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Monday, 18 October 1999
Page: 11808

Mr RONALDSON (10:44 PM) —During the grievance debate, I was referring to some events in my home town of Ballarat, and I would like to finish from where I left off, as time got away. During the grievance debate I was telling honourable members about an upcoming event in Ballarat of enormous significance to regional Victoria, and that is the Online Australia Field Day to be held on 19 and 20 November. It has been organised by the Centre for Electronic Commerce and Communications at the University of Ballarat.

The field day has been modelled on successful agricultural field days and will have a rural focus. Attractions include field demonstrations showing the use of online technology in rural operations; a business expo; activities for children, including a kids tent with Internet, online learning and games; and a cyber cafe where visitors can order their food and drink online or surf the Net. Four main pavilions will offer participants the chance to learn hands-on, using interactive displays and computer equipment. I would like to congratulate Helen Dawes and Ross Davey from the Centre for Electronic Commerce and Communications, who have worked extremely hard to make the event the success that it will be.

Interestingly, this event underscores what is becoming increasingly apparent to all Australians, especially those living in rural and remote areas, about the need for those living outside metropolitan Melbourne, Sydney and the other capitals to have access to technology that others take for granted. I am absolutely convinced that, until rural and regional Australians do have that access, they will continue to suffer the impediments that are faced at the moment. The government is quite rightly putting tens of millions of dollars into the technology going into rural and regional areas. I would encourage the government to continue doing so and to renew their endeavours.

The important aspect is that the sale of 16 per cent of Telstra will actually deliver real benefits to regional and rural Australians. This is about transferring a part of the public ownership of an asset like Telstra back to the people. I do not hear many arguments from people in my electorate about the transfer of those funds back into regional and rural communities. It should not matter whether you live in Avoca or Adelaide, or Ballan or Brisbane, or Stawell or Sydney: you should have access to those basic services.

It was only a matter of two or three years ago that there were people in my electorate who could not access the poisons information line. So we really have some significant steps to take to make sure that the access is there. I think this country will finally have arrived when it does not matter where you live you are able to access that sort of technology, and you should be able to operate just as effectively on top of Ayers Rock as you would in a major capital city.

I think we are getting there. This government deserves congratulations in relation to where that money is going. My own University of Ballarat is very actively involved right throughout Western Victoria, taking information to farmers and to small business organisations right throughout my electorate and into the electorates of the honourable members for Wannon and Mallee. I think we are kicking some real goals, but we need to continue doing that. If we do, I think the access that regional and rural Australians and regional and rural Victorians and my constituents deserve will be delivered.

On one final matter in the short time that is left, I want to quickly go through some names in relation to the Australian Ex-POW Memorial Subcommittee. They are David Baird, Bill Bahr, Neville Greenbank, Barry Edwards, Bob Fewster, Les Kennedy, Frank Peebles, John Wilkinson, David van den Brule, Keith Bootsman, Mark Waddington, Rex Hollioak, Peter Blizzard, Phil Horwood, Ray Wheeler, Bill Toon, Jack Fitzgerald and John Paterson. These are the people who have got the memorial up and running, and they deserve the applause of this House.