Foreword: Investing in Regional Growth—2016-17
Australia is a nation of great economic strength and stability. The 2016-17 Budget continues the Australian Government's investment in the growth of our regions to deliver the foundations for a strong and dynamic economy for all Australians.
Regional Australia is critical to our national economy. Around eight million people live in regional Australia, representing a third of Australia's population. Regional Australia is also the source of one third of Australia's total employment and around one in three jobs in regional Australia are in highly skilled occupations. Investing in stronger regional communities and businesses will mean stronger regional economies and, in turn, a stronger national economy.
With innovation at the heart of a strong economy, the Australian Government is actively encouraging individuals and businesses across Australia to pursue opportunities. The $4 billion Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, the $1.2 billion Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, and the $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda will ensure Australia is well placed to thrive in this exciting time to create highly paid jobs and help Australia compete in global markets. This contribution from the Australian Government, combined with partnerships, creativity, local leadership and an economic renewal mindset will help the people of regional Australia position for the future.
The Australian Government is also better connecting our regions to our cities through infrastructure and digital networks to ensure regional Australia can continue to make a significant contribution to our economy. The Australian Government is investing in a range of infrastructure initiatives that will enhance these linkages. This includes a commitment to invest a record $50 billion from 2013-14 to 2019-20 in world-class infrastructure. The Australian Government is responsibly investing in roads, rail and dams.
The Australian Government is committing an additional $594 million from 2017-18 to 2019-20 in equity funding to the Australian Rail Track Corporation, to support the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail. This investment builds on the Government's existing major investments in critical regional links such as the Bruce Highway in Queensland; the Pacific Highway in New South Wales; and the Hume Highway in New South Wales and Victoria. Continuation of successful regional investment programmes such as Roads to Recovery, the Black Spot Programme, the Bridges Renewal Programme and the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Programme are also important initiatives in transforming regional communities.
The addition of $29.9 billion to the Defence portfolio budget through the Australian Government's 2016 Defence White Paper will strengthen the security of the country, while growing regional and rural economies—where many defence facilities are located. The upgrading of defence facilities means direct Australian Government investment in regional Australia and the creation of jobs in building and construction, information technology and logistics. Regional businesses will also be able to capitalise on this investment by tendering for the supply of goods and services to the Department of Defence. The 2016 Integrated Investment Programme, released alongside the 2016 Defence White Paper, brings together all elements of defence investment. Australian industry now has the clarity and certainty to invest in the people and infrastructure to make these capability plans a reality.
The Australian Government is committed to opening up international markets through providing better broadband. This is being achieved by ensuring that Australians can reach and connect with growing markets. The Australian Government is ensuring this occurs by delivering the National Broadband Network quickly and efficiently to rural and regional families and businesses. Round 1 of the Mobile Black Spot Programme is extending mobile phone coverage by committing $100.0 million towards construction and upgrade costs of mobile phone base stations where coverage is poor or non-existent. A further $60.0 million has been committed for Round 2 of the programme.
Australia's trade agreements are also increasing trade opportunities for Australian businesses in important overseas markets. The Australian Government, through these agreements is providing regional businesses with access to new export markets, cheaper inputs, new technologies, and fostering innovation. The Australian Government, through the Smart Cities Plan, is also working in partnership with State and Territory governments to ensure that Australia's cities and big regional centres—which are home to many of the gateways to international trade for regions—function effectively in their transport systems to connect people, goods and services to markets.
The Australian Government recognises that people living outside the major Australian cities can face barriers in accessing the same range of health and aged care services as those living in urban areas. Consequently, it directs significant assistance through general health and aged care programmes targeted specifically at regional Australia. In 2016-17, the Australian Government will commence implementing its mental health reform agenda, with an immediate focus on initiating the delivery through Primary Health Networks. Primary Health Networks will play a key role in leading the development of regional mental health and suicide prevention plans. The Australian Government will provide an additional $102.3 million to the Aged Care Provider Funding—Improving the Targeting of the Viability Supplement for Regional Aged Care Facilities over five years from 2015-16, by re-classifying remote communities via a more contemporary model. Approximately 250 mainstream residential services, in or near outer regional towns, will benefit as a result of the new arrangements, as will most remote services.
The Australian Government is investing in regional Australia to foster stronger regional communities and stronger regional businesses to ensure the nation's prosperity continues into the future.