Local, Independant and Effective

Adjournment debate - Regional policy, time for Government to deliver

Posted December 03, 2014

 

CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (21:10): Twelve months ago I stood in this chamber and delivered my first speech as the Independent member for Indi. In that speech I committed to making a difference in a range of areas—areas identified by the people of Indi. Their message was that they loved living in regional Australia and they wanted our government to listen to them, to consider them when developing policies, spending money and delivering services.

During this first year my focus has been on championing regional living, regularly speaking in this House about what communities in regional Australia need to enjoy good and productive lives in the places we choose to live. But what has become clear to me as this year has passed is the lack of a national plan for regional Australia. Clearly, we need vision and commitment to address the differences between the regions and the cities.

Travelling around my electorate I listen to the problems that face those who live in regional Australia and I hear the same old stories. The one complaint that is on top of the list is that businesses cannot reach their potential because of poor broadband and inconsistent mobile phone service. Public transport is the second priority area. Trains just do not run on time. The trains have no mobile phone coverage and no wi-fi to speak of. Passengers say they feel like second-class citizens. Ongoing track work being undertaken by the ARTC continues to delay trains between Melbourne and Wodonga.

Regional communities only have to look at the broadband, mobile phone services and transport infrastructure that is available to our city cousins to see the 'great divide' between the city and regional Australia. We need to ensure that regional Australia has the infrastructure needed for families and businesses so that they can reach their potential. We need infrastructure for access to appropriate and timely health resources, to enable children to attend school and move to higher education. We need to have access to doctors and hospitals, to be connected to Australia and to the world. Quite simply, we need to be able to 'bloom where we are planted'.

I know that there are many members of this House who share my view. I believe that the government is genuine in its endeavour to create an informed and connected community, a stronger and more sustainable economy and a better quality of life for all Australians, both now and in the future.

I commend the work of the Regional Australia Institute, established in September 2011, with seed funding from the government. It is working to develop real solutions to key policy area through research and ongoing conversation with the Australian community. The Regional Australia Institute provides me with some key data: 32 per cent of all Australians call regional Australia home; 67 per cent of our national exports come from the regions; 4.3 million Australians live in regional cities; 57 regional LGAs are growing faster than Sydney; and 60 per cent of the 10 most efficient labour markets are situated in regional Australia. Regional Australia is crying out for the government to act.

In bringing my remarks this evening to a close, I cannot stress enough that there is lots to be done. As a Victorian, I hope the new Victorian state government will be proactive and will listen to and act for regional Victoria. I look forward to working with Daniel Andrews and his government.

But in this place I call on the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development and Leader of the Nationals to take up the fight for regional Australia in the cabinet. Minister, as you well know, infrastructure is not just about roads. We need action on the full suite of infrastructure items.

We need a strategic long-term plan for regional Australia on water, energy, broadband, public transport, freight, rail, telecommunications, higher education, manufacturing and health. Minister, your party priority is to build stronger regional economies and secure communities, to deliver opportunity and prosperity for all regional Australians, and ensure a sustainable environment. Now in your second year of government, it is time to deliver on this promise. I believe there was a strong message for the government from what recently happened in Victoria: ignore the voice of regional Australia at your peril.