PMB: National Stronger Regions Fund

28 November 2016

I rise to speak on the motion by the member for Wide Bay on the National Stronger Regions Fund. The member says the fund is having a significant and positive impact on rural, remote and disadvantaged regions of Australia. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially in my electorate. While the Turnbull government were handing out funding under the National Stronger Regions Program, at the same time they were starving local councils of funding through the financial assistance grants indexation freeze. Government MPs have supported the decision of their ministers and their government to reduce funding to local government by close to $1 billion since 2014-15.

A government member interjecting

Ms SWANSON: It's the truth. This is cost shifting at its most appalling, and it hits hard in the regions. The regions need infrastructure and they need jobs. In my region, the unemployment rate continues to grow. Compare these figures from my electorate to the national average of 5.6 per cent: in June this year the unemployment rate in Kurri Kurri and Abermain was 10.8 per cent, in Maitland it was 9.9 per cent and in Raymond Terrace it was 11.5 per cent, almost double the national average—a disgrace! How can this government boast about stronger regions when so many are out of work?

There is one project on the table that would boost many regions along the east coast of Australia, and that is the high-speed rail. A 21st century fast train from Melbourne to Brisbane, via Sydney and Canberra, was introduced to this place by the shadow minister for infrastructure and championed by the Leader of the Opposition. High-speed rail would not only revolutionise interstate travel in this country but also be an enormous boost to the regions, especially to regions like mine, the electorate of Paterson, which straddles the productive lower Hunter Valley and beautiful Port Stephens and is just a stone's throw from the major regional city of Newcastle. With a high-speed rail station in Newcastle, everything in our region would be a great deal closer to everyone along the eastern seaboard. The government should support Labor's call for a high-speed rail authority to get on with planning this incredible and important piece of infrastructure.

Back to the National Stronger Regions Fund: the member for Wide Bay says the fund 'is delivering infrastructure projects to create jobs in regional areas, improve community facilities and support stronger and more sustainable communities'. Maybe in his electorate of Wide Bay and maybe in the leafy city seats of Warringah and Kooyong, but certainly not in Paterson.

My electorate of Paterson missed out on funding under the last round of the National Stronger Regions Fund and that is a great shame. It is more than a shame: it is actually a disgrace, because the project that missed out on federal funding was Maitland City Council's Mount Vincent waste transfer and recycling facility.

The council applied in March for $5.2 million of the $17 million cost of the project under the National Stronger Regions Fund, but found out just in November that it had missed out. The fact that this project missed out leaves a $5 million black hole in a $17 million project. Who will pay for that?

The tip at Mount Vincent Waste Management Centre is near capacity, so this project simply has to go ahead. We have five people moving to the Maitland area every day. It is one of the fastest-growing areas in the state. Who will fund the shortfall? The ratepayers of Maitland? If the National Stronger Regions Fund were really as significant and positive as the member for Wide Bay would have us believe it would have granted the sought-after contribution to Maitland City Council's Mount Vincent Waste Management Centre, but it did not. It is hardly a success story.