SPEECH – Eight long years and the Federal Coalition Government still has no vision for regional Australia
CANBERRA – 12 May, 2021
Thank you, Deputy Speaker.
One thing I find amazing in a lot of these speeches on regional Australia is that it’s almost like those opposite, the Government, haven’t been the Government for eight long years.
Because you would have thought with eight long years to properly and strategically plan things like decentralisation and other much-announced initiatives, we would have seen a bit of action by now.
There’s a lot of ways in which this Government has failed regional Australia.
There’s been a failure of strategy. A failure of imagination.
And there’s been a failure to plan for the future of our regions, which are vital to the future sustainable growth and development of our regional areas to make Australia a truly great country.
But it’s no great surprise, Deputy Speaker, that those opposite had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the Senate to even release their Australia’s Regions report, more than two years after it they received it from the Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation.
Could that be because they’ve got no vision for the regions?
That would come as no surprise – they’ve got no vision for the rest of the country.
Today in Question Time I asked the Deputy Prime Minister if it was true – and it certainly was – that only one per cent of the new infrastructure funds to be spent in the NT were to be spent over the forward estimates.
So we’ve got eight years of neglect, and now another four years when only one per cent of new infrastructure funds are going to be spent.
You can’t run this country and neglect one-sixth of the land mass. You can’t pretend to stand up for regions when only one per cent of infrastructure funding will be spent in the NT over the next four years.
They’ve got no vision in their Budget. Australia’s been saddled with record debt by this Government and there’s no vision to back it up.
They’re very big, Deputy Speaker, on the photo op, but they’re never to be seen for the follow-up.
You know what would have been a great thing for regional Australia – especially the NT?
Spending the $216 million that was promised years ago for Kakadu.
We’re still waiting for that money to be spent on the ground.
It certainly would have come in handy over the past 15 months when our tourism businesses were struggling to stay afloat.
It would have been great to upgrade Kakadu earlier, so that now as visitors are starting to arrive, they’d be touring the jewel in the crown of Australia’s national parks, instead of a site desperately in need of upgrades.
But that was an announcement for a photo op.
We’ve already been waiting years for a follow-up.
It would have been great if the promises made at the last federal election were honoured.
Those opposite, Deputy Speaker, can’t be trusted.
If they rock into your electorate during an election and make a commitment, it’s not honoured.
There’s no honour.
But that lack of forethought is no great surprise.
This is the same Government that signed away the Darwin Port, potentially risking Australia’s sovereignty and national security.
And now that they’ve made that colossal mistake, if they decided to buy the port back, who knows what that might cost?
Taxpayers could be slugged with a bill of half a billion at least – money that could be spent in countless ways.
Northern Australia is incredibly vulnerable to natural disasters.
The Government announced a $4 billion Emergency Response Fund – which has so far spent not a cent.
It was a nice photo op, with zero follow-up.
We could be building proper shelters and investing in storm, flood, and fire mitigation measures right now.
Instead, we’re twiddling our thumbs and hoping we don’t get another direct hit while we wait for funds to flow.
If we’re serious about investing in our regions, we should be investing in social infrastructure, like affordable housing, like the veterans’ wellbeing centre that was promised years ago, and still gets no funding in this budget to progress.
Let’s invest in a comprehensive youth hub in Darwin to keep kids off the streets and entertained, supported, and healthy.
And how do we develop the Top End without a workforce?
Local industry is crying out for workers so we don’t have yet another season of fruit rotting on the ground.
Let’s improve our seasonal workers program, and get an agriculture visa up and running.
Eight long years of this Coalition Government, and we’re still waiting for one of those.
Our regional unis, once home to many thousands of international uni students, now face an uncertain future as the borders remain shut.
Investing in our regions means investing in regional universities, attracting bright minds from all over the world, embedding them in our local communities and workforces, to help our regions flourish.
And the best way to do that is to get a proper national quarantine system in place, as the government was advised to do 14 months ago on expert advice.
For almost a year I’ve been calling for the Government to open up Bladin Point near Darwin, which could house up to 2,000 people at a time.
We can use Bladin Point to quarantine international students, and seasonal overseas workers to give our local industries a hand.
And we can use it to quarantine repatriating Australians, tens of thousands of whom are still stuck overseas wanting to get home – many of whom live in our regions.
This Government has failed them repeatedly, and they need to act to get them home now.