Challenges facing rural communities have been highlighted at the annual Bush Summit, with water, housing, essential workers, climate change and the Voice among the key issues aired and identified for action.
Now in its fourth year, and running nationally for the first time, the Bush Summit has created tangible change across the bush, including the establishment of the Rural Advisory Panel which provides `advice to the government from the people on the ground and not bureaucrats in the city.
The event has also protected the livelihoods of farming communities by pushing governments to introduce the ‘right to farm’ legislation to keep activists off farms.
The summitt series has today launched n Tamworth, hearing from politicians including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, NSW Premier Chris Minns, and federal Opposition leader Peter Dutton, as well as rural and regional locals, stakeholders, farmers and business people.
It will now hit the road for events in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia next week.
Here is how the day unfolded:
WHAT WE LEARNED: BUSH SUMMIT COMMUNIQUE
The Daily Telegraph’s editor Ben English and Rural Advisory Panel Jillian Kilby have presented the 2023 Bush Summit communique, the list of action points coming from this year’s conference, bringing the curtain down on the event.
The communique in full is:
– Establish a national cabinet Taskforce to conduct an essential services review across regional Australia. Focus on healthcare, childcare services, mobile telecommunications and data services, education, aged care.
– National audit mobile coverage report. Call on the federal government to convene a public hearing with key farming, business and community leaders to discuss report outcomes and agree action plan to address shortcomings.
– Expand the NSW government’s health services key worker $20k cash incentive scheme to include police, teachers and childcare workers to encourage them to move to regional areas to address existing chronic shortages.
– Demographic study to forecast fastest growing regional towns with recommendations on how to plan for requisite housing, transport and essential services needs.
– NSW government to establish a special housing envoy to identify barriers and propose solutions to addressing chronic housing supply shortages in regional areas.
– Establish scheme to fairly compensate those in regional communities or farming areas both directly and indirectly impacted by the physical impacts of the infrastructure required for the energy transition of the economy.
– Program for impacted farmers/communities to access legal and scientific advice as part of engagement on renewable energy projects.
– Governments and policy makers to maintain focus on urgently progressing planned gas projects and keep an open mind on alternative energy solutions, including nuclear.
– The government consider establishment of a government reinsurance scheme to enable people living in designated high-risk regions to have access to affordable insurance.
– Restrictions on the new construction or rebuilding of houses in designated high-risk flood
– Compulsory tree clearing orders around housing and critical infrastructure in high-risk bushfire zones.
– Minimum standards for cyclone and bushfire-resistant building methodologies and materials in nominated high risk areas.
– National Disaster Prevention resilience grants.
– Murray Darling Basin state government ministers to agree to push back deadline to 2030 and not resort to water buybacks.
– Call on NSW government to accelerate identified 650gL projects as a priority.
– NSW government to provide a one-stop information service for regional and rural councils and tourism businesses to access support and funding from already existing programs.
– Expand the working holiday visa program to five years.
BARNABY GOES NUCLEAR ON RENEWABLES
The tussle over the transition to renewables has taken centre stage at the Bush Summit.
“These companies are not doing it to save the planet. They’re doing it to make money,” New England MP Barnaby Joyce said of the energy companies coming into his electorate with renewable projects.
Joking that he had to deal with some of these companies with former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull “when we got along”, the former Deputy PM said he wasn’t for net zero “if it’s going to put you out of business”.
Australian Energy Council chief executive Sarah McNamara said there are 100 wind farms operating across Australia’s east coast and it was a “really delicate difficult thing”.
Transgrid’s Craig Stallan said his company was consulting the community about transmission lines currently being built in the Snowy Hydro region.
“It takes time to get some of these decisions. We don’t make these decisions … we push it through the machine to try and get the best outcome,” he said.
Squadron Energy CEO Jason Willoughby said 90 per cent of a wind farm is recyclable, in response to a question about waste produced by renewable energy.
They panel shared their thoughts on the future of energy, with Mr Joyce declaring: “By default we’re going to go nuclear.”
TRANSMISSION LINES ‘DIVIDE COMMUNITIES’
Farmers have shared the challenges and opportunities surrounding energy transition.
Tamworth farmer Jacqui Gidley-Baird’s property has been earmarked for transmission lines to run through it.
“So very terrifying news, and the worst thing was, is we now find that it’s not as nice as people think,” she said.
“It will change the way that we operate our farm significantly. We cannot cultivate under these transmission lines. We can’t grow the fodder, we can’t self-graze because although these transmission lines don’t give off radioactive energies, they actually do short electric fences, so we can’t use electric fences anywhere near them.
“Plus we take on a massive fire risk,” she said.
While she supports renewable energy, she said putting the lines in communities had been done the wrong way.
“Landholders like myself that (are facing) compulsory acquisition of my land, taking away all my ability to operate, taking away my capital value and my children’s future, my neighbour’s futures,” she said.
“My husband and I are Rural Fire Service volunteers. We will never forget the fear after the drought and the fires … and putting towers like that in communities that need aircraft to fight fires and taking away their ability to actually protect themselves – it’s not the way to go.”
Bendemeer farmer Rachel Rummery said renewable energy is the way forward, but farmers must be consulted. She has a wind farm being built on her property, but has been consulted about that.
“We also have the possibility of transmission lines crossing our land, and we get very little choice in that. At least (with) the wind farm I’ve had a choice, they’ve come to me and said, ‘would you like to be involved? These are the benefits’, and I got to choose. (There’s) no choice with a power line,” she said.
CRICKET TALENT PLUCKED FROM BUSH
Australian cricketer – and Bendemeer-raised local hero – Josh Hazlewood has told the Bush Summit of his upbringing playing cricket around Tamworth, saying there’s still plenty of talent coming out of the bush.
“I probably don’t get back enough to realise it, but there’s still young guys coming through (here) all the time,” he said.
“Opportunity is the key word, and no one gets through the net now, NSW does a great job of finding all the talent, and getting it to Sydney.”
He said Test cricket is still the pinnacle of the game in Australia, India and the UK, but other countries have slid towards shorter formats of the game.
“You see all the youngsters go in that direction until they realise they may not make it, and they go back to the franchise stuff,” he said.
BATTLES, BENEFITS OF BUSH
Stakeholders from business people to local police have told the Bush Summit of the challenges and benefits of living in the regions.
Penny Ashby, founder and designer of Lady Kate Knitwear in Narrabri said her biggest challenges were the “the same things I talk to my friends in the city about … most things are only small hurdles. When you live in the country you get used to having to access something via telehealth”.
“As long as you have good internet connection …(you’re) not disadvantaged at all where you live,” she said.
“Childcare and education … is a real problem where we live.”
Ashraf Al-Ouf, the CEO Bayer Group Australia and New Zealand, said a big health divide remains between the bush and metro areas, with bush access to GPs a big issue.
One in four people in the bush has cardiovascular issues, compared to one in five in the city.
Royal Flying Doctor’s chair Tracey Hayes said lack of housing was a major issue, and law and order “is a challenge”.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Pisanos, regional NSW field operations, said there were great attractions in the bush, especially for young cops, but also challenges.
“The greatest incentive we have … is about lifestyle and community, and the civic leadership role police can play in small towns and communities,” he said.
“There’s the challenge of when you stop being a cop. I think regional country cops take the issues in the community personally.
“Youth crime is a major issue, we’re seeing issues around serious youth crime. The age of criminal offending is shifting down younger.
“We just can’t arrest our way out of some of these complex societal problems.”
WE NEED NUCLEAR: DUTTON
Opposition leader Peter Dutton, at his first ever Bush Summit, has said there needs to be an “honest discussion” about the transition to renewables and said nuclear energy should be explored further as an option.
He said regional citizens had been treated as “second class citizens” with wind turbines and transmission lines headlining their concerns.
“I live on a small rural property about 35-40 minutes out of the city in Brisbane, people in my community wouldn’t tolerate turbines going up in their suburbs, pure and simple,” he said.
“They want that amenity and I think there is a divide now between cities and regional areas where people in regional areas are being treated as second class citizens.”
He said Australia should chase small modular reactors like China, France, the UK, and the US.
“It doesn’t need to be refuelled, we can deal with the waste responsibly. And you don’t have the disruption to rural communities that we’re seeing unfolding moment,” he said.
DAM NUMBERS ‘NEVER STACKED UP’
Water and environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has defended controversial water buybacks and the federal government’s withdrawal of support for the Dungowan Dam project while speaking at Bush Summit.
She said the numbers never stacked up on Dungowan Dam.
“Infrastructure Australia said this was the worst benefit cost ratio of any project they had ever examined. This has a benefit cost ratio of 0.09,” she said, adding that meant practically for every $1 spent, the value returned would be nine cents.
She also said she’d pursue water buybacks in the Murray Darling Basin as part of its push to avoid a water shortage.
“My position is we need to look at all viable options,” she said.
“We’ve had a couple of good years … but already the dry times you can feel them coming back.”
“I don’t think there’s any unconventional time to say we need to achieve all the objectives of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
“I don’t see how we can achieve (the plan) without that (voluntary water buybacks).”
RENT FREEZE ‘THE LAST THING WE NEED’
NSW Premier Chris Minns backed federal Labor’s attack on the Greens’ push for a rental freeze.
The Premier said a rental freeze was “the last thing we need”.
The Greens have aggressively attacked, and delayed, the Albanese government’s push for their Housing Australia Future Fund by demanding more support for renters.
“When rents have gone up 24 per cent in the last 12 months, that’s the last thing we need,” he said.
“Everyone who hasn’t already jacked up their rent would immediately do it and they do it before the rental freeze comes in.
WAGE CAP SCRAP BOOST TO REGIONS: MINNS
NSW Premier Chris Minns says government modelling estimates indicate scrapping the wages cap will pump more than $124m into the pay packets of government workers in regional NSW, and deliver the biggest pay rise to public sector workers in NSW in more than a decade.
“Our wages offering will deliver a $124.5 million boost to salaries of public service workers throughout regional NSW, he said, adding that the flow-on effects for communities would be even greater.
He said this was the first step to resolving NSW’s essential worker recruitment and retention crisis, “but it’s not the last. We know that recruitment is key.”
He said the $20,000 boost to incentives for health workers, aimed at enticing them to the bush, was another important step to fill hard-to-hire roles in rural NSW.
“Which is why, today, I can announce the NSW Government will be doubling incentives for health workers to move to regional communities,” he said.
“We have to grow the workforce in rural, regional and remote areas.
“We know that workforce and skill shortages are contributing to inequitable health outcomes.
“The previous incentive, set in 2010, was never reviewed despite clear strain on our regional health system.”
Teachers Federations members protested outside ahead of Mr Minns’ speech.
Asked about the stalemate in pay negotiations with the union, Mr Minns said the agreement in place until January, and the government wanted to bring talks forward “because we recognise that there is a chronic teacher shortage”.
“We are committed to lifting first year teacher pay from the lowest in the country to the highest in the country,” he said.
SHOPPERS NEED SUPPLY CHAIN TRANSPARENCY
A panel on economic and environmental resilience has heard of the need for more transparency over the supply chain, so shoppers better understand where their food and clothes come from.
Brad Banducci, Chief Executive Officer of Woolworths, said the company was “focused on innovation” and transforming the supply chain.
Merrilong Pastoral Company owner David Brownhill told the Bush Summit “every farmer has it in their best interest to look after their farming asset” and that the message had to get through to consumers about the effort Aussie farmers went through to get the best possible product to shop shelfs.
Elders managing director and CEO Mark Allison, said Aussie farming was in a sweet spot after several good seasons and good prices for livestock and produce, but digital infrastructure must improve to allow more farming operations to be able to run from the bush.
Mr Brownhill connectivity issues were highlighted by him “paying some billionaire” $130 a month to use their internet service – referencing Elon Musk’s satellite internet system – rather than using the government-run NBN.
PM MEETS PROTESTERS
Greeted by protesters outside the Bush Summit, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has met with some of the protesters in a private room after his address, and Q&A with The Daily Telegraph editor Ben English.
James Golden, chairman of the apolitical Renewable and Transmission Line Action Network (RAT: AND), said he was representing angry farmers from far North Queensland down to Tasmania.
“I would like to compliment the Prime Minister for speaking to us for 25 minutes,” he said. “But it is not enough for us to be heard yet.”
The farmers are unhappy that foreign owned companies are looking to put thousands of hectares of solar panels and wind turbines on prime agricultural land.
“The Prime Minister has promised to give us a seat at the table,” Mr Gooden said. “He was very receptive to us calling for a senate inquiry into this.”
Farmer John Peatfield was also in the meeting and told the Prime Minister that farmers were unhappy with the actions of foreign owned companies putting in solar panels and wind turbines.
VOICE, HERITAGE LAWS ‘DIVIDE US’: RINEHART
Billionaire businesswoman Gina Rinehart has called on the government to invest in primary industries across the region as she welcomed the Western Australian government’s decision to abandon controversial heritage laws.
“(It was) an act that placed burdens on the backs of West Australians, burdens that many would not have been able to carry,” she said.
She added the prospect of national heritage laws was a threat until it was “dead, buried and cremated”.’
“It is a threat of a risk of bureaucratic … regulation over the heads of anyone in regional Australia.”
Ms Rinehart’s speech was delivered to the Bush Summit by Hancock Prospecting chief executive Adam Giles, on behalf of Ms Rinehart.
He likened an Indigenous Voice to Parliament to cultural heritage laws — saying they are designed to divide us, and said the government’s pursuit of the Voice as an “oxymoron”.
“They are putting transmission towers in a sacred site … so on one hand we are talking about the Voice and Indigenous decision making. To be putting transmission lines through sacred sites, it’s an oxymoron.
“I think we should march forward as a population together and not have these divisive things that upset us.”
He called for the government to work with Aboriginal sacred sites to ensure they can be protected.
GROWING CITY-BUSH DIVIDE: RINEHART
Ms Rinehart also called for war veterans, pensioners and students to be allowed to work as much as they want without “onerous” hours restrictions.
“(We need to focus on) deleting the upper limit on work hours so that our war veterans, our pensioners, and our university students could all work as long as they wanted.”
Ms Rinehart said “huge and unnecessary large intakes of migrants” were to blame for a growing city and bush divide because they did not have a connection to the bush.
She slammed the ballooning public service workforce, arguing not enough done to invest in boots on the ground in regional Australia.
Mr Giles also spoke up against the risk of the energy transition – including transmission lines and wind turbines – on primarily agricultural land.
“You can’t be in a situation where Australia is going to destroy all our green pastures … so you can supply power to people living in a concrete jungle in the city,” he said.
To applause, he said the agriculture industry was shouldering the responsibility of climate change and reaching net zero.
“If you’ve got people in the cities creating all that carbon, why are you coming out to my farm and disturbing my farm?” he said.
“The best people who can manage their farms are the farmers themselves … farmers on the ground know their country.”
‘NEED TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT’: PM ON THE VOICE
Mr Albanese has talked about The Voice,…