Northern Senator urges new deal for regional communities

New Senator urges new deal for regional communities

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Maiden Speech: Nationals Senator Susan McDonald. Photo AAP / Mick Tsikas

Maiden Speech: Nationals Senator Susan McDonald. Photo AAP / Mick Tsikas

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Whole-of-government reform needed to balance the urban-rural divide, Susan McDonald says

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Nationals Queensland Senator Susan McDonald spoke to the Senate for the first time on Tuesday calling for a fresh deal for rural communities, and arguing that decentralisation must become "the business of government".

"We need a whole-of-nation approach, a genuine partnership between council, state and federal government that restores the services, the infrastructure and the people back to our regional, rural and remote areas," Senator McDonald said.

Senator McDonald pointed to the era of economic reform bookended by government retreat from of commodity marketing roles in grain and wool, as well as privatisation of previously nationalised services such as railway, telecommunications as well as agricultural advice services and rationalisation of health services.

"It was a time of productivity commissions and user pays. It was the time that the ground cracked, and the chasm that divided regional communities and urban places began," she said.

"I've seen governments remove services and justify it with the argument of falling populations: a maternity service closing, railway sidings pulled up and words like 'mothballed' introduced to the government vocabulary. Yet, when it comes to the cities and there is an inadequate population to ensure public transport is affordable, suddenly billions of dollars in annual subsidies are provided."

Senator McDonald said funding for cities shouldn't be begrudged, "that is the role of government".

"But when it comes to rural health services, to the education of kids and to building significant infrastructure, government must not turn around with the calculator and a balance sheet in hand and say that an inadequate population makes these crucial growth services uneconomical"

Senator McDonald said regional communities should be adequately supported to reach their potential, and the need for policy reform is urgent.

"We need bold economic policy, including taxation zones and rebates, that incentivises businesses and people to escape the urban congestion of our cities and build successful, people focused businesses in our regions."

Hailing from Cloncurry in North West Queensland, Senator McDonald has deep links to the agriculture sector.

Until her election to parliament, the mother of three was managing director of the Super Butcher, which is the retail arm of MDH, her family's 190 year-old cattle empire.

Senator McDonald secured the number two spot on the LNP' QLD Senate ticket after the party dropped long-serving Senator Ian Macdonald down the pecking order to the unwinnable fourth spot, and his colleague Barry O'Sullivan missed out on preselection.

She is no stranger to party politics. Her father Don McDonald was a QLD and national president of the Nationals in the 1990s, and Senator McDonald was Qld secretary from 2003.

The day after her maiden speech, Senator McDonald's first statement to the House raised the plight of Far North QLD communities like Mareeba on the Atherton Tablelands which depend on the Kuranda Range Road for access to Cairns.

The winding road traverses a steep range and takes an average 9000 cars a day. It was closed 130 times in the 2018-19 financial year, an average of 1.3 times a week, due to wet weather, landslides, and traffic accidents.

"This is about potential," Senator McDonald said, arguing that lack of funding mean the Far North was "being hamstrung" while dodgy roads in Brisbane were swiftly fixed.

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