Regions at the Ready: Investing in Australia’s Future

12 May 2021

I rise to speak on this motion and thank the member for Indi for bringing it to the chamber. Members of this place who have the joy of living in a regional community, as I do, know that whatever steps we take towards recovery must be focused on our regions. We also know that, for any recovery to be effective, it can't be based on how to win the next election or how to solve the next political problem. As I've consistently said since I was first elected, almost a year ago, we need a strategic, long-term plan to grow, support and transform our regions. As is pointed to in this motion, the only way to do that is to ensure that there is an amendment to the Charter of Budget Honesty that looks to the effect that the decisions that we make here have on our regions.

As we currently hurtle towards a trillion dollars in debt, there is no plan for long-term, structural change in our regions—no vision, no consultation and no plan. I invite any member of this place to come to my region and see firsthand the need for change and the need for support in our communities. Come and talk to us. It's not much to ask. Talk to the people that live there. Talk to our local councils. Talk to the state governments about how we can work together. Our communities know best how to grow and create sustainable industries in our regions. They want you to listen to them on how to build career paths for our children and grandchildren. They want to make sure that there are services available to us all.

I regularly travel right across the mighty Eden-Monaro. Our region spans some 42,000 square kilometres and contains 365 different towns and villages, one for every day of the year. In every town, on any day of the year that you were to show up, people would talk to you about the same issues that I will talk about today. One of the issues that is prevalent, from Dalmeny to Delegate, from Binalong to Bombala and from Murrumbateman to Michelago, is internet connectivity. Surely in 2021 we would be able to rely on a decent internet connection in our regional homes and businesses. But didn't you hear? The NBN is going to bring our regional towns and villages closer together to unlock their digital potential. At least that was the plan, until this government gutted the rollout and, in turn, gutted productivity in our regions.

It's easy to forget that these decisions and the lack of a long-term, strategic plan have a real impact on our communities. Just last week I was speaking with Mary from Wallagoot. Mary runs an international furniture business from her home, employing a mix of local staff and remote staff in Indonesia. She's suffered from serious and ongoing internet outages, with poor and patchy service, and she has even considered relocating her business out of the region, to Canberra, to make sure that she doesn't lose clientele due to long periods of being uncontactable.

The government has been all about announcements and flashy headlines, never about actually delivering for our regional communities. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts will proudly stand up and talk about the completed NBN rollout and how they've pushed so many more people to satellite or to fixed wireless, but what have they done in supporting our regional communities? I mean, Mary doesn't sound very supported to me. Why is it that internet connectivity in our regional towns and villages is not the main focus of our recovery?

Then we have to look at infrastructure. Why is it that the government has failed to list more than one highway in my electorate as a road of strategic importance? There's only one major highway that this government contributes ongoing funding to. Is it the Princes Highway, which was severed both north and south during our bushfire crisis and closed for seven weeks, seriously impacting tourism and freight? No. Is it the Snowy Mountains Highway, the only major link between the Bega Valley and inland New South Wales? No. Is it the Monaro Highway, linking Cooma, Jindabyne and Bombala to Queanbeyan? No. Is it the Kings Highway, which was also closed for months following the Black Summer bushfires, linking Batemans Bay, Braidwood and Queanbeyan? No. It's the Barton Highway. And we're still waiting I don't know how many years on for the duplication of the Barton Highway. I don't know what it is about this, but all these roads are strategically important for growth and investment in our regions. But this is to be expected when you do not have a strategic plan for regional Australia. It's time to get on with it because our regions deserve better.