Mr COULTON (Parkes–The Nationals Chief Whip) (16:48): I rise this evening to support the Leader of the Nationals in this matter of public importance: the failure of the budget to provide economic security for regional Australians. If I may, before I address the topic in general I might address some of the comments that have been made by the government benches in this debate.
The minister for regional Australia started off, and his contribution was quite extraordinary. Never before has there been a minister for regional Australia who can put together so many words and say so little. He spoke about the input through Regional Development Australia. It might be quite appropriate that the member for Newcastle followed because she has been a great beneficiary of the regional Australia program with the $7 million she got for the art gallery. It was just a shame that the residents of Newcastle did not want the thing, and spent days chained to the fig trees out the front complaining about the redevelopment. That is as far as the regional development of this government goes.
Regional Development Australia has been a huge disappointment. I spoke to a director in the last week who expressed his frustration at the time that he has allocated to regional Australia for such a poor result. In my part of the world there are some very good people who are involved in those committees, people who have given up a lot of their time. For someone who represents a third of New South Wales, which I would have thought was a regional electorate, to have missed the last two rounds of regional development funding-to my knowledge there was only one allocation made west of the range-this has been a huge disappointment. There have been a lot of meetings and discussions but no real action.
The member for Newcastle also mentioned how much she enjoyed sitting in the BER hall when she was in regional Australia. I suggest she go to Windeyer, in New South Wales, because they have a brand new classroom under the BER. It is lovely; it is just a shame it was opened a month before the school shut down. Perhaps we could go to Louth-they have a new classroom under the BER, which is lovely because they now have a classroom for each child in the school. Never before have we seen such a lost opportunity. The theme of this discussion of a matter of public importance is the economic direction of regional Australia and, to describe the mood at the moment, it is one of frustration and disappointment. The people have seen the large amounts of funding that were allocated, but unfortunately they have seen it go to projects that really have not benefitted the people in the area. While we are on the BER, which was to be a stimulus package to help tradespeople, right across my electorate we have people who are still owed vast amounts of money. Indeed, in this place on Monday there was a builder from the town of Moree who is owed $642,000 through the mismanagement of the BER. He will be lucky if his business survives. This is what is underpinning. You cannot gauge the success of what a government is doing by just measuring things in dollar terms.
Government is about leadership, and what this country is lacking at the moment is government giving the people that it governs the confidence to actually get on and do things. That is what is happening in regional Australia. The people do not have the confidence to expand their business, buy the property next door, buy a new house or whatever. They do not have confidence in the future. As we have heard the members from the other side say that they are the ones who represent regional Australia, I would like them to go to the streets of Dubbo, Mudgee, Moree, Narrabri, Condobolin, Cobar-any of those places-and listen to what the people out there on the streets have to say.
I will say one other thing, and that is this budget-
Mr COULTON: I am glad you prompted me, Member for New England, because you are coming into focus. This budget is underpinned by the carbon tax. It was the elephant in the room when the Treasurer made his speech here on Tuesday night; it hardly got a mention. I was on ABC Radio on Wednesday morning in Tamworth. I followed the member for New England, and I could not believe my ears. He was telling me that the carbon tax is going to be the saviour of the beef industry-that the carbon tax is going to help abattoirs. He has been grumbling away over here about the negativity coming from members about regional Australia. I suggest he goes up to his electorate and listens to the negativity that is going on there.
In an attempt to save his seat, the member for New England has stuck to this government like a limpet-mind you, like a limpet stuck to the side of the Titanic. We are seeing legislation come into this place, supported by the crossbenchers, that is a direct affront to the people of regional Australia. We are talking about the wonderful opportunities for farmers under the carbon tax-the fund that was being set up, which was the great idea of the member for New England, the Carbon Farming Initiative! I had a farmer in the other day who understood that there was money to be made from the Carbon Farming Initiative. But there is a catch: you actually have to sign up to the Carbon Farming Initiative. So farmers out there who have been succeeding, who are at the top of their game, actually have to sign up to the Carbon Farming Initiative and have someone from the government come along and suggest how they run their operations.
So we have Big Brother creeping into everything we do. That is the issue that we have seen in this place for the last five years. Every piece of legislation that has come through, every idea that has come from that side, is about restricting growth, about taking away incentive. Everything is about regulation and greenness. We have a Murray-Darling Basin Plan that has been cast through the eyes of 10 years of drought, and now we are seeing that the people who are going to face the attack are the people who are actually producing something. This budget is a mix of sugar hits and taking money away from people who actually produce things. It provides the lowest amount of spending for roads in at least 10 years.
It is interesting to note that the $8 billion that will be paid in interest by this government in the next 12 months would build two Melbourne to Brisbane rail lines. That is just the interest bill. If there is one great frustration in regional Australia, it is knowing that in five years we have gone from being a country that had money in the bank, that was in charge of its own destiny, to having to increase the debt level of this government to debts of up to $300 billion. For anyone out there to say anything else is not in tune with the people of regional Australia. I have just spent six weeks living in the front of my car, touring my electorate, and people who have voted Labor all their lives have come up to me in absolute despair and disgust, saying, ‘When can we have an election? We have had enough.’ That is what is underpinning this budget. This budget reinforces that mindset in the people of regional Australia.
The member for New England has been going crook about the negativity in this debate. I can tell you that the negativity in regional Australia at the moment is palpable, and that is because of the mismanagement by the members of the government benches. The sooner we can put an end to this, the better.