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Monday, 12 September 2011
Page: 9828

Ms MARINO (ForrestOpposition Whip) (21:22): At the 2007 election, Kevin Rudd promised to maintain the coalition's Regional Partnerships and Sustainable Regions Program and to launch a new Better Regions regional development program. Instead, the Labor government axed these programs and used its Better Regions program to only fund projects committed to by Labor candidates at the 2007 election.

Early in 2011, the government announced the $1.4 billion Regional Development Australia Fund, which of course is linked to and relies on the passage of the government's new mining tax, the majority of which will be stripped out of Western Australia. But already the Labor government has cut this fund to around $1 billion. In spite of WA's contribution to the national economy and the government using the state as a cash cow, the south-west has been totally ignored in the first round of federal funding through the Regional Development Australia Fund.

Last week, this Labor government announced funding of $150 million from the $1 billion five-year fund and left the south-west of Western Australia completely off the list. In a region of rapid growth that is desperate for infrastructure, regionally strategic and tourism project funding to meet community and industry needs, this outcome is a disgrace. The south-west of Western Australia is an engine room for the state and national economies. It has a $12 billion GDP, but we need investment in infrastructure like roads, rail, airports and the Bunbury port so the region can make an even greater contribution. The mining, construction and manufacturing industries are the main contributors to economic production in the region, at 24.9 per cent, 15.8 per cent and 10.1 per cent of total production respectively.

Mining output in the south-west ranks internationally, with the region producing more than half the world's tantalum and lithium and about one-quarter of the alumina, zircon, rutile and ilmenite supply. Bunbury port had throughput of 13.866 million tonnes in 2009-10, mostly alumina. This ranked the port fourth in Western Australia and 11th nationally for the tonnage of trade handled. There is, however, a plan to export a further 12 million tonnes per annum of coal, which should commence in 2014.

The south-west has been planning for its future developments, and its Roads to Export plan is endorsed by both the Commonwealth Regional Development Australia body and the state's South West Development Commission. It is supported also by the Bunbury Wellington Economic Alliance, which is representation from every local government in the area and a large number of businesses and industries. The Roads to Export plan identifies that transport infrastructure in the Bunbury-Wellington area is operating at or near capacity. Natural population growth in major project developments will place significant demands on transport and port infrastructure. Without a significant upgrade, project investments will be lost and existing operations constrained by transport bottlenecks. The south-west document identifies that the south-west of Western Australia requires an investment of $623 million to complete Bunbury port linked transport infrastructure and underpin the continuation of the decade-long trend of increasing productivity.

This investment is essential for the development of the south-west region and the state of Western Australia. So when funding is made available through Regional Development Australia funds, the south-west should have immediately been on the government's radar. It meets every single one of the government's purported objectives in its regional development program but it actually seems that this government's infrastructure radar is not working. There were a number of very sound projects put forward by the local south-west committee which have been ignored by the Labor government. Given that funding of the Regional Development Australia fund in the future is dependent on the Labor Party's new mining tax, this is one more example of the west being fleeced by Labor's eastern states priorities. In addition Labor appears to be using this fund to buy political largesse. It has delivered almost two-thirds of the regional development funds to its own electorates and those of their supporters, even though Labor holds just one-third of the seats in regional Australia. According to the Parliamentary Library, Labor holds 23 of the 62 non-metropolitan seats but is happily swallowing the lion's share of this funding. Given that the bulk of the funding raised from the government's new mining tax will come from Western Australia, this is even more reprehensible from the south-west point of view.

There is not one dollar for the infrastructure, the nine regionally strategic or tourism projects identified in the south-west action statement. I have identified a number of key infrastructure needs in the south-west that are vital to our future prosperity, including highway, rail, bridge and port developments. A competent government would invest in the region as a normal part of doing business, as the previous coalition government did. The government should be able to do this without imposing another tax on Western Australia to subsidise marginal seats and prop up their own electorates in the eastern states.

The rail system in the south-west has been under significant pressure, particularly with freight transport. The Collie-Brunswick Junction-Bunbury Port triangle is the key hub of freight in the region and has long been recognised as having capacity constraints. This is highlighted in the submission by the WA state government to Infrastructure Australia for funding to duplicate the line in that area to increase capacity. Additional expansion will be required on the Collie to Brunswick Junction line, especially with expansion of the Worsley alumina facility and the proposed export of coal and possible urea from the port of Bunbury. The Brunswick Junction to Picton part of the rail line has been identified as the principal bottleneck and recent estimates put the cost of the required rail expansion at around $63 million. This project has been identified by the state government in its key priorities. However, billions of dollars of resource development will be dependent on increased capacity on that rail line. To ignore these needs is the height of irresponsibility. I will keep working to attract the necessary funding to get this expansion on track.

This infrastructure is needed not only to allow development but to increase the safety of road users around the south-west. Additional road usage equates to additional pressure on safety and the government's record in this area is poor. The carbon tax alone will impact significantly on road rebuilding and improvements, especially in regional areas. The cost of road construction will rise immediately, so if the government wants to maintain its existing road program it will have to find an extra $400 million. Of course, road funding is already under threat with the Labor government cutting the Roads to Recovery program from 2014. At the last election the coalition committed to maintain and expand the Roads to Recovery program and we readily acknowledge that the obligation to maintain local roads is costly. In fact, in 2006 it was estimated to cost local governments $3.8 billion per annum. The Roads to Recovery program gives local government a much needed helping hand in meeting this infrastructure burden, particularly in those areas where there are small populations to meet the needs of those particular shires and local governments. The coalition is also committed to restoring the Strategic Regional Roads Program, which supports major regional connections and creates jobs. Additionally at the last election we announced the bridges renewal program to provide $300 million over four years to repair and rebuild thousands of ageing and decaying bridges around Australia. We will seek to ensure that Roads to Recovery is extended and adequately funded so that local councils can continue to provide essential transport infrastructure for these local communities.

This particular program, the Regional Development Australia Fund, should be directly linked to those regional areas that need this funding for their expansion and their growth. The south-west of Western Australia fits that particular category. It ticks all of the boxes that the government has set in this regional development program and yet the south-west has totally missed out on any of this funding. It has the capacity to not only contribute to the state economy but the national economy. As I said, it is a $12 billion GDP region and can produce even more. These needs should not continue to be overlooked by this government.