Nationals Have Stood Behind Country Australia

Opinion Piece


28 May 2014

The Weekly Times

The Coalition Government came to government last September with an unprecedented focus on regional Australia.

Australia faced a $47 billion deficit for the 2013–14 financial year alone and $123 billion of accumulated Labor deficits to 2016-17.

The reality of Labor's legacy is damaging budget deficits as far as the eye can see. Australia is paying $1 billion a month interest on Labor's debt and that number was destined to rise every month.

Even critics of specific Budget measures concede that Labor's deficit track is unsustainable.

Expenditure reductions are not the sole answer. We must invest in things that make our country strong and will drive economic growth. That's where the regions come in.

The Budget confirmed our $314 million investment in local communities through our Community Development Grants Programme, with 300 projects funded across the nation.

In addition, our new $1 billion National Stronger Regions Fund will be up and running next year. It will invest in priority projects across Australia's regions and local communities.

Organisations, including councils and community groups, will be able to apply for grants between $20,000 and $10 million for community infrastructure.

But we are also investing heavily in the essential transport infrastructure needs of regional communities.

Our $50 billion investment in transport infrastructure is the largest by any Australian Government. It provides billions of dollars for regional road projects across the nation, including projects on the Princes and Western Highways.

It includes $2.5 billion for local roads under the Roads to Recovery Programme—including an extra $350 million more to provide double funding in 2015–16.

It includes $565 million for Black Spots—crucial to fixing dangerous and accident-prone sections of local roads and streets, plus $248 million for Heavy Vehicle Safety projects.

It includes $229 million for a new national highway upgrade program.

It includes $300 million for our new Bridges Renewal programme to help repair and replace local bridges.

There is $100 million to fill in black spots in the mobile phone network, a new university scholarship program, green army, an extra $100 million for rural research…all of direct benefit to regional Australia.

The abolition of the carbon tax will save local government many millions of dollars every year.

It is difficult to square these unprecedented investments—which will substantially benefit local communities—with The Weekly Times' claim that The Nationals have ‘gone asleep at the wheel’ in our approach to local needs.

This is a tough Budget. We are not hiding from that. We did not create the economic problems besetting our country, but we were elected to fix them.

Fundamental to that repair job is backing-in Australia's regional businesses and communities for growth.

My own responsibility for regional Australia and local governments has reinforced my high regard for the efforts of Australia's councils. But all Australians must play a part in repairing our nation's financial woes.

I understand that councils do not welcome our decision to freeze annual indexation of Financial Assistance Grants for three years. But this is more than offset by the injection of infrastructure investment for local communities, where local councils will be beneficiaries.

The Nationals hold our commitment to regional Australia at our core.

We have no desire to prolong stringent measures. As soon as we can relax them, we will. But going down Labor's route of unsustainable spending is a recipe for much greater and permanent costs to local governments and their communities.

No responsible government can abide that.

Warren Truss is Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development.