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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12832


Ms HALL (3:58 PM) —I move:

That this House notes:

(1) the failure of the Howard Government to address the needs of people living in regional Australia;

(2) the lack of knowledge demonstrated by the Government of issues that impact on the daily lives of regional Australians;

(3) the failure of the Government to provide jobs, services and adequate health resources to regional Australia; and

(4) the betrayal of regional Australia by the Government's inability to differentiate between regional and rural Australia.

This government has failed to deliver policies to meet the needs of Australians living in regional Australia. This government tells us that our economy is booming, and we read reports of record company profits and great wealth within our country. We have had eight years of economic growth. This wealth and economic growth has been accompanied by great change—change that has seen industries and jobs disappear. The metropolitan centres of Sydney and Melbourne have been able to adapt to these changes and, in fact, have actually benefited from them. Unfortunately, many Australians living in regional Australia have not been able to adapt to these changes in the same way. Consequently, they are finding it hard to survive.

With industries restructuring, jobs disappearing and massive changes in agriculture, Australians living in many regional centres are in many cases struggling just to put food on the table. There is a massive disparity between regional and metropolitan Australia with regional income and wealth inequity growing. This government could change this by developing policies in conjunction with regional communities, policies that give them access to the emerging industries. The government must invest in the regions. It must stop ripping services from the communities and make a commitment to the development of skilled work forces and strong labour markets. This cannot be achieved by a government that will not invest in regional universities; a government that has an agenda that would see up to eight regional universities close if its preferred plan for tertiary education were adopted. Those communities that invest in education and develop skilled work forces are the communities that will thrive. Unfortunately for regional Australia, this government is directing education dollars to wealthy private schools rather than to regional and public educational facilities.

Great emphasis is being placed on Australia's economic wellbeing. When this government talks about Australia's future it talks about its economic future. It forgets that Australia's future lies in the communities where Australians live, and these communities must be strong if Australia is to thrive. Micro-economic reform has not benefited regional Australia in the same way as it has benefited the large metropolitan centres of Sydney and Melbourne. Rather it has had a negative impact in many regional areas—regions like the Hunter that I represent. The Howard government have failed these regions by failing to recognise the impact their policies are having and by failing to reduce the impact of micro-economic reform and global influences. The National Institute of Economic and Industry Research identifies 44 regions in Australia while National Economics identifies 57 regions in their report to the Australian Local Government Association, yet this government talks about regional Australia as if it means rural Australia. The regions that are identified by National Economics are broken into six types of regions: core metropolitan, dispersed metropolitan, produc tion regions, rural regions, resource regions and lifestyle regions. The core metropolitan regions are generally flourishing whilst many other regions are struggling.

I know speakers for the government will talk about the initiatives that they have taken to improve life and the economy in regional Australia, but the majority of the government's initiatives have been directed towards rural Australia. This government does not understand that regional Australia exists outside rural and remote communities. This year's budget graphically demonstrates this. In health, the government's commitments are to: a Bush Crisis Line upgrade, multipurpose service programs to deliver a mix of services to rural and remote communities, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, mental health information for rural and remote communities, programs for GPs in rural and remote areas, training for remote nurses and university departments of rural health. They are all very fine programs, programs that assist those rural communities in need, but where are the health programs that are designed to address the specific needs of non-rural regions such as more public hospitals and dental health care? This government is denying these services to regional areas.

A very visual demonstration of this government's selective approach to regional centres was its decision to exclude heavy vehicles travelling between Sydney and Newcastle from receiving the diesel fuel rebate. These examples demonstrate just how skewed the Howard government's regional commitments are towards rural communities and how it ignores the needs of other regional centres that are finding it difficult to adapt and are experiencing great poverty. Even the recent Regional Australia Summit, which was designed to develop strategies to revitalise the regions, was predominantly composed of representatives from rural communities, once again showing how this government pays only lip-service to regions other than rural communities.

I represent two regions in this parliament—the Hunter and the Central Coast regions of New South Wales. Both are regions that have been hurt by this government's policies. The Hunter region has been affected by the closure of the BHP steelworks, by coalmine closures and by micro-economic reform. These closures have all drastically reduced the employment opportunities for people living in the region. It is a region that has an ageing population and areas of poor social infrastructure and poverty. The recent report by Tony Vincent, Unequal in Life, identifies a suburb in the Shortland electorate as being the most disadvantaged area in New South Wales and Victoria, yet what has this government done to help that area? Nothing. There are no initiatives and there is no money—nothing at all is available for this disadvantaged community. In fact, an application for the much-touted Work for the Dole program was rejected. The Central Coast region is similar: it has very little job growth and it has an ageing population—and this government continues to put no money into that area.

I would argue that, rather than promoting and assisting regional Australia, this government has waged war on it. In the Hunter and Central Coast regions we are experiencing the full impact of the Howard government's attack on regional Australia. Its gift to the people of our region has been massive cuts in services, programs and jobs. First the CES office at Belmont closed, then the Medicare office at Belmont. The Centrelink visiting service to Swansea has gone. Skillshare throughout the electorate has gone. The Newcastle Immigration office closed. All CES offices closed and were replaced by much smaller Employment National offices which have now largely been defunded by this government. The Charlestown CRS Australia office closed. The Better Cities Program, stage 2, has been abolished. Funding to the Newcastle University has been slashed. Funding to Belmont and Wyong TAFE colleges has been slashed. With every service that has been closed there has been a corresponding reduction in services to people in our area. The provision of government services and investment in regions like the Hunter and the Central Coast is a core issue in regional development and stability. Every job lost in the public sector leads to job losses in the private sector, and this is something this government does not understand.

The Howard government is philosophically opposed to the public sector and, by continuing to reduce it, is attacking the regions and the skill levels of those people living in the regions. In the Hunter and Central Coast regions we can see the difference between the Carr Labor government's commitment to providing jobs and infrastructure and this government's commitment. When BHP announced it was closing, Bob Carr immediately came to the Hunter and pledged $10 million to the Hunter advantage fund whilst the Prime Minister reluctantly matched his offer and was very slow to visit the area.

If this government continues to fail regional Australia, unemployment in the regions will continue to increase. The skill base of the work force in the regions will be eroded and the level of poverty and dissatisfaction will increase. The Howard government must provide the support and the resources that regional Australian needs and not cut and slash services. Regional Australia wants this government to invest in its future. Regional Australia wants this government to recognise that regions exist outside of the rural area. (Time expired)


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?


Mr Zahra —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.