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Wednesday, 13 June 2007
Page: 196

Mr LLOYD (Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads) (12:49 PM) —I thank the member for Hotham for his question.

Mr Crean —Two questions.

Mr LLOYD —Two questions. In relation to the first question, I will take that on notice because it is not directly under my area of responsibility. I would hope that the member does support the improvements to the Longreach airport. As I said, I will take the question on notice. I will respond to the member’s accusations that we are somehow trying to not provide—

Mr Crean —Mr Deputy Speaker, can I intervene?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—Minister?

Mr LLOYD —Yes.

Mr Crean —When the minister says he will take it on notice, does that mean he will give me an answer subsequently?

Mr LLOYD —I thank the member for Hotham for his inquiries. I will take the question on notice and I will provide to him what information I can. I am happy to do that in relation to that issue.

The issue that I wanted to take up on that was this idea that the Australian government was sort of offering half funding on the condition that the states contribute and then somehow blaming the states if the project does not get up. I have to say, to take this opportunity, that I have noticed that that is happening right around Australia with the state governments. More and more they are reneging on their responsibility for projects, whether it be state rail or state roads or other state initiatives, whereby they are putting up projects and offering 50 per cent of what should be a 100 per cent responsibility for the states and then coming to the Commonwealth. Then, when the Commonwealth does not agree to fund a state government responsibility, they go back to their communities and say, ‘Oh, it’s all the federal government’s fault.’ It is not all the federal government’s fault and I think the community is starting to wake up to that in many states around Australia.

As far as the Rural Medical Infrastructure Fund is concerned, it is an important program and the Australian government certainly does want to provide these initiatives to the small rural communities. It was established as walk-in, walk-out community medical facilities with the aim of making it easier for these communities to recruit and retain GPs and allied health professionals. It is of course administered by my department. The department is working closely with the Department of Health and Ageing because they also provide input into the assessment of applications. But on 22 August 2006 the government announced changes to those guidelines from the RMIF, which do aim to increase the number of eligible participants. These changes include increasing the funding cap from $200,000 to $400,000 partnership contribution; expanding the eligibility criteria to allow local divisions of general practice to apply for funding as well as local government, including Indigenous community councils—the ICCs; allowing for the recruitment or retention of allied health professional services and/or general practitioners; and allowing funding of residential housing in certain circumstances.

As of 31 March 2007, 23 applications had been received. Thirteen, with a total value of $2.1 million, had been approved and nine, with a total value of $2.4 million, were being assessed. One application was withdrawn. I can only re-emphasise that the Australian government want to ensure that we can provide this assistance to small and isolated communities around Australia. As I said, we have shown a willingness to change the guidelines. We are happy to consult with communities in relation to that and to talk to area consultative committees to see whether there are any ways we can further streamline that program and get the money out the door in a more timely sense so that we can continue to provide better services for regional communities.