We need follow through so our regional communities can prosper

We need follow through so our regional communities can prosper Main Image

22 June 2021

I spoke last week about ongoing issues that continue to affect farmers in my region, and I implored the government to stop playing politics, and to take some time to actually listen to the farmers, our forestry industry and regional communities, and actually address their concerns. Eden-Monaro communities have had a tough few years. We've faced challenges including drought, bushfire, numerous storm and flood events, the COVID-19 pandemic and border closures. But by far the most frustrating part of that challenge is that this government is, quite frankly, not paying attention. Our farmers are worried. They're worried about coping with workforce shortages. They're worried about CSIRO funding cuts to pasture and animal science. They're worried about the dependency on China to keep the wool industry afloat. They're worried about getting funding coordinator roles for farming cooperative groups. And they're worried that this government is more focused on themselves than on the everyday challenges of rural and regional Australians. Instead of focusing on real issues, this government is self-indulgent. Instead of talking about what matters, they're talking about themselves. But it's hardly surprising that this government continues to fail at adequately representing farmers, producers and regional communities.

On top of this, farmers are significantly affected by labour shortages. When natural disasters tear through our communities, work on farms doesn't stop. In fact, it increases. Our farmers need help, but they can't find any assistance. The labour shortage is crippling farms. The shortage is not just in agriculture, though; it's in hospitality, retail and tourism. Our regional communities have had to put up with this for far too long. The government has now announced an agricultural visa which is meant to fix the problem, but no farmer I know is holding their breath.

The vaccine rollout and quarantine failures keep setting us up for failure. It's difficult to see how any new visa will fix workforce shortages any time soon.

And it's not just our farmers that are facing critical staff shortages; our regions are now at crisis point due to GP shortages. We're seeing fewer doctors move towards GP careers, fewer GPs moving to regional areas, and as a result there's significant pressure on remaining doctors and our local hospitals. What is the plan to attract new GPs to regional communities? It is your job. It is the Morrison government that carries the responsibility for supporting and growing the GP network. They need to ensure that regional Australians have access to health care, especially during a pandemic. But, once again, there is no plan to address the GP shortage from those opposite. They claim to represent the regions, but there is no answer. There is no plan to deal with the most critical issue for all regional Australians.

We're now well and truly into the second winter following the bushfires that devastated my region and many regions across this country. As I talk to people affected in my electorate, the message is clear: survivors feel that Canberra has forgotten them, that the government has moved on and the recovery of our regional communities is no longer a priority for it. I was recently approached in a local supermarket by a woman who said she is still living in a caravan after her home was burnt down, and on top of this her van has been flooded. She has no idea what her next move is, and she's not alone. The story is not unique in our communities. People are still significantly struggling following the bushfires. We are 18 months on and the impacts are still being felt by communities. Where is the focus on getting them help?

It is nothing short of ludicrous that the new Coordinator-General of the National Recovery and Resilience Agency refuses to meet with me or other Labor members who represent communities where people have been impacted by bushfire. That is politicking of the highest order. That is absolute ridiculousness. It is your job to hear from our communities. It is your job to come and listen to us as we try to help those communities that are doing it really tough.

I recently spoke to forestry contractors—an industry that's been all but forgotten in this bushfire recovery. Forestry has received some support, but contractors who work in and around the industry haven't been assisted or supported at all. Jobs are on the line. And, to be quite frank, the assistance to forestry industries could have been a lot better.

There's been plenty of political tourism from those opposite, and what I would say is: quit the tourism, start acting and start listening to the people in these regional communities, who know what they need to get better. I'll tell you what: we need follow through. We need a strategic plan for regional Australia. We need to ensure our regional communities can recover and prosper. We need a new government, because this one isn't listening.