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Thursday, 11 May 2000
Page: 16309

Mr HAASE (2:34 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the Deputy Prime Minister advise the House how people living in remote areas who face unique challenges because of their isolation will benefit from the initiatives announced in the budget?

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for Kalgoorlie for his question. When it comes to Australia's fascinating outback, he of course understands it as well or better than anyone else in the country. His is a huge area with perhaps less than 200,000 people. It is quite unique. The largest city is probably Kalgoorlie, but it spreads across much of mainland Australia and sees people living in the most extraordinary, sometimes very difficult and certainly often very unique circumstances. At the same time it has to be said that it is a region of great economic and social importance to the nation. There is no doubt that the budget initiatives that were announced in this place a couple of nights ago by the Treasurer are of very real value to the outback and the people in the outback of this country. The package of $1.8 billion does actually contain a couple of specifics that I would like to draw people's attention to. For example, helping people in isolated regions access education for their children on a reasonably equitable basis, keeping in mind that most of us take for granted that, one way or another, we can get our children to the school gate pretty much for free. That is simply not the case for people who live in some of the most isolated regions on earth. The extra assistance through the isolated children's allowance scheme has been very widely welcomed indeed. So, too, has the better access to Youth Allowance, with the further discounting of business assets.

Mr Speaker, another important aspect of the budget is that we are doubling funding for the remoter Service Subsidy Scheme. That is a very, very important aspect of life in remote parts of the country. I see that another member from the far north of Queensland, Warren Entsch, well understands how important this is. Indeed, as the ICPA has said, often the scheme is a vital link and the only sustainable communication link at all for many people in the far flung and remote parts of this country. Mr Speaker, $260 million over 13 years under the regional equalisation plan will ensure that remote Australia shares in the benefits offered by the world of digital television and datacasting services. Five million will be provided to subsidise the transmission costs of community based self-help broadcast groups in remote areas and that will ensure that remote communities have the best possible access to broadcasting services. The Year of the Outback in the year 2002 will be supported by all states and territories, by tourism—Jackie Kelly, the minister for tourism, has been a very enthusiastic backer of this planned year of activities—the private sector is involved, as is the tourism industry itself. We will be contributing financially to this great effort to raise people's awareness of the outback in terms of investment opportunities and in terms of tourism potential. The Community Development Employment Program, the CDEP scheme, will be expanded by 1,500 places. That is of enormous value to many, many people in rural and regional areas but particularly in remote parts of the country. These budget measures add to very important initiatives under way.

We know that the ALP want to abandon commitments on tax reform. One of the things that has not been drawn out properly is the enormous importance of abolishing the impact of embedded taxes on exports. Outback Australia is an export based economy and we are crippling ourselves, one hand tied behind our back, with a tax system that they continue to insist is modern and up to date. Mr Speaker, $4½ billion of that embedded taxation in our exports sector will be washed out by tax reform. They have also of course continually opposed our reforms on transport fuel. One of the great killers of economic growth and development in far flung regions of Australia is the high cost of transport, and they have opposed, every inch of the way, our attempts to reduce transport costs, which will now come into place from 1 July. Mr Speaker, they have also sought of course to stand in the way of such vitally important measures as those that have resulted from the T2 sale of Telstra—$150 million for untimed local call access to remote areas; that is a very valuable reform coming up indeed. Let me return briefly to the importance of health flights. If you live in a far flung part of this country, health is of critical importance, and everywhere today I have noticed the commentators saying we have got the priority right. The attention to health in rural and regional and remote areas is important, is needed and should head the list. I note the laudatory remarks that are being made about my colleague the minister for health are very widespread indeed. The National Rural Health Alliance have warmly welcomed the range of new initiatives. They are going to write to you, Minister, to congratulate you—as indeed they might. We see Dr David Mildenhall, National President of the Rural Doctors Association—I think in fact a constituent of the member for Kalgoorlie—has said that the Howard-Anderson government has built on `the Wooldridge ministry's previous good work' in the bush. Then we have Dr Ken Mackay, New South Wales President of the Rural Doctors Association, saying today:

The reason that this has come together is that health minister Michael Wooldridge listened when he was out in regional areas.

So I can tell you one thing: if there is one group in the Australian community that absolutely supports and stands rock solid behind the minister for health, it is rural and regional and remote Australia.