After a slow start, the Prime Minister has established a National Bushfire Recovery Task Force. That’s welcomed in the bush, but ‘recovery’ suggests the goal is merely to lift us back to where we were before fires ravaged our country.
Let’s remember that prior to the fires rural Australia was already in the grip of the worst drought in our history – it still is – and yet after seven years in power the Government lacks a comprehensive and strategic national drought plan. Indeed, there is no plan for regional Australia.
We desperately need not just a recovery plan, but an economic reconstruction plan with an emphasis on the infrastructure and skills needed to build drought resilience and to leverage economic opportunity. We also need a compact: between Government and community, city and country, conservationists and business.
Our capital cities and larger towns enjoy economic scale and diversity but most rural and regional towns have narrow, and increasingly fragile, economic foundations.
Many regional economies depend on one of or two traditional industries, often centred on coal, petroleum, forestry, fishing, farming and food manufacturing. They provide the food, energy and construction materials we all rely upon yet many of these rural industries are under pressure. The coal, gas and agriculture sectors are targeted for their greenhouse gas emissions, traditional livestock operations are targeted by animal rights activists and regional manufacturers have to contend with high gas prices.
You’d expect Government to have a strategy to adapt to, and capitalise on, this pressure and change. Sadly, it has no such plan.
Where will the new and well-paid rural jobs come from? Renewable energy and hydrogen are often mentioned but alone they are not the answer a coal miner with a healthy mortgage and a family to feed wants to hear.
Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world and in our major cities congestion grows worse and housing affordability is shifting further out of reach. There is no room left for a large influx of rural Australians.
The good news is, we’re happy right where we are. But for rural Australians, it can’t be all take and no give. We need a Government that understands the enormity of our challenges and can see beyond the immediate issue of recovery. We need a Government with a plan