Having been in the Federal Parliament for over twenty years, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve seen the Coalition ignore regional Australia and take it for granted.
After Mr Abbott’s address to the National Press Club we can now add another snub to the tally. Mr Abbott once again showed a complete disregard for regional and rural Australia.
Regional Australia did not rate a single mention in his speech.
It was only when prompted by a journalist from this very organisation that Mr Abbott mentioned rural Australia at all and claimed that any government he led would have rural Australia at its heart.
The fact of the matter is that regional and rural Australia are not in Mr Abbott’s heart, his head or his policies.
Not only is this deeply insulting to regional communities, Mr Abbott’s failure to mention regional Australia is further proof that the Liberal Party is taking the National Party for granted and that the National Party has no influence.
This is the contempt with which Mr Abbott treats the Coalition partner. How can the Coalition claim they will govern in the interests of regional Australia when the very party they say will represent the regions is under the Liberal’s thumb?
It’s not just the missing content of his speech that illustrates the gaps, Mr Abbott’s record on regional Australia speaks for itself. In his ‘Real Solutions’ document, Mr Abbott failed to include Regional Australia in his top 10 priorities, and out of 21 chapters and 51 pages only managed to dedicate less than a half a page to regional Australia.
It’s hardly a surprise. This from the Coalition that was responsible for Regional Partnerships, a funding fiasco better known as Regional Rorts, where in the lead up to an election money was routinely given to projects without an application and where worthy projects were simply not considered.
Barnaby Joyce is on the record saying a Coalition Government will return to pork-barrelling and Regional Rorts. In contrast, the Gillard Government’s Regional Development Australia Fund is policy in action providing a competitive and independent grants process – one that is driving growth and development in Australia’s regions.
The first two Regional Development Australia Fund rounds invested $350 million in 81 projects with a leveraged value of $1.2 billion with three more rounds to be announced. Through RDAF we are continuing to drive cultural change in regional funding by focusing on priorities of persistence and projects that stack-up, partnership and leverage, and regional reach.
We’re also supporting our farmers and agriculture industry through the Carbon Farming Initiative. Under Labor, carbon farming increase the productivity of the land and generates an economic benefit through carbon credits that are sold under the carbon price. This is a win-win situation for our farmers. Mr Abbott believes farmers should do it for nothing.
Mr Abbott's grab bag of wacky ideas about plans to create a new economic zone in northern Australia and to move thousands of public sector jobs to north of the Tropic of Capricorn proves the Coalition hasn't even considered the comprehensive work already happening across northern Australia.
At the 2010 election, Labor committed to establishing the Northern Australia Ministerial Forum (NAMF), which brings together regional development ministers from the Commonwealth, Queensland, Northern Territory and West Australian governments.
NAMF has met five times since the election and a list of achievements is attached. NAMF has bipartisan support, yet instead of talking to his state colleagues about its success, Mr Abbott will scrap it and return to ground zero.
Mr Abbott's only real solution for northern Australia is to divide the nation. His only known strategy is to forcibly move western Sydney workers and their families north.
This policy has Gina Rinehart's fingerprints all over it. Mr Abbott won't need to worry about new tax zones if workers are only paid $2 a day—because there'll be no tax to pay.
The solution for northern Australia is the comprehensive strategy we've developed, not dividing Australia. Our plans don't force families from the western suburbs of Sydney to move north so mum and dad keep their jobs.
Now is the time for the Coalition to come clean on their plans for regional Australia. Do they have a policy and don’t want to release it? Or is Mr Abbott’s speech proof that there is no policy and once again regional Australia will be left to wither at the hands of a Coalition Government?
The Coalition’s record is clear. Each time they win office they take the regions for granted and tear away at regional development programs and structures – and each time Labor wins office we build them up again.
The Labor Party is the only party with a vision to drive growth, development and productivity in regional Australia.