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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7877

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (17:00): I am delighted to join my colleagues the member for Mayo, the member for Denison and the member for Mallee in this really important debate. We've had lots of good reasons why we should support the ABC, but today I want to talk about the impact of the ABC on economic development, particularly in the regions. I'm going to focus particularly on the impact the show Back Roadshas had. Right across Australia, ABC does the work that we have been hearing about. I had the enormous pleasure on the weekend of attending the annual general meeting and conference of Australian Women in Agriculture in the beautiful city of Shepparton. One of the many talented guest speakers was Heather Ewart. She spoke about the background to Back Roads and gave stories about how it's working. I want to share with you today not only some of what Heather said, but some of my own knowledge about that program—why it is so important, and why, as a product of the ABC, it epitomises the importance of this motion.

We have had five programs of Back Roads—city-centric, if you want—but the masters that be have committed to another series. Good decision, Sydney! Back Roads bridges the city-country divide. It is a really popular program at a prime viewing spot. It has positive, humorous, real stories of real people in rural and regional Australian. There is no spin. There are real people, real places, real stories, and so much local pride. As for the ratings, 1.3 million viewers tuned in to hear the Ceduna program alone, which is hugely significant. And many of the other programs regularly get a million viewers. No other TV network, no commercial station, would ever have backed a project like Back Roadsbecause whoever would have thought that a quirky program about country towns would have had the impact it has? What is it that I really appreciate about Back Roads? I love its sense of connectedness. The member for Mallee talked about how important it is we have someone telling our story. It is a genuine look at people's lives. And who doesn't like a really good story of someone else and their lives and how they live it?

Let me do a huge shout-out to Heather, the presenter. Heather really gets rural and regional communities. She knows how to relate. She knows how to engage, and there is such a genuine connection that you actually see these communities through her eyes. She doesn't patronise. She doesn't look down. She is not at all sarcastic and doesn't deal in gotcha moments; she lets the story tell itself. Heather is herself as well. One of the things the I love about Heather is she is a very good country woman. What's the quality of a good country woman? They have got a sense of humour, they have got a really good sense of commitment to relationships, they have got dedication and persistence, and they have a wonderful eye for detail. They are not show-offs, they are not smarty pantses but, my word, you get the sense of humour and the connectedness with it. In acknowledging Back Roads, I want to thank Heather, Bridget, Ron and Jon; editor Tony; the researchers and producers Lou, Kerri, Gerri, Damien, Kathy, Frith. You do a fantastic job.

I just want to quickly talk about my little town of Yackandandah. Back Roads came and did a story about Yack, as it's affectionately known. The next day, the town's Facebook page went berserk. I'm not sure if it crashed, but the gossip was that it was going to crash. There was huge interest. I can walk down High Street in Yack, go to get the paper on the weekend, meet somebody and chat in my role as a member of parliament and they'll tell me: 'I saw it on Back Roads. What a beautiful community. Yes, it's just like it was.'

It's not enough just to say that. My constituents asked me to get up here today and talk about this. To Jenny, who's really tired of the attacks on the ABC, I bring your voice to parliament—also to Pam, who's very concerned about cuts, and to Jacqueline, who's horrified to learn about these cuts. Right across my electorate, people are really personally affected by the thought of what the cuts will mean to quality programs and by the thought that wonderful presenters like Heather Ewart who won't be able to do their magnificent work, which is to take our stories to the cities and to each other and, in the process, give us economic development and tourism, get people to the country and, most importantly, encourage city people to move to the country.