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David Penberthy

Sep 9, 2010

Rural reality

Penbo is not happy. He's not happy with Julia Gillard, he's not happy with Rob Oakshott and he's really not happy with Tony Windsor. The image was of Independent MP and gen

Penbo is not happy. He’s not happy with Julia Gillard, he’s not happy with Rob Oakshott and he’s really not happy with Tony Windsor.

The image was of Independent MP and gentleman farmer Tony Windsor, in moleskins and a leather-shouldered knitted jumper, riding a tractor mower which probably cost as much as a Holden Barina, tending the lawns at his country manor as he finalised his extortionate crusade to turn our national government into the vassal of the laughably persecuted rural class.

In fact Penbo seems to be on a one man crusade to warn everyone that people who live in regional Australia are little more than whining rent seekers attempting to make life hard for city dwellers. The entire tenor of the article is that we country folk, and our representatives, are overplaying the challenges that we face as a way of extracting cash from hard done by suburbanites. To borrow a phrase from Tony Abbott, that’s absolute crap.

Let’s start with the obvious. Tony Windsor is not personally representative of everyone who lives in rural Australia, in fact he’s pretty far from it. The idea that everyone west of the Great Dividing Range is spending their afternoons running the John Deere around the lawns of the manor house is a nice easy straw man for Penberthy to attack, but it has no basis is reality. If you look at data from our state and federal governments what we actually find is:

…the proportion of people living in poverty is increasing in rural and remote areas. Unemployment and under-employment are high with low education and real incomes

Railing against a caricature of the landed gentry is even more stupid when you get to Oakeshott’s electorate on the Mid North Coast where the major industries are tourism, light manufacturing, fishing and oyster farming and forestry. Despite being on the east coast and only four hours from Sydney:

In Wauchope NSW there is a two and a half year wait for a dental check-up, although the dentist can fit in emergencies. In Port Macquarie NSW there is no dental service in town for health care card holders and the one resident dentist was reportedly only available for emergencies

To try to argue that rural areas are not disadvantaged by a lack of access to services is simply fanciful. In health and education especially, rural people time and again have to deal with second rate options or travel away from their homes and support networks to access the services that they need.

Tim Dunlop has already pointed out that Penbo’s rant about the $10 Billion being ripped from the suburbs is pretty flaky, that almost all of this spending is in existing programs, but being re-prioritised to address needs in rural areas first.

If it turns out that the budget impact figures are correct, then the pork-for-votes argument is severely weakened. That is, if the amount promised to the rural independents to secure their vote is nowhwere near the $10 billion claimed in the quoted article (and other pieces that pursue the same argument), then the media are misrepresenting what is going on.

So rural Australia is facing hardship out of proportion with metropolitan Australia, but addressing some of these issues isn’t going to mean denying services to the suburbs. What’s Penbo complaining about again?
Oh that’s right, broadband:

Julia Gillard made an interesting policy slip at her first press conference when she was asked about the importance of broadband in rural and regional Australia, and inadvertently raised the issue of timed telephone calls.

As one of the journalists present pointed out, the only way you could alter that reality is through a cross-subsidy – that is, by charging city people more to use the phone than country people.

I can’t argue with this at all. It’s true. People in rural Australia believe that we shouldn’t have to pay more for access to telecommunications, it’s the utility of the 21st century and should be treated as such.

In fact, many of the services we want will be subsidised to some extent by larger population centres. What’s more, we actually think that it’s reasonable that we’re not denied opportunities simply because our communities don’t have the economies of scale that large cities have. What Penbo’s piece completely fails to mention is that rural Australia provides value to our nation that needs to be measured beyond lines on a balance sheet.

Bob Katter, Adam Bandt and Bill Heffernan will all tell you that you cannot underestimate the importance of food security, being able to feed our own nation is a valuable thing. While we may be able to source food cheaper from overseas, do we really want to? Do you want your milk coming from Tatura or China? This isn’t a case of nationalism, but a genuine question of being able to verify the quality and safety of the food we eat. It’s also an environmental issue, you cannot claim to be serious about climate change if you’re not prepared to support local agriculture in preference to imported food, with the associated greenhouse cost of its transport.

There’s also the social and historical value of ‘the bush’ as a part of our national identity, the cost of dealing with dislocated populations when towns die and the reality that any solution to climate change will have to include large scale renewable energy projects outside of our cities. Rural Australia is not a charity case, it’s an important part of our nation that deserves respect and support.

Criticising a government for trying to win support is nonsensical, and it’s even more ridiculous to complain about MPs who have decided to use an opportunity to get the best deal that they can for their own electorates. In this instance the benefits of Labor’s deal with the independents will actually flow to other rural seats that have been ignored by both major parties for a long time, I think you’ll have a hard time finding people ready to apologise for that.

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10 thoughts on “Rural reality

  1. BoldenwAter

    I disagree Toaf.
    I hope the News Limited story spinners continue to demonise rural Australians. What a well thought out plan.
    The result of that would be more rural people rushing to buy newspapers and to listen to news articles that tell them how parasitic they are, surely?
    Well maybe these people might actually begin to realise that it is not that way at all and maybe even a few of them might talk to their neighbors about how the press is treating them?
    Wouldn’t that be the outcome that the dullards who write for News be after?

  2. Toaf

    I hope that, when he reads this post, Penbo notices the differences between reasoned argument supported by evidence and ignorant one-eyed whining.

  3. Matthew of Canberra

    Holden Back @7

    The richest people I know have houses at the end of dirt roads, and no connection to mains.

    I would suggest that one is not “real australian” unless you agree with rupert murdoch.

    So … who is australia’s Sarah Palin?

  4. Holden Back

    @MoC You’re not a ‘real Australian’ unless you live on a dirt road and have a rainwater tank. At least that’s local opinion.

  5. Matthew of Canberra

    I really like AB’s “how will we hold them accountable?”

    I had a giggle at that. The country singularly failed to hold the distinctly non-minority liberal party accountable for anything for more than 10 years – only changing its mind about it when interest rates started to rise. But NOW it’s suddenly critical that every little half-baked promise be kept according to AB’s measure.

    Well, here’s my suggestion. Lets do it the old fashioned way – if you don’t like what the government does, then vote against them at the next election.

    If there’s some other, more direct way of holding the government accountable then I’m all ears.

  6. Matthew of Canberra

    Oh, great. Now the country folk are “rural elites”. Who’s left? Is there a thin band of outer suburia that we can still call the “real australia”. It’s not really “heartland”, so maybe we could call it “the lap-band”.

  7. Gibbot

    You rural folk and your beard subsidies. You just want everything handed to you. Next you’ll be wanting our gayosexuals, seeing as you obviously have such a chronic shortage of them (at least in FNQ, anyway).

    If you insist on being primary producers and living a rural lifestyle, I don’t see why you can’t just move to the city and do it like everybody else.

  8. zoot

    Well said, Dave.

  9. twobob

    It is foolish to begin an US and them war with rural Australia.
    Rural Australia provides the massive majority of our export wealth.
    No mines in the cities not brad acre agg either. What would happen if we succeed the nation?
    It would take no time what so ever until the metropolitan areas were basket case economies.
    But are we a nation or a bunch of self interested regions?
    Such stupidity is unacceptable, just what does he want to achieve another war for resources?

  10. monkeywrench

    Penbo is obviously a latte-sipping urbanLib.