Package a ‘good start’ for rural Australia

Posted by Josette Dunn on 8th September 2010

The Deputy Director of the National Institute for Rural and Regional Australia (NIRRA) has welcomed the package for rural and regional Australia announced by the government, but says more needs to be done to ensure long-term sustainability for regional communities.Dr Anthony Hogan, Fellow in Rural Health at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at The Australian National University, and Deputy Director of NIRRA, says the new government is off to a good start with supporting rural and regional communities.

“Members of NIRRA have already identified as priorities many of the issues addressed in this package including the urgent need for a national broadband network and the development of regional transport infrastructure including roads, ports and high-speed rail. Development of educational infrastructure and resources would also be greatly welcomed in country Australia, as would improvements in a variety of health services,” said Dr Hogan.

“However, this package doesn’t address the long-term future of rural Australia. There has been no announcement of a national strategy which has substance in ensuring the sustainability or rural communities and their industries, particularly agriculture. The policy underpinning the forthcoming Basin Plan must include an equity component which recognises the historical contribution rural Australia made to our wellbeing.

“In recent years Australia has witnessed substantive environmental change resulting from climate change. These changes have directly impacted on the viability of rural industries across many communities. In enabling communities to adapt to climate change we need to do so in a fashion which enables people to continue to live in their communities. In cases where industry becomes no longer viable we need to partner with primary producers – people who have contributed to Australia’s wealth over many decades – and their local communities to address these challenges in a sustainable fashion. The government’s current pilot drought policy is an example of a policy which falls short of these goals and needs to be re-thought.

“Rural people have been at the forefront of many climate adaptations currently thought to be innovative in cities – rain water tanks, waster recycling, perma-culture and alternate energy forms such as windmills all had their origins in country Australia. Even the backyard clothes line originated in rural Australia and offers a far more viable response to energy demands than clothes dryers. City people have a lot to learn from country people about adaptation,” said Dr Hogan.

“Action on climate change is urgently needed. However it must progress in a manner that is just given the vast differences that rural people have to travel compared to city people. There simply isn’t the public transport infrastructure in the country to provide viable alternatives to travel, particularly in the shorter term but at the same time we need to progress to reduce carbon emissions nationally,” said Dr Hogan

“Given the diversity of issues impacting on rural and regional Australia an Office for Rural & Regional Australia within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, is urgently required, if not a ministry for rural and regional Australia. Only with such oversight on rural issues can the population be assured that rural and regional Australia will have a fair go in the longer term,” he added.