Local, Independant and Effective

Government called to commit in legislation to wellbeing of rural and regional Australia

Posted December 02, 2016

 

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (10:52): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present a bill for an act to amend the Charter of Budget Honesty Act 1998. This bill is to be known as the Charter of Budget Honesty Amendment (Regional Australia Statements) Bill 2016.

The bill calls on the government, when formulating policy, to ensure that regional impact statements are prepared and accompany every budget and Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook report.

This amendment bill gives voice to those who live in regional Australia and it goes to the very heart of regional living and its relationship with the government and its fiscal policy.

In regional Australia, government initiatives often have a disproportionate impact on communities. This is due to distance, to lack of infrastructure, to low population density and to the time and cost involved in delivering services.

This is clearly evident with patchy and nonexistent mobile phone coverage or internet connections and in communities with little or no access to public transport which are limited by their day-to-day ability to participate.

The purpose of this bill is to call for regional Australia statements to provide information to allow the assessment of the impact of government policy decisions on regional Australia to be understood and communicated—communicated by and with the government, by and with departments, by and with stakeholders and by and with advocacy groups—with communities, with individuals and, importantly with the MPs who represent them.

This bill calls on the Treasurer to authorise these statements because the Treasurer is the architect of the budget, and it is surely a principle of good government that the Treasurer be responsible for both the reporting and the impact of his budget decisions—especially the impact, from my perspective, on those of us who live in rural and regional Australia.

The bill calls for much more detail than what is provided in the current rural and regional ministerial statements. While these statements can be useful, the current practice is to describe new and old programs. This amendment calls for providing regional Australia statements that provide information to allow the assessment of the impact of major government policy decisions. So, it calls for data, statistics, trends, analysis, statements, evidence of modelling and a demonstration that the government has truly appreciated the impact of its fiscal policies on those of us who live outside the cities.

With the adoption of this amendment, people who live in regional Australia in communities of Indi such as Wodonga, Wangaratta, Benalla and Alexandra can be confident and reassured that their needs have been taken into account in the creation of the government's fiscal policies.

The intention of the b ill

The intention of the bill is to ensure that people who live in regional Australia can have full confidence that the government really does understand the circumstances relevant to our lives and has taken these into account when making decisions.

Intended results of the legislation are that it improves knowledge and understanding of the impact of fiscal and budgetary measures upon the community; that, as a result of greater information and understanding, there is more confidence and trust in government and in government's ability and willingness to govern for all Australians; and that, with greater trust and confidence, there will be increased participation in our democracy and a willingness to take on leadership positions necessary to advocate for this great nation of ours, particularly leadership in rural and regional Australia and particularly leadership by those groups of us who so often suffer the unintended consequences of poor government understanding of our lives.

The major elements of the bill are as follows.

Item 1 proposes an obligation upon the Treasurer to publicly release and table regional impact statements with each budget and MYEFO.

Item 2 inserts a new part 5A—Regional Australia statements.

Section 19B outlines the purpose of regional Australia statements, this being to provide information to allow the assessment of the impact of government decisions on regional Australia.

Section 19C details the contents of the statements, including the likely economic, social, cultural and environmental impacts on regional Australia of key government initiatives. Specifically, it requires coverage of:

… the likely impacts on regional Australia of key Government initiatives, or significant changes to such initiatives, announced:

(i) since the last mid-year economic and fiscal outlook report was released; or

(ii) in connection with the budget; and

(b) progress made … in implementing key Government initiatives that are likely to have an impact on regional Australia.

It calls for regional Australia statements to be prepared having regard to the following:

(a) the economic, social, cultural and environmental impacts of Government initiatives;

(b) the economic drivers of regional communities;

(c) the disproportionate effect that Government initiatives may have in regional communities due to a lack of infrastructure, including:

(i) mobile phone coverage; and

(ii) reliable internet connections; and

(iii) access to public transport;

(d) the lack of access that people living in regional communities have to government services due to cost, and long travel distances and times;

(e) the effect that lack of competition in regional communities has on:

(i) the cost of living and doing business in regional communities; and

(ii) the cost and difficulty involved in complying with regulatory requirements for people and businesses in regional—

Australia.

Section 19D allows for the Treasurer to request government bodies to provide information to help in the preparation of regional Australia statements.

Why is this important? I acknowledge the presence in the chamber of the minister particularly responsible for aged care, which covers an important part of regional Australia—a vital service. What I have to say is that there are so many services that we provide in rural and regional Australia, but we do it differently to those who live in the city. But our experience is that much of government policy is one size fits all, and it is city centric. So, in our provision of child care, in aged care, in higher education, in health services and in infrastructure, what we know is that the unintended consequences frequently cause communities and the volunteers in those communities extra work, extra time and huge cost. But what we also know is that there is a fear that the government is not governing for us.

While I do not actually believe that, I do know that facts fight fears. So we call on the government to give us the facts. Show us how, in the implementation of fiscal policy, you have taken into account the circumstances in rural and regional Australia; you understand our particular positions; and you are governing for all of us. That is what we are asking for through these impact statements.

Call to action

In conclusion, I call on the government to acknowledge the impact that government decisions have on regional Australian communities and that this information is then provided to relevant parties. I call on the government to support this bill, as it demonstrates all the principles of good governance by promoting transparency and accountability. It will bring increased trust in a system of government, with the knowledge particularly by people in rural and regional Australia that their best interests are being considered, and I believe it will truly encourage people to participate at a much higher level in democracy.

So I call on the government to commit to this bill, to bring it up for consideration, to bring it up for a vote and to adopt it.

I commend this bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Rob Mitchell ): Is the motion seconded?

Ms Sharkie: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.

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