Government challenged to advance rural Australia’s opportunities
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.”
REASSURANCE: Murmungee farmer and rural advocate Narelle Martin wants government to devise policies which encourage community development – not just pay it lip-service.