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Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Page: 6985

Mr HAASE —My question is addressed to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the minister outline to the House the benefits for regional communities of the further 16 per cent sale of Telstra?

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question. He of course is a man who represents the largest electorate anywhere in the world, and he does an out standing job. He is at the forefront of people who are looking for new and innovative solutions for the need to develop new job opportunities in rural and regional Australia—something we are committed to doing and you are committed to opposing. We are committed to doing, and you are committed to opposing in every way that you possibly can, from balancing the nation's books right through to developing innovative new approaches.

The member who asked the question, I believe, is doing an outstanding job. I have met some of the people from his electorate who are looking for new technologies to help them create new business opportunities right across the country. The expansion in the social bonus, an additional $314 million, I believe will make a very real difference in terms of job opportunities and quality of life matters for people in rural and regional areas.

I would like to refer to a couple of these in particular. One is the $70 million for Building Additional Regional Networks, BARN, a program to expand Networking the Nation, including services to the remote territories. When you meet and talk with people from electorates such as Kalgoorlie you find that they are just beginning to become really aware of the opportunities that are presenting themselves, but they need to be able to expand their knowledge and understanding of those new technologies as well as have better access to the capital and hardware needed to do it, and this program will help with just that.

Another point that is worth making is that the difference between effective local government and lacklustre local government in regional areas is critically important. We have a $45 million fund made available for Networking the Nation's local government fund. That will be administered under the auspices of the highly successful Networking the Nation program. Each state will receive funding of $6 million, $6 million will be divided among the territories and we will retain $3 million at a national level to ensure that local government authorities in Australia are able to provide online access to their own information and services and public points of access, very valuable, to advance telecommunications services such as the Internet.

The other thing I would like to mention, because I think it is very important, is that I remember a former member for Riverina in this place asking a certain former Prime Minister what he intended to do about the closing of banks in rural and regional areas and specific reference was made to the town of Ivanhoe. The reality was that the previous government was not really very concerned about them, and that is an attitude that has continued into opposition. Well we are. Firstly, through what we learnt with Credit Care, we have seen 50 financial institutions put in small towns that had lost access to banking services. Secondly, we have provided $70 million for rural transaction centres. There has been an incredibly positive response to that initiative. In fact, we have had more than 600 expressions of interest and inquiries and over 40 formal applications from across the states and the Northern Territory.

Those applications are this day in this town being assessed by the newly appointed independent advisory panel, which will set in process the mechanism by which the first round of rural transaction centres will be shortly announced and opened. It reflects us getting on with our commitment of rebuilding rural and regional Australia. It is in stark contrast to the couldn't care less attitude of the ALP.