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Monday, 4 June 2001
Page: 27137

Mr BEAZLEY (2:47 PM) —My question is also to the Deputy Prime Minister in his capacity as minister for regional affairs. I ask whether you recall telling parliament last month that the process for considering applications for Regional Solutions funding is as follows:

They go to what could only be described as a panel of highly reputable people, headed by Professor John Chudleigh. They are all assessed on their merits before they go to the ministerial council. The process accords with best practices and was checked off in consultation with the Auditor-General.

Minister, isn't it true that nearly one-third of the $12.6 million Regional Solutions program will be allocated to just one region—Wide Bay? Isn't it also true that this proposal did not follow the official process you outlined and that in fact you intervened personally to ensure the proposal got up? Minister, why did you give special treatment to your ministerial colleague when people right across the country have to follow your official processes?

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Prime Minister has the call.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition chooses to ignore the chair, no matter what comment the chair has made.

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question. I say at the outset that the government does not apologise for creating a new structural adjustment program which, in the first instance, will be applied to the Wide Bay-Burnett region. If the citycentric members of the party opposite ever got out of the cities, they would know that this particular area is suffering from very high levels of unemployment and has one of the lowest per capita income levels in this country. When Labor left—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr ANDERSON —Mr Speaker, this is the bit they do not want to hear. When Labor left the Wide Bay-Burnett area in 1996 with an unemployment rate of nearly 19 per cent they had done nothing but make the problem worse—that is all they had done. The fact is that we have made some progress—a very good local member helps a great deal. Unemployment is down to 14 per cent, which is a vast improvement on what it was when Labor were in power. But that is still too high, and local council and community organisations have been very active in trying to move the region forward. They have come to government as a group seeking structural assistance and have been very active in pulling together ideas and potential.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for McMillan!

Mr ANDERSON —They have put together individual projects for the Regional Solutions program, some 20 of them, and they have been working hard in their local communities. But this is a region that clearly needs some specific help, and it is for this reason that the government found a way of providing $4 million in funding—

Mr SPEAKER —The member for McMillan is warned!

Mr ANDERSON —provided through a current year budgetary underspend on the Regional Solutions program for a structural adjustment program in this very needy area.

So let me just pose these questions: does the Labor Party deny that the Wide Bay-Burnett area has high unemployment? Does the Labor Party deny that the region is suffering very great disadvantage? Does Labor support this initiative? No, they do not, because they do not understand the problem. They do not go out to understand it; they do not go out to find solutions. All they do is come into this place and seek to object to every positive intiative we try to put into place to make a difference to battling Australians left behind after 13 years of Labor.