Read excerpts from Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s speech to the Parliament on the Federal Budget:
Our Government has stood with regional Australia through its most difficult times. We will stand with them as we face the COVID recession. Australia’s regions have always supported the growth of our nation.
A thriving regional Australia is at the heart of the strong economy we are building.
We are optimistic about Regional Australia. We have every reason to be. Our regions are resilient. Country people are strong. The regions have a great future.
A plan for the regions
These are plans which will create jobs, generate exports and ensure regional Australia continues to be the best place in which to live, work and raise a family – where people continue to experience what it means to be part of a connected and caring community.
These are plans which invest in infrastructure, water and services – ensuring regional Australians have as much opportunity as other Australians.
The Government’s plans will help make our regions stronger. I am very proud of our regions – and what they contribute to our country.
Minerals exports are holding firm in the face of COVID’s impact on economies world-wide. Likewise our farm industries are underpinning Australia’s economy and will continue to do so.
It’s not just economic strength – more Australians are seeing regional Australia with new eyes, with tree-changers and sea changers looking afresh at our regions.
The growing attraction of people seeing a quality of life second to none – a life with less traffic, a home with big backyards, with reliable, well paying jobs and affordable living.
This is Regional Australia. It’s why my colleagues and I are so passionate about the towns and regions from which we come. And it’s what we seek to build and protect.
Sustainable recovery from COVID
Mr Speaker, this Budget recognises a sustainable recovery depends on regional Australia, already home to one in three Australians.
From minerals exports to regional manufacturing to highly-sought clean, green Aussie farm produce – we have industries in demand and industries that can and will grow.
Through previous years, our focus has been on responding to a severe and prolonged drought.
Our response to drought has been comprehensive, committing to initiatives worth more than $10 billion since 2018-19.
Just as we are doing with the pandemic, we have invested in practical actions helping farmers, regional businesses and communities through drought now and building resilience for the future. And some aren’t on the other side yet, which is why the Government extended the Farm Household Allowance in June, making it simpler and easier to access and support some 12,000 farm families.
Our $5 billion Future Drought Fund is about preparing for the future. The first suite of programs under this Fund have already been announced.
Hard on the heels of extreme drought conditions, we responded swiftly to the Black Summer of bushfires – including by establishing the National Bushfire Recovery Agency which is delivering $2 billion worth of support measures for primary producers, small businesses and communities.
Money in the pocket to ensure food on the table.
This is making a real difference where it counts – on the ground.
Drought and fires may have subsided but we now face the challenges of COVID-19. Our response has been about saving lives and livelihoods. Healthcare is a major concern for regional Australians. We have allocated more funding to the states and territories to ensure the availability of services in small rural and regional hospitals.
We have established 82 General Practitioner-led Respiratory Clinics in rural and remote areas to provide testing and assessments. The swift expansion of Telehealth is providing new options for regional patients with more than eight million services provided, and we’ve boosted testing in rural and remote Indigenous communities.
The Budget invests a further $50.3 million through the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training program for infrastructure to deliver new training across health disciplines from nursing to allied health, underpinning services to aged care, disability, rehabilitation, childcare and Indigenous health.
This will guarantee rural and regional communities will continue to benefit from a skilled health workforce and have improved access to health services and facilities, including essential mental health and suicide prevention measures, long after the pandemic has passed.
Economic response to the pandemic
Walk any street in any town in our country and people will tell you how vital JobKeeper has been and the jobs it has saved. They are certainly telling me.
JobKeeper is a $101 billion lifeline supporting around 3.5 million workers in more than 900,000 businesses – right across Australia. And we’ve backed small businesses with $32 billion in cashflow boosts to around 800,000 businesses.
Many of these businesses faced and beat drought – and (we) are determined they overcome the challenges of COVID. The actions of the 2020-21 Budget build on this support with targeted assistance for where the regions need it the most.
From the outset of the COVID-19 crisis and as a result of the restrictions we had to put in place to protect our population, we saw the immediate need for targeted assistance for our regions.
This is why we quickly established the $1 billion COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund to provide timely support when and where it was most critically needed.
Through this fund, we have provided significant assistance to a wide range of industries.
“Just add water”
We are grateful for recent rains, but ensuring the security, supply and quality of our water and quality of our soils are absolutely central to the future of regional Australia and central to new economic growth for all Australians.
To build on regional Australia’s potential – I say: just add water!
The Australian Government has broken new ground in establishing the National Water Grid Authority. Now we’re more than doubling the investment.
A further $2 billion now takes the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund to a total of $3.5 billion. The Fund will become a 10-year rolling program of priority water infrastructure investments.
We’ve announced a doubling of our capital commitment to Wyangala and Dungowan dams in New South Wales – taking the Commonwealth’s investment in those dams to $567 million and matched by the State Government.
Adding capacity to these dams will deliver more than 650 gigalitres of water – or 1.2 Sydney Harbours’ worth.
Increasing storage means big things for communities – for the Dungowan Dam, it means a reliable supply of water for beef, sheep, grain, lucerne and poultry producers. It means flood mitigation. It means long-term water security for the people of Tamworth.
The Australian Government will continue to work, as we must, with the States to deliver Australia’s water infrastructure of the 21st Century.
The key to the future
Mr Speaker, the key to vibrant communities, reducing the costs of getting produce to markets, and creating stronger job-creating industries in our regions is infrastructure.
The Government is further accelerating its already record-setting work to deliver the right infrastructure in the right places, right now.
A record $100 billion 10-year plan now becomes $110 billion from this Budget, delivering a vast range of new projects. Of this, around $36 billion directly builds regional infrastructure.
Australian Government-funded projects under construction are expected to support more than 100,000 direct and indirect jobs across Australia over the life of the projects.
This is a jobs and infrastructure and regional budget.
The 2020-21 Budget has commitments for numerous land transport and road initiatives to make a difference to regional communities all over Australia.
We’ve also announced an additional $1 billion to our Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program, taking the total commitment to $1.5 billion going directly to local councils – this will stimulate regional economies and support community infrastructure projects.
Of course, one of our biggest infrastructure projects is Inland Rail, which is delivering jobs and investment in regional Australia when we need it most.
This 1700 kilometre corridor of commerce – using Australian steel – will become the new artery for trade, trade and commerce along our Eastern Seaboard.
Building better regions
Mr Speaker, I was pleased to announce as part of this Budget a commitment of $200 million to Round Five of our Building Better Regions Fund.
BBRF delivers regional development.
This is not a one-size-fits all approach. It’s everything from water recycling facilities to refreshed streetscapes. These projects make a huge difference for the regions and there’s so much more opportunity directly ahead.
This Round will complement other actions the Government has taken to support regional tourism through the Relief and Recovery Fund as well as the $50 million Regional Tourism Recovery initiative.
This summer Australians will use their holidays to see their own country – it’s better than anywhere else in the world.
We are investing in significant upgrades and improvements to communications with a new $37.1 million package for Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disasters and an additional $30.3 million for the Regional Connectivity Program.
We’re fixing mobile phone black spots with more than 850 base stations already activated, and we’re investing $4.5 billion in new upgrades to the National Broadband Network.
Get out of the city
We know increasing numbers of Australians are choosing to decentralise, to regionalise.
We want more businesses and public service agencies to take full advantage of the opportunities we now have by encouraging their employees to work from a regional or remote area.
I invite arms of industry to actively consider moving their entire operations out of the city. You will not regret it!
This has long been the thinking behind our Decentralisation Agenda, which can also be considered a regionalisation agenda.
New Research and Development Program initiatives aim to encourage private sector investment in regional Australia.
The Budget provides $100 million to Regional Recovery Partnerships.
We’re backing in existing regional plans and we’re developing a package of targeted initiatives to deliver jobs, economic recovery and economic diversification.
Mr Speaker, our primary industries, including agriculture, have been hit hard in recent years by the impacts of floods, drought, bushfires and now COVID-19 restrictions.
Feeding Australia and beyond
The Government is committed to supporting our primary industries.
Agriculture is capable of great adaptation and innovation – which is why we are working to support the farm sector’s goal to become a $100 billion industry by 2030.
We grow food enough to feed 75 million people – three times our nation’s population.
We export 70 per cent of what we raise and grow in Australia. This is why the Government continues to focus on establishing export agreements with trading partners.
In 2013, trade agreements and preferential access accounted for 26 per cent of what we export. Today this figure is 70 per cent – and still growing.
It’s ground-breaking news for producers, for exporters and for our regions. We are permanently lifting the contribution by our regions to the national economic recovery.
Trade equals jobs and more trade, equals more jobs.
Proud of our regions
Mr Speaker, I’m a proud barracker for the bush.
I’ve lived my life in the regions. Worked in and raised a family in the Riverina.
First and last, our regions are about people.
People want to be connected – through safe, accessible transport options, and broadband and mobile technology.
People want their industries and businesses to be valued, viable, and supported.
People want their regions to be friendly, liveable and welcoming places for hard working people of any background.
People want opportunities for training, education, and employment – for themselves, for their employees, and their children.
Whether you are a veteran or serving member of our defence forces, a police officer, a nurse, a manufacturer, a tradesperson or whichever vocation you choose – regional Australia has something to offer.
Our people want sustainable natural resources to support economic development and jobs.
I say of our regions and towns – they are big enough for a great cup of coffee, small enough to care.
Our Budget announcements – across infrastructure and transport, digital connectivity, water security, regional partnerships with states, and supporting local jobs and local leaders – are designed to make every part of our country better.
Regional Australia must have – Regional Australia will have – the support it needs to recover and grow from this pandemic.
Our regions have the drive, let’s make them thrive.
That’s our message today.