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Thursday, 11 May 2000
Page: 16318

FRAN BAILEY (3:24 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Would the minister advise the House what further steps the government is taking to underpin our vital regional industries and rural communities, like so many of those in my electorate of McEwen, following Tuesday's budget.

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the member for McEwen for raising the importance of regional Australia and the initiatives in this week's budget to benefit regional Australia. On the very night when the Leader of the Opposition is to respond to the budget, when you would think that those opposite would be focusing on the content of the budget, they have already lost interest. They have no new proposals. We await tonight with great interest to hear the way in which the Leader of the Opposition will deliver on the proposed measures that they have been criticising in the budget.

There can be no doubt that this week's budget is the most significant for rural and regional Australia in a generation. There is about $1.8 billion worth of new initiatives for regional Australia and they will provide real benefits for all people living outside the capital cities. During the presentation of the budget speech, I listened to the opposition scoff about these important initiatives for country Australia, and they are scoffing again now. They do not care about regional Australia. It is about time that they recognised that all Australians are entitled to a fair deal when it comes to health care, education, roads and other services. That is what is being delivered in this budget. There is $500 million plus for health care; significant new initiatives for education; more money to assist families, particularly low income families; money to extend digital television to country Australia; and more money for roads, particularly bridges in regional areas. All of those are very significant initiatives.

Many on this side will be particularly welcoming the new initiatives in relation to agriculture, the new Agriculture—Advancing Australia package. This government introduced a comprehensive package of measures with Agriculture—Advancing Australia that have provided real assistance to thousands of farmers around Australia. Many of those measures were due to expire. This budget includes not only an extension of those measures but a substantial enhancement. There will be a merger of the old Property Management Planning program and FarmBis, and a doubling of funding to support farmers in these important planning areas. There is a new Farm Innovation Program to support the implementation of new initiatives in agriculture. There is the new farm help scheme to provide welfare and other assistance to farmers in need. There is the new $30.5 million biotechnology strategy. There is also more money available to assist with plant and animal health and to upgrade our quarantine measures—all very significant matters for Australian farmers.

More money will be spent under the Natural Heritage Trust—$180 million for research and development. There will be more money for the Murray-Darling. I was surprised to read the shadow minister for agriculture suggesting, in a remarkable feat of mathematical illiteracy, that the $309 million extra that we are going to be spending on agriculture is actually less money. I heard him say that the $40 million extra being spent on environmental matters is actually less money. If that is the kind of logic that the Leader of the Opposition is going to use in his budget reply tonight, we might actually get to hear something more about how the finance minister who delivered the greatest deficits that our country has ever known is somehow or other going to return a larger surplus while spending more! That is the kind of logic that has been associated with their responses.

People who live in rural Australia know the real substance of the content of this budget and the real benefits it will deliver to all Australians.