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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 4121


Senator O'SULLIVAN (Queensland) (13:45): It'll come as no surprise to colleagues that I intend to devote my 10 minutes or so to talking about the bush—regional and particularly rural Australia. In fact, it's an extension of a speech that I made in this chamber last week on the same subject. I'm determined to continue to educate colleagues in this place and the other place about the challenges that exist in rural Australia in particular and to continue to advocate for us as legislators to consider the impacts of any decisions we make in this chamber with respect to the welfare and the future of rural Australia.

I shouldn't need to, but I will remind all colleagues, and anyone who's listening, that there's not one single feature in our lives that doesn't start with primary production. Everything we're wearing, everything we're sitting upon, everything we'll eat today and tomorrow, all the pharmaceutical products we use, the car we drive, the tyres on the car and the bitumen in the roads—all of that, the genesis of every element of the creation of those commodities—comes from primary production. It might come as a surprise to some, who don't get around much, that there is no broadacre farming in Pitt Street and no horticulture in Collins Street. Whilst there are some knee-high boots and some fancy white hats in Queen Street, they're not generally worn by people of the bush. We have a whole generation of young people—and I'll exclude those in the gallery today, because I'm sure they've got a much more acute awareness of what happens in rural Australia, but there are some people—who think milk simply comes out of a carton and the carton comes out of a fridge and the fridge itself comes out of a Harvey Norman warehouse on the docks of Melbourne.

All of those things started with primary production. They started with the production and maintenance of livestock enterprises across the country, or they started on the end of a shovel. Yet—and this featured in my maiden statement—we need to constantly bring the bush and primary producers and the efforts of sustainable resource management to the fore of our minds as we make every decision in this place. I want you to imagine for a moment that your local shire says to you—and this is actually the case in Diamantina and so many other shires in my home state of Queensland—'We're going to increase your rates, because we have to devote one-third of your rates base to the operation of our airstrips.' And they're not aerodromes; they're airstrips. One third of the rates base is devoted to providing that simple connection to the outside world, principally for emergency services. A lot of these airstrips don't even provide commercial travel; they're just there so that the Royal Flying Doctor Service and others can land and provide medical support to the communities to come in and do missions and clinics, as well as of course being able to pick up people whose health circumstances are in dire straits—imagine that. On top of that, if you've had an accident on the edge of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide or wherever, imagine if I said the helicopters couldn't get to you within 15 or 20 minutes but that it would take 15 or 20 hours to respond. The people who live in the bush have underpinned the wealth and wellbeing of our nation since Federation.

Imagine if I said we're going to close the post office and make the ratepayers buy the post office back and fund it out of the rates base to keep our community service obligation alive. That happens in the bush. Postal services leave the community because of economic rationalism. I have been a bitter critic of Australia Post about this over a long period of time. Imagine if we went door to door around our communities and said to people that they would need to dig deep into their pockets and pay for that in addition to the payments they are making now.

In most of the communities that I move around, the aged-care facilities, as limited as they are, are funded in many cases with contributions from the rates base and otherwise by the community itself. Medical centres and medical services are not like we have in the city, where you get in a cab and go in any direction and find a medical clinic or a hospital with a 24-hour emergency department. Many of these communities don't even have a medical practitioner. Where they do have medical clinics and centres they are often subsidised directly by their community.

Imagine 100 kilometres of roads in a city. That is divided by one million people. If you have 100 kilometres of roads in the bush, it is divided by sometimes 80, 90 or 100 people—and in many instances they are responsible for the maintenance of those networks so that commodities can be moved along them and people are able to move about within their remote communities. I met a woman in Stonehenge in Queensland. She talked about the 104-kilometre trip she does every day to take her two young children into school in Stonehenge. She talked about arriving there and not really knowing what to do. The husband is away from the property because of the drought. Stonehenge doesn't hold many attractions for you to spend six or seven hours at while you wait for the kids to come out of school. So this woman has to drive home and then come back in and then drive home again. She does 416 kilometres per day just to give her children access to basic education—in this case, in the public system.

As we make decisions around funding, as we make decisions around services, I urge that we constantly put in the frame the circumstances of people who live in rural, regional and remote Australia. You might say that, if you choose to live out in the never-never, these are features of life. Indeed they are. These people are under no illusion. They don't expect to pick up their mobile phone and dial and get a line every minute of the day. From my own experience on one of the properties that we have, you have to drive a considerable distance down the road and get yourself up onto a particular hill before you can use the phone. In a modern world, where we want everything done on the internet, they don't get the access. Here's the deal: they know that; they understand the challenges around the delivery of communications. But they don't want their bank leaving town because 90 per cent of the customers now do their business on the internet. They don't have the internet. We make decisions around community service obligations. We make funding decisions around the people who provide communications in the country—Optus and Telstra—and we are still working under archaic community service obligations about the maintenance of fixed-line telephones. Some people are now up to 100 kilometres away from where there's a fixed-line telephone. You want to do business with our government? It doesn't matter who's in government. We can share this load equally. You want to do business with the Commonwealth government or the state government? We're now all online. Well, they don't have an 'online'—unless, of course, you're communities like Stonehenge, Windorah or Quilpie, who dig deep into their rates base and put $6 million towards bringing the fibre optic through, out of their own skyrocket. Imagine if we went to your door and said, 'You know, we'll take your entire rates base for five or six years and invest it so you can go on the internet.' Colleagues, keep them centre of mind as we make decisions.