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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 3369

Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (15:44): Well might this government talk about the reality stick; it has certainly taken the reality stick to regional and rural communities across our country. It is failing regional and rural communities left, right and centre because people in rural and regional communities experience disadvantages that city people do not. These disadvantages are many, but they are primarily in the areas of health, communications—and isn't that a sorry tale!—and access to the ever-shrinking government services.

These disadvantages are not just anecdotal; they are evidenced by fact. The Australian Bureau of Statistics General social surveyfor 2014 found:

An important issue for people who live in outer regional and remote Australia is access to services …

The main services people had difficulty accessing were doctors—surprise, surprise!—dentists, telecommunications, and government services such as Centrelink. Of those people in outer regional and remote Australia who had difficulty accessing services, nearly half said the main reason was that they were waiting too long for an appointment, or that that appointment was just not available in the time required. But just over a third said they experienced difficulty because there were no services or inadequate services in their area. No services? That is pretty common, actually.

This finding is hardly surprising. The Rural Doctors Association of Australia described the latest medical workforce data—and we are talking about fact here; we are not just pulling anecdotal evidence out of the air, which the government randomly and regularly does—which shows that the number of doctors in rural and remote areas is actually declining, as 'a real alarm bell for governments'. That is what the Rural Doctors Association is telling us. The Rural Doctors Association says that even the smallest reduction in GP numbers has a significant impact in these communities, where there is a higher prevalence of chronic disease, higher mortality rates and, sadly, a higher incidence of suicide.

All the while we are making it harder for doctors to service people. I have been contacted by so many doctors in my electorate saying that it is incredibly difficult. They have increasing costs to run their practices, and yet this government seeks to do nothing. Every harsh and misguided budget since 2014 has hit rural and regional communities disproportionately more. Access to government services is harder than it ever has been, and you do not have to go to remote areas to know that. I am a brand new member in my electorate of Paterson, and—I have to tell you—we are inundated. People are on the phone, walking through the door. We have a Centrelink office just next door. People cannot get satisfaction and they cannot get through on the phone. They are not even having their calls answered, and trying to get their problems solved is near impossible.

Let's talk about technology. The General social survey found that people in outer regional and remote Australia are less likely than people in cities to use technology, to keep in contact with their friends and family via things that people in the city take for granted every day and use quite easily, like texting, email or Skyping. Surely, if there is anything that underlies the disadvantage experienced by regional and rural Australians compared to city dwellers, it is access to technology.

Mr Broad: Where was your mobile phone?

Ms SWANSON: In fact, there is a report specifically dedicated to that. It is called The digital divide, and I would encourage the member for Mallee to have a read of it. I have spoken on it in this place a number of times, as have my colleagues. The digital divide is a technology divide between city and country, and you should be standing up for your constituents.

The second-rate NBN that this Turnbull government has offered up is letting down the people in regional and rural areas worst of all. Despite the Turnbull government's positive rhetoric and spin—saying: 'Oh, now everything's okay with the NBN. It's all being rolled out, it's all fine.'—honestly, it is like the copper that they are buying. It looks flashy and new when it is first cut, but then after a while it soon loses its gloss, and that is what it has done—not unlike this government, actually!—very rapidly lost its gloss. The on-the-ground experience of technology for rural and regional Australians is that it is simply not up to speed. The second-rate NBN does not just cost more; it delivers less.

Labor understands that fast, accessible, affordable broadband is essential for all Australians, but most particularly, for people who live in remote and rural areas. They should not be discriminated against. The successful delivery of the NBN satellite service has the potential to transform health and education and improve the way small businesses do business. (Time expired)