MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE

The member for McMillan has just suggested that Darren McCubbin has no right to be in this place. Those were his words. He said he had ‘no right to be in this place’. It is an outrageous slur on a well-known Gippsland community leader, who is the current Wellington Shire mayor and who has lived more than half his life in Sale, to suggest that he has no right to be in this place. I hope that comment of the member for McMillan is widely reported in Gippsland, because it is not members of the Liberal Party who decide who sits in this place; it is the people of the seat of Gippsland.

The member for McMillan has just suggested that Darren McCubbin has no right to be in this place. Those were his words. He said he had ‘no right to be in this place’. It is an outrageous slur on a well-known Gippsland community leader, who is the current Wellington Shire mayor and who has lived more than half his life in Sale, to suggest that he has no right to be in this place. I hope that comment of the member for McMillan is widely reported in Gippsland, because it is not members of the Liberal Party who decide who sits in this place; it is the people of the seat of Gippsland.

I am very pleased that the Leader of the Nationals has raised this matter today in the House. It is understandable that the Nationals would want to discuss the impact of government policies on regional communities, because the Nationals must have been pondering this topic a lot and wondering where they went so wrong. In every election over the last decade, the Nationals have watched their vote wilt away and their representation in this House disappear. Perhaps, if they had asked themselves 11 years ago how government policies impacted on regional communities, they would not be in the position they find themselves in today. Perhaps they would still hold Hume, Capricornia, New England or Kennedy. Or perhaps they would still hold Dawson, Page, Farrer or Richmond. And perhaps we would not be witnessing the incredible political shrinking act that is playing out before us. The National Party are like a spurned lover—unable to comprehend where they went wrong but refusing to give up. As the votes slip away, the Nationals keep going back for more, refusing to accept that they need to change their policies. After each rebuff the Nationals go back, like a spurned lover, thinking they can get away with not changing their ways and instead trying to buy their way back into the hearts of the Australian people and into the hearts of regional communities.

Once they got their hands on the Regional Partnerships program, it was like they had a charge account where they could buy everything they thought regional Australia wanted. Like a lover returning with flowers, chocolate and wine, the Nationals would go back again and again. But in their case they bought a cheese factory that did not work, a rail line that burnt down, an ethanol plant that did not exist and a grape seed oil factory that went bust. Just to remind members of the House, this was the same grape seed oil factory whose general manager was a state Liberal candidate.

We heard not one word from the Leader of the Nationals today about the three-volume National Audit Office report on the Regional Partnerships program published last year. That is because it concluded:

... the manner in which the Programme had been administered over the three year period to 30 June 2006 examined by ANAO had fallen short of an acceptable standard of public administration ...

Just to remind members of the House, the report showed that in a 51-minute spending spree before going into caretaker mode before the 2004 election the former National Party member for Dawson and parliamentary secretary approved 16 projects worth $3.3 million. But the report last year did not stop them. We have learned since that the former Liberal-National government approved 32 projects in the week before the 2007 election caretaker period, 28 of them in seats held by the Nationals and the Liberal Party. But the Leader of the Nationals still defends the Regional Partnerships program. He told ABC Broken Hill radio on 14 May:

Well, I don’t think there’s any examples of it being rorted.

He has not been looking very closely and he clearly has not read the National Audit Office report. He does not understand that looking after regional Australia does not mean regional rorts.

The Leader of the Nationals has said some extraordinary things about the Regional Partnerships program. On 8 May this year he told the same radio station, ABC Broken Hill:

This program was specifically designed to provide things in small communities ... The big cities have got the resources and can often provide on a commercial basis projects which are simply unviable in regional areas.

You would think, from listening to that, that Regional Partnerships was all about regional communities, but in fact—and the House has heard this before—$43 million from the Regional Partnerships program went in grants to capital cities. And, as mentioned already this afternoon by the member for Brand, over $5 million went to projects at Bondi Beach.

The Regional Partnerships program has been replaced. Labor has introduced the $176 million Better Regions program to fund projects identified by local communities as priority investments. There are a host of other commitments to communities in regional Australia, including the new Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, $74 million for a new regional development Australia network, $8 million for the Office of Northern Australia in Townsville and Darwin, $10 billion for rural and regional road and rail initiatives over five years and $1.9 billion for local governments across Australia. The Leader of the Nationals has provided us with a wonderful opportunity to talk about the benefits of some of this government’s policies for people around the country and particularly people in regional communities. We can talk about the many thousands—(Quorum formed) It is the sound policies of the Rudd Labor government and the neglect by the former government that the people of Gippsland will have in their minds when they go to vote this Saturday. The Leader of the Nationals, in raising this matter today, has provided the opportunity to talk about a whole range of present government policies.