Foreword: Regional Australia—Driving Our Economy 2017–18

The 2017–18 Budget builds on the Australian Government’s investment in our regions to deliver the foundations for a strong and sustainable economy for all Australians. This publication outlines over 450 initiatives that benefit regional Australia, across health, education, employment, defence, infrastructure, telecommunications, agriculture and water resources and other portfolios and demonstrates our commitment to creating jobs and economic growth in Australia’s regions.

Australia is a nation of great economic strength and stability and regional Australia is critical to our national economy. Nearly eight million people live outside our capital cities and 3.8 million are employed in regional areas. In 2016, our agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining industries—located across our diverse regions—made up 57 per cent of the value of Australia’s merchandise exports. However, while many of our regional centres and our cities are flourishing, some regions and smaller towns are facing changing patterns of population and economic activity.

Regional Australia—Driving Our Economy 2017–18 outlines the Australian Government investments that will benefit those who choose to live, work and invest in regional Australia. It demonstrates our commitment to securing a bright future for regional Australia and spreading the opportunities and benefits of our growing economy to all corners of the country.

When government invests in regional communities it breeds confidence and encourages further investment from local businesses and families. That is why, in this Budget, the Australian Government will establish the Regional Growth Fund providing $472.0 million for regional infrastructure projects that will make a difference to local economies. The Regional Growth Fund will include $272.0 million to provide grants of $10.0 million or more for major projects which support long-term economic growth and create jobs in regions undergoing structural adjustment.

An additional $200.0 million will be provided to the Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF) to support the construction of community infrastructure and build the capacity of regional areas. The second round of BBRF will allow more regional communities across Australia to benefit from the fund. This brings the total Australian Government commitment to the BBRF to nearly $500 million.

The Australian Government is creating new jobs and delivering sustainable employment through the $220.0 million Regional Jobs and Investment Packages (RJIP). These packages help regions in Australia with untapped potential to diversify their economies and unlock new sources of growth.

The Australian Government is also committed to the development of regional communities through reductions in travel times and better transport connections that make it easier for people and goods to move between regional and metropolitan centres for business, education and recreational purposes. This $500.0 million package will include improvements to the North East Line, the Gippsland Rail Line, services on the Geelong Line, as well as a study into improving the Shepparton Line. There is also an additional $20.2 million to support the construction of the Murray Basin Rail Project, supporting primary producers in accessing the ports of Portland, Geelong and Melbourne.

This Government’s unprecedented investment in infrastructure is central to providing connectivity and economic growth. This includes a commitment to invest more than $70 billion from 2013-14 to 2020-21 in world class infrastructure. These investments mean that our roads are safer and more secure, and that industries and individuals are better connected to markets, services, employment and their communities. The Australian Government is providing an additional $8.4 billion to deliver the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project, with construction to start in 2017–18. This nationally significant freight transport project will connect our regions to domestic and global markets by 2024. Connected regional communities will be able to move goods to ports more efficiently and take advantage of the tremendous opportunities offered throughout Asia and beyond.

Since September 2013, the Australian Government has concluded three major Free Trade Agreements with Korea, Japan and China. These agreements will open up new markets with some of our largest trading partners and provide exciting new export opportunities for regional Australia in agriculture, manufacturing and services.

The Australian Government recognises that new technologies bring opportunities to improve access to services to people living outside the major Australian cities. That is why the Australian Government is investing more in regional telecommunications infrastructure than at any time before. The Government is committed to better connecting regional communities and businesses, through providing better broadband services. The Australian Government is ensuring this occurs by delivering the National Broadband Network (NBN) quickly and efficiently to rural and regional families and businesses. By 2020, through NBN Co Limited (NBN Co), the Australian Government will roll out the NBN providing: 2.5 million regional brownfield premises with access to fixed line services; 600,000 premises with access to fixed wireless services; and 400,000 premises with access to satellite services. About $2.5 billion of capital expenditure will be invested in NBN Co’s fixed wireless network and approximately $2.0 billion will be invested in the satellite network.

The Australian Government is also continuing to build on its commitment to improve mobile coverage with an additional $60.0 million from 2017–18 to 2019–20 being made available under the Mobile Black Spot Program, building on the initial $160.0 million investment.

The Australian Government is improving access of regional communities to vital services through innovative and flexible delivery. Australians in rural and remote locations will have better access to Medicare funded psychological services via telehealth. This will remove long-standing barriers to mental health support and ensure that help will be available to those who need it. The Australian Government is continuing its commitment to improving health services in the regions through the creation of Australia’s first ever National Rural Health Commissioner. Once appointed, the Commissioner will be responsible for developing National Rural Generalist Pathways. As part of this process, the Commissioner will work with the health sector and training providers to determine an accepted scope of practice, and also develop options for increased access to training and appropriate remuneration for Rural Generalists.

The Australian Government is delivering on its 2016 election commitment to establish a Regional Investment Corporation, a national body to administer $2.0 billion of farm business concessional loans and the $2.0 billion National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility from 2018–19. This $4.0 billion investment will give life to the dams and water infrastructure needed to drive regional investment, agricultural production and jobs, as well as partnering with farm businesses as they manage through hardship.

Affordable and reliable water supplies are key to growth in regional Australia. In addition to the $2.0 billion National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility, a $500.0 million National Water Infrastructure Development Fund will be in place to incentivise State and Territory governments to fast track priority projects. The thirty-nine feasibility studies under the fund are either underway or complete and construction is about to begin on the first projects supported by the capital component of the fund.

New Country of Origin Food Labels introduced by the Australian Government, will provide consumers with clear information about food products that are made in Australia and what percentage of ingredients are locally grown. For the first time, food labels will clearly identify Australian manufacturing jobs and Australian farming produce.

The Australian Government is committed to growing local jobs and boosting economic diversification across regional Australia. The Australian Government’s commitment to the structured decentralisation of Australian Government jobs from Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne will benefit regional Australia through the creation of local jobs and career paths, increased economic diversification and the stimulation of economic growth. This commitment builds on the decentralisation of Australian Government activities with core relevance to rural and regional Australia, such as the relocation of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation to Wagga Wagga.

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring that the investments that Australia needs to support economic growth, sustainability and quality of life in our regions are delivered. However, we must also accept that we need to live within our means. This is why we are focusing on investing in the right projects at the right time, to realise the best value for the taxpayer. This is achieved by focusing on those areas of greatest need. The Australian Government is also optimising our investments by being more innovative in how projects are funded, including leveraging private investment and working with all levels of government.

The Australian Government is committed to building sustainable regional communities where our children and grandchildren want to remain or come back to for work, business and lifestyle opportunities.

The Honourable Barnaby Joyce MP
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources

Senator the Honourable Fiona Nash
Minister for Regional Development
Minister for Local Government and Territories
Minister for Regional Communications

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