Charter of Budget Honesty (Rural and Regional Australia Statements) Bill 2021

It is a pleasure to introduce this bill to the House ahead of the federal Budget in the next sitting.

Just like last year, I’ll be reviewing those Budget papers carefully to assess exactly what this government has committed for my electorate and regional Australians at large.

Contrary to what the government might think, regional Australians aren’t won over by glossy Budget papers and keynote speeches with lots of hot air and no substance.

Regional Australians want true investment in their potential.

They’re looking for governments with long-term plans backed by evidence of community need, not just announcements where nothing materialises.

They want to know that those of us who are fortunate enough to represent them in this place care about their region’s future, not their own political future at the next election.

This bill does two things:

First, it requires the Treasurer to publicly release and table a Rural and Regional Australia Statement alongside every federal Budget and mid-year economic fiscal outlook report.

That statement must demonstrate that the government of the day is serious about supporting regional Australia – clearly setting out how government initiatives will directly benefit local economies, build the right infrastructure, and boost social cohesion in the regions.

This bill is not about motherhood statements; it’s about robust and reliable data that shows real community need and real impact.

That’s why I’ve made sure this bill would require the government to prove the benefits its initiatives are bringing to the regions with robust and reliable data.

Data that shows individual programs are securing a return on investment, and that regional Australia is improving against objective economic and social indicators over time:

  • How government initiatives are influencing mortality and morbidity rates.
  • If the government is really meeting its vision of an agricultural sector which exceeds $100 billion farm gate output by 2030 and if it’s truly value for money.
  • Data from the National Skills Commissioner on educational attainment and skills gaps.

There is no one place for us to see and track progress and return on investment in regional Australia at large, and compare our progress year by year.

That begs the question: how will we ever get there if we don’t know where we are and we don’t know where we’re going?

The second thing this bill does is require the government to develop and release a national white paper for rural and regional Australia within 24 months.

That white paper must be aspirational, bipartisan, deeply consultative, and long-term.

It’s easy for this and any government to simply say it’s getting behind regional Australia. Well, any politician can say that.

It’s another thing altogether to put pen to paper and set out a vision for regional Australia, and a timeline to get us there.

  • Regions with fast, reliable, and affordable NBN free from mobile phone blackspots.
  • I’m talking about world-class public transport to metro areas and educational facilities that keep kids in the regions and not off to the cities after high school.
  • Regions with quality health care and mental health services, affordable and abundant housing, and thriving economies that draw in city folk.

That’s the kind of vision regional Australians want from this government. And they want the clear roadmap to get there.

Recommendation 13 of the Regions at the Ready report published (June 2018) by the Regional Australia Committee in the last Parliament called on the government to initiate a White Paper process for regional Australia as a matter of urgency.

The government has sat on that report for over two years now and has refused to do anything about that recommendation.

I waited so long for action on that report that I had to work with Senate crossbench colleagues to pry the government’s response to the report out of its hands through an order of the production of documents.

And even then, we’ve heard crickets from the government.

All those public hearings, all those submissions, for what?

Regional Australians don’t want another committee report recommending another go on the consultation and inquiry merry-go-round. They want action, and they want it now.

Mr Speaker, this bill gives voice to regional Australians.

A government that supports this bill is one than embraces transparency and accountability.

A government that supports this bill is one that is truly committed to unleashing the potential pent up in our regions.

I’ll be watching the government’s budget announcements for regional Australia and my electorate in May as I always do.

I’ll also be watching how the government responds to this bill which would usher in greater transparency, data-driven decision making, and a real long-term vision for regional Australia – not only quick wins in budget line items.

I commend the bill to the House and I cede the rest of my time for my Member for Mayo.

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