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Bush talks report shows rural summit should be brought forward.

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Cheryl Kernot MP Shadow Minister for Regional Development,

Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Services

26 February 1999





Cheryl Kernot, Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Services, has called for the Government’s planned rural summit to be brought forward following today’s release of the Bush Talks report by the Human Rights And Equal Opportunity Commission.


Ms Kernot said the report puts a compelling case for urgent action and greater leadership by the Commonwealth Government.


“This report shows clearly and starkly the effects of withdrawing government and public services from regional Australia,” Ms Kernot said. “Its message is that we must re-invest in rural areas and towns if we do not want to become an increasingly divided nation.


“The Bush Talks report shows there are no cheap solutions. If we want positive and lasting outcomes for rural and remote Australia, then we have to accept it will cost money to restore services, to find new ways of delivering services and to make the commitment to give every child in this country a good education, irrespective of where they live.


“I believe Australians want their governments to support other Australians struggling in the bush - the issue is whether the Howard Government, with its denial of a role for government, can show the leadership required to make the investment.”


Ms Kernot said the HREOC report also reflected the failure of Government policies that focussed more on agricultural and primary industry rather than on integrated economic and social policy aimed at revitalising rural and regional towns. “There’s no way we can get away from the influence of peak rural groups in unquestioningly following the Government hard-line policies, especially in its reduced investment in services, to the detriment of rural communities,” she said.


“Obviously, restoring access to services in these communities is important, but we also need a shift in focus towards a more integrated approach to sustaining rural communities in general.”


Ms Kernot said the report’s identification of discrimination against Aboriginal Australians, people with disabilities, homosexuals and young people meant the Government had to make a break with its current funding and program strategies in rural areas. “Governments cannot sit on their hands waiting for people to make submissions to them and they cannot lecture communities about self-reliance. Governments have to show some leadership and be prepared to intervene in those areas where fairness and opportunity are being denied.


“The Government also needs to reassess its withdrawal from investing in social capital in the bush - in things like schools, hospitals and community services. Commercial viability, efficiency and the Budget bottom line are not the only criteria by which we should measure the success of public investment.


“Bush Talks shows there are other values Australians want to see given priority: the health of our young people, the rights of our Indigenous people who also share rural communities, the capacity of kids in the bush to get a decent education, the importance of supporting dying towns and communities — to name a few.”


For comment: Jacqui Flitcroft (02) 6277 4328