Rural residents feel forgotten in federal budget: Nats
The federal budget has triggered a debate on whether regional Australians have been left behind.
Responding to the regional budget, Nationals leader David Littleproud said those outside major centres feel forgotten.
"When it comes to supporting the regions, Labor emptied the kitchen cupboards in their first budget, and last night the government took off the doors and hinges," he told parliament on Wednesday.
"The millions of men and women who live outside our capital cities now feel like they're forgotten Australians."
Mr Littleproud said funding had been cut from multiple critical infrastructure projects in regional areas, while childcare services already facing significant strain received no further support.
Tuesday's budget included $72.4 million for early education professional development and $9.3 million for an education workforce plan to train and retain teachers.
Regional Development Minister Catherine King said the budget would lay the groundwork for further investments in regional areas.
"This is a budget that does recognise that local communities matter. It is a budget that responds to the diversity of our regions," she told parliament.
"It's a budget that understands the vital role our regions and our people play in positioning Australia to take advantage of a transitioning world."
Ms King said the government had maintained a commitment to a $120 billion infrastructure pipeline over the next decade, while reviewing projects to make the fund more sustainable.
However, Mr Littleproud said billions had been cut from regional infrastructure upgrades that would leave communities behind.
"The government should know that tearing up or delaying investments in road, rail, bridges, dams and community facilities while increasing costs on heavy vehicles is not how we build a more productive and sustainable Australia," he said.
Country-focused think tank Regional Australia Institute said the budget set out a clear strategy for growth through new programs to incentivise rural doctors, $3.7m in funding to address the skills shortage and an expansion of first home buyers grants.
"We will continue to work with the government to ensure regional Australia is front and centre of the most pressing national challenges: housing affordability and availability, workforce shortages and cost of living," chief executive Liz Ritchie said.
The budget included $3.5b to triple the bulk-billing incentive to improve GP access, while also allowing patients to access two months of prescriptions at once.
Ms King said regional pharmacies would be supported with funding being doubled for maintenance allowance programs.
But Mr Littleproud said the doubling of the maximum number of prescriptions would leave regional pharmacies at financial risk.
"The concerns or potential human toll of these changes are real, and it will hit regional Australia especially hard."
Rural Doctors Association president Megan Belot said the budget was a start in reversing under-investment in rural health through the bulk billing measures, along with $445.1m over five years to make it easier for GP clinics to employ nurses and allied workers.
Dr Belot said the government had an opportunity to change the course of rural health and "to their credit, they have done so".