Govt denies cuts to regional Australia

The federal government has defended a $1.2 billion decrease in funding for regional infrastructure, continuing debate about whether country Australia is worse off under Labor.

Infrastructure department officials told a budget estimates hearing $18.7 billion was set aside over four years for regional infrastructure projects under the coalition's pre-election outlook.

The Albanese government funded $17.5 billion worth of projects in its October budget, or $1.2 billion less. But spending is set to increase by $4 billion over 10 years, the department said.

Nationals Senator for Queensland Matt Canavan described the $1.2 billion as a cut, but the department's deputy secretary David Hallinan disagreed.

"I wouldn't characterise it that way," Mr Hallinan told the hearing in Canberra on Monday.

"There's been an increase in funding. It's just been distributed further across the board."

The infrastructure budget does not include water projects like dams or regional grant programs, some of which were repackaged, deferred or cut in last month's budget.

Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Carol Brown, and the department officials also defended the deferral of several major road upgrades across the country.

Department secretary Jim Betts said funding for the Great Western Highway, a major freight route between western NSW and Sydney, was delayed partly due to the "overheated" construction market.

"Part of the design behind re-phasing some of the main projects was to take some of the pressure out of that, to enable existing projects to be delivered in accordance with value for money," he said.

Senator Canavan questioned the delayed Rockhampton Ring Road, a $1 billion construction designed to cut heavy vehicle congestion on Queensland's Bruce Highway, another major freight road.

"People are genuinely concerned for their community," Senator Canavan said.

"There are four schools along this part of the Bruce Highway, where 2300 trucks go past every day.

"We're just desperate to see that change."

Ms Brown said the government is committed to the ring road, but the cost had blown out by 70 per cent.

"The government has made the decision to defer the project and we remain 100 per cent committed.

"We're about delivering on projects. And that's what we intend to do."

Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, who held numerous regional portfolios under the coalition, said the hearing confirmed the fears of many rural Australians.

"Labor promised no one would be left behind, but the budget decisions to cut spending seem to have targeted regional Australia through cuts to critical social and economic infrastructure," she said.