The new Coalition Government has reinforced its historical neglect of regional Australia by announcing it will axe the Department of Regional Australia. They are repeat offenders in this. Whether it was Robert Menzies who scrapped Chifley’s cooperative regionalism program, Malcolm Fraser who obliterated Whitlam’s Department of Urban and Regional Development, or John Howard who took the axe to that same department after the Hawke-Keating governments committed to rebuilding it, the Coalition has a lamentable record.
It means that all of us in the great regions around the nation will now need to steel ourselves for a battle to secure the support and funding required to ensure economic and social cohesion outside the capital cities. It already appears clear that the Coalition will also not honour funding for 103 projects across regional Australia with a combined project value of more than $1 billion, which I signed off on as Minister but for which contracts were not concluded before the election. To throw regional needs and priorities like these into the mix of a super-sized government department is clear evidence of the Coalition’s apathy towards regional Australia.
After promising the National Press Club just weeks ago that regional development would be at the forefront of the Coalition’s policy agenda, Nationals Leader Warren Truss has yet again been rolled by the Liberal Party. If the Nationals cannot stand up for regional Australians, who can they stand up for? Just as Prime Minister Abbott has dissolved the department responsible for foreign aid, split small business across departments, paid lip service only to disability and aged care and abolished the regional department, his message is very clear. If you’re not front and centre, you won’t be heard under Prime Minister Abbott.
Catherine King MP, Acting Shadow Minister for Regional Australia