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Launch of the Rural Information Service, Oatlands, Tasmania, 2 February 1999

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Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald 

Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government

2 February 1999 





Thank you Mr Chairman, Mayor Col, Cr Tony Bisdee, the Chairman of the Tas
manian Local Government Association, Mrs Young, Ruth Patterson, Peter Danes our co-sponsors so to speak, my State colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Can I first of all say just how delighted I am to be here today to perform this function. I am particularly delighted to be here in Oatlands, not in Hobart or Launceston, because I, like many of you am a product of regional Australia. In fact when I get up in the morning to go to work I drive an hour to get to my office in Townsville, I then travel 1800 km by plane to Brisbane, I then have to get another plane to travel another 2000 km to Canberra. It takes me about six hours to get to work if I go to work at Canberra. I empathise with you when say that sometimes people in the Capital Cities don’t quite understand what it’s like to live in rural and regional Australia. So for that reason I am delighted that today’s function is being held in Oatlands.

I would also like to thank Rural Support Tasmania for inviting me here, and also my parliamentary colleague Senator Paul Calvert for arranging for me to be here. Senator Calvert would very much have liked to have been here, but he is a member of the Parliamentary Rural and Regional Committee who are actually in Melbourne today and as always Paul is there pushing the barrow of rural and regional Tasmania. Unfortunately Senator Calvert can’t be at this function today. He does tell me he has an interest in this service and I understand that he launched the first tranche of this facility some time ago.

The website represents the logical extension of a service delivery programme that, from everything I have heard, is extremely well regarded and used by rural people all over Tasmania.

Indeed, I believe Rural Support Tasmania offers a creative lesson for other areas around Australia that are attempting to provide information based services.

This initiative is an innovative example of the Commonwealth’s ‘whole of government’ approach to regional development and the importance the Government places on addressing the issue of services for rural and regional Australia.


Regional Australia Strategy

There is a clear and valuable role for the Commonwealth Government to play in enhancing prosperity in rural and regional Australia. The health of the Australian economy depends significantly on the economic strength of regional Australia.

However, as we all know, the conditions across our vast country, across rural and regional Australia, vary greatly. What works in Far North Queensland, where I come from, may not work in the Spencer Gulf region of South Australia, and it may not work in the central regions of Tasmania.

The Government’s policies and programmes for regional Australia recognise and respond to these differing conditions. To achieve this level of service for rural and regional Australia, a whole of Government approach is being taken.

The objective of the Regional Australia Strategy is to provide the economic, environmental and social infrastructure necessary for Australia’s regions to realise their potential and ensures the full resources of government are focussed on the needs of regional communities. Our strategy includes:

  • $1.25 billion for the Natural Heritage Trust, a principle proportion of which is spent in Rural and Regional Australia.
  • $525 million for the Agriculture Adva ncing Australia package to provide farmers and rural business with the necessary skills, risk management tools and business information to promote a better business and marketing focus.
  • $250 million for the Regional Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund. A fund which, when we sell the next 16% of Telstra, will get an additional sixty odd million dollars added to it.
  • $1 billion for the Federation Fund. Most Tasmanians would be very pleased to hear that $20 million of that fund has gone to the Abt railway pr oject which will provide real jobs and real attraction to Tasmania’s economy.
  • The $15 million extra that the Prime Minister promised for the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation project, which is on top of the annual Commonwealth commitment which, this year, will run at $41.8 million for this scheme. Of course there is also the Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme which this year the Commonwealth will contribute $13.6 million. I am pleased that this was an initiative of our Government, one that the Prime minister himself took a very special interest in.


Since the last election, the crea
tion of the Transport and Regional Services portfolio gives a new opportunity to integrate the development and delivery of services.

The new portfolio draws together Government programmes and policies dealing directly with rural Australia to provide an integrated and targeted approach to help rural communities improve their standard of living and quality of life.


Importance of Services to Rural and Regional Australia

The Government is acutely aware of the decline in service provision throughout rural and regional Australia. We are committed to doing something about it.

To this end, we have announced a number of specific regional services. These include:

  • introduction of universal service obligations for regional customers of Telstra to ensure a "reasonable and equitable access to standard telephone service and payphones" is available.
  • extending the successful Rural Health Centres. I was pleased to see, as I drove into this town, that there is a Rural Health Centre Operating in Oatlands:
  • we are actually providing an additional $41.6 million over 4 years for establishing thirty new Rural Health Centres to ensure the viability of regional health services across Australia and expand the range of health services available; and,
  • an incentive programme worth $13 million over 4 years to increase the number of doctors working in rural Australia.

One of the important things our government is attacking is the lack of financial services in many parts of rural and regional Australia.

I am very pleased to announce that o ur $70 million Rural Transaction Centre will soon be getting underway. The Rural Transaction Centre programme, is an initiative aimed at delivering banking, post, Medicare Easyclaim, phone and fax facilities to rural communities.

The programme will initially focus on small towns with populations between 500 and 3000 where the decline in service provision has been significant. The Government has committed $70 million in seed funding, for capital and operating cost assistance, to establish up to 500 such centres over the next five years.

We will be establishing those centres in conjunction with rural and regional businesses to ensure that those services are available.

Ladies and Gentlemen that leads me on to the Rural Communities Programme, which is another positive example of how this Government is committed to assisting in the development of rural communities.

The Rural Communities Programme encourages rural communities to identify and take ownership of their needs for future economic and social growth.

The range of projects being funded by the Rural Communities Programme aims to assist rural communities to:

  • strengthen community networks;
  • face future challenges in areas such as service needs, service delivery and improved information; and,
  • improve informati on services.

Funding for this Rural Information Service in Oatland is provided under this Commonwealth Government programme.


The Rural Information Service

By providing such a diverse range of information to a broad, Tasmania wide community, Rural Support Tasmania meets all of the criteria of the Rural Communities Programme. I believe the Commonwealth’s contribution of $105,000 over 3 years reflects the quality of the application and the service on offer.

In the case of delivering an Information Service, a need within Tasmania’s rural community was identified and a creative proposal was prepared by Rural Support Tasmania.

The availability of accurate and up to date information is pivotal to farmers’ decision making capability. This is particularly the case for farmers in crisis or who are not skilled in gaining access to information when that information could be critical to their future viability.

It is interesting that before I spoke, Col, with the Tasmanian Tiger website indicated that people his age and even older people such as myself weren’t brought up with computers but even Col and I can get to understand computers and can find what a tremend ously useful tool they are. I hope Col can use his computer to help find the Tasmanian tiger- although perhaps it might be better for tourism if we never do find it but we have to keep looking. There are many ways, Col, that computers and services like this one can help.

Rural Support Tasmania is an excellent organisation and I understand that it also has two financial counsellors, based in Hobart and Launceston, through funding also provided through the Rural Communities Programme.

Those counsellors, I understand have been well received and provide a very very valuable service.

Based on the success of the financial counselling operation I am confident that Rural Support Tasmania will deliver a very effective information service to Tasmanian farmers.

As I understand, a very wide range of information will be available from the Service - everything from suppliers of farming equipment through to information on rural tourism.

I am very pleased to see that the business community is involved in sponsoring the Service and I am sure that other private sector sponsors will also show their support. I congratulate Business Aurora on their involvement on this very important and worthwhile project.

The active involvement of the business community adds a further dimension to the Service, broadening the sense of ownership and relevance within the rural community.



The Government is committed to ensuring that rural and regional Australia receives a similar range and quality of services to those available to our metropolitan cousins.

This includes projects, such as the Rural Information Service, that embrace technology as a delivery mechanism.

By bringing together Commonwealth, State and local governments, the service providers, the private sector and the users, I believe the Rural Information Service is sure to provide a worthwhile service to rural communities in Tasmania.

I commend all of you involved in the establishment of this great project and wish it every success for the future.





jy  1999-07-28  15:04