Federal Budget commits $4.3bn to regional Australia

THE 2011-12 Federal Budget, released by the Australian Government on Tuesday, has committed $4.3 billion to regional Australia.

Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, Simon Crean, said the 2011-12 Federal Budget was further proof that the government was working across all levels of government to support regional Australia.

Mr Crean said the Budget "builds on the record investment in the transport, water, energy, health, education and communication infrastructure of our regions."

The Government's 2011-12 Budget includes funding for: 

  • $1.8 billion over six years to provide critical infrastructure upgrades to hospitals and health services for regional Australians through the Health and Hospitals Fund regional priority rounds;
  • $500 million over five years to strengthen regional higher education and vocational education and training institutions, through the regional priorities round of the Education Investment Fund;
  • $109.9 million over four years for universities with regional campuses through increased and targeted loading payments to regional areas;
  • $916 million for the first projects under the Regional Infrastructure Fund to help unlock the economic potential of Australia's regions;
  • $1 billion over five years through the Regional Development Australia Fund to finance infrastructure projects that best fit the economic and community needs of the regions;
  • Bringing forward the introduction of wireless and satellite services as part of the National Broadband Network roll out;
  • Improving transport infrastructure, including upgrading the Hume, Pacific, Bruce and New England highways and investing in freight rail through the Australian Rail Track Corporation;
  • National Health and Hospitals Network reform, introducing a range of initiatives for rural, remote and regional communities;
  • An investment of $20.3 million to strengthen the Regional Development Australia network;
  • An investment of more than $4 million in the MyRegion website that will aim to provide information about regional Australia, including transport infrastructure, health and aged care, education, social services, communications and the environment;
  • A boost to investment in skills in regional Australia; and
  • An investment package to build on the success of Evocities in promoting the lifestyle and business opportunities offered in regional centres.

Mr Crean said that in the past year, the Australian Government has made significant changes to entrench regionalism in government policy-making, including the creation of a Cabinet portfolio, a dedicated department and a sub-committee of Cabinet dedicated to the needs of regional Australians.

Independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, who provided their support following last year's election to allow Julia Gillard to form a minority government and give Labor a second term in office, were both pleased with the Budget.

Mr Windsor said that despite a relatively tough Budget, his agreement with the government resulted in a positive outcome for people living in regional Australia.

"As part of my Agreement with the Government, I was able to gain commitments and concessions not only for the New England Electorate but also more broadly for country Australia – something that previous holders of the balance of power have missed or neglected the opportunity of doing", he said.

Mr Oakeshott said that in this Budget, "rural communities have finally found their voice", adding that he hopes this acts as a template for future policy planning.

"We have seen today, for the first time, a good portion of the Budget papers dedicated exclusively to regional Australia," Mr Oakeshott said.

Independent Member for Kennedy, Bob Katter, applauded Treasurer Wayne Swan for listening to the voice of regional Australia, calling the Budget "one of the better budgets for regional Australia in recent history."

"The word regional was mentioned many times in the budget; money is being directly sent their way indeed of being consumed by the hungry metro areas."

"There is no doubt that we're getting a good result for the regions and that people who vote for a representative that will put their area first will reap the rewards," Mr Katter said.

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