Matters of Public Importance: Budget supports regional Australians (11/05/2012)

SJ-outdoors.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (16:38): After sitting through question time and then listening to the contributions from those on that side of the House on this matter of public importance, I will be heading back home to dust off my old CD collection. I am looking for a particular album from 2004 by an independent rock band known as Modest Mouse. I can see the member for Mayo over there giving me a smile. He is obviously a fan of their work, and particularly a fan of their 2004 album 'Good news for people who hate bad news'. That says it all about the mob over there: good news for people who hate bad news. They are the people who spend their entire time here trawling for misery.

Today we have had some fantastic news from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which is that for the first time in living memory the unemployment rate has dropped below five per cent. And what do we hear from those on the other side? Nothing but bad news. They are never happier than when they are unhappy. They are never happier than when they are out there talking down the economy. In the same month that the Reserve Bank drops interest rates by a full 50 basis points, they are out there telling people that the sky is going to fall in. They are not out there telling people that they are paying less on their mortgage payments now than they were at any time under the Howard government. In fact, people are paying $3,000 per annum less than they were at any time under the Howard government. They are not telling people that.

Those opposite come in here and, in one breath, talk about how hard small businesses are doing it out there and, in the next breath, they are out there bagging our proposition to cut company tax. They are supposed to be the party of small business, yet there they are voting against company tax cuts. It is really hard to believe. The people on that side of the House absolutely hate good news. Whenever there is some good news, they try to come into this place and say, 'Look over there'—anything for a distraction. We saw the Treasurer stand here, in the House, on Tuesday of this week and hand down a budget which many commentators throughout the world said was nothing less than remarkable. Here you have a major developed economy such as Australia and its national government is able to hand down a budget that is seeing the fastest fiscal consolidation that we have ever seen a government put in place and also deliver a surplus over the financial year 2012-13. It is absolutely remarkable. Even that does not bring a smile to the faces of those on the other side of the House.

Nothing ceases to amaze me about those opposite. They have come in here and moved a matter of public importance that is supposed to be draw attention to some concerns about economic security for regional Australians. This is from the same mob who stood there and voted against the $300 million Steel Transformation Plan—a package that was put together to assist regional communities like my own and like those of the member for Newcastle and the member for Cunningham. These electorates rely on the steel industry and the manufacturing industry, which are doing it tough because of the high Australian dollar. Yet that mob over there would poke a stick in the eyes of all those steel workers and everyone else who relies on businesses in those regions by voting against the $300 million steel transformation package.

Against that background, I should not have been surprised when I saw members of the coalition parties come into this place yesterday and twist and turn and then ultimately vote against one of the excellent budget initiatives—the schoolkids bonus. This is an important initiative. Within a few weeks it will deliver $410 per household per child in primary school and $820 per household per child in secondary school, and this mob over there voted against it. I represent a regional electorate, and I have done some figures on what the schoolkids bonus will mean to my region. It will mean an annual injection of $27 million into households in my region. It will assist those households with their education expenses. Of course, that money will be spent within the region, boosting the local economy, assisting small businesses as well as assisting all of those households to help see them through tough economic times. So you really do wonder about the hypocrisy and the idiocy of many of those on the other side when they stand there and pretend to champion the interests of regional Australia when they say one thing in their electorates and then come in here and vote against the interests of regional Australia.

If you want to look at one of the things that we on this side of the House are doing that will have a great benefit—it is probably having the greatest benefit—for regional Australia over the next decade and, in fact, over the next 30 or 40 years, it is the rollout of the National Broadband Network. Yet those on the other side of the House play a double game. When they are back in their electorates they are winding up their local mayors—I have a Liberal Party local mayor in my area who is writing letters to the paper almost on a daily basis, saying, 'We want the NBN rolled out in suburbs in the shire.' Yet when her very close colleagues come down here to Canberra they are voting against the NBN and bagging it with every breath. They know what is good for the region when they are in the region and they stick their hands up for it and want to claim it, but when they come down here they vote against it. It is nothing short of hypocrisy.

If you want to look at a party that is committed to the interests of regional Australia, Deputy Speaker, and to putting in place lasting, long-term reforms which will assist regional communities, look at what it is doing for economic infrastructure, and by that I mean rail, roads and ports. There is nothing better, as a local member representing a regional area, than being able to point to this government's record in investing in economic infrastructure in the regions: $36 billion is being spent to modernise our rail, our road and our public transport infrastructure throughout regional Australia, something that all Australians and every member on this side of the House is very proud of indeed.

Let us have a look at the road infrastructure spend. We have almost doubled the road infrastructure spend, which is probably why we will not see the Leader of the Nationals ask a question of the minister for infrastructure on this—because he is ashamed. He knows that his regions are getting a better deal out of the Labor government than they ever got out of a coalition government when it comes to spending on roads in regional Australia. We have spent $28 billion over six years, doubling the investment in our national road-build effort.

But it does not stop at roads. Nothing short of remarkable is the fact that federal Labor has lifted rail spending tenfold to over $9 billion over six years in order to rebuild our nation's rail network. In fact, we have nearly rebuilt one-third of the nation's rail infrastructure network—a remarkable task—and we have already committed $7.3 billion to modernise and extend infrastructure in every mainland capital city when it comes to urban public transport. This is more than the total amount that has been spent by any national government at any time since Federation; a truly remarkable contribution and a legacy that will be enjoyed by generations to come, but not celebrated by those on the other side. Nearly 3,800 kilometres of freight rail track is being rebuilt, or one-third of the interstate rail network, but all we hear from those on the other side is carping and whingeing.

There are threats to regional Australia, but we never hear any solutions from those on the other side of the House. It is true that regions like my own are doing it tough because we have relied on manufacturing over many years to support jobs, livelihoods and regional investment. But this government is putting in place things like regional innovation funds to support new investment in that region. A $27 million injection of new money is going into every household in Throsby and the Illawarra and Southern Highlands regions through the schoolkids bonus while those on the other side of the House are voting against it. If you want to look at what a party thinks about regional Australia, look at its record and look at what it is actually doing, not what it stands in here day in and day out whingeing about. (Time expired)

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