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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 249

Senator SPINDLER (7.16 p.m.) —by leave—The recommendations in the Industry Commission report entitled Impediments to regional industry adjustment are a mixed bag. First of all, I will address the points which I think are detrimental to regional development in Australia. The report argues the need for greater regional flexibility in unit labour costs and greater flexibility in wages and work practices based on less restrictive conditions on workplace agreements. The report argues that this does not mean regional wage cuts. What does it do if it does not do that precisely? It clearly seems to imply that people in regional areas should earn less than people in metropolitan areas.

  The next matter that is greatly objected to is where the closure or downgrading of social infrastructure facilities within regions is contemplated. The report says, `Communities should be given the option of contributing directly to maintain facilities.' So not only should people in regions earn less money, but also they should pay more for the community facilities that people in metropolitan areas enjoy at a lower cost or free.

  Finally, the report says that, where infrastructure provisions and delivery costs vary between locations, that should be reflected in different prices rather than masked by uniform prices. In other words, since it will cost more to provide services in regions, these costs should be reflected in the prices that people in regional communities pay. If it costs $13,000 to have a telephone connected—and in some remote areas that would be the case—the report suggests that that should be the price that people in regional areas should pay.

Senator Woodley —Absolutely disgusting!

Senator SPINDLER —It is absolutely disgusting, as Senator Woodley says. I believe that we as a community must make up our minds: do we want people in regional areas; do we want people in rural Australia? France, Germany and the United States have made up their minds that they want a rural community. Those countries have made sure, by whatever means, be it trade measures, be it industry measures, be it community services, that they have vibrant and viable community in regional areas.

  The report also points to some things that should be done to contribute to that. The report suggests that the Commonwealth should introduce income tax zone rebates designed to compensate residents of regions for lack of government services. That is fine. It suggests more transparency in, and better coordination of, decisions on regional infrastructure provisions, and that is fine too. Clearly, we need to know what we need to provide in regions.

  The commission also considers that where governments seek to sustain populations in particular regions we should do so by improving regional infrastructure. Of course we must. We must take the range of measures which the Australian Democrats set down both in the budget proposals and in the paper that I published last Sunday as a challenge to the government in the white paper to do precisely that—to preserve our regional communities.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McGauran) —Order! The time for consideration of government business has expired.

Senate adjourned at 7.20 p.m.