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Tuesday, 30 November 2004
Page: 25

Senator O'BRIEN (2:00 PM) —My question is to Senator Campbell, the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Does the minister recall his statement to the Senate yesterday that the successful funding provided to Primary Energy Pty Ltd for a grains-to-ethanol proposal was applied for and assessed through the Namoi Valley adjustment package? Is the minister aware that Minister Anderson released a media statement on 2 February this year in which he announced funding for three other projects under the Namoi Valley adjustment package and that the Namoi Valley structural adjustment package would be put on hold from that date? In the light of media reporting today, how can the Deputy Prime Minister explain why a $1.2 million project located in his electorate was assessed and approved in August through a program that he himself suspended in February?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —Here we are again with the Labor Party criticising regional program funding that benefits the regions. Here is a project with a modest investment from the Commonwealth government which will leverage significant investment from the private sector, create a strong market for commodities from the region and create renewable energy for Australia, and yet Labor want to criticise, carp and whine. I gave an accurate answer on this issue yesterday. The Labor Party would say that this project was not assessed under any fair or independent assessment process, and Senator O'Brien has, of course, admitted today that we were right; it has been done.

The reality is that the Namoi structural adjustment package was in fact rolled into the Regional Partnerships Program. This project had been assessed and, once again, rather than the Labor Party going out there, looking at the region and trying to assess the value of it in their own way, they would rather sit inside the airconditioned comfort of Parliament House or sit along the cappuccino strips of Sydney or Melbourne and criticise any money that goes out to regional Australia. What I want the Labor Party to do today, rather than to whinge, criticise and moan about money going from the coalition government to the regions to assist employment, the environment and the economic development and growth of the regions, and to support Australia outside the capital cities, is to actually own up and tell us which one of these projects they are going to put the kybosh on—which one of these projects they think should be put in the dustbin or eradicated, and then I will take them seriously.

Senator O'BRIEN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I remind the minister that I asked him whether he was aware that the Namoi Valley structural adjustment package was put on hold in February and that the announcement about rolling it into other programs was made in 2003. Can the minister advise the Senate why this grant is listed as an approved grant under the Regional Partnerships Program on the official departmental web site if, in fact, it was assessed and approved under the suspended Namoi Valley package. Is the minister aware that the New England and North West Area Consultative Committee also identifies the Regional Partnerships Program as the source of funding for the Gunnedah grains-to-ethanol proposal? Does the minister stand by his statement yesterday that this project was assessed and approved under the Namoi Valley structural adjustment package?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —The problem the Labor Party have is that they do not like the fact that the coalition has been very successful at identifying problems in regional Australia. The problems, which we have assessed over eight years, require significant support from government. We have identified a range of very successful projects, be it the R.M. Williams centre, an equine centre or a rodeo complex in Mount Isa. There are a whole range of projects that can assist local communities—

Senator O'Brien —Mr President, on a point of order: I ask you to draw the minister's attention to the question. He is dealing with matters which are not germane to the question which was asked of him. He should assist the Senate by restricting his answer to the question which has been asked, and I ask you to draw the question to his attention.

The PRESIDENT —As you know, I cannot direct a minister as to how to answer a question, but I can remind the minister that he has 32 seconds of time remaining, and I draw his attention to the question.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Thank you, Mr President. I fully understand the question, but the Labor Party do not like the answer. The answer is that the Labor Party are again criticising funds that are flowing to the regions to support regional economies, economic growth, jobs growth and sustainability, and they do not like it. They want to spend the next few weeks analysing which program it was assessed under and which program it was delivered under. It is being delivered under the Regional Partnerships Program because it is an efficient program delivery system that has been independently analysed by the Auditor-General and a range of other independent experts to prove that it delivers. (Time expired)