Tasmania Cricket Association Ground upgrade was canned. That was $127,000. It might not seem like a lot of money, but for that community it would have meant an important upgrade of their facility. Over in New South Wales, in the grip of drought, we see that the $3.5 million upgrade to the Casino Regional Livestock Exchange Centre has been cut. Deputy Speaker, you would think that, if there were a community anywhere in Australia that was in need of some good news, we would see the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, the Leader of the National Party, up there delivering some good news to the people in Casino. He whizzes through there, opens and announces some Labor projects—but not one brass razoo to assist in the completion of the Casino Regional Livestock Exchange Centre. And I have to say that the member for Page—he is no hero, this particular Hogan!—has gone missing on this project. He is not standing up for the needs of his own community.

We could go right around the country. We could talk about the cuts to the Gulgul Barang Youth and Community Centre in the seat of Shortland—$2.7 million promised before the election, now cut. There was the Derby Export Facility enhancement project in Western Australia—$330,000 in the seat of Durack—but we have heard nothing from the member for Durack in defence of that project. Over in the Northern Territory, the member for Lingiari has unfortunately not been able to get through to the minister about the $124,000 for the upgrade of the sports field in Elliott. I call on all of those opposite who are of good heart and conscience to push hard to ensure that the minister gives some certainty for these projects, because regional Australia needs them. (Time expired)