STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL SERVICES, TERRITORIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Good morning everyone. Well it’s time for Barnaby Joyce to do the right thing by the country, by his party and step down. And, if he is not going to do that, if the National Party can’t sort out their own issues, then the Prime Minister has to act.
This is not an issue about Barnaby Joyce’s private life; frankly, I don’t care about that. It’s about competence from the Government, particularly in regional Australia. We’ve got a Regional Growth Fund which was announced as their number one priority in the budget last year - $270 million to kick-start growth in regional Australia – well, we were told in October that plans and guidelines would be imminent yet we still have not got any guidelines for this fund.
At a time when growth in regional Australia is struggling, the only reason that the guidelines haven’t been announced is because of the internal turmoil in the National Party. And it’s not just the Regional Growth Fund, it’s the Regional Jobs and Investment Package as well. Ten of them were announced in the election; eight out of the ten have yet to be announced and no details are in place. Decentralisation also – the National Party’s centre-piece campaign for the last twelve months – and they still have not got a plan in place for what decentralisation is going to look like. And in the last week alone, we have seen 40 jobs in the Defence Department taken out of a regional town which is struggling. That’s Townsville, which is struggling with over 10 per cent unemployment.
This is not just an issue of the internal turmoil in the National Party. Regional Australia needs a Minister that is going to be able to perform. We’ve had three Regional Development Ministers in the last three months and, still, we do not have any action in these three crucial areas. It’s time for the Prime Minister to act if the National Party can’t sort out their own affairs.
JOURNALIST: What are the questions that Labor want answered in this whole matter by Mr Joyce?
JONES: We need to ensure that the National Party are doing the right thing in their Ministerial portfolios. This is not just an issue about whether Barnaby Joyce has done the wrong or the right thing by his family. Frankly, I don’t care about that. That’s his own personal business.
I do care about his Ministerial responsibilities and the fact that he has dropped the ball on critical regional Australia development programs. The Regional Growth Fund, Regional Jobs and Investment Fund and the decentralisation program. They have dropped the ball on all of them. They are supposed to be the centrepiece of the National Party’s plan for regional Australia, yet they have dropped the ball on it. The only reason they have not been able to progress these things is because of the turmoil in the National Party and the fact that we have had three Regional Development Ministers in three months.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of this suggestion that Barnaby Joyce may take leave next week and won’t be the acting Prime Minister and that may still go to Julie Bishop? Would that settle the situation at least for the time being?
JONES: The National Party can’t just kick the can down the road. They’ve got a crisis, but that’s translating into a crisis for regional policy. What are we going to have four Regional Development Ministers in three months? That’s not good enough and if the National Party can’t sort this out today, then the Prime Minister has to step in and act.