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Funding win for rural towns

12 May, 2011 04:00 AM
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TWO NSW Independent MPs, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, have hailed Tuesday’s Federal budget as a win for regional NSW and Australia.

Mr Windsor said he had never heard the regions mentioned as often as they had been in this year’s Budget, while Mr Oakeshott said the Budget showed rural communities had “finally found their voice”.

But while Mr Windsor, Member for New England, claimed some of the credit, Mr Oakeshott (Member for Lyne) was more circumspect.

The pair are among a handful of cross-benchers who used their balance of power positions in the House of Representatives to extract promises of a better deal for regional Australia from the Gillard Labor Government after last year’s election.

Mr Windsor said commitments he had negotiated with the Government had been incorporated in the budget, including the latest round of the $1.8 billion Health and Hospital Fund, which had been 100 per cent dedicated to country hospitals and health services.

Mr Oakeshott in his media release avoided mention of his personal role, simply stating

that rural communities, including his own Mid North Coast electorate, would see major improvements in health, transport, education and employment from the budget.

The budget included a $4.3b package for regional infrastructure, transport, water, health, education and communications.

Treasurer, Wayne Swan (pictured delivering the Budget), said there would be substantial budget allocations for rural health and hospitals, $1.8b, and another $500 million for rural education.

He said the budget would equip various sectors of the economy with the tools needed to turn the mining boom into an “opportunity boom” including allocating 16,000 skilled migrant workers to the regions.

Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott both praised the Government’s $2.2b mental health package, with Mr Oakeshott describing it as “a huge step forward”.

He said it would make a difference in regions like his, where people with mental illness, their carers and families, have long been fighting for better access to care.

Mr Windsor also welcomed a $290m allocation to the Australian Rail Track Corporation to upgrade the rail line over the Liverpool Ranges to remove a freight bottleneck.

NSW Farmers Association president, Charles Armstrong, said the budget contained some “really good” results for agriculture, but also some downsides.

He said the positives included retention of research and development funding, and continued funding of the rural financial counselling service and “significant” funding for biosecurity.

However, he was concerned the commitment to funding of regional health services and tax cuts for small business were contingent on the proposed mining tax getting through Parliament.

He was also concerned at the $41m funding cut over four years for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

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