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Thursday, 30 May 2013
Page: 4681

Mr COULTON (ParkesThe Nationals Chief Whip) (13:02): I rise today to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2013-14. I would like to note that in the 5½ years that I have been in this place as the member for Parkes never have the state of the finances of the country been more in focus and never has a budget been so little regarded. There is irony there.

Cast your mind back to 2007 when I first came here. The country had no net debt and had money in the bank, had money put away for future requirements. The Australian people were confident and the economy was humming along. People's minds were cast to wanting to fix the environment and a whole range of other things. I think there was a belief that the country ran itself. Indeed, the state of the finances and the state of the economy in 2007 were purely a happy coincidence. It did not really matter what the government did. There was no credit really given to the previous Howard government and the country looked after itself.

How wrong we have been. I am not going to go over the litany of mistakes that have been made but it started with the reaction to the global financial crisis and the panic spending of money on the pink batts scheme and the school halls program. Putting money into education is a noble cause but not managing the program and spending billions of dollars more than was necessary is indeed a problem.

So, at the moment, we have a budget with about a $19 billion deficit. Admittedly, it was predicted last year that it was going to be a surplus. Indeed, in 2012, the opening sentence in the Treasurer's budget speech was: 'This is the first of four surplus budgets that will be delivered for Australia.' He was so wrong. That is the problem. The Australian people, business and the Australian citizens, have lost faith in this government. How that manifests itself is that people are just closing down. They are just not spending, and that is having an effect right through the whole economy. My personal belief is that, if you want the economy to be prospering and doing well, the Australian people have to have confidence. Putting in a government program that puts money into every community or having a factory come to the edge of town that is going to employ a lot of people is not the answer, compared to when every individual has confidence.

What we are seeing now is that people are not putting on apprentices. They are shedding staff. They will make the work vehicle last another year. Farmers are not game to purchase the neighbouring farm if it comes up for sale. Indeed, they are finding it very hard to find the finance. In the five or six years that I have been out of agriculture, the financial difficulties that farmers are facing in being able to obtain finance have tightened up a lot. That is trickling down, right down to the fact that one of the most disadvantaged groups in the entire economy at the moment—and they have been for some time—are the self-funded retirees. They are the sort of people who would have some discretionary spending, and they are not taking the trip around Australia that they may have done. They are not getting the house painted or updating the car to pull the caravan or whatever. That whole effect is trickling right through the economy. In the last couple of weeks I have been visiting the chambers of commerce in my electorate, and the statements they make are all the same: they are doing it incredibly tough. It is not only where the dollar is that is having an effect but this lack of spending by the Australian people, and they are also battling—I might say as an aside—internet trading. That is another thing that I think this place will need to look at in the future to try and level the playing field for our local businesses compared to online trading.

Regarding regional Australia and my electorate in particular, we really have seen a lack of regard and a lack of interest over the last few years. You might remember, back in 2007, that fateful day when the Greens and the Independents all signed up with the Prime Minister on the deal to do government, and one of the things that were spoken about was the $10 billion fund for regional Australia. It turns out that it was predicated on the mining tax, and we have not seen a fraction of that money come through. Much was made of the RDAs and Regional Development Australia. I sat through countless speeches in 2008 denigrating the old Regional Partnerships Program of the previous government, but I have to say that the people in regional Australia would like to see that back.

We saw once again, with a city-centric minister, that the type of funding that was out there in the first round of the RDAs was really only available to large communities. I got three in my electorate, and I am sure that those towns were grateful to get them, but they were the three largest towns. There was the Glen Willow Regional Sporting Complex in Mudgee, the artesian baths upgrade in Moree and an athletics field in Dubbo. They were the three biggest towns in my electorate. But we have communities like Coonamble, who for years have been trying to get financial support for their covered arena for the rodeo ground so that they can make Coonamble a centre for equestrian pursuits. A covered arena would enable that to happen year round with camp drafting, rodeo events and all sorts of pony club and equestrian events, as well as trade shows and cattle shows. It would boost the economy of Coonamble. Indeed the Moorambilla Festival, which is a music festival that attracts thousands of people from all over the state, would use the facility. They were precluded because they did not have the resources to put in the necessary application. Other programs in smaller towns have been in a similar situation. The reality is that it is the smaller communities that really need the assistance of federal funding.

That leads onto my next point and that is the poor handling of the issue of constitutional recognition of local government. I firmly believe that this something that needs to happen. I was on the committee set up by Minister Crean to look at the possible success of this. We are not talking about major reform and we are not talking about altering the basic relationship between the Commonwealth, the states and local government. We are looking at a bit of housekeeping to tidy up a loophole in the Constitution to enable things like direct funding to local communities through regional programs. Roads to Recovery and other projects are perhaps not important in a larger metropolitan area, but to the 17 councils in the Parked electorate they are a big deal. We are going to have that referendum, and I am certainly hoping the Australian people will get behind and support that. Unfortunately, in January when we were having a hearing into this, the Electoral Commission witness at our hearing said, 'You need at least six months to properly organise and run a referendum.' With the sacking of Minister Crean and Minister Albanese taking over, the announcement was made with less than four months to go. It is going to be all stops out. This is an example of what to me is a no-brainer, but it is going to be a struggle to have it accepted because there has not been the time to build the case.

The other thing that I think we need to be focusing on is rural roads. One of the things the constitutional recognition of local government would protect would be the Roads to Recovery program—a program that has been very successful. I would like to see that extended; I would like to us to look at rural roads. Nearly everything we buy on supermarket shelves starts its life on a rural road. I think it is hard for people who do not live in the bush to comprehend the fact that after as little as 10 millimetres of rain you cannot get your kids to school. In most farm families one member now works off farm and if they are a nurse or a teacher or whatever in town they cannot get to work. You cannot access health services, either, but, more than that, there are many millions of dollars of produce that can be stranded for weeks at a time because of the impasse of the roads—roads that were built in the days of Cobb & Co that are now expected to deliver tons of freight on road trains and B-doubles. That is why I support the Australian Rural Roads Group in their effort to highlight the issue of high production agricultural areas battling with the poor infrastructure of local roads.

Another thing that there has been a lot of discussion about in this place has been the inland rail, and I am certainly hopeful that in the next term of government we will get some positive action on that line. This is a steel Mississippi that would link Melbourne to Brisbane and would go through the middle of the Parkes electorate. Not only would it get a lot of trucks off the road and be better for the environment, but it also would provide a backbone to build the economy of western New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

A couple of things in closing. I proudly represent the second largest Aboriginal population, after the Northern Territory, of any electorate in this country. There are some positive things happening in my electorate for young people. The Clontarf Foundation has four academies in the Parkes electorate. I have been privileged to go to football training with the boys at the Moree Academy. While they completely humiliated me on the football field, it was great to see the respect and the order that are returned to these young men's lives. That is another thing that I will be pursuing. We could do with academies in many of the other towns, notably Dubbo—there have been 240 boys in Dubbo identified as being acceptable to Clontarf—but even smaller communities, like Boggabilla and Toomalah, would benefit from that.

Also for the Aboriginal community, I am very keen, under the coalition's green army project, to get a work program going—a couple, I think: one in Dubbo but, more importantly, one up at Boggabilla—and get them involved in resource management. Boggabilla is the home of Boobera Lagoon. For those of you who do not know, Boobera Lagoon it is the resting place of the Rainbow Serpent in Aboriginal lore. There is a lot of work that can be done in that area to restore the natural landscape in conjunction with Moree Plains Shire and the local land services to do work on weed control and get these people who are struggling to find a job back into employment. I firmly believe the most stabilising influence that you can give a family is a job. Put a job into that home and not only does it affect the life of the person with the job but it also affects the entire family, particularly the children. I will continue to work for the Aboriginal people of the Parkes electorate; 20,000 of my constituents are Aboriginal people. I believe that we need to have sensible, practical measures for them.

I will close by saying: if you want to disrespect someone, you have a lower expectation of them than you do everyone else. I am sick of seeing programs that are rolled out from here—this is not a political statement; it comes from all sides—that have a lower expectation of success for these people, for our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, than they do for everyone else. I would like to see that stop.