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Thursday, 24 May 2001
Page: 27029


Mrs HULL (2:27 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the Deputy Prime Minister outline to the House how measures contained in Tuesday night's budget will build on government policies to reduce economic and social disadvantage in my electorate of Riverina and rural, regional and remote Australia?


Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the honourable member for Riverina for her question and I acknowledge that she is a great champion for the people that she represents in their pursuit of greater economic opportunity and better social services outcomes. Over the last five years the Liberal-National Party government has given back to rural and regional Australia the opportunities, the services and the future that Labor took away. It has been a long haul. There was a lot to do after 13 years—a great deal to be done—and a lot has been done, from lower interest rates to lower inflation. As for those lower interest rates, it is worth reiterating that the four bases points that they are in essence down just since 1995 are worth around $1.2 billion a year to Australia's farmers. Then you look at the other benefits: a waterfront that now works, something that rural Australia has always wanted but that the ALP and its mates said could not be done in this country; lower taxes on transport—very important in the current climate—taken further in the budget the other night; and of course Agriculture—Advance Australia, an $800 million package that took the place of the old rural adjustment scheme, a couple of hundred million dollars. There has been the Natural Heritage Trust, now extended, and the fortressing of Australia against unwanted pests and diseases.

As I said, a lot has been done—with more to come—but that actually means that there is a lot to be lost as well. There is a lot, potentially, to be lost. Tonight the Leader of the Opposition must guarantee not to roll back rural and regional Australia. He owes it to rural and regional Australia to tell them what his city-centric party's intentions would be for rural and regional Australia if he were ever to be in a position to have a say. In the end, you can mumble in the abstract about `vision' for only so long. In the end, you can use the word only so many times in a 40-minute budget reply speech. In the end, you actually have to tell people something of what it is that you are going to do. After five years of this opposition, we still have not heard in rural and regional Australia anything at all of what the ALP would do if they were ever in a position to implement a policy for rural and regional Australia. We heard repeatedly from the member for Dickson that she was on the cusp of releasing a policy. When she ceased to be the minister responsible, she said that she had left it all there in the top drawer, ready to be released by the member for Batman. But the member for Batman gave that away, because he said that the top drawer was empty—there was nothing in it.

The Leader of the Opposition has revealed his interest in rural and regional Australia: at his major event at the Hobart conference last year, he did not mention regional Australia. So tonight the Leader of the Opposition must demonstrate to regional Australia that he will not roll back on them. Will he guarantee the extension of the Natural Heritage Trust? Will he guarantee Roads to Recovery? Will the opposition continue to expand what we have been doing in telecommunications—mobile phone coverage, which they took away? Will they speed up Internet connections? Will they continue BARN, one of the Networking the Nation programs, which is of great value? Will they commit themselves to the USO and—something that they did not even think of—the customer service guarantee? All of those are actual telecommunications policies. We have not heard a single telecommunications policy for rural and regional Australia from the ALP—not a single positive declaration of what they would do. Will they continue Regional Solutions, partnerships with rural communities as they seek their own best way forward? Will they continue to have more doctors and better services? Will they roll back the GST and reintroduce a raft of hidden taxes like they did in 1993, contrary to what they said they would do? That raises the other question: if they do say something tonight, should we believe them? Will they reintroduce those just when it is becoming apparent that tax reform is contributing to an improved terms of trade outlook for rural and regional Australia? So tonight we will wait in hope. Tonight is the night. How will Simon's promises of bigger surpluses and the Leader of the Opposition's promises of bigger expenditures play out for rural and regional Australia? Which taxes will be increased? Which services will go? What is it going to mean? Tonight is the night when surely we will hear something.