Record spend to ‘turbocharge’ regions

Stephanie Gardiner |

The federal government says it’s recognising regional Australia as the nation’s economic powerhouse, with a record budget spend on water security, roads, connectivity, education and health.

The government is splash $7.1 billion over 11 years on infrastructure projects, low emissions technology, resource extraction, energy production, and water infrastructure in four regions “primed for growth”.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said investments of between $750 million and $2.6 billion will be directed to projects in the Northern Territory, north and central Queensland, the Pilbara in WA and NSW’s Hunter region.

New port infrastructure will be built in the NT, along with export logistics hubs in Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek.

The previously-announced $483 million for Urannah Dam in Queensland was confirmed, pending value for money for irrigation and water security. Funding for Hells Gates Dam, Paradise Dam and Dungowan Dam was also confirmed. 

Ports and sealed roads are the focus in the Pilbara, while $100 million will support early work to make the Port of Newcastle “hydrogen ready”.

“Turbocharging these regional economies will enable people to get the job they want and to pursue their dreams,” Mr Joyce said on Tuesday.

“This will attract new sources of investment to Australia, further unlocking the potential of our regions and supporting the industries that earn the export dollars that make us wealthier and stronger.”

The government has set aside $17.9 billion for priority rail and road projects as part of a $120 billion 10-year infrastructure pipeline.

The budget also includes the establishment a $2 billion regional accelerator program to drive growth, invest in skills and strengthen the supply chain.

Longtime connectivity issues will be addressed, with more than $800 million to improve mobile blackspots along 8000 kilometres of regional transport routes. 

The NBN’s Fixed Wireless network and satellite services will be upgraded with a previously announced $480 million investment. It will improve broadband for one million households and businesses in regional, rural and remote areas.

In healthcare, the government will provide $66 million over four years to remove restrictions on the number of MRI machines eligible for Medicare in rural Australia.

There is $99.3 million in funding over four years to increase the number of medical students studying in rural and remote areas, and $36.2 million for two new rural health schools at WA universities.

Rural Doctors’ Association of Australia president Dr Megan Belot said the funding for extra university students needs to be backed up by more training places for junior doctors in hospitals.

“It will make a difference in allowing junior doctors to have the critical experience for whatever specialty they are going to choose,” Dr Belot told AAP.

“They might want to be rural generalists, but if they want to be a rural psychiatrist or a rural general surgeon, then that’s great.” 

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the government will deliver more mental health services and childcare centres to the regions.

“Stronger regions will always be part of the coalition’s plan for a stronger future,” Mr Frydenberg said.