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Thursday, 2 June 2011
Page: 5816

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (11:15): That was an interesting diatribe and just to pick up one of the points: this inability of the opposition, it would seem, to read the budget. As to the $573 million that the member just spoke about, it is actually on page 47 of the Treasury's 2011-12 portfolio budget statement and on page 76 of Budget Paper No. 3, so I suggest that you look there and actually read the budget. It is a complex document because we are dealing with complex issues.

Perhaps it is probably better for me to talk about what the budget has achieved—

Mr Baldwin: You are answering a specific question.

Mr CREAN: I will answer the questions, because there is a significant commitment to regional Australia contained in this budget. This is a commitment of $4.3 billion for the regions, comprised of $1.8 billion for hospital infrastructure—$1.3 billion announced in the budget, with a second round to come later this year of half a billion dollars—another half a billion dollars for higher education infrastructure funding, not to mention the increase in the regional campuses loading for the universities because of the recognition of the important roles that universities play within the regions. There is also $916 million for the first projects under the Regional Infrastructure Fund; there is $1 billion over five years, and that is clear in the budget, through the Regional Development Australia Fund, the RDAF, which has linked two of those funds, and we set in the budget, into the one initiative. There is also a further $2 billion of national benefits that will come from the National Workforce Development Fund, given the critical issues of skill shortages in the region.

So let us have none of this cant and hypocrisy about the fact that we are not funding resources. I would like you to go back and look at what you spent for the regions in your 11½ years. What you did was to simply establish a pork barrel fund that was only available in the lead-up to elections, whereas we are embedding this to make sure that we take regions seriously over our full term.

Not only is this an important commitment to the resources; we have also changed fundamentally the way that we are going to allocate these resources because we have introduced the concept of 'localism' into this. No longer will the regions simply be contained to having an input into your old pork barrel programs; our regions are being encouraged through the Regional Development Australia Network, which we have resourced far more effectively because we have given them capacity to undertake their own capacity-building operations, to have local input into the way these funds are spent. We believe that localism is important. The ground-up approach rather than the top-down approach actually works, and if you get it right it is not just good for the regions; it is an efficiency dividend return to the nation.

The other thing that I think is important to understand about this budget is the way in which we have ensured that the regions are going to be fundamental to our grappling with the economic challenge of our time—that is, an economy in transition. An economy in transition means that we have to diversify the regions, and if we think in terms of a patchwork economy it is the regions that are the patches, and they are all different. That is why we have committed substantial resources to this, all funded and all costed in the budget, and have developed them in a way that enables the regions to make their patch work better. This local involvement has been embraced all around the country. If you think it is rubbish, go and talk to your own RDA. I suspect you have never had a sensible discussion strategy with them in your life. For the first time, we are equipping a mechanism to develop the strategic vision for their area.

Mr Baldwin: Answer the question.

Mr CREAN: We have also introduced in this budget paper—if you are prepared to look at it—the concept of spatial accounting, which will enable regions to identify better the resources that are available to them. This is a substantial commitment to the regions. We are not going to leave them behind; we are going to integrate them into the mainstream structure.