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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 85

Senator O'BRIEN (3:14 PM) —One would have thought from the government's contributions we heard in question time today in response to opposition questions that the Regional Partnerships program deals exclusively with the provision of funds to projects in rural and regional Australia. I am sure that is the impression the government is trying to give. Senator Chapman was trying to say that, because the government focused on rural and regional Australia, there was a much larger vote for the government in rural and regional Australia. There are exceptions to that, but I do not want to depart from what this debate is about, which is the way the government chooses to fund particular areas of the country in the government's own interests and not in the national interest. I want to talk about Senator Chapman's suggestion that the ALP is dominated by urban elites. They would be the sort of people who live in the seat of Wentworth—would they not?—the richest electorate in the country.

Senator Ferris —What's that got to do with anything?

Senator O'BRIEN —Have a look, Senator, and you might find out that the seat of Wentworth received $221,000 in funding under the Regional Partnerships program. The good people of Wentworth, as far removed from rural and regional Australia as you can get, received funding—I suspect unnecessarily—

Senator Ferris —How do you know that?

Senator O'BRIEN —It's on the web site that they received $221,000 in funding. The seat of Wentworth is the richest electorate in the country. The government has been talking about Labor's latte connection. I would have thought the most expensive latte in this country would probably be in the seat of Wentworth, and yet $221,000 was provided for a project at Bondi! But let us get back to South Australia, and the $341,000 in funding for projects for the seat of Adelaide. I do not recall any agricultural pursuits in the seat of Adelaide, unless there a few things growing in the parklands outside the mile square. That is not rural and regional Australia. It is a seat that the government knew was in jeopardy. It is a seat that the government sought to protect by providing it with funding, just as it sought to provide assistance to Mr Turnbull in Wentworth using Regional Partnerships funding.

Let us look elsewhere. I have never heard of the seat of Brisbane being considered a rural or regional seat, yet there is $180,000 identifiable under the Regional Partnerships program for projects in the seat of Brisbane. Mr Deputy President Hogg, I know you are familiar with the boundaries of the seat of Brisbane, and perhaps when this debate concludes you will be able to tell me which, of all the rural or regional aspects of Brisbane, makes it relevant for Regional Partnerships funding. I am sure there are very good projects in all of these electorates, but why would they be funded under the Regional Partnerships program? Perhaps it is because when the projects do not fit anywhere this is a way the government can throw some money into an electorate where it thinks it might have a problem.

We will look at the profile of expenditure in these electorates. Compared to some areas of spending, $221,000 is not a great deal of money, but about 80 electorates fared worse than the seat of Wentworth under the Regional Partnerships program. In other words, the majority of electorates fared worse under this program than the seat of Wentworth—the wealthiest electorate in the country. Let us do away with the smokescreen that the government has been putting up about this. When we asked questions today about A2 and about the milk industry in Malanda we got the usual malarky from government senators about their credentials in rural and regional Australia. When we examine the expenditure profile for the Regional Partnerships and Sustainable Regions programs it will be revealed that the government is pork-barrelling, pure and simple. Electorally sensitive seats are being targeted by the government for the expenditure of public funds—funds that are supposed to be the subject of the rigorous guidelines published on the department's web site.