Transcript - Regional Australia Institute Address

Thank you Liz and thank you to everyone who has tuned in. And at the outset, just as Liz has just done, I would certainly like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands upon which we meet and appreciate the fact that people are tuning in from all far flung corners of our great land and I acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people past, present and emerging from every corner of our great country.

I'd also like to acknowledge those on the line today, representing regional communities, local Government. They may well be people who are in State and perhaps even a Federal spheres of Government, I acknowledge them for the work, for the decisions they make for and on behalf of Australia it takes a bit of gumption to put your hand out for public office and I certainly acknowledge the roles that you play.

Regional Australia has every reason to celebrate.

Regional Australia has driven our nation through the absolute worst of the global pandemic and we are emerging in great shape.

There are two reasons for that.

One is health: Many regions have had absolutely no coronavirus cases at all. And yet, despite that, they have still complied with everything they've been asked to do, often by Premiers and others in far off of capital cities and yet they’ve worn face masks. They've exercised social distancing, something that nobody had ever heard of before the virus took hold. They’ve done everything they’ve been asked to do. So thank you.

It is actually proven that regional Australia has been the safest place, not just in Australia, but indeed, the whole world in which to live during this absolutely difficult and challenging time.

And of course, the other grounds for celebration are economic: All regions are spearheading new economic growth for Australia. The region's are spearheading new economic growth, the revival for Australia.

The global coronavirus pandemic has posed huge challenges to our nation and its people.

The Government went into these unchartered waters asking Australians to come with us on the journey and in coronavirus case numbers, Australia ranks 120th among all nations.

There was no textbook that we could have pulled off a shelf to say how we could do with the Coronavirus. We couldn’t just open up to a certain page and know where we need to go, what we needed to do. But we have responded because we've listened to the medical advice. We've listened to the Chief Medical Officer. We've done what we've needed to do and regional Australia has led the way.

So our total Coronavirus cases are around 29,800 compared to 25,400 new cases in the United States last Monday alone. So our number of cases all up almost in comparison to the case rates in the US in just one day, just one day.

Sadly, India is now recording somewhere in the order of 370,000 new cases daily.

Vaccinations of Australians have now passed two million and are accelerating.

Having the jab, or jabs, means we can reassure each other on health grounds and move quickly into new rounds of economic growth.

Regional Australia has brought the entire nation through this pandemic.

The regions are at the beachhead of Australia’s economic recovery and new growth and Government policy has a sharp focus on helping build this momentum.

We’ve seen record trade surpluses in the early months of 2021.

Now I’m at Beef Week, you can probably see the pineapple plantation in the background. It's a great backdrop for what they do here in Central Queensland and of course in the foreground, and my tie, we've got the Beef Australia 2021.

This festival, this celebration, this event brings so much money and so many good times to the Rocky community. Of course it proudly says it's the Beef Capital of Australia, we could even argue, of the world.

Today I’m celebrating the fact that just last week the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator passed the 900 cents a kilo mark, up 15 per cent in four weeks. So for you beefies out there you know exactly what that means, that means it’s very very good. The price of beef is up and the cattle industry is booming.

Decent rains have boosted grain harvests and we know how important that was particularly after the drought that beset our Nation. Of course many of those farmers had fires and floods and everything else on top of that.

Just a little over 1 million hectares, the summer planting rated nearly three times larger than in the heavily drought affected season in 2019–20.

There are challenges to some exports but new markets are opening thanks to wide-ranging Free Trade Agreements and Government export incentives.

You’ll be pleased to know I was on the phone to Dan Tehan. He's still in his quarantine so he’s going a bit stir-crazy in his Canberra apartment. But he was assuring me that his a trip to the UK was very successful for regional Australia thanks to the work he is doing as a new Trade Minister. Of course, there's more diversification of our markets to come.

For years…for decades…Regional Australians have been urging more jobs and better infrastructure across our regions.

Now we affirm: This call has been heard loud and clear.

We’re starting to see the new Regional Australia emerge.

Last year's budget, I heard them say it was a budget like no other, probably because it was actually in October as well, generally it's in May.

Tune in next Tuesday, 7:30 when Josh Frydenberg goes to that despatch box and does this year's budget.

But last year's budget was actually in October because of the Coronavirus, and it was a very good budget for regional Australia.

I have to say the Budget this year next Tuesday we'll build on this record. Our regional and rural communities are at the heart of the Federal Government's National Economic Recovery Plan, building back better, building back stronger.

We are supporting our regional communities, indeed our communities across this great land, to drive our nation's come back into the post-pandemic future.

The October 2020 Budget further boosted Inland Rail, the Melbourne through New South Wales to Brisbane 1700 kilometre corridor of commerce which will revolutionise movement of our goods, especially exports.

Major Inland Rail construction is underway from Narrabri to North Star.

Already the 100 kilometres between Parkes and Narromine, the first of 13 sections, has been completed.

It employed, that section alone, more than 1,800 Australians including 762 local residents.

Some 99 local businesses small businesses, as those hard-working risk-taking business people, stepped up for $110 million worth of works, goods and services for Inland Rail. How good is that?

The spin-offs are already happening. Special Activation Precincts in Moree and my home town of Wagga Wagga, with State Government involved, of course, are already building jobs and economic activity, confidence, and indeed people up here are getting pretty excited about it. are already building jobs and economic activity.

The good news on regional jobs is spreading, Australia-wide.

Look at the Regional Australia Institute’s analysis of job vacancies in the regions – 66,000 good jobs, well paid jobs, are available, right now.

And I said on Sunrise or today or on Sky whichever one it was, I did that much media this morning. I’m not quite remembering which one it was. But I made the point that of those 66,000 jobs, they’re not just in orchards. It's not in meat processing plants, although those jobs are good and are well-meaning and productive and are well-paying. But they're also in accountancy practices. They're also in doctor's surgeries. They’re education facilities. They're in universities, they're in law firms. They're white collar jobs, they're blue collar jobs, they’re skilled, they're unskilled. There's so many jobs, as Liz knows, and her team knows, going in regional Australia at the moment, just need the people.

We know 7,782 people moved out of Sydney into the regions in the September quarter.

At the same time 7,400 Melburnians took that decision to make a tree -change or perhaps a coastal change, but a regional change. And that's that's tremendous.

Today I read on the front page of The Australian that 43,000 metropolitan residents moved to regional areas in 2020. Now the Australian Bureau of Statistics, that great organisation, which counts lots of things, they’ve been doing this survey for 2 decades. This is the first time, in that 2 decade period where they’ve actually seen those sorts of numbers. 43,000 moving out of metropolitan areas and moving into the regions.

So why wouldn't people want to be there? Why wouldn’t they? Why would you want to actually just look at the brake lights in front of you for an hour and a half potentially, you know going to and from work. Why wouldn’t you want to spend that time with family? Why would you want to spend their time at home doing the sorts of things that you want to do rather than be stuck in congestion?

Now of course, we're addressing those congestion issues through the $110 billion we’re spending on infrastructure but the regions are beckoning. The regions are inviting.

And as I always say, big enough in which to get a good cup of coffee, small enough to care.

Look at regional housing values.

Last year house prices in regional Australia rose faster than the capital cities for the first time in 15 years.

CoreLogic data shows dwelling values in capital cities rose two per cent during 2020.

This compares to an almost seven per cent increase for regional markets.

Now, that makes sense. People want to move into a regional home, that is going to be fit for purpose, but they got to be able to have that double car garage that lock up. That type scenario.

They’re going to be able to have that big backyard potentially a swimming pool, maybe four bedrooms and study. They're going to be able to do it at a fraction of the price than within the city.

I really commend the Move to More campaign. I'm pretty excited about that. Yes, we backed it with Federal money. Yes, that’s important, it’s appropriate and we will go on backing what the RAI does because I know how dedicated, how tenacious, Liz and her team are to making sure that call to regional Australia is heard.

But it’s only part of the story.

Look at what’s happening with our infrastructure:

A full one third and more of the record $110 billion ten-year infrastructure blueprint. Did I say it $110 billion? How big is that figure? When I went and took over as the Deputy Prime Minister, Infrastructure minister back in 2018. It was $50 billion.

But perhaps more importantly, that is supporting 100,000 jobs, and many of them are in the regions.

It was a bit funny, I was at Gladstone Port this morning and this bloke came up and called me Chicken Man. I thought he was being a bit insulting. He said you're everywhere. You're everywhere. And I was pretty taken by that because he seen me somewhere the day before. He'd been following me on Twitter and other social media platforms. And he said you’re just about everywhere. And he said that, you know, to the Government is actually funding lots of things everywhere and indeed we are.

The 2020 Budget committed an extra $2 billion for projects through the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund.

This pushes the Fund to $3.5 billion.

Water is our lifeblood. It’s time for action and probably one of the most exciting and inspirational days I’ve ever had in this job was just the other day. I went to see Rookwood Weir. We are building a 202 metre wide weir in the Fitzroy Basin. It's actually five storeys to the spillway high.

And there’s a camp there for accommodation for the workers with 250 beds and already there’s 120 workers on site and already on the day that I was there, 50 excavators. So 120 workers on site 50 excavators. How good is that?

For all those capital city press people who sometimes ask why aren't you building water infrastructure? Well we are. And water is the spur to new life and growth in our villages, towns, regional cities, that particular facility that I mentioned, that is going to support Rockhampton, the electorates of Flynn Capricornia, the farmers, the communities so well, for so long. It will be transformational. It will be the catalyst but even more water infrastructure and just the day before that I was on water tour for the week. You know, I was looking at Big Rocks Weir, potential for Hells Gates; there's so much water infrastructure. I'm going to make a little announcement about water infrastructure in a few moments.

Already the Government has committed more than $1.5 billion to 20 water infrastructure projects.

Their total construction value exceeds $2.6 billion.

Their benefits to the communities and industries they serve are almost incalculable.

Already, eight projects have been completed.

I’m pleased to let you know today of more new works:

The Government is committing a further $22.3 million for the development of business cases for another eight projects.

These are:

  1. Lostock Dam to Glennies Creek Dam Pipeline in New South Wales;
  2. Nyngan to Cobar Pipeline in New South Wales;
  3. Pakenham Cora Lynn Recycled Water Scheme for Agriculture in Victoria;
  4. Coliban Regional Modernisation in Victoria;
  5. Sunbury-Bulla-Keilor Agricultural Rejuvenation in Victoria;
  6. Tyabb-Sommerville Recycled Water Irrigation Scheme also in Victoria;
  7. New Water Infrastructure to the Barossa in South Australia; and
  8. Tasmania’s South East Integration Project

I was speaking to Gavin Pearce last night, he's pretty excited. He's still lapping up the excitement that was generated in North-East Tasmania because of the Scottsdale Dam. That actually started October 2018 and it's now completed. So we're getting on and we’re actually building water infrastructure not just talking about it. We are in fact doing it.

It’s good for these regions. It’s good for regional Australia. And when it’s good for regional communities it is good for our Nation.

And for regional Australia, road safety is a paramount objective. And I know everybody who is viewing this, for them, road safety is important because we all know somebody who perhaps hasn’t made it home, perhaps has made it back from work. We've all been touched by road tragedy.

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

Half these works will be complete by the end of June this year.

700 projects, all with ticks marked “complete” beside them, the majority in the regions where sadly, tragically regional people are overrepresented in those road toll statistics.

Please keep an eye out for new shoulder sealing, rumble strips, safety barriers and median treatments; for traffic calming, separated cycleways and raised pedestrian crossings.

We need people when they’re behind the wheel of a car to obviously do the right thing and that’s don’t have one of these [phone] things in your hand. That’s just dumb. And if your driver is doing it just pull over.

No text is worth the risk.

We’re building better regions, including through a dedicated Fund.

Investing in local communities is at the heart of the Government’s plan for Regional Australia.

Since 2016 we have funded just on 1,000 projects through the Building Better Regions Fund.

It’s making a difference – everywhere!

This year’s Budget, we’re going to have even more.

Last year’s Budget committed $200 million for a Fifth BBRF Round.

We’re looking at those applications now. It will be oversubscribed. It's well over a billion dollars of applications for $200 million.

But as some of the better projects come to the forefront and get approved and get built, more come into the pipeline, more come into the camp. And there's the ability to have a round 6 through this Budget, and I am pretty excited about that I have to say.

Now, the Government is moving a step further.

I can advise in the new financial year the Government will deliver an additional $250 million into a Sixth Round of BBRF.

It’s a big new boost to Regional Australia….great news!

This extra money for a sixth round of the BBRF is a $250 million shot of confidence in the arm of original Australia.

By the way, get the jab when it's your turn to your just as an aside, but we need those shots in the we're getting it through the BBRF.

I’m delighted this will further accelerate regional recovery and deliver growth, community renewal, more jobs and new workforce skills, for the long term.

I know how important the dedicated $100 million in this round 5 of BBRF is for tourism. So hard hit, I'd even say smashed by COVID. But we're investing in the regions.

Just yesterday, I announced as part of the Regional Recovery Partnerships, $10 million for a Hydrogen Hub, and an upgrade of Auckland Hill as part of a Port refurb for Gladstone. And you know, the money that we're doing through those revivals through those Recovery Partnerships through the Building Better Regions, through the Stronger Communities in smaller grants, it makes such a difference, particularly for our country communities.

When you add in $1.5 billion that we put for the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure, the $2 billion that we put for a road safety upgrades, the overall mix means that regional Australia, our local councils have never had as much money to spend. And that means that they've actually putting workers out on site. There’s hi-vis everywhere. There's excavators doing stuff that has been needed for a long time.

We're getting on and we're doing it. And I say again to those Local Government people on the call those representatives, thank you for the job that you are doing for on behalf of your local communities. It makes the world a difference and we're delighted to partner with you as the Commonwealth to get that money out the door.

And community-building is at the heart of Programs including “Regional Recovery Partnerships”.

Supported with $100 million from last October’s Budget, Regional Recovery Partnerships is brokering advances from the Cairns Art Gallery Precinct. It's got an amazing Aboriginal theme to it, and that will only be enhanced by such investments as the $10 million that we're putting into Cairns.

To the East Gippsland Rail Trail. I know Darren Chester as pushed for that.

Complementing this, I can advise today, that there will be an injection of funding to drive a Government “Rebuilding Regional Communities” Program. It sounds like a mouthful, but I tell you what it is going to make such a difference.

The Australian Government will provide $5 million in the 2021-22 Budget to deliver a new Rebuilding Regional Communities Program in partnership with the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal. I know how much work Ian Sinclair did for that did for that organisation. The work is ongoing.

The program will offer grants across two streams to community organisations to help with the COVID recovery:

  • The Micro Projects stream will provide small grants of up to $10,000 for communities in regional Australia with fewer than 50,000 people to help sustain local organisations and their work.
  • The COVID Recovery stream will provide up to $50,000 for larger projects which enhance the process of recovery of communities affected by the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Community groups are essential to support and sustain regional communities. And I do thank also, the leaders, identified through the RAI processes who are also out there making a difference for the local communities.

Thank you. These grants will help local groups restart activities and build the social fabric.

Volunteers, organisations, we're getting in, we're supporting them. We're backing them. And we thank all of those people on this on this dial in for the work that you do for on behalf of our country in coastal, rural, regional and remote communities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is all part of a wider plan to drive our regions forward.

Duplication of the Pacific Highway, the $10 billion Bruce Highway upgrade and essential works on the Princes Highway are helping us to usher in a new era of road safety and efficiency.

As well, the Liberal and Nationals’ Government is “head-down” delivering on our $1.5 billion Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program.

Again, this dovetails into more jobs and economic growth along with safer roads, in the face of COVID.

The Government has moved fast to approve LRCI rollout.

We are working closely with councils to ensure local projects are underway and supporting jobs and businesses as soon as possible.

Almost 5,000 projects have already been nominated by councils, meaning $450 million paid to councils across Australia.

In May 2020, the Government pre-paid $1.3 billion of this year’s Financial Assistance Grants to provide untied funding for all local councils across Australia for local priorities.

Our councils warrant empowerment.

Add up various forms of Federal Government support and our councils are in a “purple patch” of empowerment.  And they deserve it.

Ladies and gentlemen, Regional air services are a lifeline for so many of our communities. I was just out at the Rockhampton Aiport announcing that we're spending $25 million on getting the Alliance Airline Network to build a hanger, one of the biggest in regional Australia, to do their maintenance work.

Now they were doing it in Bratislava, which is capital of Slovakia. Shouldn't be in Eastern Europe, it should be in Central Queensland. And it is, thanks to that $25 million commitment.

Recently I was pleased to confirm another 46 projects under the Remote Airstrip Upgrade Program which will improve air access and enhance the safety of remote aerodromes across Australia, supported by funding of $8 million.

From the Royal Flying Doctor to a local air service – these works are making a big difference.

Air services are critical for health and economic reasons – from essential supplies to domestic tourism.

The Government has been intent on keeping planes in the air, which means jobs on the ground.

Industry-wide assistance for aviation during COVID has reached $3.8 billion. But it’s been necessary, it’s been targeted, it’s been appreciated and it’s kept people at work.

By the way: 663,000 of 800,000 half price fares have already been sold. So if you’re thinking of getting one of those, of going somewhere interstate then get in quick.

A few weeks ago, with Ministers Paul Fletcher and Mark Coulton, I announced 81 projects selected to boost telecommunications.

This was made possible by last year’s 50 per cent increase for the Regional Connectivity Fund, bringing its total to $90 million.

Now. I like the fact that we've actually funded 1200 mobile towers. We've already built 900 of them and I was goober again. I was in Goobarragandra just the other day with Tony Keremelevski, who was absolutely fulsome in his praise for the Government for doing what we've done. As far as mobile base stations around Australia, fixing wretched and they are wretched, let's face it mobile black spots, and we're getting on with the job. So thank you, Paul. And well done, Mark.

Ladies and gentlemen, yes – we hear the call from Regional Australia and this year’s Budget will continue and extend that laser-sharp focus on Regional Australia’s needs and wants.

Whether it was through the lens of infrastructure, or water, road, rail, we're getting on and we're doing it.

Now the tens of thousands of workers in the resources sector, or indeed the farmers in our agriculture industry who drove the value of agriculture in this country from a $60 billion enterprise to a $66 billion enterprise – it was the regions that kept the country going.

This year’s Budget is about saying “keep it up please” but also “thank you”. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to regional Australia, it’s about showing our local communities we will always have their back as they navigate the post-pandemic future.

I look forward to continuing to work with you, alongside you, behind you, in front of you but with you.

Together, we have the chance to keep building the new Regional Australia…

…And I say again: This is great news for all Australians. Thank you, Liz. Thank you, RAI and thank you to everybody who's tuned in today and happy to take any questions.

Media contacts:

Dean Shachar, 0418 202 860
Caitlin Donaldson, 0428 389 880