October 8, 2020

Helen Haines says today’s first Ministerial Statement on Rural and Regional Budget Outcomes by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack delivers more bark than bite.

The Independent Federal Member for Indi said the ‘biggest Budget of a generation’ this week had provided the government with the opportunity to invest in and build regional Australia to its full potential.

“But it was not realised,” she said.

“In today’s statement to Parliament the government tells us the Budget is perfect and the Opposition is telling us it’s a disaster.

“But as an Independent, I can call it how it actually is. And for regional Australia, this Budget is a let-down because it looks backwards, not forwards.

“I know the physical and emotional burn scar from last summer’s bushfires runs large across our communities, especially in the Upper Murray and Alpine areas.

“Its impact on people and business in Towong and Alpine shires and in neighbouring local government areas like Indigo, Wangaratta and Mansfield has been huge.

“The Deputy Prime Minister today told us the government acted swiftly to deliver bushfire recovery from its $2 billion recovery fund.

“But of the biggest single measure in the fund – the $448.5 million Local Economic Recovery Program – just two per cent has been spent.

“The Deputy Prime Minister also said the government had provided funding for the forestry sector through the National Bushfire Recovery Fund. But that’s not quite true.

“Applications for this $41m fund have only just opened to our softwood timber industry and no money will get out the door for weeks.

“That’s a problem because burned logs degrade if it takes too long to get the money to harvest and process them. There’s still timber rotting on the stump and in the mill.

“The bushfire money is taking way too long to get on the ground.”

Dr Haines said positive measures the Deputy Prime Minister celebrated in his statement included JobKeeper, instant asset write-offs, and cashflow initiatives for small business.

“But these are generic policies for the whole country when regional Australia is facing specific challenges. Regional Australia needs a specific leg up,” she said.

“An extra $2 billion for investments in water infrastructure is welcome, but the biggest threat to water security is shrinking rainfall because of a disrupted climate.

“The latest projections from CSIRO show spring rains in our Ovens-Murray catchment in Indi could drop 36 per cent if we don’t have a decisive plan to deal with climate impacts on agriculture and our environment.

“The $5 billion Future Drought Fund is an excellent measure that will put $100 million a year into regional economies.

“It’s a better policy for the amendments Cathy McGowan brought to it when she was Member for Indi. But it’s important to say this Fund was announced years ago. It’s not new money.

“Adding $10 billion to infrastructure spending in rural and regional communities across 10 years is a move for an ordinary year, but we’re in a year when we need to jolt the economy back into life. In Indi we have 47 shovel-ready projects the government could fund today.”

Dr Haines welcomed funding for local roads and community infrastructure across Indi’s nine local government areas and a new round of the Building Better Regions Fund.

“But the $200m BBRF package is spread across five years,” she said.

“This means just $58m of the $553m set aside for regional Australia in this Budget – about 10 per cent – will be spent this year. This won’t create jobs here and now.”

Dr Haines said Mr McCormack also championed in the statement the new $100m Regional Recovery Partnerships program to support regions hit by bushfires, COVID-19 and drought.

“Indi’s had all three, plus three months of highly disruptive border closure, but North East Victoria has been excluded from this new program.

“I took a call from Mr McCormack this morning offering to explain why North East Victoria was excluded. I look forward to that meeting.

“I’ve worked hard since the election last year to ensure the government delivers on its election promises to Indi.

“And I’ll be taking exactly the same approach to its promises in this Budget – to ensure accountability, transparency and delivery.”

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