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Thursday, 5 May 1994
Page: 328


Senator REYNOLDS —My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. I note the announcement in yesterday's white paper of an additional $29 million for the rural communities access program over the next four years. Can the minister advise why these particular programs were identified for increase funding?


Senator COLLINS —I must say I was particularly pleased to get cabinet support for this significant boost to funding for these important programs.

  Senator Alston interjecting


Senator COLLINS —In relation to that interjection, I think that today's Australian summed it up pretty well in the opening paragraph of a story by Tim Stevens. The story was headlined, `Farm groups welcome development package'. The opening paragraph reads:

Reaction to the regional development aspects of the White Paper was generally positive, with only the federal Opposition rejecting the measures outright.

What has changed? I might add that this newspaper article also contained the fascinating information—and this gentleman was actually present at the breakfast this morning when I spoke at the Press Club—that Bruce Scott from the House of Representatives was Bronwyn Bishop's junior minister. He actually interjected and said that that was because he was younger. I do not know whether he is sensitive about it or not. I notice that Senator Bishop has fallen flat in the House of Representatives very quickly.


Senator McKiernan —What—no point of order?


Senator COLLINS —The only reason she looked good in here is because they are so bad, Senator McKiernan.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Collins, get on with the answer.


Senator COLLINS —We cannot provoke them, Mr President. There was a $29 million boost in the white paper last night for a range of this government's social justice and economic development programs for rural Australia. This will bring total funding for these important programs over the next four years to just over $40 million. The programs include the rural access program, the rural counselling program for farm families in financial difficulty, the business advice for rural communities program, the telecentres, countrylink and so on.

  These programs have been introduced gradually over the last eight years in response to an identified need in the rural sector following the downturn in the rural sector caused by adverse weather conditions—relieved in recent times, I am pleased to say—and, of course, remoteness. Their impact has been and will continue to be significant. Although I have been in this portfolio for only four months, I have actually been around the country about three times in that time, and I was greatly encouraged by the direct feedback—


Senator Knowles —`I, I, I.'


Senator COLLINS —In relation to Senator Knowles's whining interjection, she may be interested to know that the most useful feedback I got was directly from rural women. A number of them actually said to me that they would no longer be on the land if it had not been for the assistance provided by these programs.

  In my view, BARA—just to take one of these programs—is arguably one of the most effective labour market programs that the government has delivered in terms of value for taxpayers' money. Although that program has been operating for only about 18 months, in that time 37 business advisers located in small rural centres have stimulated and created the expansion of small businesses which now provide an additional 680 permanent jobs and 260 part-time jobs for rural Australians.

  This is a pretty significant outcome for an investment by the government of less than $2 million—around $1.8 million. These programs will now be integrated as one package, the rural communities access program. I note again that these initiatives by the government have been warmly welcomed by rural Australia and condemned only by the federal opposition.