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Tuesday, 22 May 2007
Page: 7

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (2:30 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Will the Deputy Prime Minister outline to the House how this government is helping local councils and communities, particularly in regional Australia? What role have the state governments played in this process?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the member for Maranoa for his question and recognise his close involvement with local government and local authorities over many years, particularly in his electorate of Maranoa in Queensland. As a result of the coalition government’s good economic management and the retirement of $96 billion of Labor debt that we inherited in 1996, the government has been in a position to increasingly assist local authorities across Australia with a lot of the cost pressures that they have been left with, particularly those downloaded onto them by state governments abrogating their responsibilities to local communities.

In 2007-08 we will provide local government with an estimated $1.7 billion in financial assistance grants—an increase of 3.9 per cent in the amount provided last year, or an extra $65.2 million for local government across Australia. This assistance helps local government, particularly smaller regional councils, to build and maintain local roads and to provide library services, community health care, local water infrastructure and the like—the fundamental services that local government is there to provide to local communities. Mr Speaker, over and above that, as you would recognise, over the years we have also introduced the Roads to Recovery program, which since 2001 has provided about $307 million a year to local governments across Australia to assist them with the challenge of maintaining local road infrastructure—historically something state governments have done and have been responsible for, but they have departed from the field in that regard.

We have other specific regional programs of about $112 million, including Regional Partnerships programs to assist local authorities to provide services to their communities and the strategic regional roads program. We are funding projects that should be funded by state governments. There is a good reason for this: we can afford to do it. We see the need and we do it because state governments are leaving the field; they are abrogating their responsibilities.

The other program that local government relies upon heavily is the local roads black spot program. The program has been in existence since 1996, since our government was first elected. We funded that again this year to the tune of $45 million. We will increase the funding in AusLink 2 to $60 million a year for the local roads black spot program that is predominantly applied for by local authorities. That is a broad sweep of the assistance that we provide to local authorities. We believe in the importance of that level of government which is the closest to the people and which understands the people and the aspirations of local communities.

The member for Maranoa asked about attitudes of other levels of government to local government. We certainly know what it is in Queensland. The Beattie Labor government is completely ignoring any democratic process. It is going to impose forced amalgamations on  local authorities throughout Queensland without any consultation with local authorities and the people in those local communities. Mr Beattie is not varying his course on this. He is ignoring advice from the Leader of the Opposition, who has asked him to reconsider his position on this, but is actually listening to foreign billionaires. I read in the media today that in the house in Queensland Mr Beattie read from a letter sent to him by Virgin boss Richard Branson supporting his council merger proposal. The letter states:

This I’m sure is being applauded by the vast majority of Queenslanders, and as a frequent Queenslander myself, well done on this initiative.

Mr Beattie will ignore all the people in regional Queensland and ignore the Leader of the Opposition, but he will listen to a foreign billionaire about what he should do with local communities in Queensland. This coalition government will stand up for the interests of local communities. We will continue to fund their aspirations to build and strengthen their economic and social infrastructure. We will do what we say we will do, unlike the Labor Party, who say one thing and do another. There is a great challenge for the Leader of the Opposition to see whether he can wheel Mr Beattie on this one.