MPI: Regional Australia

MPI: Regional Australia Main Image

By Kristy McBain

29 November 2022

I find it bizarre that we've just had 10 minutes from the leader of the Nationals talking about us not delivering for regional Australia. We've been in government since May. Those opposite had 10 years: 10 years without a decent change to aged care in rural areas; 10 years without understanding that you have to invest in schools otherwise you'll end up with skill shortages across the country; 10 years to figure out you have to play a role in housing, and now we see a housing crisis around the country; 10 years to make sure that we had GPs in regional areas. They can sit here and talk about the nonsense but they had 10 years and failed to deliver. They failed to deliver and they failed to understand that regional Australia is more than just Nationals seats. It's more than just Liberal seats. There are crossbenchers and Labor members who represent regional Australia, and those opposite never got it.

What regional Australia needs is something that's not a 1950s solution. Regional Australia needs modern technology. Those opposite failed to understand that in a modern society we have to deal with connectivity. They failed to build the NBN. Their record is first cutting the NBN then having significant blowouts. They said they'd build it for $29 billion, then it was $41 billion, then it was $49 billion and then it ended up at $58 billion—double the cost. They spent 10 years denying the reality of climate change and ignoring the intensity and challenges of natural disasters in rural communities. Every natural disaster funding assistance was slow, cumbersome and without the ability to build back better. Their failed $4.8 billion Emergency Response Fund didn't deliver a single mitigation project or release a cent in recovery funding in three years. It earned $800 million dollars—high-five to that!—but it failed to deliver to the people who needed it most.

As I said, the state of housing across this country, especially in regional Australia, actually hinders employment opportunities. We've inherited an economy of increasing interest rates and growing repayments impacting household budgets, along with already high grocery and energy prices. They failed to understand the skills and jobs we needed for the future, they failed to see the signals that there would be a significant shortfall in workers needed across many sectors, and they failed to train that workforce.

Those opposite seem to think those in regional Australia don't need government funded services such as child care or the NDIS. I was particularly perplexed when I heard Senator McKenzie on Cairns radio saying, 'If you're looking for savings, don't go after the regions—rather, look to reform the NDIS, look to reform Medicare, and get some of those structural saves.' It's beyond belief that we can suggest in 2022 that regional Australians deserve less, that they don't deserve access to those services. To top it off, regional Australia needs much more than just grants. We need transparency and clear measures, and the ANAO report said that the Building Better Regions Fund failed to deliver funding in a clear and consistent manner.

Actually, the biggest failure was sending $10 million to the North Sydney Olympic Pool. It received funding via a closed invitation-only grant process. I would love to know from the Leader of the Nationals how many of his constituents in Maranoa go to the North Sydney Olympic Pool for their regional pool. No-one in Eden-Monaro thinks that their regional pool is in North Sydney.

I don't know where those opposite were, complaining to their own side of government, when they delivered $10 million of regional funding to the North Sydney pool, because there are pools across this country in regional communities that do a great service. They are safe, effective ways to get kids to learn to swim. Everyone needs them. Yet in any regional community you go into they will tell you that they need money to rebuild their pool. And somehow North Sydney became the priority for the former government—no level playing field, no transparency and no consistency.

We live in challenging times, we all get it. There's a global slowdown, high inflation, rising interest rates and a succession of natural disasters putting pressure on our economy. On top of these current pressures, we're working to clean up a decade of waste. It can't be done in six months. But we are doing much more than governing by press release. You can't build a road on a press release. You can't show up for a photo and not follow up with those communities. We've committed a billion dollars towards two major regional programs that will be delivered in a fair and transparent manner.

The Growing Regions Program will provide new funding opportunities for social and economic infrastructure to local councils and not-for-profit organisations through open, competitive grants processes. The Precincts and Partnership Program will provide a strategic, nationally consistent mechanism for funding and coordinating large-scale projects that transform our places, benefiting communities in our regional cities and wider regional and rural Australia.

Unlike those opposite, we know regional Australia will be the driving force behind our economy, particularly the renewables economy. Those opposite thought all that regional Australia needed was a cash splash. There was no vision on how to build, support and harness the value of regional Australia, but regional Australians deserve so much more than that—broad-sweeping policy that delivers and meets their needs. Investment in regional Australia is much bigger than a simple grants program. That's why there are 760 initiatives in the Regional ministerial budget statement for regional Australia and over 220 new packages on individual measures.

I thank the member for Page for his interjections, because Senate estimates provided, a few weeks ago, this government, the Albanese government, is delivering $4 billion more for regional Australia. That's why we're investing $2.4 billion in funding to the NBN and delivering $656 million to improve mobile connectivity in regional and remote communities. They always talk to us about mobile funding. They always talk to us about not getting the services that those in the city get.

We know the chef, the childcare worker, the fruit pickers all need a roof over their head before they can accept a job in our regions, which is why this government took up the challenge abandoned by those opposite. We have a $10 billion future housing fund, and we've implemented the regional first home buyers scheme. Already 1,000 people have taken advantage of that scheme, and couples like Abbie and Corayne near Townsville will be in their first home before Christmas. But there is so much more that needs to be done.

We need stronger educational opportunities across the regions. That is why we have prioritised access to 20,000 additional Commonwealth supported places at regional universities. That's why we've invested $158.5 million worth of measures to address teacher shortages. But good regional development isn't just about investing in roads or industries; it's about investing in our people through skills and training. It's investing in services like Medicare, the NDIS and child care.

We know that regional Australia bears the brunt of natural disasters, which is why we have prioritised the Disaster Ready Fund, investing up to $200 million per year on disaster risk reduction and resilience. Our regional communities tell us they want to be better prepared for next time. They don't want to build back infrastructure that continues to get washed away or burnt. They don't want the community to continue to be cut off. They want to know that we give credence to their lived experience, which is why we prioritise that.

Regional Australia is at the centre of our nation's growth and at the forefront of the Albanese Labor government's agenda. Investment in regional Australia includes Powering the Regions Fund, investment in schools and universities, investment in housing and investment in health care. It's about investing in people and taking seriously place based solutions. The Labor government are saying to people, 'We will deliver for you, no matter where you live, no matter your postcode and no matter who represents you in parliament.' There has to be a clear and transparent process.

The Labor government will deliver a regional Australia that can thrive in the modern world. I am so proud to be part of this government delivering for all of Australia.