Australia’s regions − home to one in three Australians − are recovering from recent challenges and are again growing in strength and prosperity. After more than a year of unprecedented disruptions to established patterns of domestic and international economic activity and international trade and migration, our economy is rebounding. The resilience of our regions and our key regional industries forms the bedrock of this recovery trajectory.
Agricultural production has recovered strongly from the drought with gross value added growing 22.5 per cent in the year to December 2020. Agricultural production value is forecast to reach an all-time high of $66 billion in 2020-21. Regional employment has also recovered, with regional labour force participation and unemployment rates returning to their pre-COVID-19 level and the unemployment rate consistently below the capital city rate throughout 2020 and into 2021.
Australia has been one of the most successful countries in the world in managing the spread of the COVID-19 virus across the population. In 2021, the successful management of that challenge, in combination with the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Australians in this uncertain environment, are allowing the economy to continue to recover and grow. This 2021-22 Regional Ministerial Budget Statement details the more than 170 major new packages and individual measures which the Australian Government is delivering to support regional communities and industries to drive this recovery.
Key elements of the Government’s new initiatives in 2021-22 continue to target industries and regions disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 limitations and constraints and by natural disasters and drought.
In 2020-21 my Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development portfolio has been leading the establishment of several support packages for regional communities under the $1 billion COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund. This Fund has been delivering targeted assistance to regions, communities and industry sectors including support for aviation, fisheries, tourism, events and the arts. The Government is continuing to back these sectors to recover and grow in 2021-22.
Of particular importance for regional communities have been the Fund initiatives supporting the aviation and airfreight sectors and stimulating domestic tourism. The Australian Government acted swiftly in 2020 to ensure support for regional aviation by guaranteeing connectivity and helping to ensure the economic viability of regional communities and regional products. Our Tourism Aviation Network Support Program Budget measure for 2021-22 builds on those initiatives, to continue to assist both the aviation industry and stimulate the domestic tourism economy.
Under this program, the Australian Government is subsidising 800,000 discounted airfares to key regions around the country to increase flights on selected routes to key tourism regions. In combination with the reduced airfares and other support measures for aviation and tourism, this program will improve airline sustainability with subsequent flow own benefits for aviation workers elsewhere in the sector and tourism businesses through increased employment opportunities and supply chain benefits.
The Government is continuing to provide major new investments in transport infrastructure, bringing our total funds to a record $110 billion over 10 years and $153.2 million in further investments in communications infrastructure and projects to improve digital connectivity in regional Australia. Major infrastructure construction projects to be funded in 2021-22 include: $400 million for the Inland Freight Route (Mungindi to Charters Towers) upgrades, delivering a long-term program of priority works improving freight movements between the New South Wales border and Queensland; $200.0 million for Great Eastern Highway Upgrades in Western Australia; $80 million for the Tasmanian Bass Highway Safety and Freight Efficiency Upgrades Package; $2.03 billion for upgrades on the Great Western Highway to address a critical missing link in terms of access through, and congestion within, the Blue Mountains.
Further, as part of its continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government is continuing to support Australia’s economic recovery by committing an additional $1 billion to fund further local priority projects through the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program, bringing the total to $2.5 billion over 2020-2023, and an additional $1 billion over 12 months to the Road Safety Program.
The Government will continue to fund targeted, place-based solutions in regional, rural and remote Australia by committing a further $84.8 million in funding to the Regional Connectivity Program.
My portfolio also includes NBN Co Ltd (NBN Co), the mission of which is to provide reliable, fast and affordable broadband to all Australians through the National Broadband Network (NBN). The network is now built and fully operational with more than 99.8 per cent of premises able to order NBN services as at February 2021. In 2021-22, NBN Co will be working with regional businesses and communities to deliver better outcomes for residential and business broadband consumers through its Regional Development and Engagement team which is focused on improving the digital capability of regional Australia. NBN Co Ltd has also established 85 Business Fibre Zones in regional areas. Businesses located within these Zones have access to ultra-fast connectivity at no upfront cost and at CBD prices, improving competition, productivity, and fostering innovation and growth for small and medium businesses.
The Australian Government is continuing the development of the National Water Grid through the National Water Grid Fund. Eight construction projects are now operational, with seven of these having been completed since the establishment of the National Water Grid Authority in late 2019.
On 27 March 2021, the Government announced a new funding pathway within the Fund to drive the construction of smaller-scale projects. The Government will provide up to $160.0 million over two years from 2021-22 to establish the National Water Grid Connections funding pathway to deliver small scale water infrastructure projects and provide short-term economic stimulus. Up to $20 million per state and territory (and capped at $5 million per project of Australian Government contributions) will be made available, for targeted projects that align with the Government’s strategic investment priorities. In addition, through the 2021-22 Budget, the Government is committing $75.7 million in funding for new and augmented projects. These new initiatives will help shape the development of the National Water Grid, with benefits flowing to our regions sooner.
The Government’s regional development programs are also being boosted with an additional $250 million for round six of the Building Better Regions Fund. These programs provide funding for a range of locally-driven projects that aim to strengthen our regions, their economies and the vibrant communities that live in them.
The Government is also providing $5.7 million to deliver a new Rebuilding Regional Communities Program in partnership with the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR).The program will provide microgrants to grassroots community organisations to assist communities in their recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020-21 the Australian Government began the rollout of foundational programs under the $5 billion Future Drought Fund (FDF). The Fund provides secure, continuous funding for drought resilience initiatives. The FDF’s vision is an innovative and profitable farming sector, a sustainable natural environment and adaptable rural, regional and remote communities—all with increased resilience to the impacts of drought and climate change.
In the 2021–22 Budget, the Australian Government is announcing the next phase of FDF programs to commence on 1 July 2021. This phase is investing $172.5 million over the next three years from 2021-22. This funding will deliver a range of activities that will extend foundational programs, providing farmers and farming communities with a ‘toolbox’ of capabilities and services to strengthen preparedness and resilience to future droughts.
In addition, on 5 May 2021 the Australian Government established the National Resilience and Recovery Agency (NRRA) to champion resilience across the nation through targeted natural disaster risk reduction, and all hazards relief and recovery. NRRA consolidates and builds on the success of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency (NBRA), disaster risk reduction and recovery functions of the Department of Home Affairs and the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency (NDNQFRRA). The Australian Government will provide $66.7 million to ensure the Agency is resourced to support communities to withstand more intense and frequent natural disasters.
NRRA will maintain the strong focus on ensuring the needs of disaster-impacted communities are understood and communicated to decision-makers to support locally-led, locally-informed disaster risk reduction and preparedness before a disaster and integrated relief and recovery service delivery when a disaster happens.
NRRA will boast a strong network of Regional Resilience Advisers (RRAs) and State Resilience Coordinators who will work with partners across governments and sectors to build trust, capability and capacity. RRAs will be based across regional Australia, and continue to deliver the recovery and drought outreach support provided by existing NBRA and NDNQFRRA networks. They will also bolster local resilience and recovery planning.
The Australian Government recognises that agriculture, resources and exports from these two industries are central pillars of the Australian economy and that regional Australians play the dominant part in their operations and success. Approximately 322,000 people are employed across Australia’s agriculture sector, mostly in regional Australia, and 70 per cent of the value of Australia’s agricultural production is exported. The resources sector employs more than 260,000 people and is the largest employer of Indigenous Australians, with many of these roles located in regional Australia. Any boost to the domestic resources sector will have flow-on effects through regional job creation and economic benefits in regional communities.
The Government is investing in both these key sectors in 2021-22 to ensure Australia’s economic recovery and growth. These investments will significantly support Australians living in regional areas.
Under a new Agriculture 2030 Package, commencing in 2021-22, the Australian Government is supporting the Australian agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector to achieve $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030.
Further backing Australian farmers to expand their horizons in 2021, the Australian Government is investing $72.7 million over three years from 2020-21 to help to expand and diversify farm export markets through the Agri-Business Expansion Initiative (ABEI). Complementing these initiatives in the resources sector, the Government is providing $20.1m over two years from 2021-22 to deliver a Global Resources Strategy that will diversify and strengthen Australia’s access to key export markets and reduce the risk of trade disruptions.
In the energy sector, the Australian Government will provide $275.5 million over five years from 2021-22 to accelerate the development of regional clean hydrogen hubs, support legal and market reforms and support the implementation of a hydrogen certification scheme. Hydrogen hubs are expected to drive economic growth and create jobs, upskill regional workers and promote increased population in regional areas, supporting ancillary jobs and economic growth as regional towns grow to support the hydrogen hub activity.
Funding for certification trials and hydrogen related legal and market reforms will remove international trade barriers for export of low carbon fuels. This will create opportunities to expand trade centres around the country, unlocking further jobs and economic growth in regional areas located close to hydrogen hub export ports.
In 2021-22 the Government has decided to invest $189.7 million in Australia’s vast northern regions under the next five-year plan for Northern Australia: Our North, Our Future: 2021-2026. This builds on the 2015 White Paper on Developing Northern Australia and focuses on job creation through concentrated investment aligned to geographic regions of growth and initiatives to will enable greater digital connectivity in northern Australia; and support businesses to scale-up and diversify.
This includes $9.3 million over five years from 2021-22 to pilot Regions of Growth in northern Australia locations, supporting on-ground specialists to focus effort on capitalising on the strengths of the region. Under the plan, the Government is dedicating $68.4 million to improve digital connectivity in northern Australia under the Regional connectivity Program and the Mobile Black Spot Program. In addition, the Government is investing $111.9 million over five years from 2021-22 to support northern Australian businesses to scale-up and diversify by providing co-investment grants to businesses for a range of activities including infrastructure, assets, feasibility studies and business planning. The investment will be supported by a Strengthening Northern Australia Business advisory service to build business capability and resilience, maximising the growth potential of businesses accessing the grant funding.
The Australian health care system has been crucial to ensuring the successful containment of the COVID-19 virus across the country. Government responses to the pandemic in 2020-21 included significant funding to health services targeted at regional, rural and remote communities which are being boosted again in 2021-22 for additional measures in health, aged care and disability care.
All Australians should have access to high quality health care services, regardless of where they live. Across much of regional Australia, this level access is becoming difficult to attain. That’s why the Government’s support for primary health services, hospitals and ageing and aged care and mental health services has been significantly boosted.
Building on the Government’s 10-year Stronger Rural Health Strategy, new initiatives will commit $11.6 million to extend rural training and retention of health workers in regional areas. The package of rural workforce initiatives will help deliver more health professionals into rural and remote areas.
For the first time the Government will provide $65.8 million in additional financial incentives and support to rural-based registrars and doctors through increased Rural Bulk Billing Incentive payments based on remoteness. Scaling the Rural Bulk Billing Incentive will better recognise that doctors in rural and remote areas face higher operating costs, smaller patient populations, increased complexity in patient care, and carry a great burden of responsibility for the healthcare needs of people living in these communities.
The Government’s response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care and Quality includes a comprehensive reform of the aged care sector creating a culture of respect and dignity by placing individuals at the centre – empowering senior Australians to have more control over their care and services as they age. The 2021-22 Federal Budget will commit $17.9 billion over five years to set the path for reform in five critical areas including in-home care, residential aged care quality and safety, residential aged care provider sustainability, workforce and governance. This new investment will benefit regional and remote aged care providers and their clients.
The Government is committed to improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in line with the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. The 2021- 22 Budget commits around $840 million to drive progress on this Agreement through improved mental health and wellbeing, suicide prevention, and better access to health and aged care services. This includes investment in antenatal and midwifery care, services to treat and prevent rheumatic heart disease and trachoma, and other targeted prevention activities. In addition to this, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) will be able to access specialist and allied health telehealth MBS items to ensure continuity of care and chronic disease management of Indigenous patients.
Senior First Nations people and older Australians with special needs including those who are homeless, living in rural and remote locations and persons living with dementia will benefit from increased, choice and sustainability of services, assistance with accessing aged care and improved infrastructure to meet consumer expectations. Workforce attraction and retention will also be supported by improved staff housing, training facilities and locum support.
In recognition of the need for improvements to support women, including regional women, in gaining access to justice, particularly in circumstances where they may be experience family violence, the Australian Government will provide additional funding of $6.3 million in 2021-22 to state and territory Legal Aid Commissions under the Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties Scheme (the Scheme). The Scheme helps protect victims of family violence – who are primarily women –in family law proceedings. The Scheme enables victims of family violence, including those in rural and regional areas, to pursue family law outcomes that prioritise their safety and future economic security.
The Government will also provide additional funding of $44.6 million over four years from 2021-22 ($11.3 million in 2021-22) to increase the accessibility of legal and mental health support services to women who have experienced family violence and are navigating the family law system. The Australian Government will establish five additional Domestic Violence Units (DVUs) and Health Justice Partnerships (HJPs) in regional and remote areas of Australia, and enhance existing DVUs and HJPs by providing dedicated mental health support services. This is in addition to the 10 existing DVU and HJP locations established under the First Women’s Economic Security Package in 2018. DVUs provide specialist domestic violence legal assistance to women experiencing family violence, as well as wrap around case management and support services such as financial counselling, trauma counselling, emergency accommodation and tenancy assistance. HJPs, which operate in healthcare settings such as hospitals, connect women who have experienced family violence with legal support, and provide cross-disciplinary training to health professionals on recognising and responding to domestic and family violence.
The Government continues to progress the regional decentralisation agenda. Further work will assess options to ensure that the Australian Public Service remains a competitive employer and staff can live and work in the regions, close to the communities they serve.
As at 31 December 2020, there were 148,736 staff across all agencies employed under the Public Service Act 1999, of which 21,321 were in locations outside Australia’s capital cities. While not employed under the Public Service Act, many other important government agencies, such as Australia Post and Medicare, also have offices and staff located in regional areas, while Defence bases and personnel are located all around Australia, including in remote areas. The Government is continuing to encourage both private and public sector entities to move to regional Australia, offering the individual staff of those entities, and their families, a new and rich environment in which to live and offering regional communities new opportunities for recovery and growth.
The Honourable Michael McCormack MP
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development