Meryl Swanson: the Morrison Government talks big but fails to follow through

Australians right now wake up every day under the crushing worry about the health of their loved ones or the crushing pressure of losing a job, worrying about where money is going to come from.

It's a tough time right now many, particularly those in rural and regional communities. They have been waking up with great pressures for the last seven years.

Regional Australia has suffered a triple whammy. Spare a thought for those people who in the last six months have raked through the ashes of their home after a bushfire, who are now living in a caravan. Spare a thought for the farmers who have raked the bones and carcasses of their animals up. They have put the soil through their fingers knowing that nothing's going to grow from it if the rain doesn't come.

People have felt abandoned in rural and regional areas and this Government has not done enough to help them. Consider the Government's response to drought and bushfires in contrast to COVID-19.

The Morrison Government talks big on drought and bushfire assistance but the follow-through isn't there. Farmers have not received enough support to see them through drought, clean up for bushfires has been slow, and there's been no real investment in the future of regional towns.

The prosperity of our nation has been too often measured in surpluses and deficits, without enough focus on ensuring that everyone gets the support they need so we can all prosper. As Anthony Albanese said on Monday in his vision speech, we are all in this together.

Pete Mailler, a grain and cattle farmer from northern New South Wales understands that. He recently said in The Guardian: "The impact of drought is not limited to farmers any more than the impact of coronavirus is limited to people who actually get sick."

WHAT'S THE PLAN?

It begs the question, before the pandemic hit, where was the Government's plan for regional Australia? In the past twenty years half of the jobs created in Australia have been within a two kilometre radius of the GPOs in Sydney and Melbourne. This has led to us becoming the only nation where two-thirds of the population lives in only five cities.

Whilst jobs have drawn people to the cities in the past, the recent crisis may make people rethink what is possible. For some, the affordability and space offered in our regional towns may present an attractive alternative in the months and years ahead. Our regions offer a place where it is still possible to capture the Australian dream of owning your own home. The value of a home has never been clearer than in the past few months where we have spent so much time within our own. What can be done from home has been reimagined.

Like so much that was thought impossible prior to this pandemic many things are proving to be not only possible but preferred. Like so many others, my team and I have been working more from home, and whilst the rapid transition has been clunky at times, it has shown us all that we can be a lot more flexible.

For many living in the Hunter, the regular commutes to Sydney that once seemed necessary are no more. We used to whinge about death by PowerPoint but now its life via Zoom. There have been challenges in switching rapidly to home learning and training but many have discovered and enjoyed the flexibility of not having to be anywhere on time for classes.

For those looking for a job, which unfortunately will be many in the coming months, the ability to work remotely provides an opportunity to level the playing field for regional towns.

OPEN YOUR EYES

This Government needs to open its eyes to the value of our regions. They need to come up with a plan to seize on the opportunities that can be found in the decentralisation of our economy. Right now we need to invest in nation building infrastructure. We already know that connectivity will be vital to support the distribution of our population to the broad open spaces of our regions.

Fast rail will be an important travel mechanism for those living in regional centres looking to commute to a work place intermittently. Access to reliable and fast internet will also be vital to allow us to work from home, home school and connect with loved ones further away.

Our regions are also in a prime position to support the growth of manufacturing, at a time when self-reliance is at the forefront of our minds. Land availability for industrial sites and affordable housing for workers is a strong hand for regional towns. The Hunter region's history of mining and steel

making has created a bedrock of manufacturing innovation and advanced engineering that has seen many businesses flourish. We are demonstrating that regional areas can and should be at the forefront of our recovery. We have innovative businesses, an abundance of natural resources and industrial capability.

Moving people and jobs out of the cities and into regional centres can give us the best of all worlds: affordable housing, open spaces to relax and raise families and a sense of community that can be lost in the hustle and bustle of city living.

I think there is nowhere better than the Hunter region to kick-start our struggling economy.