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Thursday, 26 May 2011
Page: 4920

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (12:20): As I rise to speak on this year's appropriation legislation, I would preface everything I say by the fact that my No. 1 concern for the electorate of Calare in the 2011-12 budget is securing funding for essential infrastructure—infrastructure which would help progress rural and regional Australia and ensure its prosperity in the future. A Bells Line expressway or just a new serious track over the mountains, a new Lake Rowlands dam and medical school for Charles Sturt University: they were the issues at the top of Calare's priority list. There was not one new funding announcement in the federal budget for Calare. Treasurer Wayne Swan claimed that this budget delivers for regional Australian like no other budget. That is a little hard to equate with a $500 million cut from regional programs. Whatever the new delivery is, it is not in Calare.

Labor declared that this was a traditional Labor budget, and they were right—another big deficit, more borrowing and debt and more taxes. Quite obviously, what Labor is offering Calare is a bigger deficit, more borrowings and higher debt. And the borrowings now? This is a great advancement! Over 12 months it has gone from $100 million a day to $135 million a day. I would guess the Treasurer can be very pleased with himself on that line. Regional Australia has been robbed in this budget. There is not one cent of new money for roads and rail. It appears regional development will be contingent on the looming mining tax, a mining tax that would hurt one of the biggest industries in my part of the world that it relies on and the people who work in it rely on. In fact, the flow-through is right through the community. The mining sector has kept Calare's economy strong and it has kept Australia's economy strong. There is a large proportion of the electorate who are employed directly and indirectly by that sector. A tax which threatens these jobs also threatens the entire region. As I say, it flows right through, right down to coffee shops, dress shops, whatever. Take Orange, for example, with the expansion of Newcrest Cadia mines, coalmines such as Centennial Coal, Coalpac near Lithgow and North Parkes mine at the western end of the electorate. The mines invest enormous amounts into the communities. They involve themselves at the community level. They employ local people and keep our businesses thriving. Introduction of a mining tax has the ability to damage entire communities in our part of the world.

The other giant hole in Labor's budget is the Gillard-Brown carbon tax. As we heard the member for Maranoa say, instead of ending months of uncertainty around the controversial tax, this government failed to include detail on how the tax will impact on our cost of living and jobs and cannot or will not answer questions in that regard in the House. Let me tell you that a carbon tax will without a doubt seriously hurt my region's business operations. A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to visit the Electrolux factory, which employs over 600 people in Orange. I had not visited it for a couple of years and the tour provided me with a classic example of how the carbon tax can affect not just the obvious industries but the retailing and the whitegoods industry as well. It produces a range of quality fridges and freezers, which are sold both domestically and internationally. Currently the main competition is Korean. Electrolux has worked out that even a very modest carbon tax will add about $10 to a fridge. Now, $10 may not seem much on an $800 fridge but it is not $10 on the cost of a fridge that is the issue. Currently they are running something like $70 or $80 over and above the cost of the Korean competition. This makes them $80 or $90 instead of $70 or $80 over the cost of the competition, which does make a huge difference. It is adding about 15 per cent more to the cost overrun they have across the competition. It is a better article and they are able to deal with that, but they are not able to deal with another 15 per cent differential in that cost. It is a huge issue, especially when it involves 602 jobs in Orange.

Lastly, this budget was an opportunity for Labor to invest in regions such as Calare. As my colleague Warren Truss, the member for Wide Bay, noted, what the bush got was lip-service and hollow rhetoric but nothing much in the way of benefits. It certainly got a $500 cut in regional programs. Vital infrastructure, particularly roads and rail, are heavily relied upon in our neck of the woods. The inland rail link was mentioned briefly. However, there was no new money there. The only announcements about that were old hat, and there will be nothing in it for three years anyway. That is only for the paperwork and beginning of planning stages of the project in three years. The devil is really in the detail. All we have seen in the 2011 budget is a series of rehashed and revisited promises. The budget did not reveal anything we do not already know and it certainly did not deliver for Calare.

Calls for a decent road or a decent track over the Blue Mountains and water security are two big infrastructure projects we have to have. When I say water security I am not talking agriculture, I am talking urban; I am talking domestic and manufacturing water. Everyone west of the mountains knows the absolute importance of fixing up the access through the Blue Mountains. As far as water security is concerned, the long-term fix to ensure the central west does not again get into the position it was in a year or so ago is to have a new Lake Rowlands dam.

Charles Sturt University put forward a proposal requiring $98 million to put in a medical school particularly targeted to bring in people who want to practise in regional and country Australia. It will be somewhat different to what the University of Newcastle does, but the object is to bring in people who will still have to pass the same exams as the most brilliant student has to pass. We all know that training country students is the best way to retain people to practise in our part of the world, and the dental school is a fine example of how to proceed in that direction. The Vice-Chancellor of Charles Sturt University rightfully said:

Rural Australians will be disappointed by the government’s failure to put forward critical plans to address severe shortages of GPs in rural Australia.

This government had the opportunity to do just that. We all know that we are bringing in many overseas doctors. Something like 50 per cent or more of doctors in rural Australia are overseas doctors, and the only way we are going to address that is to train our own. That has to be accepted; it has to be addressed. It is a huge disappointment.

Funding for these projects, along with many others in regional Australia, failed to get a mention. That is ridiculous, especially when we know that the government is spending $50 billion to roll out optic fibre across the nation, much of which could be obsolete within a decade. That kind of money could fund so many things. It could fund so much infrastructure that would be there forever—road and rail through the Blue Mountains or inland. If you think about what $50 billion could fund, it is enormous. I worked out once that the last time Labor ran up a debt, which was $96 billion—and admittedly it took 14 years that time—it took the coalition 10 years to pay it back. This time they have run up around $110 billion in about 2½ years. The interest on the money last time was over $100 billion. How much infrastructure was in that? Infrastructure is needed in Northern Australia. I do not want it all, but we do need it in regional Australia.

Agriculture was also largely neglected in this budget. Along with mining it is one of the leading industries, certainly in Calare, and it is also the industry that I am largely responsible for. The government plans to direct an extra 6,000 skilled migrants into regional areas on a short-term basis from 2012. It is too little too late. The NFF has said that there are approximately 80,000 skilled positions to fill in the agriculture sector alone. Regional Australia is in desperate need of these workers, yet agriculture and horticulture have been specifically excluded from the raft of apprenticeships being funded. The farm sector drives over $150 billion a year in economic production and the industry supports 1.6 million Australian jobs, yet Labor has taken another swipe at agriculture, slashing nearly $33 million from its budget. The agriculture budget contains more missed opportunities than dollars. It was a nonevent, and the minister could have managed it from a beach in Bali. Coming into the budget, I suppose we should be thankful, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, that they did not put more time into it or he would have taken more money out of it.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr JOHN COBB: I probably should be. Coming into the budget, biosecurity was the one area that the government really needed to focus its energies and concentrate its policy on. However, despite forcing AQIS and Biosecurity to retreat from cutting research and development, Minister Ludwig has again ignored the Beale review—his own government's review, which was put into place back in 2008—and failed to increase their budget. It is a fact that inspections per unit of imports into this country continue to decrease.

Labor has also managed to cut $33½ million to the cooperative research centres, meaning that the CRC for National Plant Biosecurity and the Invasive Animals CRC are unlikely to be refunded. I have seen them lately, and they are extraordinarily worried about the funding situation they are in. Our worst fears look increasingly likely as a result of this budget. The government continues to ignore glaring failures in proactively protecting Australia's shores from pests and diseases.

The government claimed during the 2010 election campaign that they had a renewed focus on the regions, but the budget does not deliver for the people or industries of our regions. Biosecurity is such a huge issue for us. The federal government ignored myrtle rust, which is really guava rust, and ignored the fact that New South Wales wanted to deal with it. It ignored the fact that Queensland wanted to deal with the Asian honey bee. The minister and the department pretty much walked away from it. We now have myrtle rust not just hooking into nurseries; it is hooking into eucalyptus. Some four to five eucalypt species are now suffering, and it is up into Queensland. It could have been dealt with, but the bureaucrats and the ministry did not want to do so. This is a really serious issue. Biosecurity is a time bomb waiting to blow up. I implore the minister and the government to take it far more seriously.

Last year I said that the budget was an opportunity for Labor to invest in our regions. Once again, that has been ignored. My electorate and the farmers of Australia have been left to pick up the pieces. And now we are going to have to pay back a net budget deficit of well over $100 billion once again.