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Thursday, 19 June 2014
Page: 6752

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (15:52): After the contribution by the member for Eden-Monaro, it is easy to understand why the Minister for Agriculture just said that Eden-Monaro is at the top of his hit list. I can say one thing to this House—

Mr Joyce: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I do not think the agriculture minister said that, because I am the agriculture minister and I didn't say it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): I call the member for Bendigo. I think it was a wrong reference.

Ms CHESTERS: I withdraw that comment. But I will say that it will be very hard for the coalition to maintain and hold the seat of Eden-Monaro going forward because this government's budget is hurting rural and regional Australians. This new petrol tax and this unfair budget is hurting rural Australians, not just people in the area of Eden-Monaro but also people in regional Victoria, including in my own electorate of Bendigo.

The fuel tax increase is another hit on regional Australians. This tax, which was frozen by the then Prime Minister, John Howard, in 2001, is now going to go up twice a year every single year. How did this come about? The Nationals were claiming a great big victory in the lead-up to the budget: 'Don't worry, bush. We've got it under control. There'll be no touches to the diesel excise—no touches.' What they did not see coming around the corner was an increase in the petrol tax—and, if they had, then maybe they would have had a voice on it, because this tax hurts the bush. Petrol going up hurts the bush.

What the government have not acknowledged and probably one of the reasons why they have not done their research on this particular area is that petrol prices are even higher in the bush. The further you go out from the city the more petrol goes up. Even in an electorate like Bendigo, you can find on one particular Saturday four or five different petrol prices, depending on where you are. In Bendigo, one day in Woodend it is $1.65 and, on the very same day, it is a $1.50 up the road. Already people who are further out are paying more, and what this tax does is compound that and they will pay even more. The fact is that people living in the country have further to go.

You just have to compare some of the electorates around the country to really understand why the city based Liberals in this government do not understand what is going on in the bush and why they did not think it would be a problem. In my own electorate, it is 136 kilometres from Elmore to Macedon. Let's take the member for Wannon's electorate: it is 251 kilometres from Warrnambool to Dunolly. In the member for Mallee's electorate, it is 380 kilometres from Mildura to Halls Gap. These are big distances that people have to drive. Let's compare that to the Prime Minister's electorate, which is only 12 kilometres wide; compare it to the Treasurer's electorate, which is 10 kilometres wide. When you live in the city, you do not have far to drive; but when you live in the country, you do. So every increase in the petrol tax increases the price of petrol that people in the country have to pay.

This tax is compounded by other measures in this budget. As we have heard, local councils have been hit hard by their grants being frozen. In my own electorate, the councils have added up that it is about $1.8 million collectively over the life of this government. In health, we have seen massive funding cuts in regional communities that may force some of our regional hospitals to close or to amalgamate. In Bendigo, it is a cut of $25.8 million over the next five years to its hospital. When you look at schools, universities and other higher education institutions, there are, again, big funding cuts. This will hit regional universities really hard. Students may not enrol. For students who have to travel mostly by car, because we do not have decent public transport, there will be extra costs. This government has cut funding to volunteer organisations. Volunteers say that one of the biggest costs associated with the work that they do is the travel—driving in their own cars. Regional communities are held up and kept strong by the work of their volunteers.

What compounds the pain of the other cuts in this budget is the fact that the fuel tax is going up. So there is less money in a school budget and then they have to pay more for their petrol. There is less money in the hospitals and then they have to pay more for their petrol. That is the problem with this government: their budget is hurting regional and rural Australia and this petrol tax— (Time expired)