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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6387

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (11:25): The appropriations that were made in this budget were of significant benefit to regional Australia and to the arts community. I might say in relation to regional Australia that no government has made a greater commitment to strengthen regional development opportunities. We understand the importance of it with an economy in transition and with the regions representing the patches in the patchwork economy. Last year, we saw the record investment committed over four years in the forward estimates of $4.3 billion to the regions. This year, this budget—building on that investment—saw $475 million for regional hospitals, $80 million for dentists moving to regions and $35 million for doctors moving to the regions. We saw the NBN rollout. The next three-year rollout identified 238 regional centres that will be beneficiaries of the rollout. The schoolkids bonus and the family tax benefits are obviously of significance to regional Australia. The commitment to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the aged-care initiatives are also of significance to the regions. Seventy-five per cent of the federal roads budget went to regions. We saw a massive new investment in remote jobs and skills packages.

In relation to the arts, the budget saw almost $65 million over four years committed to secure jobs in the arts, in cultural heritage and in the creative industries—in particular, to bolstering the capacity of our national collecting institutions. This has laid an important foundation for the development of the government's commitment to a national cultural policy. That has to take into account not only expenditures but the structural changes that have been recommended in relation to the Australia Council and the partnerships that we have been developing with the private sector, with philanthropists and with state governments.

I make the point that those appropriations—those commitments in the budget, were done in very tight fiscal circumstances. We still were able to produce a surplus in the coming year and every subsequent year for the nation. Why is that important? Because a government that acts responsibly in terms of fiscal policy leaves more room for the Reserve Bank to move on monetary policy. Just in the lead-up to the budget, where we were selling the message of the importance of getting fiscal rectitude into the budget, we saw a 50-basis-point drop in interest rates. That downward pressure on interest rates is of huge importance to all Australians, but in particular to regional Australia.

I might also make the point that, as difficult as the fiscal circumstances were, we are able to allocate these amounts for distribution into regions and the arts because we have such a strong economy. The reason we have a strong economy is measures that this government has taken since it came to office—the stimulus in particular—and also the major reforms that were initiated by previous governments to open up the Australian economy. I simply make the point that you cannot do these sorts of distributions and these commitments to important nation-building agendas unless what we are doing is strengthening and growing the Australian economy. Much of what we are doing, not just for regional Australia but for the nation as a whole, is about investing in those things that drive productivity, improve competitiveness and underpin creativity. The regions are going to be major beneficiaries of that. We want to see that, because they have a key role to play. The more we strengthen our regions, the more we strengthen the nation.