Mr COULTON (Parkes—Opposition Whip) (19:50): I would like to speak tonight about the attack by the Albanese-Marles Labor government on regional Australia. With the changes to the distribution priority area for health, we are already seeing doctors from more remote and regional areas flocking into more highly populated areas. That is because of changes to a program that was designed to give an advantage to regional towns and to allow those regional towns to draw from a broader pool. Now we’re going to see those doctors sucked into peri-urban, larger regional areas and probably end up working in larger ‘churn through’ medical centres.
Of greater concern is the attack on the Building Better Regions Fund. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that grants from a regional program go to regional electorates. How strange would it be otherwise. I would have thought that that was a bit of a ludicrous thing to say until we saw what happened with the distribution priority area. Maybe we are going to see regional programs go into capital cities. This extraordinary attack on the Building Better Regions Fund and the government’s response to the Audit Office report clearly indicate that the government thinks the public servants should make all the decisions about where funding goes.
The role of a member of parliament, regardless of which one of the 151 seats you represent, is to represent that seat, and you’ve got to know the area. There could be two identical projects in different towns, and you know that one organisation has the ability to actually carry it off and one doesn’t. That’s what a local member knows. Someone in an office in Canberra doesn’t understand that nuance and that difference. So, if we left these decisions up to the public servants, we would end up giving the money to the places that don’t need it, because, in order to tick the boxes to get it, you would have to prove that you didn’t really need it.
So I’m wondering what sorts of programs the Albanese-Marles government would fund. Would they not want to fund the Tottenham pool or the multipurpose centre or the Moree Aged and Disability Services centre? There is the Trangie respite facility, so that people in a small country town have got respite—not only for that town but for the broader agricultural region that they service. There is the Baradine Golf Club. It’s a very small club with a handful of members. Their clubhouse was decrepit; they couldn’t use it. The $140,000, together with their volunteer labour, got them a new clubhouse. So the town of Baradine now has a clubhouse and a golf club. It’s something that the bigger centres with large memberships and corporate sponsors can do. Baradine has about 500 or 600 people, and, when we are trying to encourage people to come and work in Baradine, being able to play golf is one of the things they tick. There is the YMCA in Broken Hill. Would the government help to contribute to that new centre so that the people of Broken Hill and visitors and other people looking to move there have got a health and physical fitness centre that is worthwhile? There is $9½ million for an opal centre at Lightning Ridge and $10 million to help the Bourke shire set up a small-animal abattoir that’s going to employ 130 local people, mainly Indigenous. Those are real programs that actually make a difference to a community—they let people out of disadvantage by giving them a job. They’re the sorts of programs that are funded under BBRF. I could go through this in my electorate—I’ve got two or three pages of them. Some of them are quite small—some of them are $30,000, like the Warren museum, with $3 million to upgrade a heritage centre for Warren, a small country town.
This is a very concerning trend. First of all, the attack on medicine and now on regional programs. This is going to be an issue for the bush. (Time expired)