Remote Australia Live Symposium
Thank you Dennis, for your kind introduction.
I acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, of the Sydney region on whose land this event is being held. I also sincerely pay my respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, both past and present. I’d like to thank the co-hosts of this event—Ninti One and Deloitte Australia—for the invitation to address this Symposium. Today, I am representing my friend and colleague Senator the Honourable Fiona Nash, the Minister for Regional Development. I am the Minister for Small Business and The Nationals’ Member for Riverina. The regional city of Wagga Wagga has always been home for me. I’ve also previously had the privilege of working with the former Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss in the regional development portfolio and I am delighted to share our plan with you today.
As a regional MP and the first Small Business Minister from regional Australia, I know the future of Australia is in our regions. In regional and remote communities across Australia is a vast tapestry of talent. From one side of the country to the other, there are communities whose resourcefulness and resilience has Australia and our economy on the cusp of something great. The Government understands the particular needs and strengths of regional and remote communities across and we are driven to help build a brighter future for our regions. Each day Ministers in a broad range of portfolios – ranging from small business to agriculture, regional development, indigenous affairs, infrastructure, health, resources and trade – are working tirelessly to grow regional areas, ensure they have the services and infrastructure they need and to work with business to create local jobs.
Each day we share your passion for jobs and opportunities in rural, regional and remote communities. We also know around a quarter of Australia’s small businesses are outside the capital cities, with around half a million small businesses providing local jobs and services across rural and regional Australia. We know the regions are responsible for 67 per cent of our exports and 45 per cent of domestic tourism. And we are up to the challenge of making our collective dreams a reality – a stronger, brighter and more dynamic future for our regions. When Governments invest in country communities, it drives confidence locally. But not only that, it serves as a catalyst for change and stands as an example to private industry to encourage their investment in the regions.
The Government has a range of programmes which aim to boost regional and remote Australia, and to encourage future investment from the private sector. One of those programmes was announced by Minister Nash at the Press Club just last week – decentralisation. The Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Minister Nash have been leading the charge to decentralise Government – to move public service agencies to the regions. Decentralisation is a long-term, region-building vision. Like a small rock skimmed into a pond, decentralisation will have a ripple effect on regional communities. Let me explain why. By moving a small agency into a regional city, in the initial stage, it will encourage infrastructure investment and housing construction. People working on these projects will shop locally, stimulating local economies. As the agencies take shape, they will hire local staff – creating new jobs. The public servants who chose to move to the regions bring their families, further encouraging local economic growth – because there will be more people shopping at the local market, more people heading down to the local bakery and newsagent, and more customers for the local restaurant. This will also boost indirect jobs as those businesses can grow and create new jobs through increased turnover. And, as the regions grow to accommodate, there will be more opportunities to start new local small businesses. There will also be more investment in local schools and hospitals and roads to cater for increases in population. 3 But, arguably the biggest benefit of decentralisation of Government is that private sector can follow our lead. They can move parts or whole organisations to the regions, confident of infrastructure and regional services delivery. We all know regional Australia is a fantastic place to live and raise a family, and we want to see it prosper. Decentralisation also takes the pressure off our major cities and comes with a lower overhead costs for Government and businesses. Over the long-term, decentralisation will save taxpayers’ money and stimulate economic growth and jobs creation. And, that is why this Government backs it. Wagga Wagga in my electorate has seen Commonwealth investment through the Australian Defence Force at both RAAF Base Wagga and Kapooka. Recruits and specialists are sent to Wagga Wagga through the ADF and many of them later come to permanently call it home as they see how vibrant and balanced life in rural and regional Australia can be. I have also met so many ADF partners who have started their own small businesses. So, my point is – I have seen it work first-hand. So it is our hope that, thanks to this vision, communities around the country will soon share in the economic benefit of our public service. And, even more importantly, that it will set the foundations for long-term growth and investment in regional Australia by encouraging private sector investment.
But this is only one aspect to our plan for rural and regional Australia. We also want to back small businesses to have go. The Government understands that it is ultimately business that creates jobs. That is why the Government recently passed legislation to deliver a tax cut for small businesses – a cut to 27.5 per cent – its lowest level in 50 years. We know it will help them reinvest in their growth and hire more people. More small businesses can also now invest in the assets they need to grow by immediately deducting assets costing less than $20,000. We are also working to reduce red tape, because we all know time is money in business. And we are working with State, Territory, and Local Governments to simplify regulation and streamline services. This will help existing businesses to grow and remove barriers to new business creation, while encouraging innovation to flourish and job creation. As the first country-based MP to be Small Business Minister, I know how backing local small business actually helps back our local communities by keeping money local and through local job creation.
But, it’s not only small business and decentralisation on the Government’s regional agenda. We’re also fixing regional communications. The Government’s mobile blackspot programme is delivering 765 new and upgraded mobile base stations around Australia. Business in 2017 is not 9 to 5. It is not something only found in shopfronts and it’s not something which ends when a business ‘closes for the day’. It is 24/7. It’s international. And it has great potential for regional Australia. These 765 mobile base stations connect farmers to international commodity markets to sell their product at the right time and help feed a hungry world. They allow irrigators in places like Coleambally to manage water flows on farms which feed and clothe thousands of people from the touch of a button. And, critically, it means people living and working in the regions are connected to emergency services when they need it the most. This is something The Nationals have worked on for years. And as a team we have delivered this in Government. Similarly, our work in communications, through launching the remote satellite service SkyMuster, is delivering dividends for country small businesses and rural and remote communities. A SkyMuster connection on the farm means you can use a digital accounting system to make doing the books more efficient. It means our children – whether they’re at school or university – can reliably access the web for study and to keep in touch with their teachers and friends. It also means rural psychological services – desperately needed in some of our communities – can be delivered locally online, thanks to a $9 million announcement from Minister Nash last week. So in communities across the country, our investment dilutes the tyranny of distance between businesses, health services and schools in the city and ours at home.
Regional Development and Infrastructure Investment
Infrastructure investment and regional development is the next aspect of our regional Australia plan I would like to touch on. Starting with our Building Better Regions Fund, which will help deliver investment in our regions. 5 Over four years, this fund will invest $297.7 million in infrastructure projects and build on the success of the National Stronger Regions Fund, delivering upgrades, amenities and investment to country communities. These funds – now even more targeted on regional Australia – delivered projects like the almost $1 million Growth Centre and Transport Freight Hub project in Roper Gulf Regional Council, the $1.5m investment into the Forbes Saleyards in Central West NSW and millions more in communities across the country. We are also investing a record $50 billion throughout Australia on infrastructure projects. I promise not to run through each and every project because we will be here for a very long time but I did want to highlight a couple. As Australia moves to take advantage of new market opportunities in Asia, bolstered by the trade agreements the Government has successfully negotiated, there is a great potential for our regions to capitalise including our northern beef industry. I want to use this example, because I believe it shows how the Government is working with local communities and organisations such as those present to drive regional success. The CRC developed a Precision Pastoral Management System, with the potential to better match stocking rates to available pasture, and improve weight gain and calving rates1 . This technology has been licensed to a partner to be commercialised2 and I congratulate you on this outcome. Meanwhile, the Government is committed to providing practical support to this industry through the $600 million Northern Australia Roads Programme and another $100 million in the Northern Australia Beef Roads Programme. With a local can-do attitude and some practical advancements in technology, the local beef industry is growing in leaps and bounds, responding to an international market of people hungry for Australia’s food. Whilst our role is not to produce the beef or increase the weight gain in calves, the Government knows that better returns at the farm gate means more jobs in local communities. It’s more money spent in local small businesses and a brighter future for local communities. That is why our Northern Australia Beef Roads programme has already committed to 38 projects. It is focused on upgrades in safety and productivity improvements, such as road widening and overtaking lane construction. It will be faster and safer to move product and take advantage of the those trade agreements we have signed. We worked with the CRC and local producers and soon we will see the dividend of sensible decisions. And this is the approach we take with so many of our aims in rural and remote Australia. In a point, local investment should mean local jobs.
This is why specific targets will be set on a project-by-project basis, and will be guided by a ‘local first’ policy. Engagement with local communities and contractors in the lead-up to the construction of projects will ensure local perspectives are accounted.
Supporting Indigenous business
Importantly, in our indigenous communities, we have a plan to help those with a spark of an idea pursue their dream too. Australia’s Indigenous communities have a special place in The Nationals’ heart and at the forefront of this Government. Our colleague Nigel Scullion, who is the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, is working with Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to better outcomes, particularly in Indigenous employment. That is why, as part of the 2016 Election, we announced the establishment of a $115 million Indigenous Entrepreneurs Package. This will support Indigenous entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow and thrive. A new Indigenous Entrepreneurs Fund has been established, to help Indigenous small businesses purchase plant and equipment.
The Government is also committed to increasing spending on Indigenous procurement. This approach includes a target of three per cent of all Commonwealth contracts awarded to Indigenous businesses each year. In the first year of these procurement policies, more than 1,500 contracts were awarded to close to 500 Indigenous businesses, valued at nearly $285 million. The Government is also implementing the Employment Parity Initiative, which will require companies to purchase more of their own goods and services from Indigenous businesses.
Supporting the Cape York Region and the APY Lands
It’s not just in the northern beef industry. I would like to use another example to outline how we are applying these shared insights to support specific areas, in the Cape York Region and the APY Lands. Under our Infrastructure Investment programme, the Government has committed more than $208 million towards a Cape York Region Package. The Queensland Government is contributing a further $52.1 million towards the total cost of this project. Using a local focus and local outcomes, the Cape York Region Package contains three subprogrammes which are currently being delivered.
o The first of these is $200 million to seal priority sections on the Peninsula Developmental Road, which is the main access road into the Cape York Region from the south;
o The second is $50.5 million for priority community infrastructure works identified by the Cape York Indigenous Mayors Alliance; and
o Finally, a $10 million commitment for sealing works on the Endeavour Valley Road through to Hope Vale over four years.
The delivery of projects during 2016 saw performance for employment and training and engagement of Indigenous businesses exceeded significantly. Performance against the measure for engagement of local business is also anticipated to exceed the target.
To sum up, our vision is about building a brighter rural and regional Australia. This Government is backing small business, building bricks and mortar, and decentralising bureaucracies to stimulate economic growth, unleash investment in local communities and create local jobs – to deliver that brighter future. I have only managed to get through a handful of programmes that form part of our local and longterm plan for our regions. I applaud the work of the CRC on Remote Economic Participation. Work which I’m sure will have a lasting impact. Like you, I am passionate – and the Government is passionate – about creating local and long-term jobs and opportunities in rural and remote Australia. It is the leadership and vision of people like you all here today which will help create the jobs and opportunities Australians outside the city deserve. Government alone cannot build the future we all seek. It’s important we work together with local communities across regional and rural Australia to tailor our efforts and achieve outcomes. You are working with the Government to build a stronger and more resilient rural and regional Australia for our children and for the future. Thank you for your passion and advocacy. I wish you well with the rest of your symposium. ENDS