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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 876


Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (18:11): I am quite surprised that I am speaking after my colleague because this is a government motion about the National Stronger Regions Fund. A government and a party—the National Party and the Liberal Party—that claim to represent the regions, yet they cannot fill their own speaking list. What a joke! They cannot fill their own speaking list to speak about their own government program. How can they really care about the bush? It just demonstrates in volume that they cannot stand up here and defend their own funding program.

As my colleague has said, they are not the first to have a Stronger Regions Fund: we had one, when Labor was last in government—the RDAF fund. A lot of people are saying to me in the community that there was a fairer distribution of funding and resources. The projects that were being put forward had been through a process. They were prioritised by local government and local communities, they were prioritised by the state and then they were prioritised by the Regional Development Australia bodies and organisation.

In my part of the world, I have to confess that we are doing quite well at the process. We have received lots of projects. They have been through the vetting process and they have been funded—like the Ulumbarra Theatre, which received $12 million of federal Labor government money to help build a build a 1,000-seat theatre. There was the Elmore Field Days, which received $500,000 to build stables for their events. There was Hanging Rock, where just this weekend we saw the success of that funding, with Bruce Springsteen playing at Hanging Rock. It received $2 million to help power the site and build picnic infrastructure.

There is the Bendigo Tennis Centre, which is a story we cannot forget. It was funded by Labor. Funding was announced in round 5A and then this government was elected and Warren Truss, who was the minister at the time, scrapped it. He said, 'It is not a priority. That was a Labor election commitment and we're not funding it.' Even though funding was allocated, this government cut it on coming to office. The community did not give up and they kept fighting for it. We committed to it again at the last election and then—lo and behold!—it was successful in the last round of stronger regions! It did come as a surprise, because we knew the Liberals and the Nationals did not support the project and they had not prioritised it in the lead-up to last election. But, do you know why it was successful, Deputy Speaker? Because the local government, the City of Greater Bendigo, are very good at paperwork. They nailed the brief and when the department put forward its priority lists it must have been near the top.

This is my point: the way the government has structured the current fund, it favours well-resourced local government areas. It favours cities that have strong economic development units that can nail the brief the government puts forward. It means that our smaller councils struggle; they struggle to compete because it is a competitive tender process. Councils in my area, like Mount Alexander, Loddon Shire and the Macedon Ranges have always struggled against big regional cities when it comes to completing this paperwork. We have received $5 million funding for the Bendigo Airport and $5 million for the Bendigo Aquatics Centre. These projects have been bipartisan. There is also money that will be delivered for the Bendigo RSL redevelopment project. But, I say it again and stress that communities should not have to fight so hard to receive funding.

I also want to point out the fact that, every time a group or an organisation asks for funding, the default position of every minister the moment they realise you are in a regional area is: 'Apply to the National Stronger Regions Fund.' It does not matter whether you are in health care or you are in women's sport or you are a community group or organisation. The default is: 'We're not going to help you. Go and apply for this fund.' This government pretends that this fund can be everything to everyone.

Take the situation of women's AFL in Victoria. It is brilliant. Women are engaging in AFL. They are playing sport, yet we do not have the facilities for them in their sporting clubs. Their sporting clubs want to have female-friendly facilities, but they just do not have the resources right now, and they say it could take 25 years of sausage sizzles to get the dollars. This is an opportunity for the federal government to get on board and embrace what is happening right now in women's sport. Instead, the only response that I have got from the Minister for Sport is: 'Go and apply to this fund that everybody else is applying to'—that is, compete against airports, compete against child-care centres and compete against roads projects. It is not good enough.

It is again very disappointing that, on their own motion, the government cannot even fill the speaking list. It speaks volumes to how much they really do care about the bush and really do care about standing up for regional Australia.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Hastie ): The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.