This morning I rise to speak about an issue of grave concern to the people of regional Australia, in particular the people of my electorate-that is, the scandal that has been the Gillard government’s approach to funding regional Australia. Mr Deputy Speaker, you might remember just over 12 months ago, during the period of negotiation that formed the Gillard government, there was much expectation, and much hype from by the government and the Independent members, that there was going to be an increased flow of funding to regional Australia. Indeed, there was a great deal of excitement across my electorate at the thought that funds would be flowing to regional Australia.
This has proved to be a farce. Of the $199 million allocated so far to the Regional Development Australia Fund, $135 million has been allocated to Labor and Independent electorates, making a mockery of Minister Crean’s vow to stamp out pork barrelling. Such regional projects as the Newcastle Art Gallery have been funded, while projects in my electorate have missed out. Indeed, my electorate, which covers a third of the land mass of New South Wales, did not receive one cent from Regional Development Australia.
Aside from the disappointment of this round, I think the real issue is the underlying sense of disenchantment from the people of regional Australia. There was great expectation. A lot of work was going into these projects under the assumption that funds were available. There was community work. For instance in Coonamble, there was an engagement with the engineering department of a university in Sydney to design a covered arena for the Coonamble rodeo ground to give Coonamble a facility that would attract year-round equestrian events. A lot of work and time went into that and they were completely ignored. The Lightning Ridge Opal and Fossil Centre, which would have been not only a magnificent centre for Lightning Ridge, New South Wales and Australia but also the premier opal centre in the world, a place where opals could be purchased and a wonderful tourist attraction, was completely ignored.
The people of my electorate, the mayors and the members of the RDA board gathered in Dubbo some months ago to hear Minister Crean open the office of the RDA and, despite 20 minutes of speaking obscurely about joining the dots and patchwork economy and having no idea what he was speaking about, he moved on and left nothing but a trail of unhappy people. A lot of effort has gone into this on a voluntary basis to try to do the best for regional Australia but they are terribly disappointed that they have been treated so poorly by this government.