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Regional Partnerships for Growth and Security

Since being elected to office in 1996, this Australian Government has focussed on building Australia’s competitiveness and prosperity — and as a result, Australia has taken its place as one of the strongest growing economies in the world.

This success, which has benefited Australian industry, Australian families and Australian businesses, has been achieved through strategic economic management and positive forward thinking at a time when ensuring Australia’s safety and security has come to the fore as a national priority.

Throughout its tenure, the Government has succeeded in creating a better economic foundation for regional, rural and remote Australia by giving these regions the power to lead and charter their own development and by recognising that they have special needs in times of prolonged drought and erratic commodity prices.

Whole – of - government initiatives such as Sustainable Regions and Regional Partnerships continue to provide local leaders and communities with the essential tools to secure the long-term economic future of the regions through decision making at the local level.

Now, and into the future, the Government believes that Australia needs strong and prosperous regions and the right foundations on which to build.

In the 2004-05 Budget the Government continues to build on its success with the introduction of major initiatives that will strengthen further Australia’s ability to meet future challenges.

In the wider arena the threat of terrorism has grown immeasurably. By forging strategic alliances, the Government has continued to maintain a secure environment for all Australians.

Recent world events have highlighted the need to continue building on existing work to strengthen Australia’s transport security systems. The Government recognises that transport security at smaller regional airports is high priority but that owners and operators are often providing their services with slim margins. Airports in regional Australia will receive an extra $21 million in transport security funding which is in addition to the $14 million announced in the Government’s Enhanced Aviation Security Package in December 2003.

Economic stability has been no less important and has been buoyed by low interest rates and the Government’s effective trade policy, including bilateral trade agreements with Singapore, Thailand and the United States Trade Agreement.

The Government is committed to continuously developing and improving infrastructure, particularly in regional and outer metropolitan Australia, as a means of encouraging new industries and creating a climate for investment.

The Budget reaffirms the landmark $200 million for a Basin-wide strategic approach to water over-allocation in the Murray-Darling Basin agreed at COAG in August 2003.

In this current Budget, the Government has announced funding for its new land transport programme, AusLink. This funding is in addition to the $2 billion funding boost for regional and rural Australia announced in January 2004. This comprised $1.2 billion to extend the Roads to Recovery programme for a further four years and a decision to redirect funding from the Fuel Savings Grants Scheme to improve the National Network in regional and outer metropolitan areas. This will be of considerable benefit to regional communities and industries, and is on top of the already substantial funding provided to roads programmes in previous budgets.

Education has been and will remain a major priority. The Government will be introducing 9,100 new higher education places in 2005. These places will grow to 24,883 places by 2008. Regional areas will benefit from this allocation. All institutions eligible for a share of the new places have been invited to submit bids against a range of criteria that have been developed in consultation with state and territory governments. A particular criterion that may be relevant for institutions wishing to service regional areas is regional priorities.

The Regional Loading measure provides $146 million over five years to support the provision of higher education at regional campuses which face higher costs as a result of such factors as location, size and history.

The Government is also strongly committed to encouraging more people to live and work in regional and rural Australia. Through concerted and cooperative efforts the Government is working with its state and territory counterparts to increase the number of migrants settling in regional Australia. These efforts, through such measures as the new Skilled Independent Regional Visa will help ensure that regional skill shortages are addressed and regional communities grow and prosper.

Substantial investments have also been made in health services and in particular to ongoing changes to Medicare. Building on the Australian Government’s increase in rural and remote doctors of 15 per cent since 1996, the MedicarePlus initiative will help general practitioner (GP) proceduralists to develop and maintain their skills and provide an extra payment to rural and remote GPs.

MedicarePlus will also provide an additional 150 general practice vocational training places each year to assist in the provision of an adequate general practice workforce. The 150 additional training places are to be targeted to areas of workforce shortage, particularly outer metropolitan and rural areas.

The Australian Government is fully committed to supporting families at a local level. The Stronger Families and Communities Strategy launched in 2000, has funded a range of community based projects. The Government will provide $365.8 million over four years to continue and expand the Government’s commitment to early childhood initiatives which will include strategies for Communities for Children, Early Childhood — Invest to Grow, Local Answers, and Choice and Flexibility in Child Care.

These policies are working and under this Government, they will result in stronger regions and a secure and prosperous future for all Australians.

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