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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1537


Mr RANDALL (Canning) (17:03): I am very pleased to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-2012 and to speak to the financial implications that I am about to raise as a result of these appropriations. I wish to talk about federal money that has been applied to assist with the NBN rollout in my electorate. On 4 November 2011, Regional Development Australia Peel lodged an application on behalf of a consortium including Explor Consulting, the Western Australian Department of Commerce and Curtin University in collaboration with iiNet, Cisco Systems and the City of Mandurah. The application was for just $35,000 from the pool of funds in the department of regional Australia to support local projects facilitating the NBN rollout in its first and second rollout areas. In my electorate this would be in some of the suburbs of Mandurah and Pinjarra. Despite a number of assurances since December last year that a funding decision would be made this week—in other words, manana; this week, every week—there has still been no response to this application. As it would not be prudent to commence a project until funding confirmation has been secured, the lack of a decision on this issue is holding this project up. I am willing to point this out and say, 'Yes, the NBN looks like it is coming to the electorate, but we are still asking when.' It has been coming forever.

At a forum on the possibilities of the NBN which took place in my electorate last November, the mayor of the City of Mandurah, Paddi Creevey, was excited by the NBN opportunities that had been spruiked to her. The City of Mandurah is keen to make sure it is a success story when it comes to facilitating the NBN rollout. It is also keen to make sure it is a success in engaging with local business and residents with regard to what the NBN can do for them. That is why the city facilitated the forum and it is why it is involved in taking the initiative in getting funding to support local projects with regard to the NBN rollout.

There are many questions from people in my electorate about the NBN, not only about when they will get it but also about what, if any, benefits it will offer. It is not good enough for the government to throw the infrastructure out there and then expect the success stories to just happen on their own without some sort of support. The government needs to provide real on-the-ground support for these programs. As of Friday last week, it was advised to RDA Peel that the funding decision is tied up in other processes within the department. No advice about when a decision will be made is forthcoming. I will now write to the minister to further address this issue and to express my support for RDA Peel's funding application. As I said, it will take just $35,000 to get this going but it is being held up in the bureaucracy. That is a shame.

The other issue I wish to raise in relation to RDAs generally is that of services provided by government. Peel RDA is trying to determine what services are provided to the region by the Australian government to understand what issues need to be addressed. This was a result of the Peel Community Development Group's draft report Peel Away the Mask II, which investigates social conditions in the Peel region. It is an excellent publication.

There is no current tool available from the Australian government that allows such groups, or interested community members, to see exactly what is being spent and delivered in the regions. The only data available is limited to that required under Senate Order No. 9 in relation to contracts over $100,000 and Finance Circular No. 2009/04 on grant announcements, both of which provide very limited information. Such information remains very difficult to ascertain despite Minister Crean's promise in 2010 that the Labor government would introduce a means by which federal government funding could be tracked. At the Sustainable Economic Growth for Regional Australia, or SEGRA, conference on 19 October last year, Minister Crean said:

In addition, we are moving to introduce a breakdown of the Federal Budget which more clearly shows the pattern and priority of Commonwealth spending across all regions of the country. Known as spatial accounting, this will be a major advance and will allow comparisons nationwide across regions. It will take transparency to a new level.

This is still not available. Despite transparency being part of the agreement that was made with the country Independents to form this government, the promise has not been fulfilled. Transparency is something we all desire. The minister has promised it but he has not delivered it.

You may ask why it is that this promise has not been kept. It is because disclosing such comparative information would demonstrate the stark differences in funding between different regions—between, for example, my Liberal held seat of Canning and that of, perhaps, a country Independent seat in northern New South Wales, dare I say Lyne. It would be nice to be able to see the difference in funding between the two seats. Since that insufferable 17-minute speech by the member for Lyne marking the beginning of this incompetent minority government, Australians have heard story after story of disproportionate spending in the three seats held by the three Independents. Dare I say it, the last budget papers had a whole section dedicated to budget initiatives in their seats.

We all know that the Australian Labor Party is making a hobby out of breaking promises. I will not go into them all now but we saw one today in terms of the Medicare levy and private health insurance. This is one promise it is truly in our best interests not to see broken, so as to expose the enormous amount of money that has been funnelled into these electorates. My constituents in Canning would be livid if there was a website that clearly demonstrated what they were missing out on in terms of federal moneys being poured into the electorates of the Independents to prop up this flailing government. I call on the minister to fulfil his promise and provide spatial accounting for us all to see, to take transparency to a new level as promised and to draw back the curtains and 'let the sunshine in' as promised.

In terms of services versus infrastructure, let us remind ourselves that the BER involved many instances, particularly in the eastern states, of wasteful spending by this high-spending government. This is because they are only interested in cutting ribbons and placing plaques on buildings—trying to get the kudos out of it—rather than delivering what is actually required by the community. While it is nice for government members and their newsletters, this is unfortunate in that the things that are desperately required in our communities are not necessarily infrastructure but services.

A local constituent who is heavily involved in the Regional Development Authority in my electorate has spoken about the urgent need for government to focus on the delivery of services rather than the delivery of capital infrastructure. However, under the RDA fund guidelines for round 2, the eligibility requirements ensure that this will not occur. Round 2 of the RDAF will deliver $200 million to regional Australia—that is, if the money ever gets handed out. This government is making a habit of making it impossible for recipients of the money to actually use the funds that have been assigned.

In many instances the money is being handed back to government—and it obviously goes back into consolidated revenue—because they cannot use it under the terms it was given to them. This is because, to be eligible for RDAF round 2 funding, the local RDA committees will only be assessing applications from organisations or groups that have an annual turnover of at least $1.5 million each year for a minimum of three years. For goodness sake! How many small organisations in our electorate have that sort of turnover? It is just ridiculous. Obviously, it is that way so that it does not get to be handed out.

The other element of this handout requests that the minimum grant is $500,000. This encourages waste. Some local organisations do not need that amount of money. However, it is either $500,000 or nothing. They are compelled to unnecessarily spend this money. They have got to beef up the application to $500,000 before it can actually be applied for. How ridiculous! I just mentioned a moment ago funding of $35,000 for a project. That would not comply under the current rules. It is quite crazy and it has gone too far.

Just to show the anomalies that are created in these programs, I want to talk about a community group that has asked for some money from the government. The group is not even getting heard. Before I come to that I want to remind the House that Minister Crean came to my electorate and, at the golf course, promised to give the RDA an extra $50,000 to help keep its doors open because of the unique circumstances in Western Australia. He has promised this. His staff have promised it to me. I have been to his listening post and they have promised it again. I was told that the money would come before Christmas. It is still not there. They are battling to run the RDA. I am wondering if this is a direct ploy to try to shut the RDAs down so that they cannot do their job—or is it just an attack on the RDAs in Western Australia? I am going to continue to pursue this.

The migrant centre in Mandurah in my electorate urgently needs funds so that it can stay open and help the people it is trying to serve. Given the increased number of migrant arrivals, it is not good enough for the government to dump these people in Australian communities without adequate support to help them gain an education or to try to get themselves into the workforce. I have written to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Hon. Chris Bowen, on two occasions regarding the funding of the Mandurah migrant centre. I first wrote in May 2011, when I appealed for help in identifying financial assistance that may have been available to the centre.

I did receive a letter in response to my call for help for this group. However, the funding options detailed in the minister's response were totally unsuitable. The response included details of two possible grants that were available, under the Adult Migrant English Program and the Settlement Grants Program. The letter detailed that the Adult Migrant English Program contracts for the newly appointed providers were not due to expire for some years—on 30 June 2014. So the centre cannot apply until 2014. They need help now. The settlement grants funding round for 2012-13 appears to not yet be open for application. We cannot find any information about when they will open. So both of those suggestions from the minister are not much help. It would still take some time to get the funding for the centre through any of these channels if the application were successful. The centre needs assistance now, not from some ethereal funding mechanism in the future. I have not yet received a response but I look forward to receiving the information.

This centre requires about $32,100 per annum for its operating costs. Other than that it is staffed by volunteers. Here we have a community group that gives of its time and that desperately needs government help. The need for this group has been exacerbated by the government's not being able to stop the massive flow of boats to our shore. Yet good people in my community who are giving their time to help the people who end up in the regions—Mandurah is in the Peel region—cannot get any attention at all from the Gillard government.

I will give one example of the good work that the centre does. Volunteers from the centre helped a newly arrived family from Iran to find accommodation to rent and to find a suitable school for the children, who were aged from eight to 12. They assisted the family with associated paperwork to do all this. The centre has also assisted the family by directing them to a number of social inclusion activities. Dare I say that the Minister for Social Inclusion might want to listen to this; then he will find out what it actually means. But here we have this group needing funds and it cannot get them. I therefore urge the government to support the Mandurah migrant centre and all the other issues I have raised in this House today. (Time expired)