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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6195


Mr GRAY (Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia) (5:19 PM) —I rise to raise some issues that have been brought to us by the member for Dunkley, specifically those relating to Regional Development Australia, RDA. In his question he referred to correspondence from our department to former area consultative committee members. I am not aware of the detail of that correspondence, but I appreciate that you will have given an accurate reflection of its content. To the extent that the content of that letter does not reflect the government’s view that people who are part of area consultative committee networks performed to a very high standard, there are people there who worked very hard indeed in the interests of their communities. There are people there who saw the interests of their community and sought to serve. There are people on the area consultative committees who genuinely view the interests of their communities as being both worth while and the sort of thing on which they sought to represent their communities on area consultative committees as best they could. It is unfortunate that in so many ways people feel, as we transform to the new entity, Regional Development Australia, that their efforts have not been recognised and understood. We do understand that.

What I would like to say, too, is that in the process of transitioning to RDA it is our intention—advised by people from regional Australia, advised by state governments, advised by local governments and advised by members of communities—that it should be a one-stop shop, a single entity that people can deal with on regional development issues. It would mean that good, serious members of communities did not have to attend an area consultative committee meeting, their local council or shire meeting and then their additional meeting as part of a state development commission. So what we are doing here is bringing together two serious instruments, including the instrument which states have—in the case of Victoria, Regional Development Victoria, significantly supported by the Victorian government—with the intention of creating a good public policy framework around the delivery of regional development policies but, most importantly, to bring budget strength from the state government to match the insights of communities as part of RDA.

Doing that does mean that difficult choices are to be made. We understand that. We recognise that. We are up for the difficult decisions—we always have been. But we are not up for accepting that the process of making this transformation is at all wrong, unfair or a misuse of government funding. The people in the area consultative committees have in fact over the course of the last two years been insulted by two things.


Mr Billson interjecting


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr AJ Schultz)—Order! The parliamentary secretary will be heard in silence.


Mr GRAY —They have been insulted, first, by the abuse that was present in the way in which decisions were made about Regional Partnerships by the former government—and you know that. The member for Dunkley knows that. He has seen the three-volume report. He knows it runs to over 1,200 pages of critique of the way in which members of the community were taken for granted.


Mr Billson —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: In the spirit of the minister recognising where offence has been given, this is profoundly offensive to the ACC members—to fit up their lack of acknowledgement with Regional Partnerships. That is just adding insult to injury, and I think a thankyou letter would be good.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —There is no point of order.


Mr GRAY —That was in fact your government, of which you were a part and you were a minister who fitted these people up, with responsibility for the rorted political decisions which that government chose to make. You know that.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The parliamentary secretary and the members across the chamber will get back to the core issue.


Mr GRAY —The core issue is, of course, how communities are dealt with by a government in Canberra seeking insight, seeking the best members of a community to serve on boards and to help the government make insightful decisions. We understand the importance of doing that. We understand the importance of the service made by members of area consultative committees. We understand the value that they brought to the table and we understand, too, the disgraceful way in which that trust was taken by a government hell-bent on shovelling as much pork as it could into 10 seats—the devil take the hindmost. All you wished to do was to win votes, to create a political footprint for yourself and to use the good name of people on ACCs to cover your bad work, your bad public administration and, what is more, your bad intentions of dressing up a pork-barrelling exercise as being allegedly on behalf of the community. Do we thank them? Yes, we do.