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Hansard Transcript, June 3, Adjournment Debate - Budget: Rural and Regional Areas

Posted June 04, 2014


CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (21:10):  I rise this evening to draw to the attention of the House the absence of a rural and regional ministerial statement in the 2014-15 budget. To my knowledge, this statement has been included in every budget since 1996-97, except for 2006-07. It was also absent this year.

This evening I want to discuss why I think this is a serious issue, and I will make reference to last Thursday's matter of public importance discussion on the issue of rural and regional Australia.


Following the budget, I and my staff and volunteers undertook a budget impact study in Indi. We conducted listening posts and talked to over 700 people. The feedback from this tour has made it clear to me that the lives of rural and regional people and the impact of the budget have not been adequately considered in the creation of the budget.

My constituents believe that the government has a mandate to manage the economy. They are happy about the infrastructure projects, and happy about the money for agriculture. What they are not happy about are the consequences of the social elements of the budget: the changes to education, the changes to health and the severe changes to welfare and education that will impact greatly on young people. People told me, 'One size does not fit all,' and that the budget does not take into account the unique elements of regional living.

Last Thursday, 28 May, in this place a matter of public importance relating to rural and regional areas was strongly debated. I paid close attention, as I wanted to understand the state of the debate and the thinking on rural and regional Australia in this place. The following became very clear to me. There is strong support within the government for agriculture and farming, and the white paper is an excellent idea and has been well received. What is not clear is the visioning and leadership process for other groups living in rural and regional Australia.

What is the government's plan for regional living? Let me tell you what I mean by regional living. This would involve a plan that ensures that there is quality social and physical infrastructure available in regional areas: quality roads, reliable public transport, mobile connectivity and fast internet. With this infrastructure, businesses will be supported—businesses that produce food, resources, materials and services for Australia and the world. These businesses and the people who work within them will be supported by quality health care and innovative learning options, and our young people will have the opportunities and the support they need to become involved in their communities. Social welfare will be available when they need it, the education and employment options will be diverse and accessible, and access to world's best quality telecommunications and public transport will be the norm.

This budget does not look at regional Australia in this holistic way. It does not do this because, for decades, planning for the future of rural and regional Australia has been incomplete. Governments have focused on farmers, but not on the people who live near farms, or support farms, or work in businesses that are relied upon by farmers.

The lack of a rural and regional statement, and the government speeches made last Thursday, show that the planning for people living in regional areas is not being done. But it is not too late to start.

I acknowledge the $1 billion National Stronger Regions Fund. This fund is an excellent opportunity to kick-start this planning and development process. I hope that the money is allocated based on the lessons learnt from Regional Development Australia processes and best-practice consultation with communities.

I have worked in regional Australia all my life, and I know that communities and the people who live within them want to be involved and are willing to work hard if they see the benefits for their community. I also know that regional people have a vision for the future of their communities and are keen to take on leadership roles.

I call on the government to undertake a serious consultation with regional Australia. Ask them what they would like to see happening in their communities in 50 and 100 years. Take this information and use it to better inform government policy. Acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all policy rarely works. I call on the government to reintroduce the rural and regional ministerial statements, and to demonstrate that regional living forms part of our national plan and our vision for the future of this great country.

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