Bush de­vel­op­ment

Gov­ern­ment chal­lenged to ad­vance ru­ral Aus­tralia’s op­por­tu­ni­ties

Ovens & Murray Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMIE KRON­BORG jkro­n­borg@ne­me­dia.com.au

MURMUNGEE farmer and re­gional change ad­vo­cate Narelle Martin has chal­lenged a fed­eral par­lia­men­tary in­quiry to pro­pose ro­bust mech­a­nisms that ad­vance de­vel­op­ment in ru­ral and re­gional com­mu­ni­ties.

Ms Martin, an econ­o­mist who has long worked with re­gional com­mu­ni­ties and gov- ern­ment, has told a House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ se­lect com­mit­tee on re­gional de­vel­op­ment and de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion that ru­ral and re­gional com­mu­ni­ties faced a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges.

But she was “not re­as­sured by (gov­ern­ment’s) cur­rent ap­proaches”.

“A fun­da­men­tal ques­tion is whether we wish to have peo­ple liv­ing and thriv­ing in ru­ral and re­gional Aus­tralia,” she wrote in a sub­mis­sion to the com­mit­tee.

“While there is a bit of an as­sump­tion that we do, there is in my view no clear state­ment to that ef­fect (from gov­ern­ment).

“Rather, there are ‘par­ent­hood state­ments’ about the ben­e­fits of the re­gions.

“What ap­pears to be miss­ing is a lens that crit­i­cally ex­am­ines the im­pacts of pol­icy de­ci­sions made by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.”

Ms Martin said the gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach to the roll-out of the na­tional broad­band net­work, mo­bile tele­phone con­nec­tiv­ity and re­new­able en­ergy de­vel­op­ment were ex­am­ples.

“From an eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment point of view, the abil­ity to have fast, re­li­able and se­cure in­ter­net con­nec­tion is a busi­ness im­per­a­tive,” she told the com­mit­tee, whose mem­bers in­clude Cathy McGowan (MHR, Indi).

“I have had dis­cus­sions with eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cers in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties who have been ap­proached by en­trepreneurs with good busi­nesses that would re­lo­cate to a dif­fer­ent area – away from a cap­i­tal city.

“One of the first ques­tions asked is what sort of con­nec­tiv­ity is avail­able through the in­ter­net, both in terms of speed and band­width.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the re­sponse con­tin­ues to be that the stan­dard ser­vice in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties is sig­nif­i­cantly below that of the well­con­nected ur­ban ar­eas.

“These po­ten­tial busi­nesses then do not re­lo­cate, tak­ing their eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties else­where.”

Ms Martin also en­cour­aged the com­mit­tee to note that so­phis­ti­cated, ex­pen­sive agricultural ma­chin­ery and equip­ment was tech­no­log­i­cally-ad­vanced and al­lowed the op­er­a­tor to take ad­van­tage of global po­si­tion­ing sys­tem and other in­ter­net-based tools to cap­ture and map im­por­tant data.

“Equip­ment is ren­dered use­less when con­nec­tiv­ity fails ( and) eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, fi­nan­cial re­turns and ex­port dol­lars for the broader com­mu­nity are af­fected,” she said.

Ms Martin then en­cour­aged the com­mit­tee to re­spond to the dis­ad­van­tage and con­se­quences of mo­bile tele­phone cov­er­age ‘ black spots’ in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

“The most crit­i­cal ( out­come) of black spots with com­mu­ni­ca­tion is that ( these) can kill peo­ple,” she said.

“In times of bush­fire and other crises, peo­ple are un­able to con­nect and pro­vide ad­vance warn­ing or iden­tify routes to safety.

“… It is im­per­a­tive that mo­bile phone cov­er­age is ex­panded and up­graded.”

Ms Martin also ar­gued that the cur­rent cen­tralised, large- scale en­ergy dis­tri­bu­tion and sup­ply sys­tem was fail­ing ru­ral peo­ple.

This left com­mu­ni­ties and busi­nesses vul­ner­a­ble, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing ex­treme weather events.

“The abil­ity of re­gional and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to de­velop their own re­new­able en­ergy sys­tems through dis­trib­uted en­ergy and other ex­cit­ing ini­tia­tives does a num­ber of pos­i­tive things,” she said.

“It in­creases eco­nomic re­silience and prof­itabil­ity… prof­its stay with ( lo­cal) in­vestors… it re­duces ( trans­mis­sion) costs… and ( such) sys­tems also in­crease ( com­mu­nity) re­silience.

“I ar­gue that re­new­able en­ergy in ru­ral and re­gional ar­eas can add to eco­nomic growth and op­por­tu­nity, de­vel­op­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of re­gional Aus­tralians… and ( lead­ing to) more co­he­sive and en­gaged com­mu­ni­ties par­tic­u­larly when there are com­mu­nity- driven ap­proaches, and can lever­age long- term pri­vate in­vest­ment.”

PHOTO: Jamie Kron­borg

RE­AS­SUR­ANCE: Murmungee farmer and ru­ral ad­vo­cate Narelle Martin wants gov­ern­ment to de­vise poli­cies which en­cour­age com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment – not just pay it lip-ser­vice.

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