National Stronger Regions Fund

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (18:06): I am always delighted to welcome programs which are aimed at delivering more funding to regional Australia. As a representative from the regional area of Whitlam, I know how important it is to get federal funds supplementing local and state funds for new infrastructure projects into regions like ours.

I was very pleased to welcome $10 million worth of funding for the Fowlers Road to Fairwater Drive road link, a project in my electorate. This was evidence based policy at its very best—a four-lane, 1.3-kilometre road link that will enable the construction of over 1,300 new dwellings and ease the pressure on local roads. With housing affordability being the crisis that it is, infrastructure that supports new housing and new housing developments is absolutely critical. Investing in the right projects will now support economic growth and jobs in the long term. I was very interested and concerned to hear the member for Mayo say that her region attracted no funding. Perhaps, if the government had not been funding projects in inner-city Kooyong out of this regional investment program, they might have been able to fund some projects in the member for Mayo's electorate.

Be that as it may, ever since the 2014 budget the coalition has claimed it is delivering $50 billion in infrastructure investment, but it is not. The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development has revealed the current investment program is worth just under $34 billion over five years, with another $8 billion proposed to be invested onwards in the unspecified future. In contrast, Labor has always had a strong commitment to funding nation-building programs. I think the House needs to remember that when we came into office in 2007 we were ranked No. 20—that is right, Deputy Speaker; you heard me right—in the OECD for infrastructure investment. When we left office we were No. 1—top of the podium, gold medal—when it came to investing in infrastructure. Labor's $60 billion Nation Building program covering roads, rail and ports cleared a hell of a lot of the bottlenecks that the Howard government left it with and ensured that we would continue to export and continue to grow our economy during the global financial crisis, when all of those other economies were going backwards. Almost two-thirds of the investment went into regional Australia, which is something we are very proud of.

Since the coalition came back to government, most of this good work has been undone. There has been a cut to infrastructure spending of 30 per cent. The coalition have frozen financial assistance grants indexation, taking about a billion dollars. They are slapping themselves on the back for the roads building program that they fund local councils for, but they have ripped exactly the same amount of money out of the financial assistance grants. That is called a Peter and Paul operation, where they pull money out of one of your pockets and put it in the other and ask for a lot of thanks for the pleasure.

I want to talk about inequality, because on the one hand you see National Party MPs running around the country pushing each other aside to cut the ribbon on small infrastructure projects in the electorate, but the real story is inequality.

Inequality is growing. It is growing across the economy, but nowhere is it growing more than in regional Australia, where the gap between what is happening in the city and what is happening in the country is growing and growing. So we see National Party MPs and regional Liberal MPs roar like lions in their electorates about how they are going to go down to Canberra and stand up to those people in government—that would be them—and ensure that their electorate gets a fair deal. Meanwhile, they come down here and they are like lambs in the party room. They file into parliament and stick their hands up and vote for every one of the member for Warringah's and every one of the Prime Minister's budget cuts. When it comes to people and the impact it has on the electorate I am talking about the cuts to health and hospital funding and the cuts to education funding. In the area of skills development—now this is a real crime—$1 billion was taken out of traineeship and apprenticeship systems at the same time as they were saying, 'We have to do something to get our kids a job.'

So here is a message to those regional MPs: it is all very good to stand here in parliament and give a great tub-thumping speech about the work that they are doing back in their electorate to attract funding, but while they are down here in Canberra how about they stand up in the caucus room and the parliament for the interests of the people who they represent? Some of them are the poorest people in Australia and they need better representation.