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National Press Club -

View in ParlView



Wednesday, 12 September 2007

MARK VAILE: Over the last eleven years, the Coalition Government has delivered strong economic
growth, low unemployment and improving standards of living. Since 1996:

- the net wealth of Australian households has doubled;

- real wages have increased by 21.5 per cent; and

- we have created nearly 2.2 million jobs.

Many parts of regional Australia are now experiencing rapid population and economic growth, with
all the benefits and problems that growth creates.

But other regions are still struggling with economic, social and demographic change. The people who
live in these regions sometimes feel they have been left out of Australia's strong economy.

The Government focused on these regions in our 2001 regional policy statement, Stronger Regions, A
Stronger Australia.

The statement formalised an important change in the Government's policy direction, because we
announced that we would work in partnership with regional communities, rather than imposing
'one-size-fits-all' policies.

Instead, we announced that we would provide local leaders with a toolkit of support that they could
use to carry out their own local priorities.

Sustainable Regions Programme

The centrepiece of the statement was the Sustainable Regions Programme. The Government identified
eight - and later ten - regions that were struggling with the impact of economic, social or
environmental change.

We appointed local advisory committees, and helped them identify how their regions could build on
their strengths and become more successful. We then provided them with funding support to carry out
development projects to support their priorities.

To date, we have approved 280 projects, at a total cost of about $120 million. They have been
highly successful.

In the Kimberley, for example, we helped fund the Mowanjum Arts Centre. It's at the centre of a
region that produces some of Australia's most recognisable Indigenous art, including the giant
sculpture that appeared in the opening ceremony for the 2000 Olympics.

The Mowanjum Arts Centre now provides employment for 28 Indigenous artists, and their work has been
exhibited in London and New York. It's given hope to the whole region.

Regional Partnerships Programme

Our next step was to take the Sustainable Regions model and adapt it into a general regional
programme: Regional Partnerships. Through this programme, we are investing in projects that:

- strengthen regional growth and create jobs;

- improve access to services in small communities;

- support better planning; and

- assist with structural adjustment.

The Government has now approved 1,415 projects under the programme at a cost to taxpayers of $327.5
million. Our spending, however, has resulted in more than $1.4 billion in investment on the ground,
because it has leveraged more than $1.1 billion worth of funding from other levels of government
and the private sector.

The Regional Partnerships Programme has come in for criticism. But it's really a bargain for
taxpayers, because it gets us four dollars worth of investment for every dollar we spend.

Regional Australia today

So to sum up: the Sustainable Regions and Regional Partnerships programmes have proved to be very
successful in generating investment.

They have done a great job in helping to support regions that are not growing strongly.

But they were not developed to address the problems of growth that are being experienced by many
other regions of Australia.

The six years since 2001 has seen rapid population growth in Australia's mining and sea change

For example, the population of the Nebo Shire in central Queensland increased by more than 28 per
cent between 2001 and 2006, as a result of the state's growing coal industry.

Other regions on the coast are growing strongly as a result of the sea change effect: the shift to
the coast by Australians seeking more affordable housing and a more relaxed lifestyle.

One example is the Shire of Busselton in Western Australia, where the population increased by 15
per cent from 2001 to 2006.

We've also seen the emergence of what some people have called the tree change: the movement of
people to inland regional centres such as Maitland, Bendigo and Toowoomba.

The challenge for the Government in these high growth regions is to help them deliver the services
they need to meet the demands of their increasing population.

These demands are particularly important in some of the sea change areas where the population is
ageing, although it has to be stressed that many sea changers are young families looking for a
better life. We can support them by helping to create new business and employment opportunities.

Our existing regional programmes are not specifically focused on addressing these issues. For
example, we are receiving an increasing number of applications under the Regional Partnerships
Programme from local councils in high growth areas. They want our help to build service hubs and
new sporting facilities.

The Government has always considered these facilities to be a local responsibility, but councils in
high growth areas often can't afford them because their state government has frozen their revenue
by pegging their rates.

The residents of the high growth regions aren't interested in a brawl about what level of
government should build their local facilities. These families and retirees just want someone to
provide them with decent services.

In addition, the Government is now considering more than 30 applications for Regional Partnerships
funding of more than $1 million.

These are good applications for major projects that would create jobs and diversify the economies
of their local areas. But the focus of Regional Partnerships is on smaller community projects, not
on major business investments or service hubs.

The Australian Government's Plan

I've learned about these issues with our existing regional programmes because I travel extensively
around regional Australia.

I've held a series of community round tables in places like Lismore and Mildura, and I've listened
carefully to what people have told me.

Today, I'm taking action by announcing a new plan for regional Australia.

It recognises that we have to do more to help the mining and sea change areas, as well as
continuing to help the struggling areas that were the focus of our 2001 statement.

As part of our plan, the Coalition Government will establish a new Growing Regions Programme, which
will invest in major projects that will help communities respond to the pressure of change.

The Government will invest $200 million in the programme over four years for major projects that
will help regions address the following priorities:

- the effects of rapid growth

- structural change

- population migration and

- population ageing.

Businesses, local governments, institutions and communities will be able to apply for funding of $1
million to $3 million per project. In most cases, there will be a requirement for matching funding
from the state or territory government and the project proponent.

Projects could involve the development or expansion of major businesses, as well as smart ways of
delivering services.

A great example of the sort of project that I want to fund under Growing Regions is the Ballina
Community Services Centre. The Government has just approved funding for this project under Regional

The Ballina Community Services Centre will be a one-stop-shop for a wide range of services,
including programmes for the elderly and disabled, support and information for carers, and computer
facilities for the community.

The project will make it much easier for the residents of Ballina to get these services. It is
especially important because Ballina is an area with a high proportion of retirees who will want
more support as they get older.

The Mayor of Ballina, Phil Silver, has said to me that:

The Ballina Community Services Centre is vital community infrastructure and without the support of
the Commonwealth Government we would have struggled to deliver it. It's this sort of facility that
we need to meet the demands of our growing population.

The projects that we fund under Growing Regions will be on top of the assistance that we provide
for basic local infrastructure through our Financial Assistance Grants and programmes like Roads to
Recovery and the Water Fund.

Over the next few months, we will announce more measures to help local communities grow and meet
their infrastructure needs.

Sustainable Regions Programme

We will, however, never forget that many parts of regional Australia are not growing as strongly as
these mining, sea change and tree change areas.

Significant portions of the country are still severely affected by the drought, even though we have
had welcome rain in some areas.

The Government has already provided farming families with more than $1.8 billion in drought
support. We will continue providing assistance for as long as the drought lasts.

We will also continue the Sustainable Regions Programme and will shortly announce its extension to
new regions.

The Government will provide each of those regions with up to $20 million in project funding,
instead of the smaller amounts that we provided under the 2001 policy statement.

The extra funding takes into account the increase in the cost of construction since 2001. The local
advisory committees will be able to choose more projects to help carry out their local priorities.

We will select the new Sustainable Regions based on their average household income, education,
economic diversity, and their degree of Indigenous disadvantage. We will also consider the long
term impact of the drought on the selected regions.

Regional Partnerships Programme

The Coalition Government will also improve the Regional Partnerships Programme.

It will now be restricted to projects that need funding of less than $1 million, the lower
threshold for an application under Growing Regions.

The Government will consider applications for Regional Partnerships funding in three streams:
Enterprise Partnerships, Community Partnerships and Grants under $50,000.

Enterprise Partnerships

We are going to channel all applications from private businesses into the Enterprise Partnerships

It will enable them to seek Regional Partnerships funding to help create employment opportunities,
add value to the use of existing resources, or attract new business investment and development.

The Government will consider applications for funding under Enterprise Partnerships in two funding
rounds a year. We are restricting the timing of these applications so we can consider them more
thoroughly and undertake stronger financial viability assessments.

Community Partnerships

All other applicants will be able to apply for funding under the Community Partnerships stream at
any time.

The Government will give priority to funding projects that will support:

- jobs in small or disadvantaged communities

- skill development

- jobs in Indigenous communities

- jobs for young people.

There will continue to be a partnership funding requirement, but it will be reduced for some local
government and not-for-profit and charitable organisation applicants.

Grants under $50,000

Applicants seeking funding of less than $50,000 will now be able to apply through a streamlined
application process, except for private businesses.

The Grants under $50,000 stream recognises that applications for small amounts of funding and
straightforward projects do not require the same information and level of assessment that is
required for larger and more complex projects.

Ladies and gentlemen, the new Growing Regions Programme and the changes that I have announced to
Sustainable Regions and Regional Partnerships will help us to continue bridging the divide between
the cities and the rest of Australia.

They are a key part of our plan to make strategic investments in the future of regional Australia,

- $38.1 billion in road and rail upgrades over ten years under AusLink 1 and 2, which will build
the transport infrastructure we need for the future before we reach capacity;

- our health programmes, which are encouraging more doctors to work in regional Australia and
helping build the facilities they need through the Rural Medical Infrastructure Fund; and

- our $958 million investment in high speed broadband under the Australia Connected package.

How Labor would fail regional Australia

By contrast, the Labor Party does not have a plan for Australia's regions. Its plan is to hold 58
audits and reviews, and then start hacking away at the services that people in the regions need.

It's an approach that will be familiar to anyone who lived in Queensland in 1989. As Wayne Goss's
chief of staff, Kevin Rudd launched a blizzard of inquiries and reviews, and in the process:

- Disbanded 96 local ambulance boards and 81 community fire boards;

- Sacked 600 people from the Queensland Department of Primary Industries; and

- Replaced the local boards that ran Queensland's hospitals with impersonal, regional
bureaucracies. At one point, the state's nurses marched through the streets with placards saying
'Bring Back Joh', because they knew even then that Kevin Rudd's policies would lead straight to a
disaster like the Dr Death fiasco.


Australians don't want more inquiries and reviews. They want a government that has a vision for the
future, not a vision for a swirl of paperwork.

Today, I've unveiled part of the Coalition's vision: our plan for regional Australia.

It builds on the work that we have done since our last regional policy statement in 2001.

It will bring the benefits of Australia's current prosperity to every part of our country.

It will make sure that the people of regional Australia have the same opportunities as the people
who live in the state capitals, because that is fundamentally what my party stands for: a fair go
for the seven and a half million people who live outside the major cities.

Thank you.

KEN RANDALL: Thank you very much Minister, as usual we have a period of questions starting today
with Fleur Anderson.

FLEUR ANDERSON (Australian Financial Review): Telstra has apparently taken court action last night
against the federal government about the change from the CDMA network to Next G. For the Luddites
among us can you explain to us what that means and whether it's going to have any impacted on
people in the bush and in regional areas?

MARK VAILE: Well in essence, no I can't, you'll have to ask Telstra that question.

What does it mean? I mean, you know, this is some legal procedure against the government because
we're saying we want to ensure that Telstra delivers on its commitment. That's fundamentally all
we're about.

We don't need to remind people in rural and regional Australia of the circumstances that they were
confronted with when the previous Labor administration took a decision that they were going to
switch off the analogue mobile phone system and not replace it with anything.

Then we stepped in as a government and forced the issue with Telstra at the time, invested
significant amounts of taxpayer's funding to establish the CDMA network to ensure that there was an
acceptable level of mobile telephony across regional Australia. And the CDMA network has worked
well. Taxpayers have invested money into it and in recent times Telstra announced a year or more
ago that they were going to change the CDMA system over to Next G.

Now, nothing against Next G, great network, it's delivered broadband to my home where I live, where
I couldn't get it through hard-wire solutions. We understand that it's working well in some areas.
All the government is saying is that the commitment when Telstra announced that it was going to
wind-out the CDMA system and introduce Next G was that it would be an equivalent or better service.
So far the evidence is that they haven't achieved that. The government is just saying we want them
to deliver on their commitment.

Now a number of my colleagues-and we had a discussion about it this week-have taken up the offer
from Telstra to go and test Next G technology in different parts of their constituencies. And some
of those reports have been very, very good. So I don't know what Telstra has to be frightened of;
why they need to take legal action. All they've got to do is to deliver on their commitment.

KEN RANDALL: The next question is from Erik Jensen.

ERIK JENSEN (The Sydney Morning Herald): Minister, six years after the sustainable regions program
is this new policy an admission that you are sort of, I guess, misread the resources boom and
possibly should have maybe invested some money then?

MARK VAILE: No, I don't think so. I think that in 2001 we focused on a different economic
circumstance in Australia, you're right. We could all say that we should've seen this coming but
it's more than just the resources boom.

I mean we've seen the growth in population in particularly those sea change and tree change areas.
We're seeing some regions growing for different reasons, not just the resources boom.

But what has become abundantly apparent that the way services have been delivered in Australia in
the past and the way they've been funded and financed, that set of circumstances doesn't exactly
exist any more. And you know I pointed to in my speech the circumstance that exists with local
government where it's not uniform across Australia but certainly in my state in New South Wales
state governments of all political persuasions have taken the politically expedient and populist
point of view in pegging local council rates to the extent that some local authorities now use
nearly the entirety of their rate base just paying their wages and servicing their debt and they
rely on grants from other levels of government to undertake any capital works projects at all.

And what we're seeing is this is having a deleterious effect on the services that are being
provided in those rapidly growing areas. And so it's a reflection and a response to the changing
demography in Australia, to the changing economic circumstances.

And I know that, you know, the further we go as a government and we announce new policies and we're
taking over responsibility here or there, we often get accused of usurping state's powers or trying
to trample on the rights of the states. All we're trying to do is to deliver services to
Australians-to all 21 million of us-that have a reasonable expectation of a particular level of
service. Whether they live in regional Australia or whether they live in the Metropolitan areas.

And so this policy announcement is a reflection of the changes that are taking place within our
society and we are trying to respond to it, we're trying to move with it.

KEN RANDALL: A question from Siobhain Ryan.

SIOBHAIN RYAN (The Australian): In recent week I guess the Prime Minister's leadership has been
undermined by the polls and in recent days even by his own colleagues. If a leadership change does
occur, I mean what kind of implications does that have for the Liberal-National Coalition, the
partnership there? And if it doesn't, I'd just be interested in your thoughts on how the Coalition
regroups after this level of instability?

MARK VAILE: To make a prediction: there's not going to be a leadership change. The Prime Minister
will remain in that position and will lead the government to the upcoming election between now and
the end of the year.

Yes, we recognise the difficult circumstances that we are in as a government in the polls. We must
be seen as going into this election campaign as the underdogs, clearly, given a whole range of
published polls.

But our individual research-and that's us on the ground mixing with average Australians-we
certainly get a sense of what Australians want done with their nation for the future. They want a
clear vision of where we're going to take the nation; they want to understand that there's going to
be certainty; they want to be comfortable in the knowledge that there's going to be ongoing sound
economic management in Australia because they now recognise that that is a fundamentally central
tenet to everything that we do in this country.

What I've announced today in terms of helping regional Australians only happens because we have a
strong economy, because we have run the country very, very well. Our government is not a one-man
band, is not a one-man team. There's a lead spokesman, yeah, but there is a lot of breadth and a
lot of depth in our government and the Australian people recognise that.

And so what we will be saying to the Australian people that for the last 11 or so years we have
built a major case a major foundation of economic strength in this country, that we are best placed
now to invest that for the future and for future generations of Australians very wisely. And all 21
million Australians, not any particular sector or group, not being beholden to any particular
pressure group but all 21 million Australians. We have proven we know how to manage the economy, we
know how to deliver the wherewithal to invest for the future and over the coming months that's
clearly what we will express to the Australian people.

We have been in difficult circumstances before in terms of public polling but we have always
remained true to our core beliefs and to our convictions in terms of what is in the best interest
of Australia. There are many people in Australia who probably don't like the Prime Minister but
they always also respect that they know exactly where he stands, they also respect that they know
exactly where our government stands on all the important issues of the day. And we want to continue
that relationship with the Australian people. The next three months is going to be very interesting
and obviously very, very challenging but can I assure you that our entire government team is well
and truly up to that challenge and up to that task and we will putting before the Australian people
a very, very clearly outlined and enunciated plan and vision for the future of our nation.

KEN RANDALL: Peter Van Ness.

PETER VAN NESS (Australian Associated Press): I just wonder whether you believe the Liberals can
learn anything from the smooth leadership transitions The Nationals have experienced.

MARK VAILE: I would not be so presumptuous to lecture my Liberal colleagues on any aspects of
running their party. And I think the point Peter highlights the fact that although we are in a
Coalition government and a very, very successful Coalition government and arguably the most
successful that this nation has ever seen, we are two separate parties.

And in recent days we've seen that. I mean this has been a matter that has needed to be addressed
internally within the Liberal Party and we respect that. We also recognise the impacts of those
discussions have on the perceptions of the government of which we are a part.

But at the end of the day the Australian people know us all very, very well, individually and
collectively. We've been round for a number of years. They know the aspects about us that they like
and they know the aspects that they don't like. But they also know exactly what we are prepared to
do and what we will deliver for them.

And there is no ambiguity; they do not have to ask themselves: jeez I wonder can Wayne Swan really
manage a $1.1 trillion economy. I wonder can Julia Gillard really hold out properly against
heavy-handed union influence in the workplace. They don't have to ask those questions about our
government or about our ministers because they know exactly where we stand on all those issues.

KEN RANDALL: Next question is from Jason Koutsoukis.

JASON KOUTSOUKIS (The Sunday Age): You've talked a lot about the team and the fact that there's no
ambiguity but on the very fundamental question of who should lead the government there is great
ambiguity which has been reported this morning that a majority of the Cabinet doesn't believe the
Prime Minister should lead the party to the next election and by implication don't believe he can
win that election. So how can you sell yourselves as a united team when most of the senior people
in the government don't have confidence in the Prime Minister?

MARK VAILE: Well there's all sorts of reporting, Jason, as you know. And you can often believe a
bit of what you read or sometimes a lot of what you read. But I think that the best way for me to
respond to your question is to just watch the performance of the government in the coming weeks and
months as we move towards the election and the solidarity of the team, the solidarity of our entire
team, not just the front benches but our backbenchers as well. We're very, very proud of what we've
done in Australia. We're very proud of the fact that we've got ourselves into a position as a
nation that we can now seriously be investing and projecting forward what we want to do with this
country; do things that we've only been able to dream of in the past, we are now able to do.

Our proven track record is that we have the record and people know that we can continue to manage
the economy and continue to afford to do the things they want done with their country. We will
certainly do that. We are best placed to do that and very, very broadly experienced.

And I mean every family-and just think of your own individual circumstances-every now and again
you'll have a spat at home about something or other and that'll be lost and gone and washed away
overnight but when the family comes under pressure from the next-door neighbours or someone down
the road in the next day or so the family sticks together.

KEN RANDALL: Glenn Milne.

GLENN MILNE (News Limited Sunday Publications and The Australian):

Noel Pearson wrote a very interesting piece for The Weekend Australian recently where he talked
about the fact that people can't live on bread alone. And he paid tribute to the Howard Government
for the economic prosperity and the records you've delivered but the implication of the piece was
that you need vision and sometimes communities look for vision. I put it to you that the package
you've announced today is fine but it's basically what people expect from the governments in a time
of economic prosperity and that on the evidence of the published opinion polls it might be the V
for vision thing that the government is lacking.

MARK VAILE: And Glenn, we don't ignore, at any stage, what the broader public are saying. They
express that through polling research that is done, is published in publications like yours. They
express it when we're interacting with them on the streets in our electorates and across Australia.
And they express it through the media and the interactive media as well. And we are very, very
tuned in to what the people of Australia are saying. We recognise and accept the criticisms that
are made of our government and some of the decisions that we have taken. But we still respond by
saying that any decision that we have taken we've taken in the national interest and will continue
to do so.

You talk about the vision thing. I mean it's something that comes around almost on an annual basis
and people want to know. Now in the excitement of a strong and prosperous economy is waning, it's
accepted, we're becoming comfortable with who we are and where we are today and so people are now:
okay what's the next thing we're going to do; what are we going to do with our nation now?

We've got growth in population, we've got growth in the strength of the economy. We've moved into a
situation where we a much more influential middle-ranking power and middle-ranking economic power
on the global stage. I mean we saw that last week with the APEC leaders' summit in Sydney where the
Prime Minister is able to stand shoulder to shoulder and match it with the economic leaders of the
world in a political sense with the major countries of the Asia-Pacific region. And that's all

And we understand this is the message Glen, and this is what your question is about. That's all
fine and we're all really proud of that but let's start thinking about what we're going to do for
the future. And that's exactly what we're going to be outlining as we lead up to the next election.

And the point I make to all Australians is that having had the benefit of 11 years of experience of
very stable and strong economic circumstances, we believe that puts us in a much better position to
be able to commit to many of those things people expect us to do as a government because we are
have wherewithal to manage the central economy and be able to afford those things in the future.

KEN RANDALL: Minister let me ask you a question before we move on. Many of us have got the
impression that the drought has rather drifted to the back of most people's minds in this country
but your colleague Peter McGauran yesterday put out a statement saying that unless there is
significant rain-I think he actually says major falls of rain-within about a month many of
Australia's farmers will be facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions. We've already been told
that water allocations for the summer in the Murray-Darling Basin will be at a record low. What
does all this mean in policy terms? What can be done, what should be done? What's possible?

MARK VAILE: I think that the first point you make Ken is very, very true. Unfortunately many
Australians have maybe because there has been quite a bit of rainfall along the eastern seaboard in
catchments have let this issue drift to the back of their minds a little bit but certainly it has
not drifted to the back of the minds of the people that are suffering from drought. We had high
expectations only a couple of months ago that there was going to be a better than recent return
from the winter cereal crop. That expectation is rapidly subsiding in many areas. Many areas have
gone beyond the point of no return as far as a crop this year is concerned.

And so we are unfortunately back in the circumstances where many parts of Australia are facing
devastating circumstances both economically and emotionally again, some areas moving into their
sixth and seventh year of drought.

What can we do in a policy sense? I mean what we must do-and it comes in a whole variety of
different policy settings-is continue as a nation, to stand beside and support our farming families
that are suffering that social, emotional an economic stress at the moment.

This nation needs always to be committed to having a strong agricultural sector. And that challenge
I suppose is not just to governments in a sense but it's also to the broader community, it's an
issue that needs to be addressed and be mindful of amongst the major financial institutions in
Australia in terms of how they manage their relationship with many of those farming families that
are in dire circumstances.

And so we will continue as a government to stand shoulder to shoulder with the farming families
across Australia and provide them with the support the way we have been. And I mentioned in my
speech that so far in this awful event there's been about $1.8 billion gone out in support to
farming families and agriculture generally. We will continue that. You mentioned the irrigation
areas and one of the new challenges later on this year is that there may be some irrigation areas
for the first time in their history will have a zero allocation of high-security water. And that
will have a major structural impact on those local economies and those local industries. Again
we're going to have to be, if you like, creative in a policy sense in how we deal with this.

But it is going to be something we're going to have to deal with. But again, I come back to the
central message that it is much easier to deal with in an economic sense where we are in a strong
economic circumstance in Australia and as a nation we can afford to continue to deliver that

KEN RANDALL: Minister as I think you know we have a regular program of school visits to Canberra, a
very big program of school visits in fact, and they often come here, I'm glad to say we have one
today. In fact it's from the Clontarf Aboriginal school in Western Australia and they have-as is
the usual practice-elected one of their members to ask you a question and that's (inaudible).

STUDENT: My name is (inaudible) from (inaudible) Aboriginal college in Perth. The question I'm
going to ask you is: the government is doing a lot about sexual assault in Aboriginal communities.
Once sexual assault is identified what programs are there for victims?

MARK VAILE: It's a very wide-ranging subject and it's that has created, I know, a lot of debate
across Australia. But in the interventions-if I can put it that way-that we have instigated from a
federal level particularly into the Northern Territory, has been in response to a particular report
there but also particular circumstances that have been identified as existing. And early
intervention such as some of the things that we've announced is critically important but so is the
responsibility the broader community has to helping victims manage the trauma after an incident or
the incident.

And you know, whether it's our agencies at a federal level where we have a direct responsibility or
state or territory agencies, we've got to ensure that the appropriate medical and psychological
advice and support is made available.

I mean this is an issue that is very, very important for the entire Australian population. We all
feel very, very deeply about some of the things that we've seen reported. We took a view that we
couldn't stand by and let those circumstances continue.

Minister Brough and the Prime Minister have outlined a range of measures that are being put in
place in terms of intervention earlier on, in terms of working with communities to restructure the
way those communities operate. And importantly on the medical front-and I've had one of our
candidates in the seat of Richmond on the north coast of New South Wales who's a medical doctor,
Doctor Sue Page went on a volunteer basis to the Northern Territory for two weeks, but that's the
up-front medical assistance, guidance and assessment. But I think that what we've got to ensure-and
you know, we're open to suggestions if the level of ongoing support is good enough or not good
enough, we are prepared to do more where necessary. But those important mechanisms that the broader
community would expect to be available need to be made available to help manage-if I can put it
post-incident trauma.

But it also requires a great deal of cooperation between all levels of government particularly the
Commonwealth and the state where there are individual responsibilities. This is not an issue to be
identifying different responsibilities between state and federal governments. It is an issue that
we have taken the view that all Australians must act in concert to work with the individual
communities to address and so if I can leave that open back to you, that if there are suggestions
about how things can be done better in that particular area of support then we need to hear about
it so we can respond. We believe we've gone a long way to responding but we are certainly always
open for further suggestions.

KEN RANDALL: Let's get back to Fleur Anderson from The Financial Review.

FLEUR ANDERSON (Australian Financial Review): Mr Vaile I understand that The Nationals didn't raise
the leadership issue in this morning's joint party meeting. Can I ask why you didn't and if you do
lose seats at this election will be you be leaving the blame at the feet of John Howard and Peter

MARK VAILE: One thing I never do is report publicly on discussions that take place in either our
party meeting or the joint party meeting. We have in the joint party meeting a raconteur that gives
a briefing to the media. The process this morning is that there was a Liberal Party meeting that
took place for some time, obviously discussing a range of issues that revolve around us positioning
ourselves to win the next election. Subsequent to that we had our normal joint party meeting during
which the issues of the day are addressed and it's particularly an opportunity for backbenchers to
bring to the attention of the leadership of the government and ministers their issues of concern
and then to deal with legislation that is going to be introduced into the Parliament to get the
imprimatur of the joint party meeting.

Suffice to say, you know, we are ... my party is consulted and has a great deal of input into the
management of government business and the way we take government business forward and the
strategies that we will be putting in place moving towards the federal election later on this year.
And we will continue to do so.

KEN RANDALL: Another question from Erik Jensen from The Sydney Morning Herald.

ERIK JENSEN (The Sydney Morning Herald): Minister growing regions seems about helping prosperous
communities whereas, you know, your last policy for regional areas was helping disadvantaged
communities, in that respect are you hoping or expecting for more than a $4 return on the
government spending here and will the government have to spend less money because these regions are
themselves prosperous and should be sort of dipping in a little bit?

MARK VAILE: I think that it would be great if we could achieve that outcome of a $4 investment for
each dollar invested. I mean you know the benefit to cost ratio on that is obviously significant.

Growing regions are not necessarily prosperous. Just bear in mind-I gave example of Nebo Shire in
central Queensland where a lot of the expansion in mining is in the shire-some of it's outside-but
the shire is the dormitory for a lot of the people moving to work in that area. And so increased
population, increased pressure on community infrastructure and we just announced a significant
amount of money in the budget process this year for a major arterial road within that Nebo Shire to
get from where the dormitory suburbs are out to the workplace. And so our programs are targeting
that investment.

So growing regions are not necessarily excessively well-off or prosperous regions but they are
growing in terms of population for a particular set of circumstances that exist at the moment. But
what we are identifying is the inability of those regions to keep pace with the for demand for

And if you look at the sea-change and tree-change areas across Australia they're often targeted for
lifestyle but also for affordability. And again, you have a significant shift in the demography in
an area and it creates a different set of pressures on the services that are required ... in this,
we're trying to address that. This is a policy that is responding to changes that are taking place
on a daily basis in the structure in Australia.

KEN RANDALL: Siobhain Ryan.

SIOBHAIN RYAN (The Australian): You mentioned earlier that the Coalition isn't a one-man band, do
you think that from here on in we will see individual ministers and the Nationals themselves
stepping forward into the limelight a little bit more than in the past, given some of the talk over
leadership in recent weeks. And my other question relates to the Growing Regions program. In 12
months time, I mean can you guarantee that we're not going to see an audit report that says that
80-90 per cent of the money dispersed went to Coalition or marginal seats and a far lesser
proportion went to save Labor ones? Thankyou

MARK VAILE: Your first point, it depends on what you call the limelight. All of our ministers in
their particular area of responsibilities are regularly in the limelight talking about their
specific responsibilities and policies as I've announced today that are in our individual
portfolios. I think you'll find that there will be a significant movement of ministers around
Australia, particularly in key and critical electorates that we will be defending and trying to win
in the upcoming election. And certainly as has been the case over the last 11 years none of our
ministers, our being government ministers, will be shying away from the public debates that will be
required as we go through this process of preparation for the upcoming election.

With regard to Growing Regions, I can't forecast in 12 months time what the mix of projects that
will be funded is likely to be. That will be a matter for communities that put forward
applications. The assessment process that will be run on those rounds, then final decisions that
will be made in terms of funding.

You referred to the audit report presumably you are referring to the audit report on regional
partnerships. And we've been actively engaged with the ANAO in the development of that report and a
lot of the issues raised as a subject of that report. A number of these changes that I've announced
today in terms of running the Growing Regions program, the changes I've announced to regional
partnerships are partly in response to some of the issues raised in the ANAO report that is yet to
be released but again issues that have been raised with us.

I mean, nobody is perfect. No program is perfect. No piece of legislation is perfect. Once
something hits the ground and it starts operating there are always a lot of good ideas expressed in
coming back from community that we need to respond to. And we've continued to do that so that we
can make sure these programs are appropriately targeted to the areas of need. And certainly that is
the case and I make the point that we are refining and we have been refining regional partnerships
and targeting it appropriately and as we will with the Growing Regions program.

KEN RANDALL: Peter Van Ness.

PETER VAN NESS (Australian Associated Press): Minister, there's a three-cornered contest going on
against Wilson Tuckey. I wonder if you could talk us through the reasons behind why the Nationals
have gone down that path?

MARK VAILE: Our party is based ... it's a grassroots party that's based on individual state divisions
that come together as a national or a federal body. And so individual decisions in terms of who
runs in what seats are made at a state level. There are different arrangements between the two
parties at a state level, loosely called coalition arrangements. And certainly in the lead-up to
any federal election we need to coordinate that as best we can. But we're very, very proud of the
democratic processes that exist within our party and the fact that it's a grassroots bottoms-up
party if you like so that those individual state decisions are made at a state level.

Currently in Western Australia there's no formal relationship between the Nationals in WA and the
Liberal Party and therefore there's no structured arrangement in terms of managing three-cornered
contests. For example the way we have in New South Wales where there is an arrangement and
therefore you've got a circumstance where there is a candidate running in Wilson Tuckey's seat.

What I will say, I'll guarantee that it'll maximise the conservative vote there.

KEN RANDALL: Jason Koutsoukis.

JASON KOUTSOUKIS (The Age): Mr Vaile the fiasco surrounding the leverage buy-out of Qantas not
withstanding it's been another great year for the national airline, the profits are up and going
forward, things looking pretty good. Some of Qantas's critics would argue that that's in large part
due to protection on key routes like the transpacific route. Going forward do you think that Qantas
can rely on this protection? Is it going to be forever the case that we won't have other airlines
being able to compete Sydney to Los Angeles or Sydney to San Francisco? Or alternatively, do you
think we need to protect Qantas on this key route in order that they are able to subsidise other
less profitable routes around Australia. As Transport Minister do you think things might change in
the future?

MARK VAILE: Thanks Jason. The government's policy on our air services agreement and the way that
the rights are distributed on the Pacific route between ourselves and the United States is not a
matter of protecting Qantas it's actually a matter of ensuring that we get another Australian
carrier onto that route and that there is more competition.

What drives these decisions is the demand for capacity and making sure that there's always capacity
ahead of the demand. Now, you know, you receive a lot of commentary in terms of the ability of
people to be able to travel on that sector and the affordability of seats on that sector.

The decision the government took under the previous minister, Minister Truss was that the spare
capacity on that route would be allocated to an Australian carrier and that's Virgin. They have on
order now the equipment to operate on that sector. Yes, we often get expressions of interest from
other carriers, some non-Australian carriers, non-Australian carriers to be able to operate on that
route, therefore being allocated what are termed fifth freedoms out of the eastern seaboard of
Australia which is being able to pick-up passengers on the way through and fly over there.

We have not acceded to those requests because we do want to see a couple of Australian carriers up
and successfully operating that Pacific route. That's not to say that sometime in the future it
mightn't open up further. I suspect that as we see more competition it will reflect what's been
happening in the domestic market. We're going to see more affordable seats on planes going to the
US and they're going to see more people using them so demand will grow and there'll be demand for
greater capacity. And that's certainly been the experience at a domestic level, it's been the
experience particularly with some of the major sectors going into south-east Asia and east Asia.
Our position is to always make sure there's capacity ahead of demand.

KEN RANDALL: Minister let me ask you the last question today and it's back to politics I suppose.
But you mentioned at one stage today that you'd be making announcements over the next few months
which suggests a rather long campaign, whether it's in the present form or an official one. Do you
favour a long campaign? Do you think it can be turned around? Why do you think after eight months
the polls have been so consistently negative for the Coalition?

MARK VAILE: Look I think Ken, in response to that, I mean when I say the next few months I don't
know when the election is to be held, that's a decision the Prime Minister will make at the
appropriate time. You know he's indicated that we will have obviously a federal election before
Christmas and certainly before the early part of December so that gives us a couple to three months
to run.

Why do I think that the polls will turn around? You know I know that we are going to be talking
directly to the Australian people about our vision and our strategy to move the nation forward
beyond where we are today and roll it out in such a way that people will understand exactly what
shape Australia will take and the direction we'll go during the course of the next term of the
government in Australia.

Now balance that off with what has been seen from the other side of politics. And you know I've
described it as a lot of froth and bubble. It's been poll-driven. It's talking about a lot of
issues that people are thinking about but there's no substance underneath it. We are getting into
now real time in this electoral cycle where people, Australians, will start looking for substance
and I would suggest that that is exactly what we intend to deliver to them is substantive outcomes
and a projection forward in terms of our vision of where Australia is going beyond the end of 2007.

KEN RANDALL: Thankyou very much.


KEN RANDALL: Thankyou very much again Minister for another appearance here today and I have to say
that one way or another we'll see you back here in the next few months.

MARK VAILE: (laughs)

KEN RANDALL: Thankyou very much.

MARK VAILE: Thank you very much. Thanks Ken.