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Certainty, security and opportunity: speech to the NSW Nationals Conference: Ballina, NSW: 17 June 2006.



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EMBARGO: 10.00am, SATURDAY 17 JUNE 2006

Speech by

The Hon Mark Vaile MP

Deputy Prime Minister Leader of The Nationals Minister for Trade

NSW Nationals Conference

Certainty, Security and Opportunity

Ballina, 17 June 2006 (Check Against Delivery)

Page 1

Introduction I want to start by congratulating Helen Dickie and Don McDonald, who received awards in the Queen’s Birthday honours list this week.

You all know Helen, who was our NSW state chairman from 1997 to 2002, and then our federal president from 1999 to 2005. Helen was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her service to politics and her service to the community through a range of regional and arts organisations.

Don Macdonald was the president of the Queensland Nationals from 1990 to 1995, and was our federal president from 1996 to 1999. He has also become a Member of the Order of Australia, for his service to the community in regional areas of Queensland, particularly Cloncurry.

They have made a great contribution to our party, and they are not the only ones. There are many families who have contributed to our party for generations, because they know that we make a vital contribution to life in regional Australia.

Sometimes it’s been a struggle to survive. In 1921, the Sydney Morning Herald predicted that we would be ‘swallowed by the Nationalist whale.’ Most people today have never heard of the Nationalists. They collapsed ten years later and are mainly remembered as one of the failed predecessors of the Liberal Party.

In contrast, we are still here. The case for a separate party that represents the seven million people of regional Australia has never been stronger:

- Most Australians now live in the suburbs of the major cities. The politicians who represent them may read about our concerns or fly over our homes on the way to Canberra, but they do not represent us.

They cannot be expected to understand the difficulties and uncertainty of living in a harsh country, when they go home every day to a quiet, leafy suburb.

- We live at a time when regional communities like Ballina are growing rapidly - and require substantial government investment in infrastructure to ensure their services are maintained.

- We live at a time of rapid economic and environmental change. All too often, the assumption is made that the farmers and miners of regional Australia should bear all the cost of dealing with those changes, even though the exports they produce support the whole country.

Building a strong economy As part of our strong Coalition Government, The Nationals have been successful because we are focused on providing security and opportunity for regional Australia.

In the last decade, we’ve given people a chance to build their lives without the fear of long term unemployment or the dread of losing everything due to punishing interest rates.

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Australia’s unemployment rate is now 4.9 per cent, the lowest level since November 1976. We have given an extra 1.8 million people the security of a job.

We’ve done it by making sure that employers and their workers have the freedom to negotiate workplace agreements that suit their personal circumstances.

We’re training more of our young people and giving them the security of a qualification, by more than doubling the number of apprentices in training. And we’re funding 25 Australian Technical Colleges to give more year 11 and 12 students a chance to get trade qualifications.

Labor wanted everyone to go to university and despised the traditional trades. In contrast, we know that trades are important. Australia needs electricians and metalworkers just as much as it needs lawyers and economics graduates.

Ladies and gentlemen, as a result of our strong economic management, we have been able to reform the tax system. We delivered $36.7 billion worth of personal income tax cuts in this year’s Budget.

Last year, I outlined some broad tax reform principles. The principles were that:

- Any tax reforms would have to recognise the needs of regional taxpayers, who generally earn less than their counterparts in the cities;

- The Government should maintain the tax concessions that were put in place to support farms and businesses in regional Australia; and

- Any reforms would have to maintain our ability to invest in the Government’s infrastructure priorities.

The tax cuts achieve our aim of focusing the benefits on low and middle income earners, as well as continuing our investment in infrastructure. They are fair and well-targeted.

- For example, a part-time shop assistant earning $10,000 a year will receive a 100 per cent tax cut. You heard me right. They won’t pay tax anymore.

- A single income family earning $40,000 with three children will benefit by $40 a week, when you take into account the tax cut and our changes to the Family Tax Benefit.

The Government will also change the tax system so more farmers can pass their property on to their children without paying capital gains tax.

We have delivered these reforms without cutting back on tax concessions like the Farm Management Deposit Scheme.

And we have delivered them while increasing our investment in land transport infrastructure.

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- As we announced in the Budget, the Government will provide an additional $2.4 billion for road and rail projects, including an extra $307.5 million to boost the Roads to Recovery programme, which is helping councils build the roads you use every day.

- In New South Wales, the investment will include an extra $800 million to increase the pace of converting the Hume Highway to four lanes.

- We will also provide an extra $160 million for the Pacific Highway, with matching funds to be provided by the NSW Government. The funding means we will be able to start work on the building the embankments for the Ballina bypass. The bypass will take 10,000 vehicles a day out of the centre of town.

It’s a fantastic result for The Nationals at both state and federal level, because we have campaigned hard for better roads. It means it will be easier to travel the long distances that are part of living outside Sydney.

Building rural health Sadly, some of the people driving long distances today are not travelling for work. They’re not going on holiday or visiting relatives.

They’re searching for decent health care, because the state’s public health system has collapsed under the stewardship of the state Labor Government.

In 2004-05, more than one in five NSW patients waited more than a year for cataract removal surgery. A third of patients waited more than a year for total knee replacement surgery.

If you have prostate or cervical cancer and live in a remote area of NSW, you are three times more likely to die than someone with the same disease in Sydney.

The Australian Government is increasing the number of doctors and nurses in the areas that need them most.

- We are supporting more doctors, with the largest expansion of medical school places in Australia’s history. In the short term, qualified doctors are coming from overseas under what are called 457 skilled migration visas. In the ten months to the end of April, 1,704 doctors received visas. They are essential for our medical workforce - but Kim Beazley wants to send them back and make it impossible to find a doctor in regional Australia.

- The number of nurses in regional Australia has doubled, and they are now able to carry out procedures such as pap smears.

- We are providing more support for rural doctors who deliver babies and carry out minor operations.

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The problem is that the New South Wales public hospital system is run by the state Labor Government. We are providing the state with $14.1 billion to fund its hospitals from 2003 to 2008. It’s a record amount of money, but it’s disappearing in the state’s

bureaucracy.

We are providing the funding under an agreement with the state government, called its Australian Health Care Agreement. We have one with every state and territory, and discussions on the next round of agreements will be starting soon.

I’ll be proposing to my colleague, the federal Minister for Health, that the agreements should include specific funding for rural and regional hospitals.

The regional funding would be set out in a separate schedule to the agreements. The state governments would have to provide us with detailed acquittal statements for the regional payments, so we could be sure that all of the money was going to the right place.

It’s a proposal that would especially benefit small rural hospitals providing maternity care. There are now only 35 maternity units in rural New South Wales, compared to 67 when Bob Carr took office in 1995.

Under the proposal, the Government could require the states to direct payments specifically to those hospitals, and give expectant mothers the security and comfort of going to a hospital that is close to their family and friends.

But there’s another way that we can work, as a party, toward fixing the state health system.

It’s to vote out the state Labor Government, and to elect Peter Debnam and Andrew Stoner in March 2007.

The state coalition has already announced that they will provide funding for 500 more nurses during their first term in government - with more announcements to come.

Building Australia’s energy future Ladies and gentlemen,

In the next 30 years, the world’s oil consumption is forecast to grow by 53 per cent. The world’s electricity consumption will grow by more than 80 per cent. As a major energy producer and exporter, the dramatic increase will provide Australia with great opportunities and significant challenges.

It’s important that we look at the potential of nuclear energy. That’s why the Government is conducting a review of uranium mining, processing, and the contribution that nuclear energy could make to Australia in the long term. At least we can then have a debate based on fact.

More importantly, we must stay focused on the energy issue that most concerns the people of regional Australia: high petrol prices.

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Five years ago, unleaded petrol was about 94 cents per litre. On Tuesday, it was 138.9 cents per litre at the BP service station on Cherry Street, here in Ballina.

The price of petrol has gone up because international oil prices have increased from about US$27 a barrel in 2001 to about US$72 a barrel today. The world’s demand for oil is greater than the supply.

It’s causing real pain for families in regional Australia, who don’t have the option of taking public transport or shopping at the local supermarket rather than the mega mall two suburbs away.

It is also having an impact on our balance of payments. Australia now imports $7.6 billion worth of crude and refined petroleum every year.

It costs us more than we earn from all our beef exports.

The best way that we can keep the cost of fuel down is to encourage the use of alternative, Australian fuels: gas, biofuels, and, in time, hydrogen.

The Government has invested millions of dollars to support biofuels, including:

- Almost $90 million in capital and ethanol production grants; - A 38 cents per litre subsidy for domestically produced alternative fuels; and - Vehicle testing and labelling, to undo the damage caused by the fear campaign that Labor ran against ethanol before the last election.

Our measures are working, as we’ve slowly restored consumer confidence. There are now 230 service stations selling ethanol blended fuel, compared to only 70 in June last year.

The fuel companies are now developing ambitious plans to increase its use:

- BP is aiming to increase its ethanol sales a hundred fold over the next two years; - Woolworths is planning to enter the ethanol market, with 50 sites by 2007; - Caltex is planning to double its number of ethanol sites by the end of 2006.

United Petroleum will have 130 sites selling E10 by the end of 2006, and its outlets are selling it cheaper than regular unleaded petrol. For example, United Petroleum outlets on the Pacific Highway are selling E10 at a discount of four cents per litre.

United Petroleum is doing the right thing. Ethanol receives a subsidy from taxpayers. United Petroleum is passing the savings on to consumers.

Many service stations, however, sell ethanol blended fuel at the same price as unleaded petrol. As E10 becomes more available, we can expect it to become generally cheaper. But we need to make sure that consumers and taxpayers are getting value for money.

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You may be aware that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission conducts informal monitoring of the price of unleaded petrol, diesel, and LPG in the cities and in 110 country towns.

I am announcing today that I have asked the commission to start monitoring the price of E10 as well. I have also asked the commission to publish regular reports about the price differential between E10 and unleaded petrol across the country.

Monitoring the price of E10 will be a powerful incentive for fuel companies to compete and offer their customers better value. It will increase the use of E10 and save you money.

A strong future for The Nationals We are only able to deliver results like this for regional Australia because we are a united team. We have a clear and separate identity, even though we are part of a strong Coalition Government.

The NSW Nationals face a tough election early next year, but the time for change is upon us. Andrew, you have a strong and committed team; the Coalition is clearly focused on winning back government from a tired Labor Party. I wish you well and offer you my full support.

At a federal level, 2007 also offers an election challenge - my first as federal leader. The party organisation and my parliamentary team are already in the planning phase in terms of targeting seats and building our resources.

It is important for us to remember, however, that we cannot take our electoral base for granted. We must continue to deliver good policy, good outcomes and good people.

If we get this mix right we will remain relevant and we will win government.

The recent Queensland plan to amalgamate with the Liberal Party is not a new idea - similar ideas have been proposed any number of times over the years.

We have never agreed because we know that regional Australia wants a party that listens to their issues and they want a party that will fight for them.

We know that regional Australia wants a party that will deliver certainty, security and opportunity.

I joined the Nationals because I believe in the values of our party and the people we represent.

We are a great party, with a proud tradition and a promising future. That future ladies and gentlemen, is in our hands.

Thank you