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Labor's vacuous attack backfires.

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12 May 2000 A70/2000


Three days after the Federal Government’s widely applauded Budget measures to help country Australians were revealed, the ALP’s predictable attack has backfired by drawing attention to everything that Labor refused to support during its 13 years in power.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services, John Anderson, said Labor’s shocking record left shadow minister for regional development, Martin Ferguson, with little if any credibility when commenting on regional Australia.

"This Budget has carefully targeted $1.8 billion in new spending for regional Australia, focussing on vital social infrastructure like health and education, as well as offering substantial new support for agriculture, regional television viewers and country motorists and businesses," he said.

"The Government has also indicated there is a major statement coming later this year on natural resource management, while we have clearly signalled our intention to increase investment in infrastructure as budgetary circumstances allow.

"Nobody wants to return to the days when Labor’s shocking economic mismanagement drove interest rates to record high levels and drove inflation through the roof, knocking the guts out of regional Australia.

"The Labor Party ran up $80 billion of taxpayers debt during its last five years in office - and precious little of that extravagance ever made its way into country areas. In fact, all Australians are still paying the interest on those bills. That’s why we’re focused on getting the debt down."

Mr Anderson said it was absurd for Mr Ferguson to be criticising the Government for not spending enough in regional Australia when the Opposition leader, Kim Beazley, was saying the Government was spending too much and he would like a bigger surplus.

He was confident country people believed the Government was genuine in its efforts to address regional disadvantage and that they understood why it was also important to balance this with the need to keep the Budget in the black.

Mr Anderson said Mr Ferguson’s attacks on the $309.4 million extension and enhancement of the highly regarded Agriculture - Advancing Australia package were either duplicitous or stunningly ignorant.

"The Coalition conceived and introduced Agriculture - Advancing Australia when I was Primary Industries Minister to replace the woefully inadequate deal farmers were getting under Labor.

"Several of the original components were either transitional - like temporary extensions to exceptional circumstances assistance being received by some farmers at the time - or subject to a sunset, like the Retirement Assistance for Farmers’ Scheme that has also now been extended.

"But the core programs - FarmBis and the Farm Family Restrart Scheme have been given a big boost in this Budget, while the Farm Management Deposit Scheme - a traditional Labor target that it took the Coalition to fix - is ongoing."

Mr Ferguson says not enough is being spent on country roads, but conveniently forgets that Labor removed all funding for country roads except the National Highway in 1991 and abolished the black spots program.

"He is a frontbencher for the party that signed the deal to close down the analogue phone network and yet still has the hide to claim that the Coalition has put nothing into telecommunications. Maybe he hasn’t heard of CDMA or Networking the Nation.

"There is not a single cent of this package that is unwarranted or does not stack up. Mr Ferguson had two days to ask a question of me in the Parliament about the $1.8 billion injection of Federal funds into regional Australia. Yet he was unable to get to his feet once.

"But the most telling thing of all about Mr Ferguson’s posturing is his failure to say what Labor would do for regional Australia, let alone explain how they would pay for it. Going on the ALP’s record, country people are entitled to be cynical about his comments. The bush deserves better."

Media Contact: Paul Chamberlin: (02) 6277 7680 / (0419) 233 989

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© Commonwealth of Australia 2000 Last updated:  Monday, 15 May 2000