This evening I rise to talk about the significance of the federal government’s Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, and in particular its importance to Western Australian communities. In travelling around Western Australia, I have been able to see firsthand the very real benefits that this program has delivered in jobs, improved facilities and, most importantly, in community pride and community activity.
This program has seen minor and major infrastructure upgrades for things like reroofing and retiling halls, installing new toilet blocks, lighting, painting, shade for skate parks and so much more across the state. But what the program really delivers is improvements in the quality of life for the people of Western Australia. It is about a renewed lease of life for meetings and community events—weddings, 21st birthday parties, dance classes, children’s out of school care activities, arts activities, competitive sports and so much more. It is about providing quality facilities so that people can get out of their homes and come together as families and as a community.
The program has also driven enormous improvements in community sporting facilities. Take, for example, the City of Wanneroo’s Kingsway Regional Sporting Complex in the federal seat of Cowan. The city received $2.8 million in funding to redevelop their netball courts. As we all know, netball has one of the highest participation rates of any sport in Australia, but the courts at Kingsway had become run down and were in much need of repair. Phase 1 of the changes here has meant drainage to the courts and improved resurfacing. There have even been adjustable poles installed, and I know that parents of young players and the netball association very much appreciate this new feature. Phase 2 is going to see more much-needed improvements. The project has improved Kingsway dramatically already. Kingsway is an absolute hive of sporting activity. In fact, more than half a million people use the complex every year. It is these kinds of activities that bind together Perth’s northern suburbs into dynamic and attractive communities and that make them great places to live, particularly as so many people in these suburbs love their team sports.
I have also seen firsthand how tired and run down community halls have been enhanced as part of this program. In March I was very pleased to reopen the Alf Faulkner Hall in the town of Bassendean on behalf of the Hon. Anthony Albanese, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. The Alf Faulkner Hall is about 40 years old and is used daily by a diverse range of community groups, but before this funding the building was dilapidated and the roof was leaking. This had a big impact on the groups using the hall, with out of school care groups having to shepherd children around the buckets on the floor collecting water. Thousands of local people use this community hall every year, and the refurbishment has meant that they now have a place they can be comfortable in and proud of.
This program recognises how hard it is for local government to come up with sufficient funds to maintain and invest in local community infrastructure on its own. This is one of the reasons why investment in community infrastructure has a particular significance for Western Australia’s north-west mining towns. Such communities have been battling along with ageing community infrastructure that in many cases has received little investment since the towns were constructed at the start of the big expansions in mining in the 1970s. These communities have very narrow rate bases from which to provide the full array of community facilities that people expect. Towns like Tom Price, Paraburdoo, Port Hedland, Karratha, Dampier and many more all need strong investment in their community facilities so they can remain pleasant and viable communities and attract people to live and work there. While there is a strong ‘fly in, fly out’ economy in many of these towns, we must recognise that ultimately the mining industry cannot exist without real and thriving communities on the ground—communities that need investment in health, education, training and community infrastructure. Frankly, many of these communities have struggled to maintain themselves despite the massive profits earned by the big mining companies that underpin them. I would like to thank the Shire of Ashburton for talking to me about these and many other issues when I was in Tom Price last week. I was there to reopen their community hall, which has been upgraded under this program. It has been absolutely wonderful to see the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure fund investing in and giving a big boost to these towns.
All of these projects show the true value of the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program: providing valuable infrastructure where it is needed and enhancing quality of life for ordinary Australians. The Rudd government recognises that these projects can only be done in partnership with local communities. On that note, I would like to commend local governments across Western Australia for their vision and for working hard to understand and respond to what their communities want and need. I refer to projects like those undertaken by the Coorow Shire Council. Coorow is a farming town of about 250 people, with more people from surrounding areas using it as a centre for their activities. The shire council has replaced the roof of the town hall, reconditioned waste facilities at Leeman Recreation Centre and upgraded storage at its swimming pool.
Community leaders and staff have worked hard across the state to identify their local community needs and to bring many projects to fruition. They responded quickly to the opportunity to improve their ageing infrastructure, which was in desperate need of new investment. They have got the work done over a short period of time when jobs were very much needed. The work got underway just as our unemployment rate was rising, just as the Rudd government’s Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program was designed to do. Thousands of jobs in construction and trades alone were at risk because of the downturn. In fact, in WA the unemployment rate nearly doubled because of the financial crisis. I think that this figure alone makes a mockery of the opposition’s assertion that our stimulus initiatives were unnecessary. Either the opposition are economically illiterate or they simply did not understand or care about the threat posed by the global financial crisis to the livelihoods of ordinary Australians.
The Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program and other stimulus measures such as the school Building the Education Revolution fund have been fundamental to the task of keeping Western Australians working, and maintaining momentum in the WA economy. I am very proud of the timely and decisive action taken by the federal government to stimulate the economy and to create jobs by investing in vital community infrastructure. It is one of the reasons that I support the superprofits tax on the resource industry. This reform will get WA back a bigger share of the wealth it generates, wealth that can be invested in the infrastructure it so desperately needs—investment in infrastructure for WA’s communities so they can continue to generate wealth from the mineral resources they own.
I look forward to seeing more Regional Local Community Infrastructure projects come to fruition throughout Western Australia. I am also delighted that this year’s budget will inject a further $3.8 billion into rural and regional communities through greater infrastructure investment and targeted industry support. It is abundantly clear to me how important well-maintained community infrastructure is to local communities. It is important to creating and supporting jobs, but most of all it is important to making WA’s communities vibrant and attractive places in which to live.