Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (11:30): Let me say from the outset how surprised, shocked and disappointed I was that the government decided to cancel the Stronger Communities Programme. In my experience, and I’ve been here quite a while, I’ve never seen a program that managed to have such a multiplier effect. These were small grants going into active, community based clubs and organisations that had the ability to galvanise their members and generate so much more off the back of those particular programs. In Grey, we’ve had eight rounds, like everyone else, and that adds up to $1.2 million going back into Grey. I have to say, given some of the projects funded under the last government that have gone back into an electorate like Grey, $22 million a year is a drop in the bucket to the federal budget. Yet, as I drive around and talk to the community groups and as they ring my office looking for the next round of grants, I am constantly amazed by the amount of work that has been done on the back of what is a relatively minor grant and by its ability to enable these community organisations to access funds to bring their dreams alive.
In Grey it’s been for things as diverse as breathing equipment for CFS units, gymnastics clubs, swimming clubs and business groups. Some of the communities that have benefited most have been the smallest and most remote—those with the most disadvantage. In my electorate, I’ve always elected to do this by an exhaustive committee process. I’ve had five members that sit on a panel, and we meet, at least virtually, to go through what is often an ask list four or five times greater than the amount of grants available. These people come from a wide footprint, and they’re well informed community members across the electorate. We’ve all found it a really good process to focus our minds on what’s going on in our local communities and where the needs are.
This has come at a time when the government has also cancelled, or perhaps relabelled, the Building Better Regions Fund, which put more than $60 million in the electorate of Grey and has been very, very useful to get some bigger projects over the finishing line. I am aware that we have the Growing Regions Program, but, of course, one of the unfortunate things about this new one is that it has a $1 million minimum price tag. If you’re living where the majority of people live in my electorate, you’ll be eligible for up to 50 per cent of the funding. Those who live in the outer regional areas will only require 25 per cent. For a smaller community organisation to be expected to find half a million dollars—it’s virtually thrown directly at councils, certainly in the electorate of Grey, as the only organisations likely to be able to access those funds in the future. It will just make everything so much harder.
Despite the promises from the government before the election, we’ve also seen issues with the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program. They said, ‘We will put more money into it.’ That is technically true. They funded a half round that is for roads only and then axed the program. I’d have to say that that is one of the most disappointing things for local councils that are struggling to hold road networks together. How hard do you push people in a high inflation environment for council rates and all those things? It’s just a sign that the government is walking away from rural and regional programs. We just heard the previous speaker waxing lyrical about their urban schemes. I interjected to ask how many of those are in National Party electorates or Liberal Party electorates, as she’d just spent the last three or four minutes bagging those particular parties and the previous grants rounds. It seems quite obvious that the dial has turned now and they’re making sure that the rivers of gold from government flow in another direction, and that’s to their electorates.
And I think, considering their rhetoric on this area, that’s pretty reprehensible.
I think my community made good selections. There’s an absolute delight that this program brings to people in local communities, and you’d be aware of it yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker. Organisations that have tried so hard to get good projects off the ground for their communities say to us, ‘Well, you cannot believe how that $5000, $10,000 or $12,251’—because we often pare them down a little bit to see what we can get out of that community. But it’s sorely missed, and they are asking, ‘Where are we going to go now?’
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Andrews ): The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.