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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 86


Senator SCULLION (3:19 PM) —I rise to my feet somewhat astounded. When I came back to this place, I looked across at senators on the other side and, in my little black chip of a heart, I felt a little sorry. They are all looking pretty depressed after almost the worst electoral flogging in political history. Here we are a week later and they have already forgotten the lessons. What happened in regional and rural Australia, what happened in a couple of the timber seats in Tasmania, is an absolute testament to the fact that the Labor Party has lost the plot in rural and regional Australia. I cannot believe that I have been sitting here listening to more bashing of the bush. Let's bash the bush! I do not understand how this can possibly do anything other than further insult regional and rural Australia. It totally disrespects their need for this directed funding to help them out with the essential economic development they depend on. Thank the Lord rural and regional Australia depends on us because it has been up to this government to come up with these absolutely excellent programs. We have been a vital and strong advocate for regional and rural Australia. We have come up with the Regional Partnerships program. It is an excellent program.

As we have heard from my colleague, the Regional Partnerships program in the first tranche of 2003 provided over $100 million. We are about to provide another $308 million. That is not going into major projects, as we have heard from the other side. The vast majority of these projects are ones I have assisted in opening. It is wonderful to look around at the smiling faces of the small volunteer fire brigade who have now been provided with a fence, and a shed to put their gear in. It might not sound much to the Labor Party; it might be unimportant and trivial to the Labor Party. But I have spoken to these volunteer firefighters—because I am someone who is out there at the coalface—and they are delighted with the efforts of this government. But, according to honourable senators opposite, this is a conspiracy; it is obviously pork-barrelling!

All I have to say is that it is not surprising to me that there are more coalition seats that had outcomes. Principally, we got the vast majority of the seats because people know that we are going to provide better leadership. Not only that; it should be self-evident that coalition members are in touch with their constituencies: they had 567 applications. They thought about it and they said, `Now this is what we should do—we should make sure that we get those applications in.' But the Labor Party only had 148 applications—that is, if we chuck in the Independents. It should be no surprise that this is not a conspiracy; this is simply a reflection of demographics. We have more people out there that care about regional and rural Australia and that is why they are elected. That is why there are electorates that are getting more benefits.

It is absolutely astounding that we now have a conspiracy theory. This is one of the greatest partnerships, one of the greatest programs, for regional and rural Australia. The opposition have just had absolutely the biggest touch-up of all time and they are going down the road of making exactly the same mistakes again. We have nine programs in my own electorate, the Northern Territory, and those programs have just made so much difference to the people, to their lives and to how they go about their business. They are looking forward to making sure that we get more programs. They come to see me and they say, `Senator, can you assist us a bit with the application? Do you think this meets the guidelines? Can you supply us with some information about the application?' I get a lot of those sorts of inquiries through my office, principally because I am actually out there in the electorate and, of course, we enjoy a lot of confidence in the bush.

We have a government who, unlike the Labor Party, support regional and rural Australia and who support these very good programs. As I have said, the efficacy of these programs shows in the bush. We are actually doing better. There is a sense of community. We continue to bleed and move towards urban Australia and it is these very important projects that deal with and underpin the social and economic comfort and health of these communities. They are just so important.

I cannot believe that the opposition still will not learn. The term has only just begun. It is not too late to change your mind and start supporting the bush rather than carry on with these ridiculous stories about pork-barrelling. Do you know how to get more stuff into your electorates? Get more electorates. Impress people in the bush. That is the way you are going to get a little more support. But to lose an election so incredibly badly and then, in the first set of sittings, come before this place and say, `There's some sort of conspiracy', is absolutely ridiculous. (Time expired)