$325 million promised by Labor for regional communications has vanished from the budget, leaving regional Australia with little hope of seeing improved services, Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
Under questioning in Senate Budget Estimates today it was revealed that of the $400 million interest earned by the former Communications Fund – and promised by the Rudd Government – just $75 million has been allocated to projects in response to the Regional Telecommunications Review, while the rest has vanished into the unrelated Building Australia Fund.
“Money allocated for regional communications is now being used to fund Mr Rudd’s city focused stimulus spending spree,” Senator Birmingham said.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was explicit and forceful in last year confirming the money would be spent on addressing issues identified by the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee, chaired by Dr Bill Glasson.
“all of the money, all of the interest earned on the Communications Fund … – and we believe the estimate is around $400 million – will be spent on the Glasson committee recommendations and the government considerations around that. That is what the money is budgeted for in the budget papers … it is there in black and white.”
Senator Conroy, Hansard, 27 May 2008
“The Rudd Government has betrayed regional communities by promising them $400 million last year, but is now budgeting for only $75 million,” Senator Birmingham said.
“They claim the remaining $325 million is coming, but admit it is unbudgeted and refuse to say when it will arrive. This promise is now somewhere in the never never.
“With the Government facing massive deficits and claiming a 2 per cent cap on spending growth into the future it defies belief that the missing $325 million will be made available anytime soon.
“Regional Australia has been betrayed once again by the Rudd Government, which is proving to be big on promises for improved communications but fails to deliver every time.
“First Labor cancelled the OPEL contract, which would have delivered improved services for regional Australia last year. Then their initial plans for a National Broadband Network, for which construction was mean to start last year, were abandoned. They abolished the perpetual Communications Fund, designed to provide ongoing funds for regional communications services. And now they have stripped $325 million from what little was left for regional communications funding.
“It will be a long time before regional Australia ever believes a Labor promise on communications again.”