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Wednesday, 16 September 2015
Page: 6994

National Stronger Regions Fund

Senator LAZARUS (Queensland) (14:34): My question is to Senator Cash, representing the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development. The Stronger Regions Fund, overseen by the Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, who is supposedly a representative of the people of Queensland, briefly announced its first round of project funding for 2015. The funding is designed to support Australia's regions. Of the 51 projects funded, a whopping 19 are located in Victoria. Queensland only received funding for seven projects, and the NT, which I am sure my fellow senator, Senator Peris, would be very concerned about, only received funding for one project. Why is your government ignoring the needs of regions across Australia and funnelling taxpayer funds into Victoria at the expense of other states and territories?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaAssistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women) (14:35): I thank Senator Lazarus for the question. I am going to dispute and disagree with what you have said, because in relation to this government's infrastructure spend I am very, very proud to be part of a government that has made the largest investment in infrastructure that this country has ever seen. Senator Lazarus, this government has made an investment of $50 billion in infrastructure. And certainly, as part of that investment, local and regional communities continue to benefit from this government, which is delivering more funding into communities.

But you raise a particular—your home state of Queensland. In relation to Queensland, this government is funding a number of projects, including—to take you through—the Bruce Highway. We have a range of projects and programs of work on the Bruce Highway to provide a safer, more reliable and efficient highway. Like you, if I were a senator from Queensland, I would be concerned in relation to the Bruce Highway. Can I also advise you of the investment that we have made in the Cape York Region Package. This is a package of road and community infrastructure projects, which includes upgrading and weather-proofing of the Peninsula Developmental Road.

We are also—to take you briefly through the list—investing in the Dalrymple Road. We are investing in the Gateway Motorway North. We are investing in the Kin Kora roundabout. We are investing in the Moreton Bay Rail Link. We are investing in the D'Aguilar Highway. So, Senator Lazarus, I dispute what you are saying. This government are making a record investment in infrastructure. Certainly, as part of that investment, we are delivering for the people of Queensland.

Senator LAZARUS (Queensland) (14:37): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The National Stronger Regions Fund is designed to fund priority infrastructure across Australia's regional communities. The fund should be managed and funding granted on the basis of demonstrated need, not political bias or to fund political campaigns. Why is it that 51 of the projects funded—60 per cent—are in coalition-held seats?

Opposition senators interjecting

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, on my right and on my left!

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaAssistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women) (14:38): Senator Lazarus, I believe my colleagues may have adequately answered your question! I am going to dispute the premise of your question. This government, as I said, is very proud to have made a record investment of $50 billion in infrastructure across Australia. On being elected in 2013, we said we were going to be a government that would invest in infrastructure and would build Australia. That is exactly what we have done.

Senator Whish-Wilson: Mr President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. Both questions related specifically to the Stronger Regions Fund. Senator Cash has not addressed the questions. She is taking figures from the Roads to Recovery Program and other programs. She has not answered the two very specific questions on the Stronger Regions Fund.

The PRESIDENT: I remind the minister of the question.

Senator CASH: I disagree with the premise of Senator Lazarus's question. This government is proud to be a government that is quite literally building Australia's future. We are very proud of our investment in Queensland, because we know that our record investment in Queensland is giving more jobs to Queenslanders. I am sure, Senator Lazarus, you would agree with me that anything that does something to give more jobs to Queenslanders is a good thing.

Senator LAZARUS (Queensland) (14:40): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. In Queensland more than 50 per cent of our people live outside of our capital city and 80 per cent of our state is in drought. Rural and regional Australia is on its knees and yet, despite this, nearly 30 per cent of the Stronger Regions Fund funding went to projects in metropolitan areas. Why is the government ignoring the needs of rural and regional Australians?

Senator CASH (Western AustraliaAssistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women) (14:40): Again, Senator Lazarus, I am going to disagree with the assumptions you have made in your question. I advise you, though, that we are, under the Stronger Regions Fund, investing in priority infrastructure in regional communities. We are driving growth, creating jobs and enhancing liveability with projects that, as you would be aware, provide a strong economic focus, particularly in disadvantaged regions.

For example, in 2015-16 priority funding is going to focus on those areas that have been experiencing severe drought, because we know those areas are disadvantaged and, as such, the government need to do something to ensure that we are assisting. That is certainly somewhere you will see priority funding going. The Australian government have announced funding of $212 million for 51 projects across Australia under the— (Time expired)