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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 67

Senator McLUCAS (2:01 PM) —My question is to Senator Ian Macdonald, the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. I refer the minister to the Regional Partnerships funding program. Can the minister confirm that, prior to the election, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services had delegated authority to approve certain grants? Did she exceed that authority when she fast-tracked and approved a $1.26 million grant for A2 Dairy Marketers during the election campaign?

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —I thank Senator McLucas for that question. The A2 milk program that Senator McLucas refers to operates in her part of the world, in the Atherton Tableland. Senator McLucas will know that the dairying industry in that area is doing it a bit tough. I think all of us are trying to find ways to help the dairying industry. The thrust of Senator McLucas's question was: did the parliamentary secretary have authority and did she exceed that authority? I do not have any particular brief on that, but I know Mrs Kelly very well. She is a very competent operator. I am quite confident that she would not in any way exceed any authority that she may have. I do not know that she was delegated the authority—as that is simply outside my knowledge—but I would suspect, Senator McLucas, that if you say that then that would be correct.

The Regional Partnerships program really does help in country Australia. It is something that we on the government side value. It is also valued by those of us who live in country Australia, as I do, because it helps to promote country Australia, it provides jobs and it ensures the longevity of towns. That is a bit different from the proposal to build an Indigenous cultural centre in Senator McLucas's home town of Cairns, which was put forward by the Labor Party without any investigation. I am sure Senator McLucas was not consulted about that. If she had been consulted, she would not have allowed them to launch this proposal at the Tjapukai cultural centre in Cairns. She would not have allowed this silly proposal of Senator Lundy's and Senator O'Brien's to set up something, using government money, in competition with the Tjapukai cultural centre.

Of course, the first one to comment on the Labor Party's quite crazy proposal was the Tjapukai cultural centre, which said: `We don't want this. All you're doing is using government money to compete with a private enterprise operation that has been very successful.' Senator McLucas, you know the Tjapukai cultural centre. It is a great institution. It has done a lot of good work in promoting Indigenous culture. It is next door to the Skyrail, which goes up through the forest. It is a great project. With respect to those parts of the question that I do not have personal knowledge of, I will refer them to Mr Anderson and see if he wishes to give a reply.

Senator McLUCAS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Why did the government fast-track the grant application from A2 Dairy Marketers? Did the parliamentary secretary's decision to approve the grant contradict the advice the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Anderson, gave to concerned dairy farmers and producers in Innisfail on 3 September this year when he said that this project `would not proceed until all other options had been resolved' and that `nothing will happen while we're in caretaker mode'?

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —With due respect to Senator McLucas, I have long since avoided relying on Labor Party senators' comments on what particular coalition members may or may not have said. It would be very unwise of me to make further comment on things alleged to have been said by Mr Anderson without referring to him. Suffice to say that I think this demonstrates that the coalition is keen to help in country Australia. Country Australia appreciates that. I have to tell you, Senator McLucas, that many in country Australia cannot understand the continual and continuous attacks by the Labor Party on people in country Australia. I know the rest of your colleagues do not know what country Australia is about, but at least you live in the big city of Cairns, which is outside the capital cities, and I would have thought you might have had a better empathy with country Australia. (Time expired)