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Thursday, 1 March 2018
Page: 2539


Mr BROAD (Mallee) (16:54): I wish to talk about some of the things that need to happen in regional Australia to make regional Australia an even better place to live, an even better place to work and an even better place to contribute to the broader economy. Regional Australia does contribute to the broader economy, and we don't emphasise it enough. So it is not unreasonable that some of the things that I will be talking about here are significant investments that will require a reallocation of funding.

If there's one thing you should be able to do if you want to run a business, if you want to have a first-rate lifestyle in regional Australia, then that is the ability to make a mobile phone call. The federal government has the Mobile Black Spot Program. No other government has provided this before. We partnered with the states to do this. I believe that we should be redirecting some of the USO money from the payphones—that's about $40 million a year—towards the Mobile Black Spot Program. The other thing we should also put some thought into is the criteria around the Mobile Black Spot Program, particularly in some of the more marginal business case areas. For example, if a tower is currently subsidised to 50 per cent under the Mobile Black Spot Program, we should look at subsidising it to the tune of 65 per cent—so, a greater incentive—but make a requirement that there must be at least a co-location from a Vodafone, an Optus or a Telstra to make that business case stack up. The other thing we should look at is the Building Better Regions Fund. We need to put that on steroids. It should be $1 billion per annum. It's not unreasonable to ask for that amount of allocation to be going across to regional Australia, particularly when you consider that even my electorate contributes $5.3 billion on average every year to the Australian economy.

Communities: ultimately, we must have strong communities. The Stronger Communities Program that the federal government has rolled out is too small. It should be $300,000 per electorate per round, rather than $150,000. We should increase the Roads to Recovery funding. There's no point in us investing in major arterial roads if we can't get a 60 tonne B-double off a farm and onto those roads—and those council roads are under significant pressure. We should also extend the instant tax write-off for small business to $25,000 rather than $20,000. That, I think, is in line with a greater commitment. Nothing has had a more stimulating effect than the instant tax write-off, and that has been very welcome.

Because of the free trade agreements, particularly with Korea, China and Japan, and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will be signed in San Diego next week, we have seen optimism in the agricultural sector like we haven't seen for a very long time. We should develop an agricultural work visa, because we are seeing limitations on being able to pick the products that we produce. For Australians who might be concerned that that could impact on their job, it has not been the case and it is not the case. Ultimately, we should have foreign workers come in to contribute to picking some of the fruit. That fruit then goes into a box. That box has to be transported in a truck. It has to be marketed. This creates more high-value jobs across our economy as a result. So, an agricultural work visa should be looked at.

We should also look at higher education. If you want to live in a regional town, one of the inhibiters for students is that they can't stay at home. They can't live in their own home and catch a tram and go to university. The sheer cost for a lot of people to send their children to higher education institutions means that they have to pay not only the fees and other costs associated with higher education but also the costs associated with living away from home. I think the federal government should have a look at this—and we are having a look at it, but we should look at something substantial, perhaps in the form of some accommodation on the campuses in our cities that has very, very reduced rates for country students in order for them to be able to travel to. Ultimately, this is an investment, because the country students who gain a higher education come back to the regional towns—if you look at the statistics, they do—and bring those skills. They're the ones who are going to diversify our regional economy.

The last thing is that the chaplaincy program has been very popular amongst our country schools, supporting country students. Without it, it would be very difficult for those students to have their welfare needs met. I believe that we should increase it from $20,000 to $25,000. This is not to convert people; this is to actually mentor and stand by students as they go through the challenges of growing up in a country town and the challenges of adolescence. They're some things that I think are very clear policies, and I hope that we adopt them. (Time expired)