The over-arching strategic problem to solve for the regions, I believe, is to replace the strategies of growthism with others that enable steady-state economics and even graceful de-growth in areas that face long-term declining demographic trends. Towns with steady or even declining populations can still be perfectly pleasant places to live, with strong community ties and targeted services.
But the problem with our conventional economic approach is that it can only do one thing — grow — and any town that isn’t constantly growing is by this logic “stagnating”, or worse, “dying”. That’s about as helpful as a vehicle that only has one gear. We need to find other gears, and I think there are particular Greens NSW policies that are heading in the right direction for the regions, which I’ll mention at the end.
Coupled with this is that environmental degradation and now global warming are adding to regional hardships. Land use & water are touchstone issues for every rural town. From what I’ve seen at information seminars on the new proposed native vegetation laws of the Liberal-Nationals, the new frameworks provides a ‘regulatory pathway’ to knock down pretty much every tree west of the Great Dividing Range.
Needless to say, this will not help the regions long-term, and we must oppose and propose better management, including more funding to communities for ecosystem services like habitat restoration, wildlife corridors, and riparian protection. There is public benefit in biodiversity, and the public ought to be prepared to make payments towards it — we all depend on it.
From this big-picture perspective springs a list of issues in the regions that I think will be familiar to many (read over the fold):
- Entrenched inequality and socioeconomic disadvantage across the community, but falling especially heavily among Aboriginal communities & families. Five of Australia’s 10 lowest-income postcodes are within a one-hour drive of where I live.
- Current agricultural economics, retail oligopoly and supply-chain are extremely unfair towards farmers and producers. A typical NSW farmers has to produce enough food and fibre to feed and clothe 250 families before they can earn enough income to feed and clothe their own. This has to change. Democracy in ancient Athens began with a farmers’ revolt, and I sometimes wonder if history may be coming full circle.
- Domestic violence (generally-speaking, men’s violence against women and girls) is pervasive across the community, and well above NSW averages. 100% of these crimes are preventable.
- So many towns depend on their TAFEs and public schools, which is why I think John Kaye’s campaigns on TAFE were so enthusiastically backed in regional towns, and why it’s so vital that we maintain and strengthen the campaign to save TAFE.
- Inadequate access to healthcare, mental healthcare. A local lady had to drive her relative 500km to the Central Coast for a qualified acute-care scenario. Another has to wait a year for her dental plate to be repaired, and is in chronic pain as a result.
- Educational and cultural disadvantage in the form of predominantly monocultural and monolingual communities, leading to loss of opportunity for social enrichment.
- Predominant heteronormative culture continues to injure anyone who identifies with the queer community.
Fortunately, I see positive threads in several Greens NSW policies that, through emphatic and sustained promotion by regionally-based MLC(s), will help build further support and hope for regional towns:
- The Sustainable Agriculture policy of Greens NSW is as good a piece of policy work as any I have seen. I saw Jeremy Buckingham launch the policy at AGQUIP in Gunnedah in 2014, and I highly recommend it reading and understanding it. I have campaigned on it now across two elections and it gets a great response whenever it comes under discussion.
- Greens NSW continued steadfast support for TAFE and public education is essential to our support in, and for, the regions. In my opinion it is essential that our next MLC is rock-solid on TAFE and public education.
- Greens positions on forestry, biodiversity and national parks are all beneficial to the regions — David Shoebridge and Mehreen Faruqi have both done very helpful and constructive work in this area.
- I also think there are promising threads coming together for the NSW Regional Development policy that is currently under review, and I saw and heard some good things at Forster SDC in the workshop there — watch this space.
- More support for community and not-for-profit sector enterprise (provided it is not in competition with public sector) would be very helpful. The community portfolios that Jan Barham manages read like a prescription for how to address many of the social hardships that beset regional areas. I spread the word every opportunity I get.
- At the federal level, the Greens plan to ban live export and transition back to domestic livestock processing/production would substantially reverse the long-term declines in employment across towns involved with the livestock industry. I was proud to campaign alongside Lee Rhiannon and the AMIEU in the recent elections on this issue, right on Barnaby’s doorstep :)
I hope the above can serve as a guide to the approaches I would take as an MLC towards supporting, and building support for the Greens, in regional and rural NSW.