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Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Page: 6192


Mr CROOK (O'Connor) (20:26): The 2012-13 federal budget has been a great disappointment to the people of Western Australia for a number of reasons. Canberra continues to take more and more from the state, in the form of GST, the carbon tax, and the mining tax, while failing to give a fair return. I have consistently shared my disappointment in this parliament at the way regional Western Australia is overlooked by the Labor Party—and the 2012-13 federal budget is no different.

Once again, the federal budget has left many holes in regional Western Australia for the state government to fill. Fortunately, a fund created by the Nationals WA, the Royalties for Regions fund, is coming to the table with a $1.1 billion funding commitment to regional Western Australia in 2012-13. This is $1.1 billion that the Nationals WA in government are contributing back to regional communities. This funding is being used for important infrastructure funding, including the development of brand-new hospitals in Karratha and Albany and the development of the Bunbury to Albany gas pipeline.

Royalties for Regions is also supporting the PortLink project and has contributed $5 million towards getting this project off the ground. This nation-building project will connect the five major ports of Western Australia—Esperance, Port Hedland, Karratha, Fremantle, and in the future, the Oakajee Industrial Port—with Kalgoorlie, as a gateway to the eastern states. The project will also create an intermodal freight hub in Kalgoorlie, allowing Kalgoorlie to service all five ports, eliminating the need for freight between the eastern states and the ports to be transferred through the metropolitan area. While the federal government has contributed some funding to the planning phase of this project—and I thank federal Minister Albanese for this assistance—it is the Royalties for Regions fund that continues to drive this project into the future.

Royalties for Regions is delivering funding for better health care, including the Southern Inland Health Initiative, funding for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and St John's Ambulance, and funding to assist patients needing to travel for medical appointments through the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme. There are many issues surrounding regional health in Western Australia. The regional doctor shortage is the single biggest issue affecting regional communities and local governments. There are currently 95 regional doctor vacancies in Western Australia, stretching right across the state.

While the provision of GPs is a federal government responsibility, it has been left to the state government and the local governments to pick up the slack on this issue for too long. The Southern Inland Health Initiative, funded through the Royalties for Regions fund, is a $565 million program which will dramatically improve medical resources and deliver better access to general practitioners in regional areas. It will provide the equivalent work value of 44 full-time doctors across the region, dramatically boosting emergency and general practice services. Time and time again I have called upon the federal government to work to address regional health issues in Western Australia—to no avail. The federal budget offers very little to give regional Western Australian communities hope with regard to this issue.

Funding is also required to expand and improve the Rural Clinical School in Northam. Given that the state government is funding the placement of 44 regional doctors through the Southern Inland Health Initiative, I would hope the federal government might see the error of their ways and be prepared to take responsibility for the expansion of the Rural Clinical School, which would deliver better outcomes for regional health in future years. There have also been initiatives by the Curtin University to train more doctors as well. The WA Nationals are also providing Royalties for Regions to strengthen mobile phone networks across the state to assist families, businesses and emergency services. Royalties for Regions is also delivering the Country Age Pension Fuel Card, providing assistance to pensioners to allow them to remain connected to their community, visit family and friends, and attend important medical appointments. There is no denying that The Nationals WA and the WA government understand how to implement a regional development scheme off the back of a successful state development resource industry. The federal government's own regional development scheme clearly failed in comparison.

There is great scope and opportunity for the federal government to join up with a pioneering, innovative and successful fund, such as Royalties for Regions, to deliver greater service and infrastructure to regional communities. There is even scope to partner with the private sector to further improve these outcomes. I have listed a number of projects—PortLink, the Bunbury to Albany gas pipeline, the Southern Inland Health Initiative, the Rural Clinic School and the remote communications rollout—that would benefit from partnering with the federal government.

I am disappointed each year that the federal government are not doing more for regional Australia, particularly considering the massive financial windfall that they are receiving from the mining tax. Using the billions of dollars raised by the mining tax, the federal government's Regional Infrastructure Fund will deliver just $6 billion over 10 years into regional Australia. It is disappointing that some of this money will only wind up being spent in metropolitan areas. Last year, more than half a billion dollars out of the Regional Infrastructure Fund was spent on a metropolitan roads project in Western Australia.

The mining tax is a consistent disappointment. It is an anti-Western Australia tax; no other state or territory will contribute more to the mining tax than Western Australia. The Labor government speak of spreading the benefits of the mining boom. In reality, this is just another way of saying that they will take more from Western Australia and support projects in the eastern states. Certainly, in the 2012-13 budget, there is no significant funding for infrastructure projects in Western Australia.

The Labor government have also dropped the ball by utilising the mining tax to deliver company tax cuts, doing a complete back-pedal on their previous commitment. For the massive amount of pain that the mining tax is inflicting on Western Australia, it was expected there would be a small gain in company tax cuts. Instead, this was scrapped by the Labor government. This move has already been poorly received by regional businesses.

While we are on the subject of regional businesses, let me raise the subject of another tax against Western Australia—the carbon tax. The carbon tax will see more families and communities paying more for basic services such as electricity and transport. Regional communities, due to the tyranny of distance and the increased cost of living, will be hit the hardest by the carbon tax. Although the government purports to be supportive of regional development, the carbon tax and the mining tax do not speak highly of the Labor government's ability to support regional Australia.

This leads me to the third element of the Labor government's anti-WA federal budget: GST returns. As many of you in this House will know, GST returns are very important to my home state of Western Australia. I raised this issue in a private member's motion in parliament last year, along with my plans to deliver a fairer GST return to Western Australia. Aside from Bob Katter, who seconded my motion, every member of this House, including Western Australia's own elected MPs, united to vote against that measure. My motion to implement a GST floor for all states and territories was unanimously supported by the Western Australian state parliament, including Premier Colin Barnett, Treasurer Christian Porter, Leader of The Nationals WA Brendon Grylls and former opposition leader Eric Ripper. Despite this, Western Australia's own elected representatives in Canberra have refused to support a fair go for their own state. This year's federal budget highlights the cost of their decision to oppose a fairer deal for Western Australia. In the 2012-13 budget alone, the cost is $556 million.

As the resources industry continues to grow, Western Australia's GST returns will shrink. The forecast by the federal government's GST review panel has Western Australia receiving 55 per cent of GST returns next year, on its way to receiving just 36 per cent of GST returns in 2014-15. The federal government's GST review panel has also acknowledged that Western Australia could conceivably be ruled out of GST returns entirely in the medium to long term. This is totally untenable. A zero GST return would be an unquantifiable loss to the state of Western Australia. I am disappointed that the GST board has ruled out a GST floor before the report has even been completed, contrary to submissions from the WA state government, the state Labor party and me. The board does not include a Western Australian representative on the panel. How does the board profess to understand Western Australia's economic plight when not a single representative of the board is able to represent Western Australia, and Western Australia's own submissions are ignored?

Unless significant GST reform occurs as a result of this review the economic outlook for Western Australia will only worsen. So, there we have it. Under the 2012-13 budget Western Australian communities will be hit hard by a carbon tax, a mining tax and the GST. In return, it will be offered a share of a paltry federal government investment fund which will be spent fixing up Perth roads. There has never been a clearer sign that the Labor government has lost touch with the people of Western Australia than this year's federal budget.

Before I go I would like to touch upon the National Broadband Network rollout. Many members have made comment in this place about the NBN rollout. Prior to the rollout I raised concerns that the NBN would not be delivered in all areas of my electorate. I guess that is understandable—in a 909,000 square kilometre electorate it is not going to be everywhere. But these concerns have been confirmed, as the initial NBN rollout will not include the town of Esperance in my electorate of O'Connor. Esperance is a major regional centre for my electorate and regional WA. It has a strong agriculture sector. It is a major port for the nation, exporting significant quantities of iron ore. I am very disappointed that Esperance has been ignored by the Labor government in terms of the NBN, particularly considering previous comments by the Labor Party that regional communities would be prioritised in the rollout.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say that I think this parliament has failed regional Australia. As a former member of the crossbench, where there were four regional members that focused strongly on regional Australia, I think it has clearly failed regional Australia. There are many opportunities for this government to partner with significant regional programs, as I have highlighted in my speech tonight, around the Royalties for Regions funds that will deliver real benefit to regional Australia, and regional Western Australia, and I think it is certainly a lost opportunity.