More understanding of the country required
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More understanding of the country required

Comments from the Greens member for Prahran while in East Gippsland last week and as reported in the East Gippsland News, provided some interesting content.

Mr Sam Hibbins, the newly elected Member for Prahran, is completely correct when he says there are some big opportunities for places like Gippsland in areas like sustainable agriculture and tourism.

He is also right to say partnerships rather than divisions need to drive economic and social growth and cohesion between city and country residents.

Where I believe Sam’s comments are slightly misguided is his quote that “I hear lot about the city-country divide, I hear lot of regional representatives saying we have a city-centric government, but this is rubbish”.

His major reason given in the newspaper that there is no divide is because “people in the city care, they want their stuff from locally produced producers and weʼre here to represent the entire state”.

Unfortunately, they are nice words that flow off the tongue, but there is much more to this than knowing where they want their “stuff” from. This matter does require delving a little deeper, particularly into the areas of funding and policy.

The reality is rural areas across this state need a lot more support than they are getting from this government to prosper.

On finances, my beef is not with Sam, as he is not to know how much rural areas are being neglected from his seat of Prahran. My issue on funding and support in general is with the decisions of this State Government.

If there is no divide and rural areas are being respected and looked after as claimed, then:

• Why has $80m or 20% been cut from the roads maintenance budget this year, severely impacting rural roads?

• Why has the regional development budget been cut by a whopping 23%?

• Why has the agriculture budget been cut by a massive 11.9%?

• Why has the $160m country roads and bridges program at supported the state’s 40 rural councils ($4m to East Gippsland Shire) with important road works been cut?

• Why was the successful wild dog bounty cut and aerial baiting reduced?

This list could be quadrupled if space permitted, but the fact is country areas are receiving a great deal less.

Looking at this electorate as an example of what is occurring around all rural areas – we are not seeing projects like the new library, upgraded mall, all abilities playground, sports facilities upgrades etc. to anywhere near the levels that we previously were.

I could list a dozen multi-million dollar projects delivered to East Gippsland in the last term of government that were providing economic development and employment to our regions – they are just not happening anymore and it’s not just here, it is all country areas.

As a result of roads maintenance funding cuts we are seeing more speed restriction signs on more sections of road for longer periods rather than fixing the roads. The Princes Highway east of Orbost is the classic example.

What we see now happening on our roads, like between Orbost and Lakes Entrance are those projects that were funded by the previous government, not this one.

So what has been delivered apart from the cuts mentioned – one of the biggest impacts has been a city centric Grand Final Eve public holiday that hurt the majority of our region’s small businesses. Of over 250 businesses who responded my survey – 6% supported and 94% did not, most being left out of pocket.

In the area of policy, I acknowledge there are different viewpoints in all electorates and always will be, but I believe there is massive divide between some of Sam’s Party’s policies and the views of the majority of East Gippslanders.

These include Greens policies that include:

• Banning all live export trade, which will have a huge impact on our farming sector in this country.

• Banning wild dog trapping and baiting under the policy of controlling feral animals only by non-lethal methods (fencing etc).

• Wanting to create more national parks and end the native timber industry that would have major job impacts on towns including Orbost, Bairnsdale and Heyfield.

• Banning the rodeos that give so much to our Buchan and Omeo community groups and are more tightly overseen than ever.

• Ending recreational hunting on all public land when many of the states 43,000 plus hunters (with the number increasing) come from rural areas with a high number in East Gippsland.

• Wanting to introduce a death duties tax (which will impact on a lot of farming families) where there is a tax on estates worth over $1m.

Each week I receive emails, predominantly from city based folk in electorates like Sam’s, lobbying me on the above issues and others, that clearly do not hold the majority view of my electorate or most country electorates.

This freedom of speech is welcomed and healthy, but if we are to close the divide, I would encourage our city folk to adopt policies that do not remove our jobs or try and dictate to country people what they can and cannot do - rather than visit once in a blue moon and tell us the divide is “rubbish” because they want their “stuff from locally produced producers”.

But despite the policy differences that we can work on, unfortunately the fact is rural areas across the state are being neglected by any measure and this neglect will only lead to a division.

November 13, 2015