The failure of the Federal Government’s mid-year financial assessment to outline budget impacts on rural and regional Australia is further evidence of a deep and dangerous neglect of the nation’s heart.
During the summer holidays, many Australians leave the cities to reconnect with the country. They seek the cool of the coast or the shade of inland oases. In Indi, they stay in the valleys of the Murray, Ovens, King and Kiewa Rivers, the alpine resorts and Lake Eildon.
Australians feel at home in the bush. They identify with the qualities of people who live on the land: people who are resilient and collaborative, compassionate and generous despite adversity.
Deep government neglect of rural and regional Australia is threatening the sustainability of this identity. What visitors see more and more on their trips away from the city is the hardship due to the impact of globalisation, funding cuts and the digital revolution.
The legendary resilience rural folks are known for is not limitless. It needs proper support and investment. Communities can’t thrive on goodwill and humour alone.
People in Indi tell me there is a need for an explicit national plan for rural and regional Australia. They want all decisions about telecommunications, transport, infrastructure investment, social services, education and health care to be assessed for their regional impact.
Government policy often has a disproportionate impact on rural and regional Australians. There are real consequences when this is not taken into account. Rural people want to embrace the opportunities that change brings, but they need a plan to support them during the transition.
People in Indi are suffering from this lack of government focus. Dairy farmers are leaving an industry buffeted by globalisation. Childcare services are being closed. There is inadequate mobile phone and NBN coverage. Infrastructure funding cuts are biting. Public transport is scant and poorly serviced.
Where is the plan to make sure communities thrive? Surely this should be a priority for a government in coalition with the National Party?
A way to start this process already exists in the Government debating a Private Members Bill I brought to the Parliament last year. It calls for detailed and meaningful regional statements to be made public with each budget and mid-year update.
Sadly the release of the 2016-17 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook has once again omitted any real analysis of budget impacts on communities outside metropolitan centres.
In 2013, Australia watched Indi stand up and say “The major parties are not looking out for our interests and we can do better. We cannot absorb this neglect any longer”.
The electorate chose again in 2016 to act independently and champion local needs.
If the Government is to truly govern for everybody, it needs to listen hard.
I encourage people to keep on sharing their experience with my office. Organise networks and share stories with the media. Speak to the city folk who visit and let them know about the reality of life in the bush when the holidays are over.
Make a noise.
By debating the Private Members Bill, the Government has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to rural and regional Australia. I say: “Bring it on!”
Cathy McGowan is the Federal Member for Indi.