Regional communities can no longer rely on politicians or the government system to keep up with the development of cities, according to a local rural leader.
Benalla-based Voices for Indi president, Alana Johnson, gave the Melbourne crowd at the Wheeler Centre an eye-opening view of country life when she was a panelist at its Regional Focus event on Thursday.
“We used to be able to rely on a fairly strong voice as part of the rural and regional community… (now) the urban vote is deemed to be most important,” she told The Border Mail.
“The future is going to require all of us to step up and take responsibility.”
Ms Johnson praised the work of activists who fight for issues such as mining on agricultural land and renewable energy.
“The leadership that they’re seeking is not there so they have to step up themselves,” she said.
The Federal Government’s previous two budgets have come under criticism from Cathy McGowan for a lack of focus on regional areas.
“That has to be the most startling example,” Ms Johnson said.
“There’s no recognition that there’s life outside of big cities.”
Ms Johnson was part of Voices for Indi when it helped Ms McGowan get elected an independent in Indi, but the group has formally separated itself from the MP’s next election campaign, with members to continue as volunteers on an individual basis.
She said it was good to represent regional Victoria at the Wheeler Centre’s “Outbound: A Week in the Country” series.
The panel agreed that “connectivity” and access to high-quality telecommunications is the number one issue for education, health and many other sectors.
“Our economic development and the development of our businesses relies on it,” Ms Johnson said.
Benalla was mentioned as one rural town that has a high level of socio-economic disadvantage and needs more services to improve.
The town has taken on its own responsibility outside of government assistance with the Tomorrow:Today Foundation, which Ms Johnson is a part of, and has raised more than $700,000 in its Community Fund.
The money is used for programs such as the Education Benalla Program, helping parents with babies and children up to school age.
There were many positives to rural life raised as well, including to sense of belonging to a community and affordable houses.
Ms Johnson said the last election result also meant she didn’t have to explain where she was from to the Melbourne crowd.
“They all know about Indi,” she said.