Power push for regions
Bill calls for investment in renewables, to aid regional communities
PEOPLE living in regional Australia would be the big winners of an ambitious plan to drive a renewables-driven economic boom according to Indi federal independent MP Helen Haines, who tabled her Australian Local Power Agency (ALPA) Bill in parliament on Monday.
Under the Bill, the ALPA would support regional communities to develop their own renewable projects and to partner with commercial developers to share in a slice of the sizeable profits being generated in renewables in regional Australia.
The proposal, seconded by fellow crossbencher Zali Steggall, comes as both major parties publicly grapple with the challenge of developing an energy policy that appeals to the regions.
Under Dr Haines’ plan, developers of new renewable energy projects would be required to offer 20 per cent of the value of their projects for local residents to invest in.
“In Germany, farmers own 10 per cent of all renewable energy, and everyday people own another 30 per cent,” Dr Haines said.
“If we had a system like that in Australia, that would be billions of dollars flowing straight into the pockets of people in regional Australia every year.”
ALPA would also have the authority to extend the government’s planned underwriting scheme to renewable projects that are majority community-owned.
“Right now, the government is pushing through legislation to underwrite corporate-owned gas projects,” Dr Haines said.
“My Bill would extend that same underwriting support to locally-owned renewables projects.
“If people in towns like Myrtleford and Bright want to come together and invest in their own local solar farm which they own, then I think they should get the same support that the government is giving to the big energy companies.”
According to Dr Haines, although renewables are currently being developed in regional Australia at a rapid pace, local communities too often fail to see the full economic benefits of that investment in terms of local jobs, skills training, and local procurement.
“Last year, Australia, installed a record amount of renewable energy, the equivalent of four Hazelwood power stations," she said.
“Yet we have two agencies dedicated to accelerating that investment, but no policies in place to make sure that investment translates into economic benefits for regional communities.”
According to the Australian Energy Market Operator, Australia is likely to hit at least 80 per cent renewables over the next two decades.
“We need to capture that investment boom – that is already raining down around us – to create a local renewables workforce, build up hundreds of small businesses that service this industry, and make sure that locals get to invest in these projects too,” Dr Haines said.
“But sadly, this opportunity is slipping through our fingers because too many regional politicians in this place spend their time fighting the renewable tide instead of harnessing it.
“The National Party in particular should be the biggest renewables champions in the country - it is their constituents, people in the Mallee, in the Riverina, in New England, who stand to gain the most from renewables.
“The idea behind ALPA is simple: every electron generated in the regions should be money coming back into the pockets of everyday regional people.
“Every spin of a wind turbine and every drop of sunlight should be generating income that stays in our communities.”
Dr Haines said she has taken her plan to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, and both government and opposition backbenchers.
“In private conversations, members of both parties recognise that the trend towards renewables is unstoppable, and yet there is a deadlock right now on energy policy,” she said.
“I’m offering ALPA as an idea for both parties to consider as a way we might move forward on this vexed issue.”
Dr Haines called on all regional politicians to consider her proposed legislation, and to put forward their own proposals for how to harness the economic potential of renewables for regional Australia.
“With smart policy and careful investment, we could have a string of 10,000 locally-owned renewable power stations stretching in sunbelt right across the country, bringing new jobs, new income, an endless supply of cheap, clean renewable power to the regions,” she said.
BRIGHT P-12 PREPS: Students for 2021 are (back row, from left) Joe Raveane, Oliver Cox, Mia Stephens, Avelyn Featherston, Hanna Caswell, Gypsie Rowling, Lockie Mansfield, Jed Monshing, Lyla Vincent, Heidi Maconachie, Poppy Dykes and Ivy Buckley; (middle row, from left) Finn Brown, Scarlett Coombes, Alex Wang, Evie Buckland, Maya Maconachie, Indie Peace, Max Tracy, Otis Gray, Callen Gogan and Isabelle Stavar; (front row, from left) Ellie Chhon, Rebecca Kinta, Sean Freeman, Nick Giuliano, Archer Mathers, Kaito Tokuda and Finn Noall. Absent: John Se Hman.
Until 70 years ago, district primary school education was centred on a classroom in rural settlements a short distance from home.
Conveyance of pupils to school by pony, horse and gig or bicycle was a common sight.
Almost 30 neighbourhood schools were established in the Myrtleford district from the late 1860s.
To have a school nearby was convenient and it addressed a local community desire to provide some elementary education in a rural setting.
Local school committees, often led by prominent and influential people, were formed to establish them.
The site of the rural school block was often provided by local farming families such as Mr C. Woolley at Kancoona South, Mrs Maguire at Happy Valley, Joseph Paul at Buffalo Creek and Eliza & Francis Hardy at Mudgegonga.
There were concerns from the outset about teacher qualifications, the quality of teaching and the primitive nature of furniture and equipment. Typically, the initial building was a single room, with slab walls, bark or shingle roof and an earthen-floor room of approximately 8 x 5 metres.
In time, these matters were resolved by the school committee which raised funds, agitated and petitioned the Education Department for assistance.
Some small schools did not operate continuously from year to year, such as the Buffalo River schools, Whourouly East and South, and Barwidgee Creek.
From time to time others “worked part time” each week, due to low enrolments or shortage of teaching staff.
For instance, Buffalo River shared with Buffalo River South, Barwidgee Creek with Buffalo Creek and Ovens Vale with the Gapsted school.
The accompanying table lists 27 district schools.
All of them, with the exception of the Myrtleford and Whorouly schools, have gone.
An appreciation of how they came into being enables us to understand their role in our early history.
After the occupation of the first pastoral runs from the late 1830s, education would wait 30 years.
There were few children, but the discovery of gold would change the population picture for all time.
Myrtle Creek Village, surveyed and proclaimed “Myrtleford” in 1858, became a mining town with a developing commercial and service centre with nearby farmers willing to sell a variety of produce.
By 1861 it had a population of 176 people, with 130 of them living in the vicinity of the “Buffalo River and Myrtle Creek gold workings”.
Within five years the population included 78 children, with no school to attend.
At nearby Beechworth and Wangaratta, socalled National and Denominational schools provided the schooling, supplemented by some privately ran institutions.
Between 1862 and 1872, 37 new schools opened in the North East; at Myrtleford, a Common School and rural schools at Bowman’s Forest, Murmungee and Running Creek had opened.
The Victorian Education Act of 1872 assisted in meeting the increased need for more local rural schools as people took up farm subdivisions under Land Selection Acts from 1869 and lots were acquired for community halls, businesses and private dwellings.
The arrival of the Ovens Valley Railway in 1883 also stimulated further farming activity and the cultivation of tobacco and hops began.
By 1901, primary schools had reached 140 in the North East.
A renewal of local mining through dredging and establishment of a dairy industry and butter factory also led to local population growth.
More was to follow when allocation of World War 1 Soldier Settler blocks occurred at Barwidgee, Happy Valley, Merriang and Whorouly in the early 1920s.
By 1924, the North East had 192 primary schools, but this would fall to 159 in 1937 due to the Great Depression (1929 to 1932).
However, the very framework of schooling for developing small rural communities was well and truly there.
Within 15 years of 1937 over half of the original 27 district schools would have closed or been consolidated.
Five had already closed by 1920 and Rosewhite and Merriang’s classes ceased in the 1930s to 1940s period.
Between 1948 and 1952 pupils from eight remaining schools commenced bussing to attend the Consolidated School or St Mary’s Primary School in Myrtleford.
Others would gradually close and move pupils to the nearest neighbouring school over the next 50 years, concluding with the closure of Mudgegonga in 2002.
Today, the town schools at Myrtleford and Whorouly carry the legacy of those who wrote the early history of district education.