Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Matters of Public Importance
Mr Speaker has received a letter from the honourable member for Lyne proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The urgent need to shape regional Australia’s future.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I start by thanking both sides of the House (a) for allowing the Independents to have a matter of public importance before the House this afternoon and (b) for having more than the required eight members stay around and support the matter before the House. So thank you to both sides for that. We have heard a lot in the short time I have been in this chamber about global issues confronting Australia, such as a $152 trillion collapse in financial markets. We have heard a lot about national responses to that global collapse and there has been at least $42 billion in several responses from government to those global pressures. I contend this afternoon that, whilst we certainly have some meaty global issues to discuss as problems confronting this chamber, the answers lie in regional responses and policy settings that strongly support regional answers to the future of Australia.
I represent the mid-North Coast of New South Wales, but I am sure many of the topics that I will be discussing this afternoon are felt in similar regions throughout Australia. I hope the bipartisan spirit that saw members on both sides of this House support this MPI remains at the end of this discussion. I start by referring to a report that was done in 2000 called Time running out: shaping regional Australia’s future. It was by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Regional Services. It was a bipartisan report that had 92 recommendations in it, all good, solid bipartisan—I may say tripartisan—work done by members of this chamber. There were 92 recommendations that, in many cases, have remained outstanding and undelivered despite the response from government in 2001.
To start, I want to refer to the seven founding principles in the government response, which might make some of the regional members in this chamber have a chuckle if it were not so serious. The seven principles in the government response to this report were that: governments will seek to minimise duplication and overlap; governments will encourage communities to set their own priorities; governments will cooperate with each other; governments will cooperate with the private sector; governments will seek to use existing systems; governments will seek to build on the competitive and comparative advantage of regions; and governments will consult with each other wherever possible when new programs and services are being developed. If only those seven principles had been adhered to by governments within Australia over the nine years since this report was done!
Representing a regional area, I have also noticed some cultural issues for policymakers and planners to reflect on when thinking about the regions. There is a tendency to look at the regions as a tack-on to policy development. There is a tendency to look at the regions as places with a handout mentality, asking for more than their share, and there is a positioning by government in policy to almost be patronising to the regions, treating them as some poor rural cousin in regard to policy development and implementation. I also contend this afternoon that none of those things are true. For any policymakers who think that way, I ask you to change that view. Most of us, and certainly I include myself and my family in this, choose to live where we live, to do business and to retire there because of the wonderful benefits there are in being in a regional location. There are problems confronting Australia in so many ways as a large landmass with one of the most urbanised populations in the world. In many cases the answer to just about every piece of legislation that comes through this place would be to put some more emphasis on encouraging regional development and regional growth in Australia.
What do I and what do we want from government and policy planners? It is not more than our fair share; it is just our fair share. It is engagement with government and engagement with the policy planning and policy setting done at local, state and federal level. It is simply nothing more and nothing less than fairness. In so many examples, and I will touch on some, it cannot be argued that government is being fair to someone living in a regional area compared to someone living in an urban area. So there is an argument to be made this afternoon for the level playing field that all of us talk about and yet in so many cases is not delivered. It is about the equity of services to fill the gap and examples of resource redistribution formulas in all the various departments of government not being adhered to. Not even our fair slice of the pie is being delivered to the regions. That is to the detriment of not only the regions but government as well.
This committee report is a good starting place. I reflect that the late Peter Andren was a good member on this committee and referred to this actual report on many occasions. I also note that there are existing members of this parliament who participated in this process, who titled it Time running out, and nine years later we still have many outstanding recommendations from a very good report waiting to be delivered by government. Recommendation No. 1 is decentralisa-tion of a couple of government departments. Environment Australia is one of them. Decentralisation seems to have become a dirty word to government. Only this morning I walked up from where I am staying past the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, nicely located a short distance down the road. Wouldn’t it be great, if we are serious in this country about digital communications, to place the department of broadband and communications in a regional location? If the policy settings are right, there is absolutely no excuse for that department to feel any impediment by being based in a regional location. And if the policy settings are wrong, wouldn’t it be some great tough medicine for a few people to feel what it is like to live in a regional area in regard to accessing the internet and communications services that so many other people take for granted in their everyday life? With a national broadband rollout about to happen, I would ask the government to consider having those that are involved with that rollout located in a regional area. What a great message for Australia that would be.
This report touched on a whole range of other areas and I ask government to think about the energy issues, the health issues and the job issues. I will talk about specific examples. The energy issue has frustrated me and I still do not understand why a national feed-in tariff has been pretty well ruled out by this government. We now have something called NEMCCO, a national electricity market. It is in operation. Why is it seen as a state based issue to talk about feed-in tariffs and therefore why do we have so many discrepancies between the various states in the development of their gross versus net and all the variations in or out in regard to these tariff systems? It is going to create problems. This is a great area for government to engage with communities in regional areas and encourage people to participate in one of the great talking points of our time, the climate change debate. I will mention a Singleton based company, Ausra, a solar thermal company, that was sent to California in the US to commercialise. The governor thought it was a good idea and has rolled the Ausra program right throughout the Californian precinct. We are seeing California now take a lead in regard to renewables, efficiency gains in the home and engaging people in the climate change debate. How sad it is that a Singleton based company could not get off the ground in Australia and had to go overseas, and now we are trying to get them to come home to be involved in some of the answers to the questions that we are debating.
On the question of the national feed-in tariff: please, government, consider it once again. It is a great way to engage people. It is an efficiency gain that is proven in other jurisdictions. Germany is a really good example. It is sitting there waiting to happen. No, there are not vested interests lobbying for it, but it is a great engagement for people, including people in regional areas.
I have already mentioned the Health and Hospital Fund this afternoon. Many in regional areas—particularly in growth areas like the North Coast of New South Wales—whose populations want to access health and hospital services are frustrated by the lack of investment from government. There is a mentality of sandstone hospital thinking in many locations within urban areas. New South Wales and Sydney spring to mind for me. So many of these sandstone hospitals are right next to each other. That is the region’s money. A hard decision has to be made but it needs to be made, because regions are not getting, per head of population, their fair slice of the pie. It is a simple argument of fairness that I put before the House this afternoon.
The question of jobs is certainly one that has, quite rightly, been raising its head a lot. There are some practical and cost-effective steps government can take that will assist in protecting and enhancing local economies through the next 12 years and in the long term. I refer to the Department of Defence and the Defence Materiel Organisation, regarding issues of procurement. A lot of small business work in regional areas hangs off that DMO process. We have a business that is absolutely sweating on the outcomes of the Air Warfare Destroyer Program. If we get even a small slice of that, it will be a huge benefit for a regional area. Army procurement work is done by various small businesses on the mid-North Coast. In this place, a couple of hundred thousand dollars here and there might sound like absolutely nothing but, for our small business community and our local businesses, that is a lifeline for staying in business and for growing business.
But the message I want to leave with the House this afternoon—to drive the message home—is about something very close to everyone’s heart. In fact, they should be in everyone’s pockets. Mine are here in my pocket near my heart. It is about the company that provides the locks and keys for everyone’s room in Parliament House—a company called API Security. They tell me that a sad indictment of the times is that their locks and safes arm of the business, through their DMO tendering, is now under attack from overseas imports. Not only is it the case that these do not meet Australian standards but there is also no pre-purchasing audit done by the Department of Defence as to the statements made about the quality of the product.
The usual argument in this place is that we should have open competition and that protectionism is bad because you get a lesser quality. This is a reverse example, where the quality product that is being delivered by a regional area is under attack from a cheap import. In 1998 the Department of Defence worked with Standards Australia to develop a standard for locks and safes in Australia. We now have a standard, developed by one arm of government. The Department of Defence does not use that standard; it uses a US standard and does not even follow that standard. Without being too ‘proppish’, I could turn up with a cardboard box, put a tender to the Department of Defence and argue the case that it is meeting the US standard—
Government members interjecting—
I am glad that this has everyone’s attention. I could argue the case that it meets the US standard, despite what the arm of government, Standards Australia, worked on in 1998 with the Department of Defence—which is totally ignored. We are now seeing the Department of Defence, through DMO, taking these up at the expense of jobs in regional areas. I have 55 jobs on the line in Taree right now because of an overseas company whose locks and safes fall outside Standards Australia accreditation. Here is a good, practical example of where a government department should ensure that part of the tendering process meets Standards Australia guidelines. It is government talking to government, rather than ignoring government. It is a really good example of how government can help the region. (Time expired)
I am very pleased to make a contribution to this debate on the matter of public importance that was raised by my parliamentary colleague the member for Lyne. The member for Lyne has, in his short time in this place, been a very strong advocate for the mid-North Coast region—as a minister, can I say perhaps a bit too strong from time to time in terms of his never-ending pursuit to address the needs of his community. Whilst we will not always agree, there is no question about his genuineness or that of the member for New England and the member for Kennedy in being advocates for their local communities.
The MPI debate gives me an opportunity to outline some of the measures which the government is pursuing in the area of regional development. If you go to the electorate of Lyne today, you will literally see hundreds of workers—at its peak there will be more than 1,000 workers—on the Pacific Highway, being employed and contributing to an increase in the nation’s productivity, contributing to better safety for road users on the Pacific Highway and contributing to an improvement in the amenity, both for local residents of the electorate of Lyne but particularly for residents of New South Wales and the east coast who travel along the Pacific Highway, whether they be commuters or industry carrying freight. The investment in the upgrade of the Pacific Highway is part of the $8.4 billion that the Rudd government is contributing to regional highways and country roads over a six-year period—over 50 per cent more than the previous government spent in the same time frame.
It is not limited to the Pacific Highway. We are contributing some $2.2 billion for the Bruce Highway. Record funding has also enabled work to be accelerated by up to 12 months on 46 key projects around the nation. In regional Australia, these fast-track projects include the Townsville Port Access Road, the Ballina and Alstonville bypasses, the new Perth-Bunbury Highway, the Hume Highway and stage 4 of the Geelong Ring Road. Just this week, we are rolling out announcements about our record funding to local government for local roads—some $1.75 billion over five years. We are eliminating hundreds of dangerous black spots on regional and local roads, including providing more than $1 million to remove four black spots in the member for Lyne’s electorate. Today I announced more than $800,000 to fix black spots in the member for Calare’s electorate and more than half a million dollars to fix black spots in the member for Cowper’s electorate.
But it is not just roads. We are also seeing the largest ever investment in rail by the Commonwealth government—some $3.2 billion. That includes a $1.2 billion injection announced in December. All of this investment is in regional Australia, and this funding is delivering results already. It is not just the direct funding, in terms of the construction of roads and rail; it is the multiplier effect that occurs as a result of this investment—for example, the concrete railway sleepers that are now being built in Austrak’s Geelong and Wagga Wagga factories. The Geelong factory employs 50 locals; Wagga Wagga, 65 locals. New dual-gauge concrete sleepers will continue rolling out of Rocla’s Grafton sleeper factory. This is a factory that employs around 60 locals. Sleepers will also be rolling out of Rocla’s factory in Mittagong, which employs 60 locals. This is all as a result of the government’s record investment in rail.
We have also revitalised the attitude towards spending in regional Australia when it comes to community infrastructure. We know about the discredited Regional Partnerships scheme, which funded—to the tune of more than a million dollars—the ethanol plant at Gunnedah that simply did not exist. It funded cheese factories that had closed down. It funded railways in Western Australia that had burnt down. We know that Regional Partnerships was a completely discredited scheme. It was a scheme where funding was based upon not a road map but a political map. Those opposite, who are the alternative government—they might not act like it, but they are the alternative government of the nation—have not changed.
The National Party’s Senator Barnaby Joyce was recently flirting with the idea of running for the lower house. He raised a number of electorates that he might run for and one of them was the electorate of the member for New England. He told the Northern Daily Leader on 20 January of this year:
Tony has the capacity to get himself into a position, to make (a decision), to pick a side.
If he’s not part of any team then he gets no deliveries.
That was the attitude of Senator Joyce: if you are not part of the National Party, you do not get any funding for your electorate. This government does not have that attitude. This government has the attitude that funding is based upon need and that people, regardless of who their representative is or where they live in Australia, deserve government support. That is why, as part of the community infrastructure program, we have provided funding of $3.9 million in the electorate of New England, including $1.295 million to the Tamworth Regional Council for practical programs that will create jobs, boost local economies and improve the amenities in Tamworth, in Glen Innes, in Liverpool Plains, in Guyra and in Walcha.
Similarly, we have provided funding of $1.1 million in the electorate of Lyne, providing good projects for the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council: improving disability access at North Haven surf club, improving disability access at Lake Cathie reserve, upgrading Comboyne tennis courts, upgrading the Rocks Ferry Reserve at Wauchope, constructing a coastal stairway at Port Macquarie, upgrading utilities in Timbertown at Wauchope and providing $311,000 to complete the construction of the walkway and cycleway at North Haven. All of these projects are good projects that create local jobs, stimulate the local economy and can be rolled out straightaway. More importantly, these are projects that were not chosen on a political basis by people in a minister’s office in Canberra; these are projects that were put forward by elected local representatives through local governments around the nation. That includes not one or two but every one of the 565 local councils around Australia, contributing some 3,600 community infrastructure projects around the nation, which is a major benefit.
Today I have announced $10.4 million for 155 local infrastructure projects in regional Victorian communities, including Warrnambool, Mildura, Echuca, Wangaratta, Portland, Port Fairy, Ararat, Benalla and Mansfield—all in coalition electorates: Wannon, Mallee, Indi, McMillan and Murray. I have also announced some $3.8 million for Hunter communities today. The fact is that this is a government that is investing record funds in regional communities—as you would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott. Since Federation, there has never been a program that has been as transparent and that has delivered across the board for local government as this program has. This is a good program.
What is extraordinary is that the opposition, which voted against this community infrastructure program—whether it be the member for Gippsland, the member for Maranoa, the member for La Trobe, the member for Paterson, the member for Canning, the member for Tangney, the member for Bowman, the member for Bradfield or the member for Wannon, and others—all write asking for support for funding for particular projects in their electorates, under a program that they voted against and do not support. It is absolutely extraordinary. The hypocrisy is absolutely incredible. People would remember my reference to the member for Gippsland, who attacked the package, calling it ‘a very low-quality spend of taxpayers’ money’ on the doors of this parliament, but in his electorate he had a very different approach. Regardless of that, the good people of Gippsland should not suffer because of a bad representative, and they will not under this government. We have delivered. This week we announced some $6.2 million for Gippsland community infrastructure. There is some $700,000 to upgrade the Lucknow Indoor Sports Centre, $500,000 for the Newborough Leisure Centre upgrade and $158,000 to refurbish the Warragul Drill Hall. All of these projects are good projects that, if it were left to the local members from the Liberal Party and the National Party, would not be happening—much to their shame.
This week we also announced some $9.5 million for 164 ready-to-go local infrastructure projects across Western Australia’s regions, including Hopetoun, Kalgoorlie, Broome, Fitzroy Crossing and Marble Bar—all good projects. It is within that framework as well that we have established Regional Development Australia. The parliamentary secretary has ensured, after proper consultation, that we actually do consult local communities on economic development and on a framework that is much more than just sorting out grants, such as the way that led to the discredited Regional Partnerships program. We need to do much better when it comes to genuinely involving local communities in regional Australia.
I think the best example of how out of touch those opposite are is when the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the National Party were invited to attend the Australian Council of Local Government. More than 400 mayors travelled from around Australia to meet with the cabinet, the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and other senior ministers. It was an extraordinary occasion. It was very constructive. Regardless of people’s political origins or how they voted in federal or state elections, they came to that meeting with a spirit of goodwill and a spirit of partnership. What we saw there was the Commonwealth treating people with respect. People got access to senior ministers to put their case about their local communities, but the opposition at a senior level could not be bothered fronting up. The fact is that this government will continue to represent all Australians, regardless of where they live. We will continue to be the true representative of regional Australia.
Before going into the body of my address, I would like to congratulate and thank the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government for the packages that he has announced today and, further than that, for the way in which he and the parliamentary secretary are addressing regional grants and involving local government in those grants. Rather than pursuing the road that was pursued by the last government, which obviously politicised and corrupted some of the processes in terms of financial management and accountability, I do think people respect the way in which you, Minister Albanese, and the government are approaching these issues. I would encourage you to maintain that thrust, because that is what impresses people in real regional areas. They are not impressed by the politicisation of a process. They would rather have a fair go, a fair chance and a fair summation of their particular project. So I thank you on behalf of those people.
I thank the member Lyne for the topic ‘time running out’. I agree with everything the member for Lyne said, but the approach that I would like to take is in relation to climate change and what impact climate change is likely to have on country areas and on the economic sustainability of those areas. I think there has been a lot of debate about emissions trading or a carbon tax—depending on which side of the parliament you are on—but there has been too much concentration, in my view, on the market being used to solve an environmental problem. I was a little bit disgusted in the current government’s arrangements when they put in place a very low target of five per cent in terms of carbon reduction, or methane and nitrous oxide, and then suggested they were going to apply that through a market mechanism such as an emissions trading scheme. It is quite obvious to me and to anybody that that five per cent level could be reached quite easily without embracing the market mechanism that the government is talking about. The opposition is suggesting a carbon tax, and both of those things will work to some extent, but they should not be the only mechanisms that go to the heart of this issue.
The electorate of New England—and I think this will give you a sort of microscopic look at the potential impacts of climate change on a regional area—is in the Murray-Darling Basin. New England has all but one of the major storages in the Darling system, which forms part of the Murray-Darling Basin. Not only are those storages important to New England’s communities and to the irrigators downstream; they are very important in the regulation of streams when it comes to the flows within the Murray-Darling system. Some people deny that climate change is happening. It is one of those things that will not be known until we are all dead. People will look back and say, ‘Why didn’t we do something about it?’ or, ‘We did something about it and the environment is much better for what we did.’ I do not think there is a downside to this in the long term, but there could be some short-term adjustments.
The electorate of New England and its position in the Murray-Darling system are very important. I have raised in the House before a number of the issues in relation to mining and groundwater and the relationship between groundwater systems and surface water in the Murray-Darling system, and recently we had before the parliament that critical piece of legislation embracing four states. If the climate scientists are right, and we do nothing, as some suggest, the Murray-Darling system could suffer a loss of up to 30 per cent of its run-off. If we add to that some of the more carbon conscious and productive forms of farming and grazing, such as no-till farming systems, groundcover pasture strategies et cetera, and then overlay it with some encouragement to revegetate because of salinity issues or to create carbon sinks or just because people like to grow trees, all those things will reduce the run-off into the system. So additional changes in land use could compound even that worst possible option of a reduction in run-off of 30 per cent on 1990 levels, when our farming systems were quite different. What is that going to mean for the communities who rely on irrigation water? What is it going to mean for the communities who rely on that run-off for drinking water? What is it going to mean for the Murray-Darling system itself, the major provider of food in this nation, if we do nothing?
There are a number of suggestions as to what we should do. Do we wait until the Americans, the Chinese and a few others decide to do something and then follow them? Do we embrace some of the newer technologies and initiate some leadership? The debate has been: ‘If it does not fit within a market mechanism, don’t go near it.’ That is wrong. Malcolm Turnbull—whether it is just for the politics of it or because he really believes in it—has started to hint at some of the other things that could be used to alleviate the concerns. We have had Science Meets Parliament this week. I had a scientist from Western Australia in my office this morning from North East Farming Futures who has been working on the development of new plants that could be used for alternative pasture techniques. There has been a 30 per cent reduction in methane from the animals that have been grazing on those plants, due to the tannins in the plants.
Rather than the farm sector, the NFF and the National Party being frightened and encouraging fear of climate change and possible solutions, we should be out there encouraging research. I was very pleased to see that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry recently announced $20 million to look at, amongst other things, soil carbon, nitrous oxide and methane. They are the sorts of issues that we need to research, because if they go unresearched and we do nothing they will have a much greater impact on jobs and the sustainability of our inland communities than do any of the other things we have been talking about. They are long-term issues that could prevent long-term damage, not short-term issues that prevent short-term political gain or loss.
Soil carbon, vegetation, recycling—all of these issues need to be addressed. If we are going to go into systems where there will be widespread land-use changes, we must know what impact they are going to have on run-off in the Murray-Darling system and other parts of Australia. And we do not know. We have had the NFF and some of the climate people from the department of agriculture at meetings recently where we have not modelled some of the farming systems that we might be trying to encourage through drought policy. And we should; these are very important issues that we need to address.
The government has made a good start on some of these things. It has been rattled by the fearmongers on the climate change issue and I think it is probably hoping that the bill will be defeated in the Senate so that someone else can be blamed. I do not think I will be supporting the bill either, because a five per cent target and the way it is structured would be setting up a carbon economy for very little gain. I think the target is far too low. Minister Wong has not embraced enough of the other options that could shrink the domestic problem and could operate—and should operate, even if there were no carbon emissions problem—quite effectively within the domestic economy even without a global economy doing anything. It could only be positive for agriculture, food production, the environment and other issues.
The other very important issue that creates enormous opportunities in country Australia is renewable energy. Until recently, nothing had been done with solar, wind, water or geothermal power or with renewable biofuels such as second-stage cellulosic ethanol and the impact that can have on land management, the carbon issue, the water issue and the soil erosion issue. All of these things will bring to us a sustainable environment where country Australia will not be running out of time. They will be an important part of an important solution to an important problem. (Time expired)
I thank the member for New England for his contribution—as always, it is thoughtful and appropriate. This MPI was initiated by the member for Lyne and it requests that we debate the urgent need to shape regional Australia’s future. It is a good subject. It is a thoughtful subject. It is one to which our diligent consideration is due. I have often thought about this subject at great length, not just because of my portfolio interest in regional Australia. Over many years of long drives across Australia from Canberra to Perth to be with my family, I spent a lot of time looking at regional Australia and talking to people in regional towns. It came to me very early on that the spark of energy and the life that is created in good regional centres comes down so often to a grumpy sense of self-reliance that healthy communities have. Take a township like Merredin, with its pride in its public gardens and its swimming pools, and its pride in being not just a tidy town but a safe town, a town always working on the next creative and thoughtful idea to get its business precinct working even better and a town where the local swimming pool always looks clean and tidy and is full of kids. In a town in a wheat belt that has frequently done it tough—and in those days Merredin did it particularly tough—you can tell that what kept that town going was not its natural wealth or the bounty from the hills but the spirit of the people. I came to the conclusion that communities with a sense of self-reliance—on many occasions, a grumpy sense of self-reliance—are those communities that (a) cope best and (b) build the best environments for their families.
This debate goes to the core of a number of significant issues. In doing that, it points out the differences in views of the world demonstrated in the commentary of the member for Lyne and the member for New England and the views of the Australian government. Those differences are legitimate but they are differences on a spectrum. They are not differences that go to the very core of personal behaviour or political behaviour. It is a sad statement that in the better part of the last 15 years, regional development as shaped by the former federal government was in fact pork-barrelling. It is a sad commentary on communities and the spirit of communities that in fact the three-volume report produced by the Australian National Audit Office that was so deeply critical of the former government’s programs is what gets the publicity. We could equally have published, I have no doubt, a 30-volume report stating all the good things done by regional communities. But the truth of it is that when we are dealing with public money, it is the incompetence and the malevolence that gets the public eye and not the things that made communities strong. The malevolence was there and obvious for the Audit Office to see.
In 1996, when the former government was elected, I am sure that Prime Minister Howard felt confident that he would be the Prime Minister for a while—for at least two, three, four or five terms. He saw then, 13 years ago, no need for a government department to look after regional Australia. So what did he do? He abolished it. He wiped it off the face of the earth. He took it out of Canberra and destroyed it entirely. What did his Nationals colleagues do to stand up for regional Australia then? Nothing. In fact, the Nationals and now disgraced minister John Sharp said in a media release on 17 July 1996: ‘There is no clear rationale or constitutional basis for Commonwealth involvement in regional Australia.’ The department went and more followed. But, in one simple statement, that minister negated the reason for even his party to exist, and people in regional Australia heard that. Maybe that is why we have had such a decline in the number of Nationals in this place. In 1986, at the height of the coalition government, there were 18 members of the Nationals. In 1998, there were 16. By 2001, there were 13. By 2004, there were 12. At the last federal election in 2007, there were 10. At the moment, we have only nine. One might well be moved to ask the question: what do the Nationals and the dodo have in common? It is no wonder regional Australia has deserted the Nationals. The Nationals deserted regional Australia the moment they entered into a coalition with former Prime Minister Howard.
It is worth contemplating the history and the record of the member for Lyne. He was elected to the Macquarie Street parliament, the New South Wales parliament, 13 years ago as a member of the Nationals. In 2002, he resigned from the Nationals to become an Independent. He was re-elected as an Independent. In 2008, he resigned from the New South Wales parliament to run as an Independent in the seat vacated by the former Deputy Prime Minister, the seat of Lyne. He won that seat with 63.8 per cent of the primary vote. He took that vote to 73.87 per cent of the two-party preferred vote—a victory in a local community that is not just a confirmation of an outstanding candidate; it is a confirmation of the view of the people of Lyne that they wanted someone who would stand up for them and not someone who would stand with the coalition and stand against local communities. It is a fascinating insight into the way in which people of regional Australia actually read us in this place, and they read us like a book. If the history of the last 15 years of the voting patterns in regional Australia says anything, it says that. It also says that regional Australia want outstanding candidates and outstanding politicians who do not stand up for themselves but stand up for people in communities.
Mr Oakeshott spoke at length about a range of issues in his electorate of Lyne. In the past he has also made comment about the transition of area consultative committees to the yet to be formed Regional Development Australia organisation, an attempt by this government to create a single organisation to engage in dialogue with regional Australia and to do it in a transparent and open way. It is to ensure also on behalf of the Australian government that when support is provided to regional communities, to local communities, it is done in a transparent way and it is done to local government—to an elected entity which has, firstly, a capacity to deliver projects. I heard the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government speaking earlier about the million dollars which had been provided to the ethanol plant at Gunnedah. One might reasonably assume that if one went to Gunnedah and looked at the site for that ethanol plant, they might see one. But, no, the million dollars got consumed. There is no ethanol plant. The Audit Office went to look for it and could not find it. It was not hiding behind a bushel; it was not hiding anywhere. They just did not build it. But it was paid for with taxpayers’ money.
In the last budget the Rudd government provided $17.9 million for Regional Development Australia. This is more than had been provided in the previous year by the then Howard government, supported by the then National Party in government. This year we are providing $800 million—record funding—for infrastructure in regional and local communities. The Australian government has a strong track record in supporting regional Australia and working with local government—local government that will not always support everything that we do and that frequently will offer their own views about public policy matters and about their communities. And do you know what? Offering their own views, having that grumpy sense of self-reliance, having a view about their communities and how they want them shaped—that is what we need to be responding to in this place, not forming our own views and forcing it on the local communities. (Time expired)
I note that the matter of public importance put forward by the member for Lyne talks about the urgent need to shape regional Australia’s future, and that is actually very real, particularly now that that part of Australia is so dependent upon exports and the jobs that accrue to them. This is nowhere more so than in one particular industry, the meat industry. The industry is responsible for 50,000 jobs not just in regional Australia but around Australia generally, but it is obviously a crucial industry as far as regional Australia is concerned. In response to a question about the future of that industry today, I believe the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry misled parliament when asked about the government’s or his intention to withdraw the 40 per cent the Commonwealth puts towards AQIS’s export quarantine expenses. He said that the coalition government had intended to cease to fund that, and that is absolutely untrue. In fact, I asked him to look at the provisional forward estimates, which included funding for a 40 per cent rebate beyond 30 June 2009. So I wonder why the minister misled the parliament on that issue, because he certainly did.
This is a very big issue. We are talking about a time when not just Australia but the world is facing economic hardship, catastrophe—put it any way you want. Let us remember that regional Australia has based its wealth and prosperity very much around mining and agriculture, which are very much export industries. Sixty-five per cent of agriculture is exported. A huge proportion of mining is exported. So what does the minister do? He decides to withdraw the funding for the AQIS export program which government and industry had agreed should be funded 40 per cent by government and 60 per cent by industry. I am not quite sure what his purpose is. Why would he want to pull the best part of $40 million out of regional Australia, out of the 50,000 jobs that accrue to it? We are not just talking about the meat industry here; we are talking about horticulture and seafood, a very great proportion of both of which—probably half or more of the product—go to the Japanese market, which is so sensitive to anything surrounding quarantine, and therefore the program is needed.
At the same time, the minister is pulling out of Washington and out of Brussels the vet and the person in those two offices dealing with trade specifically involving quarantine. The two people in Brussels have, I believe, been told to pack their bags; they are finished. I believe that those in Washington have been told that they will cease on 30 June. The member for Lyne quite correctly talked about the urgent need in regional Australia for people who can help them deal with issues of quarantine and issues of dispute between Australia’s exporters. Taking away their support for exporting to markets, particularly to Europe and the Americas, is hardly the way to do that. I compare it to what the government have done to the car industry. The car industry employs approximately the same number of people as the meat industry. Its exports bring in only about a third of the amount of money that comes back into Australia through the meat, horticulture and seafood industries, yet just a moment ago we had the parliamentary secretary going on about what the government are doing for regional Australia. At a time of need, they are withdrawing their support in Brussels and in the Americas to help with trade and to help settle disputes and adding $40 million to the cost. I think they should be ashamed, and I think the member for Lyne was quite right when he talked about the urgent need which this government is ignoring and in fact doing its best to exacerbate.
I rise to speak on the MPI, ‘The urgent need to shape regional Australia’. As a government member who holds a regional seat, I can say that the government is not only shaping regional Australia after 11 years of neglect but also delivering for regional Australia with record levels of funding. In my electorate of Dawson this government is now delivering on the Bruce Highway. We are delivering $50 million to upgrade the Bruce Highway south of Mackay and $25 million to maintain the Burdekin Bridge. We are also delivering $25 million to undertake road safety projects which the Howard government identified under the Burdekin road safety audit but refused to fund and $50 million to reduce flooding and boost safety with a better bridge and a higher road from Sandy Corner to Collinsons Lagoon north of Brandon.
We are also delivering $95 million towards the construction of the Townsville port access road, which will provide a highway link to the Port of Townsville to support continuing economic growth and jobs. We are delivering record funding for the Roads to Recovery program. More than $20 million will be given to local councils in my electorate over the next five years to maintain and upgrade local roads and support local jobs and businesses. We are delivering $8 million to build the Mackay rugby league and junior rugby league stadium.
We are delivering the education revolution through the computers in schools program and trade training centres. I am pleased to say that 13 schools in my electorate shared in over 1,400 computers and $1.4 million in funding in the second round of funding. Those schools include Carlisle Christian College, Whitsunday Christian College, Calen District State College, Home Hill State High School, Whitsunday Anglican School, Mercy College, Mackay Christian College, Ayr State High School, Bowen State High School, Holy Spirit College, Proserpine State High School, Pioneer State High School and Mackay North State High School
Trade training centres in schools is another part of the government’s commitment to deliver the education revolution. The second phase of this program was recently announced by the Minister for Education, and five schools in the Mackay area, including three in Dawson—North Mackay, Mackay and Pioneer state high schools—will share in almost $6 million in funding to construct a purpose-built industrial workshop at CQU in Mackay catering for the manufacturing, engineering and mining industries. They have pooled their resources together. Yes, we are delivering for regional Australia.
Furthermore, under the Nation Building and Jobs Plan this government will deliver a $14.7 billion boost to the education revolution over the next three financial years. Building the Education Revolution will provide new facilities and refurbishments in schools to meet the needs of 21st century students and teachers. All of Australia’s 9,540 schools, including the schools in my electorate of Dawson, will benefit from immediate funding for major and minor infrastructure projects. This is not lip-service but real promises, real commitments and real delivery. It is clear that, through these commitments, this government is delivering for regional Australia and for Dawson and is certainly shaping the future of regional Australia.