Speech - Regional and Rural Budget 2021 Address

The Budget places Regional Australians at the heart of our national recovery, post-COVID-19.

A strong and thriving regional Australia is good news for all Australians.

This Budget delivers for Regional Australians … in spades …

… Certainly with shovels in the ground!

Last year’s Budget was the best Budget Regional Australia has ever seen.

This year’s Budget builds on the record.

Through this Budget, our Government is continuing to provide support as regional communities recover from a tumultuous period.

This support is not just about immediate recovery; we are also working to help our regions prosper long into the future.

Regional areas have been through it all in the past year-and-a-half … drought, fires, floods and the health and economic impacts of a global pandemic.

These events have challenged regional people, disrupted key regional industries and heaped great pressure on regional communities.

Our people and industries have persevered, against great adversity.

As the Prime Minister said at Beef Week in Rockhampton:

“During the course of COVID, it has been our agriculture sectors, our resource sectors, our primary industries in this country that have done so much of the heavy lifting economically for our country, and they've been going through hard times as well before the pandemic.”

Whether it’s the farmers in our agriculture industry who drove the value of agriculture in this country from $60 billion to $66 billion in the past year … or the tens of thousands of workers in the resources sector … or indeed our small businesses … it is the regions leading our recovery.

This is the spirit of Regional Australia, the spirit this Government celebrates.

Today I deliver my annual Regional Ministerial Statement to Parliament on Rural and Regional Budget Outcomes. 

Last October when I gave the first of these statements, I announced significant investment in our regions.

This was a ground-breaking commitment to regional development, particularly providing much-needed support in the face of hardships and disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today I update the House on the progress of these vital and timely efforts.

I will also detail major new packages and individual measures we are delivering to support regional communities and industries in their recovery.

Today I reaffirm the Government’s plan for strengthening our regions long into the future.

This plan sees Regional Australia as the ideal place to build a career, raise a family, launch a business … the place to lead a fulfilled life.

The Government’s plan will help sustain strong regional communities, create jobs and grow key regional industries.

Last year’s Budget was about delivering support for regional Australians when they needed it most and about realising their economic growth potential.

Now, look at the statistics:  In 2020, 43,000 more Australians moved from the city to the regions than the other way around.

It’s helping address the sharply rising demand for jobs in the regions – on latest count, more than 66,000 vacancies.

COVID-19 has posed significant threats, but the silver lining has been to show how the infrastructure and communications improvements of this era are delivering a new regional quality of life.

Our regions are the place to be.

The “Move to More” campaign from the Regional Australia Institute, proudly supported by the Morrison-McCormack Government, is bearing fruit.

In last year’s Budget we committed $4.6 million towards this campaign, because we believe our regions remain some of the most vibrant, liveable and community-oriented places in Australia, if not the world.

…. As I say again, big enough in which to find a great cup of coffee, small enough to still care.

In March 2020, responding quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government established the $1 billion COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund.

From regional tourism to regional airlines, from small business counselling to export marketing: This Fund provides vital and targeted support to industries hardest hit by the pandemic, many of which are vital to regional communities.

Water is the lifeblood of our regional communities and industries.

The 2021-22 Budget has committed up to a further $258 million from the $3.5 billion National Water Grid Fund.

As part of the $258 million, a new funding pathway within the Fund, called the National Water Grid Connections pathway, will provide up to $160 million nationally over the next two years to drive the construction of smaller-scale projects.

Up to $20 million is available for each state and territory to deliver projects with an Australian Government contribution of up to $5 million per project.

An additional four new construction projects are being delivered to boost water security, build resilience in our regions, deliver jobs and grow our critical agricultural sector.

We are committing $75.7 million to construction of new and augmented infrastructure projects.

This includes an additional $7.5 million in funding for Rookwood Weir to deliver water security in north Queensland, bringing the total Australian Government investment in the Rookwood project to $183.6 million.

It was inspiring recently to look out over the site.

The excavators, 50 of them, were busy putting the footings down which will ultimately result in a weir 202 metres wide with a spillway five storeys high.

The site has a huge camp which will house up to 250 project staff working 10 days on, four days off.

Rookwood Weir will mean a new era for agriculture, for manufacturing, resources and communities with 86,000 megalitres of storage.

It will support jobs … more than 2,000 jobs for Central Queensland. How good is that?

We’re building the new Regional Australia.

The Government’s commitment to ongoing investment in water infrastructure builds on the eight construction projects already completed since our establishment of the National Water Grid Authority in late 2019, bringing the total number of construction projects in this investment pipeline to more than 30. 

Delivery of water infrastructure is happening.

  • Scottsdale Irrigation Scheme in Tasmania, operational late last year, started in October 2018 and delivering 8,600 megalitres for 17,000 hectares of irrigable land, supporting 45 jobs;
  • South West Loddon Rural Supply project in Victoria, completed May 2020 and connecting an area of 120,000 hectares to the pipeline;
  • McLaren Vale Treated Water Storage in South Australia, finished this time last year, has boosted water security to farms right across the region; and
  • The Warwick Recycled Water for Agriculture project in Queensland is now operational, providing 73 megalitres a year of Class A water to boost employment in the Warwick Industrial Estate.

… just some of the projects already completed.

But there’s so much more to be done and done it will be.

We have committed a further $22.3 million towards the development of eight business cases, informing future investment decisions and the ongoing development of the National Water Grid.

Each National Water Grid project means our regional areas are better serviced, more liveable and economically stronger.

This Budget further aids the COVID-19 regional recovery.

We are providing more than $5.7 million in grant funding to the new Rebuilding Regional Communities Program, in partnership with the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal.

We have announced an additional $1 billion for the highly successful, highly effective Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program, delivering jobs and growth through regional council projects.

The Government continues to deliver pro-active support for regional communities – from investing in the volunteer organisations to the big infrastructure projects.

Duplication of the Pacific Highway, the $10.4 billion Bruce Highway upgrade and essential works on the Princes Highway are helping bring us into a new era of road safety and efficiency.

Road safety is a paramount objective.

I’ve made this clear when I committed $2 billion over 18 months.

Half this money was for projects which are to be completed by the end of next month …

… around 700 projects approved, the majority in the regions.

This Budget delivers an extra $1 billion for what becomes the $3 billion Road Safety Program and that will save lives.

This in turn creates a jobs benefit with the new funding to support 4,500 jobs … taking total jobs around Australia supported by the Road Safety Program to 13,500.

We have committed $100 million over two years for Regional Recovery Partnerships.

These Partnerships are co-ordinating investments with all levels of government to support recovery and growth in 10 regions across the nation, delivering jobs and economic diversification.

Already we’ve had some fantastic regional projects announced through these partnerships.

In Gippsland, a number of projects will boost the region’s tourist economy, including the East Gippsland Rail Trail … an investment in the future, as the good Local Member and Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Darren Chester, will attest.

Last week I was in Gladstone where two projects are being funded totalling $10 million.

The first project will create a more accessible and attractive waterfront and upgrade Auckland Hill lookout near Gladstone port for locals and tourists.

The second project will help develop a hub of expertise in renewable hydrogen, exploring both domestic and export opportunities.

The opportunity for innovation embedded in our regions will help secure our long-term economic and social future.

Aviation was hit first and hit hardest when COVID-19 came to our shores.

The Government stepped up to the challenge with targeted, sector-wide support to sustain the industry.

In March this year, we announced a further $1.2 billion package of support for the tourism and aviation sectors.

This means industry-wide assistance from this Government for aviation is more than $4.5 billion.

It’s a vital action for Regional Australia to stay connected to critical services and networks in the face of COVID-19 challenges. 

Regional Airlines Network Support or RANS has meant regional and most importantly remote communities have had face masks, respiratory equipment and in particular frontline health workers, being able to come into their communities.

Without RANS, regional communities faced being denied this vital support.

The latest aviation and tourism package includes 800,000 half-price airfares to regions significantly impacted by the pandemic … with more than 663,000 already sold, encouraging a record number of Australians to enjoy a holiday at home this year.

Just this month, with Assistant Minister Kevin Hogan I was pleased to unveil 46 more Remote Airstrip Upgrades across far-flung areas of Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia.

Throughout the pandemic, this Government stepped in when it mattered and provided the right kind of support where and when it was needed most.

As Regional Health Minister Mark Coulton shows, this Government has delivered fair access to COVID vaccines, equipment and medical personnel to all Australians including our vulnerable remote communities.

The Government recognises our regions need and deserve high quality health care.

In this Budget we have invested across services in primary health, hospitals, aged care, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health and mental health.

We’re investing more than $65 million from 1 January 2022 to boost bulk billing rebates and provide more affordable healthcare for patients in regional, rural and remote areas.

More doctors in the regions is our goal.

We’re looking to the future and showcasing regional talent.

Our communities shine at their annual shows and we all know that.

The $39 million Supporting Agricultural Shows and Field Days Package is supporting these important industry and community events so they can not only survive but indeed, they can thrive into the future.

After the challenges of flood and COVID-19 disrupted their 2020 Show, the Stroud Show north of

Newcastle benefited from a grant which was described by the Show President as a game-changer.

A month before I visited in April, the showground was underwater. But this could not stop a determined Show committee, so typical of the strength and resilience and dogged determination of Regional Australia.

The Federal Government’s continued investment in regional infrastructure creates jobs and fosters economic growth.

Our enduring investment in transport infrastructure buoys our commitment to a record $110 billion over a rolling decade-long program.

Inland Rail will inject more than $18 billion into Australia’s GDP during construction and the first 50 years of operation.

Many supplies for construction are sourced from Australian and specifically regional suppliers including ballast and capping from Parkes, culverts from Tamworth, steel from Whyalla and concrete sleepers from Mittagong and Wagga Wagga.

Inland Rail is already helping to revitalise regional economies and attract new and expanded investment.

The Building Better Regions Fund, the “BBRF”, is a monumental funding commitment to the regions.

It backs community-driven projects poised to deliver direct local benefit. It creates jobs. It drives economic growth.

As one example, Summerland House Farm in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales received $4.5 million to expand its macadamia processing and packaging facilities.

This is supporting 200 local farms as well as employment opportunities for local people with disabilities.

Kingborough Council in Tasmania and Barkly Regional Council in the Northern Territory each have funding to build and to refurbish community facilities.

BBRF funds projects enhance community capacity and make regional Australia the best place in the world to live.

In the 2021-22 Budget, this Government commits a further $250 million – a quarter of a billion dollars – towards a sixth round of the BBRF.

This brings the total commitment for the program to more than $1.2 billion over the seven years to 2024-2025.

As the world changes, as digital connectivity becomes increasingly central to economic and social life, we are supporting communities in regional Australia to keep pace with these changes.

This Budget gives a $153.2 million injection to improve connectivity in regional, rural and remote communities, further driving Australia’s regional-led recovery.

The Government will build on the success of the Regional Connectivity Program by committing a further $84.8 million to the program.

This includes up to $24.6 million in extra funding for meritorious Round One proposals which were unable to be supported from within the initial funding envelope.

The remaining funding will be available through a new competitive grants process.

This will support new projects additional to the 81 successful projects I announced last month with colleagues Ministers Paul Fletcher and Coulton.

The Government is also providing $68.5 million in dedicated funding to improve telecommunications infrastructure across Northern Australia through the Regional Connectivity Program and the Mobile Black Spot Program.

Over the past 18 months, many regions have faced droughts, fires and floods.

A new National Resilience and Recovery Agency will continue to provide ongoing recovery support for individuals and communities.

The new Agency consolidates and builds on the success of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency, rural financial counselling programs from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and the disaster risk reduction and recovery functions of the Department of Home Affairs.

It will use a network of on-the-ground advisors and co-ordinators who will work with partners and communicate with decision-makers.

Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud is delivering much-needed drought support programs for regional areas.

In 2020-21 we began the rollout of the $5 billion Future Drought Fund, a continuous funding source for drought resilience initiatives.

The next phase, from 1 July 2021, includes $36.5 million towards harnessing innovation, $91 million for better risk management to help farmers plan ahead and $12 million for better and more accessible climate information.

The Government has extended the Drought Community Support Initiative and will provide assistance to farming households in financial stress in 117 local government areas, until funding is exhausted.

From 1 May 2021 this includes all Local Government Areas announced as eligible for the Drought Communities Program Extension in 2020.

We have funded eight Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hubs Australia-wide, collaborating with regional universities and the private sector.

We have Regional Australians’ backs.

The Agriculture 2030 Package supports Australian agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors working to achieve $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030. 

An array of specific actions includes funding of $160 million to the Western Australian Agricultural Supply Chain Improvements project to better connect our world-class farmers – the best in all of the globe – to domestic and international markets.

Through strong representation from Resources, Water and Northern Australia Minister Keith Pitt, the Government has committed $190 million to the next five-year plan for Northern Australia – Our North, Our Future.

The next five years will pilot focused investment in geographic growth areas, deliver greater digital connectivity, support businesses to scale up and diversify, and will gather data to support evidence-based economic growth.

Business growth is a key to the future. Indeed, the regions will continue to take full advantage of the Instant

Asset Write-Off provisions now extended into 2023.

Last year we announced $41 million to support the regionalisation of Australian businesses, in line with the trend of more Australians making a tree and sea change.

We remain focused on delivering these two programs, with announcements of projects to be funded expected in July.

With strong advocacy from Decentralisation Minister Andrew Gee, we are continuing to support the Regional Decentralisation Agenda through new actions.

An independent study will identify the regulatory barriers to business relocation to regional Australia.

This will have a particular focus on regulations across all tiers of government restricting, delaying or increasing the cost of business relocation to regional Australia.

This Government will also complete a scoping study on establishing Australian Public Service Hubs in regional Australia. The study will inform consideration by the Government of the feasibility, cost and benefits of the regional Hubs.

We continue to work closely with our veterans, Australia-wide.

As Minister Chester says, Australians value the ongoing commitment of our veteran community, and the Government is committed to providing support that recognised the significant contribution that veterans and their families make in civilian life.

The Government invests more than $11.5 billion each year to support 325,000 veterans and their families, many of them in the regions.

The 2021–22 Budget builds on this with an additional $702.6 million to focus on wellness, support, suicide prevention and ensuring the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is appropriately equipped.

In recent years the Government has invested more than $500 million into the most significant reform of Australia’s veteran support system in decades, which has achieved ongoing success in making it easier for veterans and their families to engage with the DVA.

The 2021–22 Budget includes a further $55.1 million to build on these improvements, making it quicker and easier for veterans and their families to access the support they need.

We will continue to encourage the contribution to Australian society by our wonderful volunteers.

Indeed, Assistant Minister Michelle Landry recently advised closure of applications for the latest Volunteer Grants round.

Combined funding from 2020-21-and 2021-22 has made this a double grant round.

We know smaller-scale grants such as these deliver large-scale strength to our communities, through our community champions.

We couldn’t do without our volunteers.

The policies and programs I mention today are just part of the Government’s commitment to regional Australia.

Our commitment will facilitate recovery from the hard times but equally it is about looking forward … making sure regional communities are places where Australians enjoy the good life.

This Government is supporting regional Australians, building opportunities and investing in the future.

Our Budget announcements – across all areas of regional life – infrastructure and transport, health, digital connectivity and supporting local business and leaders – are meeting the needs of regional Australia.

The 2021-22 Budget ensures regional Australia continues its recovery and has every opportunity to thrive in the future.

Media contacts:

Caitlin Donaldson, 0428 389 880

Dean Shachar, 0418 202 860