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Monday, 31 May 2010
Page: 4675

Mr JOHN COBB (5:02 PM) —I rise to speak on the budget of 2010. As a matter of fact, in the days leading up to the budget, I said in my electorate of Calare that this was a wonderful opportunity for the Rudd Labor government to show not just the electorate of Calare but rural and regional Australia that it actually does care about the consequences of its actions in that region, that it actually did care about what happened regarding health, water, infrastructure and transport, outside of the big cities.

Let’s face it, the very first actions of this government was the finance minister—within weeks of taking office—slashing $649 billion, from memory, of programs from the then budget of 2007-08. It is interesting to note that, out of $649 billion that he slashed, some $420 million came out of regional Australia. That is something like three-quarters of all the money he took, and it came out of regional Australia. In their very first budget, the Rudd government reneged on the Bells Line of Road engineering study. They talked about the inland rail, but it certainly was not there the other day. They withdrew, in the last budget, a billion dollars from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

I mentioned that in our part of the world the budget was a good time for the Rudd government to make good on their hospital and health promises. The hospital problems were all, if memory serves me correctly, supposed to be sorted out and fixed up by June—not June as in next month, but June last year. I reminded them just prior to the budget that it had been announced that Bathurst was losing its private hospital, which would have a huge effect on the whole central west, and that Forbes and Parkes had been promised new hospitals. There were great opportunities for the Rudd government to show they were serious about hospitals, they were serious about health and they were serious about rural and regional Australia. Urban water is also an issue in our part of the world as well as health, but I think what I probably spat the dummy over was what has happening with regard to cancer centres of excellence. The whole area from Lithgow, just west of the Blue Mountains, all the way out to Cobar and Broken Hill was totally ignored and told they could not have a cancer centre of excellence but the town of Gosford and the region around it could.

Forgive me if I am wrong—and I am not wrong—but when the Prime Minister announced the cancer centres of excellence program and guidelines he conceded that, in certain instances of cancer detection, country people were three times more likely to die within five years of being diagnosed than the people in big cities. Yet he and the Minister for Health and Ageing saw fit to give Gosford a centre of excellence in preference to one in western New South Wales when Gosford is a big city under the Rudd government’s own guidelines. I do not suppose that had anything to do with the fact that the seat of Robertson is the third most marginal that Labor holds in Australia. Heaven forbid that that should be an issue in this program! And no-one would think it strange, I am sure, that people from Lithgow and all the way out to Cobar have got to cross the mountains or travel for up to 10 hours to get to a cancer centre of excellence, over and above the sorts of things that Orange, Bathurst and Dubbo can provide. People in Gosford are almost within a taxi ride of Newcastle and Sydney, are they not? Far be it from me to deny the people of Gosford—but prefer them in terms of need to all the people out there? Anyway, it seems obvious that that is something a Prime Minister could have fixed up, not to mention the need for a 24-hour helicopter service for emergencies. I did ask for that prior to the budget, given that areas like Wollongong, 12 minutes flying time away but with less calls than Orange, already had one. No politics there either, I am sure! So we had had expectations, for more reasons than one.

When the budget actually came out, the Labor Party, strange to say—surprise, surprise—had paid little attention to regional Australia and even less attention to these opportunities in Calare. The residents of regional Australia were not only ignored, they were punished. How were they punished? The Prime Minister came up with the great big new tax on mining. It is going to hurt regional Australia. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, people in regional Australia realise this more than anybody else. In my electorate of Calare we happen to be lucky in not being able to be a magnificent agricultural area but we do have very serious mines. In the current or ‘old’ electorate of Calare we have Cobar and in the new electorate we will have Lithgow, as well as Cadia at Orange, Parkes and other smaller mines. Mining is the only thing that has kept us strong through the eight to 10 years of drought.

Portions of the media label the mining sector as ‘the goose that laid the golden egg’. I think this analogy is simplified and quirky, but it points in the direction of many, many more serious issues. The Minerals Council estimates that there are 4½ jobs supported by every direct employee of the mining industry. However, I think it is impossible to calculate how far that influence extends, in the same way that in regional Australia it is impossible to calculate just how far the influence of the agricultural sector extends on jobs and income. These two sectors keep our people together. One has been totally ignored, if not denigrated; the other the government intends to punish in a big way.

There are thousands of direct and indirect jobs. It does not matter whether it is a corner shop or a coffee shop—whatever it might be—the wages of mining have a huge effect on our ability not just to have a lifestyle but to have a good one; not just to have a job but to have a good one. I do not see that we have any less right to that than people in the cities. It is just that our people live with these issues. Our people know that this tax is a tax on them directly; this is not some fanciful figment of the imagination for the Prime Minister to rave on about in a theoretical way. To us, this is life—this is jobs, this is our future. I cannot believe that anybody could go into a tax like this. One can only assume they are either stupid or they simply did no research into how far it would go. This hurts small business. The number of small businesses in Cobar, in Parkes, in Orange, in Bathurst and in Lithgow attached to the mining industry are just incredible. As the leader of the coalition said the other day, if the exploration side of this was so good, why isn’t every other business in Australia putting its hand up for a similar tax?

This is a budget which can only cause grief to the best industry we have got out there in regional Australia and totally ignores the other big industry out there in regional Australia. Once again, it ignores it, and I will say more about that little later. It also ignores the need for greater investment in regional infrastructure—roads and rail. The only mention of my part of the state was that they are going to put a few sleepers under the Parkes-Broken Hill line. That is all well and good, but I would not put that as any great infrastructure; I would put that down as normal maintenance. Otherwise there is not going to be much heading across to Perth, Darwin or Adelaide. The minister for road transport and everything else he is the minister for might puff his chest out—he actually mentioned that in parliament the other day. If it did not do it, there would not be any trains running, so I do not really see that a huge win for anybody except a few people cutting sleepers. These days they are not even doing that.

Something we committed to as part of AusLink in 2007 was a $10 million bypass for the town of Orange. Currently it does not matter what it is—semitrailer or whatever it might be; a house on the back of a semitrailer—pretty much everything has to go down the main street of Orange. It is a pretty ridiculous situation. We committed $10 million to pay the majority of what the council needs to finish the northern bypass. As a result of us committing to that, the then opposition under the now Prime Minister committed to the same thing. That was a great commitment and I was very pleased to hear it, especially as they won government at that time. The only problem is that, after three budgets, they still not have put a cent up for Orange City Council to do that. That is no small thing. On the Mitchell Highway and the entrance to the Golden Highway and heading both out to Parkes, Forbes and Cowra, it is no small thing for the amount of heavy traffic that passes through a lot of people all the time.

Once again, when it comes to road funding, the federal government is as bad as the New South Wales Labor government. They are only interested in metropolitan Australia. They do not want to spend a cent towards putting a decent road across the Blue Mountains. They are not even interested in funding the engineering study we committed to in 2007. Also, despite the government’s protestations of, ‘Yes, we’re going to keep it going,’ the inland rail has been forgotten. There is no mention of it in this budget. I guess we really should not be surprised.

As I mentioned, there is a need for urban water, as well as what Senator Wong is doing to Australia’s irrigation industry. There was no mention of urban water anywhere in the budget or, if there was, there was certainly no mention of it anywhere outside of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. As I started off by saying: this budget was a great big opportunity for the Rudd government to show that it is a government for all Australians. I can almost hear the words of the Prime Minister when he took office in November 2007: he was here for everybody. We are waiting for him to be here because, if there is one thing that this budget did, it did not give funding to anything west of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.

In terms of agriculture and rural Australia, the government, in its very first budget, knocked $60 million out of CSIRO. Most of that was taken out of agriculture. The government cut $40 million from the last budget by getting rid of Land and Water Australia. That was another $40 million out of R&D. Also in the last budget they removed 130 jobs from AQIS. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry talks about R&D as though he is its messiah, but he has never been known to do anything other than take money from it. Obviously, he has a real problem with anything to do with productivity. In fact, going on the terms of reference of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry that is looking into government funding towards the levy, whereby the government matches all our rural industries dollar for dollar, it is quite obvious that the minister does not like providing funding unless it is towards something to do with climate change or the common good.

Productivity gains have occurred in Australia because we are the best innovators around and because of R&D. We have a trade advantage overseas because of our biosecurity measures. Our beef can compete with American beef on their shelves because our beef has a longer shelf life, despite it having travelled from here to there. This is because our R&D is so good. We need to be aware that the Productivity Commission is currently looking at the levy. The inquiry is obviously designed to cut down the government’s commitment to match rural industries dollar for dollar. That is a disgrace and a shame. This will rebound on our industries forever if the minister for agriculture goes ahead with it. The Productivity Commission inquiry into drought basically said, ‘Get rid of drought.’ Okay, there is a little trial in Western Australia but that is not a drought program; it is just an efficiency program. That is well and good, but to call it a drought program is an insult to agriculture.

When you have a look at the facts, the government ignored water. What Senator Wong is doing to water and what the government is doing to mining and agriculture in our country mean that this is not a government with any great concern or any great moral values when it comes to anybody who lives outside the major cities. The major cities are going to be the ones who suffer when we have to once again pay back a huge debt. Last time we were in government it took us 10 years to pay back $96 billion. Heaven knows what we will have to pay back this time. I hope Australia can put a halt to this situation before we get back to debt levels which will once again take us a decade to pay back.