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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12838

Mrs GASH (4:23 PM) —I rise to speak against the motion on regional Australia of the member for Shortland and against what was said by the member for McMillan. What absolute nonsense, rubbish and hypocrisy they are talking! This federal government has done much to bring services to both rural and regional Australia without making people pay for a massive public service infrastructure. There is still a lot more to be done. Much of the social benefit from the partial sale of Telstra, for example, has gone directly to regional Australia and to the bush areas. In my electorate we now have cheaper calls and, although service is not really good as yet, it is getting better.

The Networking the Nation program is making sure that rural and regional communities are able to communicate with the rest of the world, not just the next town or the rest of Australia. This allows access to the latest national and global information by farmers, small businesses, exporters, students, mums and dads. To encourage a clever country, first we have to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to access information.

As you have heard, another basic communication model is the rural transaction centres. These are being set up in small communities all over Australia to ensure that everyone has access to banking, fax, phone and Medicare Easyclaim services. Control of these services has been given back to the people through community based management. Rural transaction centres are designed to complement not compete with services currently available and may be co-located in one commercial site such as the local general store. There are 67 towns and villages in my electorate, most of which have under 2,000 residents. Almost all of them would qualify for a rural transaction centre.

Education facilities are being encouraged to make use of the latest technologies, such as phone hook-ups and videoconferencing, to bring classes to the bush. This is especially helpful for keeping young people in rural and regional areas. Previously, the young people of my electorate of Gilmore had to leave the region to access any university and most other tertiary level courses. Now the University of Wollongong and the Australian National University are setting up campuses in Gilmore, while the University of New England, Charles Sturt University and the University of New South Wales are also beaming in classes from their headquarters.

Just a couple of weeks ago I began talks with representatives of the University of Sydney to establish a presence on the South Coast of New South Wales as well. Our kids no longer have to leave if they do not want to. They can at least begin their studies while remaining at home with the support of their families and friends. Similarly, our parents do not have to send their children away to ensure a high-quality education. Many farm and other small business owners can now continue to rely on their children for assistance without holding back their career prospects.

In my electorate of Gilmore, these programs are already encouraging new business and we are about to unveil a leading-edge regional telecommunications infrastructure to rival any in Australia. Just last week I opened a regional community legal centre in the Shoalhaven. Australia is well known for its ingenuity and this government is helping to encourage it further. In terms of our natural heritage in the rural area, this government is again encouraging the community to identify its treasures and to protect, maintain and, in some cases, even rebuild them. Coastcare, Bushcare and Landcare—all programs to rejuvenate and protect—are initiatives of this government. In the medium to long term, these programs also bring back wealth and employment to rural and regional Australia.

With responsible economic management, this government is providing the right climate for especially small and medium sized businesses and for trade. Most of the businesses in rural and regional Australia are in this category. As they grow or are established, they employ more people per capita than large businesses, and that is helping to reduce unemployment. In every way, the coalition government is providing effective long-term positive growth to rural and regional Australia through excellent management of resources in a difficult global context and with well-timed infrastructure assistance.

We purposely do not specialise in bandaids; we specialise in proactive long-term structured assistance to completely remove the need for bandaids. As for this motion, I ask the member for Shortland: instead of harping and carping, tell us just what the Labor Party policy is. Where is it for all to see? What is the opposition offering beyond negativity? All I have heard you offer as yet is harping and carping and continual slamming, but nothing proactive, nothing substantial and nothing has been put before us for us to look at.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins) —Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.