REGIONAL Development Minister Fiona Nash has talked-up country Australia’s bright fortunes and easy-paced lifestyle, offering a sharp contrast for city-dwellers, caught in traffic jams, to consider.
During her National Press Club address in Canberra this week, Senator Nash said she’d always wondered why people say life in the big cities was fast paced.
The Nationals deputy leader said being stuck in traffic on Sydney’s M7 or Melbourne’s Monash freeway wasn't fast paced, nor was waiting for “ages” in a taxi or bank queue or waiting to find a parking spot.
“In the regions, comparatively, you get to work in five minutes - that's fast,” she said.
“Parking 10 metres from the door of your favourite restaurant is fast.
“There's time outside work to have a life.
“Some might think it's the difference between living and merely surviving.
“And that's why I find it amazing that many Australians have never considered the switch to regional Australia.”
Senator Nash said city people had heard about the sense of community in the country but “I doubt they truly understand what it means”.
“What it means is this - you can send the kids to the neighbours for half an hour while you go to see the doctor,” she said.
“When you have a road side breakdown, somebody stops to help you.
“When you embarrassingly discover that you’ve left your wallet in the car as you go to pay at the local bakery, they say ‘Get me next time, mate’.
“When your dog gets out he is brought back by the guy down the road who greets you at the work with, ‘I reckon this little guy belongs to you’.
“When you return to work a couple of days a week, your sister-in-law or your parents look after your kids.”
Senator Nash said “Our cities and indeed our nation exist because of our regions”.
“Our regions supply the milk city people put on their cereal,” she said.
“The cereal itself, the cheese on their toast, the toast itself, the electricity which runs the toaster, the meat and vegetables for dinner, the gas which cooks that dinner, the fruit and cream for dessert, the water they shower in and most materials which built the house they live in.
“When city people wake up in the morning, they should thank regional Australia for their way of life.
“Regional Australia is responsible for 67 per cent of our exports and 45pc of domestic tourism. “
Senator Nash said the vast majority of regional Australia was “humming along” but there were some challenges.
She said “many amazing things” are happening in our regions and yet, for most metropolitan media coverage, “you'd never know it”.
She pointed to analysis of front page stories about regional Victoria in Melbourne's two biggest metropolitan papers, in the six months to November 2016, which revealed 80pc were negative, 15pc neutral and just 5pc positive.
The same analysis of regional coverage in Sydney's major two papers found that 70pc of the regional front page mentions were negative and only 25pc were positive, she said.
Senator Nash said the negative stories were about individual domestic violence incidents, murder, drug use and natural disasters
“Reading only this coverage, why would anybody move there?” she said.
“It's as if regional Australia is our nation's best kept secret.”
Senator Nash said the way rural, regional and remote Australia was talked about is important.
But she said the regional tone needed to change from a negative one to an accurate one “and I'm determined to help lead that change”.
“I don't say negative stories in isolation are false but the failure to report the overwhelmingly positive news from regional Australia produces skewed views,” she said.
“We can't have 16 million capital city Australians getting their information on regional Australia from negative reporting and ‘Farmer Wants A Wife’.”
Senator Nash said there was an unconscious bias in the way many people think about rural and regional Australia and government investment in it.
She said there was also “ignorance about how each of us relies on Australia’s regions to support our life styles”.
Cities receive huge government investment which is never labelled a handout or pork barrelling, she said.
“The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics’ analysis found that Melbourne and Sydney recovered just 28pc and 25pc respectively of public transport costs,” she said.
“That's $4.5 billion a year taxpayer subsidy to keep Sydney and Melbourne from grinding to a halt.
“Yet I have never read a story which said capital cities were hugely reliant on government handouts.”
Senator Nash said in the past few years, Melbourne's MCG and tennis centre had received about $100 million in government subsidies.
“Yet when we use a few hundred thousand to improve a country sports ground, often the lifeblood and economic heart of the town, it's labelled pork barrelling,” she said.
“When the leader of the National Party Barnaby Joyce announced $25 million for a cancer centre in Dubbo, four hours’ drive from Sydney, we were accused of pork barrelling.
“I was Rural Health Minister and I'm proud of that investment, providing essential services to regional people is good government.
“It's not pork barrelling.
“The third of us who live in regional Australia should not be ashamed of expecting a decent level of service.”