Private Members Business – Decentralisation

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Mr PITT (Hinkler) (12:23): It’s my great pleasure to rise in support of the Member for Fisher and the motion he put forward this morning. I want to take a moment to outline my electorate in Central Queensland. Between the cities of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, it’s around 3½ thousand square kilometres. But the region itself, the statistical region of Wide Bay is around 270,000 in terms of the population. Unfortunately, we have some very poor statistics which we need to address urgently. In fact, the most recent state of the nation report from the Local Government Association for the state of the regions indicated that the unemployment rate, which is adjusted, the NIEIR rate, is around 16.7 per cent, which is the highest in the nation. Now that rate takes out those people who would be on the DSP, for example. It is a different statistical measure. Unfortunately, we have youth unemployment at 23 per cent. Once again, we have the lowest per capita income in this nation at just $34,000 a year, and that has been the case for some 20 years.

My job as the federal member is to ensure that we continue to build the economy, and the decentralisation program put forward by this government is a great opportunity for us. It is a great opportunity for us!

I congratulate both the Bundaberg Regional Council and the Fraser Coast Regional Council for putting forward their submissions and calling for decentralised agencies in our region. I think we should be very frank in this discussion. The reality is that people are siloing to the cities, and the reason for that is very straightforward. It’s because they can. In a digital world, a world where you can do your work from any location that you choose, unfortunately, the road that’s been upgraded in the regional area tends to be the road out of town. We need to act. We do need a policy which will place highly paid, highly skilled and highly valued jobs back into our regions on top of our great strengths around agriculture and, of course, tourism and manufacturing. It is about opportunity. This is the opportunity for local youth to go to a local university and to know that there is an opportunity for them to have a highly paid job and a career which will progress, particularly within the Australian Public Service.

There is no reason that we can’t have many of these agencies relocated into the regions, and, in fact, it’s already happened in a number of areas. I note the APVMA’s move to Armidale. The Regional Investment Corporation is going to Orange. AgriFutures Australia went to Charles Sturt University at Wagga Wagga in 2015. The Grains Research and Development Corporation is going to Toowoomba, Dubbo, Adelaide and Perth. The FRDC is going to Adelaide. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is going to Toowoomba, Albury-Wodonga and Adelaide.

Unfortunately, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, I haven’t read anywhere that says ‘Bundaberg’ or ‘Hervey Bay’. So, as a passionate advocate—as I’m sure you’d understand, and I’m sure you would be the same—I am looking forward to those opportunities, because they create long-term, well-paid, highly skilled jobs in regional areas, which are absolutely desperate for them. Imagine, Madam Deputy Speaker, that your children—I’m only assuming—had an opportunity to go to a local university that runs a course which is relevant to a large employer just down the road. Those opportunities certainly occur for people here in Canberra and in other locations where there are large opportunities with the Public Service. In fact, they deserve those opportunities. In regional Australia, they should get the same chance as children who are born in Canberra or anywhere else. We have the chance to make those changes, because the reality is, in the modern world, you absolutely can work anywhere. We are not talking about organisations which pack out a million widgets that need to be transported from a regional centre to somewhere else. We are genuinely talking about highly skilled Public Service positions.

It’s an opportunity for people. We live in some of the greatest parts of this country. In my own electorate, we have an average temperature of 25 degrees. You can get a house near the beach for just over $200,000. You can take your kids to the coast or to the national park. You can have a fantastic lifestyle, but you need to have the work to go with it to support those people, and this is an opportunity for us and for them. I think we should absolutely look at this, not through rose-coloured glasses but in a considered manner, to determine what the best opportunities are, where the synergies are and where we can match the departments. The reality is, with transport costs as they are, looking at my own centres in Hervey Bay, you can fly directly to Sydney from Hervey Bay. There is one flight a day on a 717 or with another provider—without naming providers.

I think people should take those opportunities up now, because without them how do we ensure that our people continue to have that growth opportunity and jobs which are well paid? As taxpayers—as all taxpayers should be—they are entitled to those opportunities, just as those who were born somewhere else or choose to live somewhere else are. I support the Member for Fisher’s motion, with one exception. Where he mentions the Sunshine Coast, can we put ‘Hinkler’ in that place?

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