Forgive me for my sins, but I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for Tony Abbott last week when he was forced to kill stone dead a debate on the development of northern Australia just just hours after the policy was announced.
The man who has rightly been accused of turning negativity into a political artform dipped his toe in the tub of positive ideas and immediately got burnt.
The discussion paper set forward a series of ideas to stimulate growth outside established capital cites, including relocating government departments, defence facilities and investment in agriculture. It also flagged the prospect of tax incentives to attract investment and people.
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Have you ever been to Alice Springs? Well, if you have you will know that the Alice is the heart of Australia in more ways than one. If you haven’t, then you should join the thousands of overseas visitors who regularly flock to the Alice.
You will be in awe of many things in the Alice, especially when you see how a community in the middle of Australia can, in so many ways, be a microcosm of our country.
The Alice has all the great personalities you get in the big cities. There are the talk show presenters at Radio 8HA like Adrian Renzi, or “Renz” to his friends, who are great at expressing the public indignation on issues of importance to the local community. There is, of course, the local ABC Radio Station where presenters like Breakfast Show host, Stewart Brash, start the locals thinking about the day’s big issues.
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Have you ever driven around regional Australia and found large discrepancies in the petrol prices at different regional centres? Do you ever wonder why petrol prices are different in different suburbs? And have you ever been annoyed that the price of the same item may be different at different Coles or Woolworths supermarkets in the same neighbourhood?
Well, what you’re witnessing is the practice of geographic price discrimination. It’s common among our major supermarket chains and oil companies. At its simplest, geographic price discrimination means that consumers in some areas are paying a higher price for the same item than they would otherwise have paid elsewhere.
There are plenty of examples of geographic price discrimination. Petrol pricing is a well known example. Those who live in the city see it every day when they drive to work, school or the shops. Petrol prices will vary from suburb to suburb with the same petrol retailer charging a different price for the same petrol at their different outlets.
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Anyone who thinks size doesn’t matter obviously hasn’t spent time with the Big Prawn in the northern New South Wales town of Ballina.
Designed in the late ‘80s by a sculptor whose research involved the time-honoured artistic technique of dissecting a tiger prawn in a café, this symphony in fibreglass and cement is one of Australia’s biggest Big Things.
At six by nine metres, it’s longer than Rockhampton’s Big Dugong, heavier than Mount Vernon’s Big Chook, and just a little bit weirder than Sarina’s Big Cane Toad.
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When I think of regional Australia, I think of long drives, lots of wildlife and lights in the sky not on the ground. There is another thing that now distinguishes regional Australia: an absolute rejection of the carbon tax.
Senator John Williams recently conducted a poll in the seats of New England (based around Tamworth) and Lyne (based around Port Macquarie). After receiving over 9,400 responses, 89 per cent of residents are against the carbon tax.
The reason for this is not that hard to fathom. When it comes to the carbon tax, the greater the distance, the greater the cost.
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Are we a nation of Akubra-wearing graziers? Of rough and ready carnival operators? Sponge cake bakers called Joan? Or a collection of young mothers pushing strollers festooned with Show bags ?
The truth is we are all these people and more. For the tens of thousands of people who arrive into Australia and settle in Sydney each year, the Sydney Royal Easter Show may be their first experience of the real Australia.
The Show is so big and diverse it is almost impossible to describe. But once you have experienced the Show, you know what it means - it gets under your skin.
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On Monday, yet another young driver appeared in yet another court room to be punished for his role in the death of yet another innocent teenager. The victim in this case was 16 year old T.J. Hutchesson of Bathurst.
The name of the accused can’t be reported. In a sense the names don’t matter: for those of us looking on, this is just another episode in a long and tragic storybook of life destroyed far too young.
In a statement appearing in The Sydney Morning Herald, mother Rachael Hutchesson did not shy away from identifying the problem: boredom and booze. This is a known issue in regional Australia, and yet there is a real paucity of frankness when it comes to solutions.
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A twelve-hour round trip is a fair distance for a weekend in the country, but there are few things you won’t do for good friends when they get married.
And that includes the threat of a locust plague.
It was a stifling thirty-something degrees across the New South Wales’s Central West last weekend.
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When people ask me where I am from I know I’m likely to receive one of two responses when I say Craigieburn. “Sorry, I don’t know where that is” seems to be the predominant one, in which case I begin naming the surrounding areas.
As I relay my list – Roxburgh Park, Greenvale, and Broadmeadows – I am usually confronted with increasingly bewildered expressions, and I realise that these people are unfamiliar with the northern suburbs.
The second response, which on occasion is prompted by my answer to the first, usually encompasses the words “gangs” or “violence”.
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Done right, Australia’s imminent renewable energy boom could provide the biggest boost many regional communities have seen in decades, providing secure, skilled, well paid work in areas where many youngsters are forced to move to the ‘big smoke’ to make a decent living.
Done wrong, the next decade could see chronic skills shortages that slow development, cripple roll-out, hamper productivity, and result in skilled jobs being taken by an army of fly-in-fly-out workers or overseas based tradies.
The question is not ‘if’ this shift towards sustainable energy will occur, but when, thanks in a large part to the fact that Australia has the potential to generate vast amounts of renewable energy due to an abundance of natural resources distributed around the country.
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The question of whether city or country is best has been an ongoing debate for a long time. I heard it often as I worked in Brisbane for thirty years and prior to that as I lived and worked in various regional, rural and remote locations in Queensland for extended periods.
In the 1200’s Marco Polo a merchant and great traveller declared cities were best. For twenty-four years Polo journeyed to and from Venice to China along the Great Silk Road. On his travels he encountered many great cities including Constantinople, Baghdad and Beijing and he realised that cities were far more important to the economy of the Silk Road than the country areas through which it passed.
In 2010 in Australia the independent federal politicians are about to “turbo-charge” regional and rural Australia according to their spokesperson Rob Oakeshott. They have secured a new $10 billion regional investment fund in return for their votes and they seek to prove Marco Polo’s assessment wrong. For them the country is at least as important as the city.
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Labor has lost its majority but it would like us to believe that it has found regional Australia.
Well, at Labor’s election launch Bob Hawke said that you have to judge a horse by its form.
It was good advice. Labor ignored regional Australia through its first term in Government.
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Two weeks ago we were being told by the federal independent MPs that regional Australia had been neglected and was run down after years of not getting back a fair share of the riches it creates for the nation.
Today an alliance of regional towns is out spruiking themselves as alternatives to metropolitan life, by virtue of their great housing, cheaper living costs and an abundance of career and investment opportunities.
They can’t both be right. So which is the real regional Australia?
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This cannot be happening, I thought as I filled in Centrelink’s Newstart application form.
How could I have sunk this low?
I’m well educated, resourceful and have been a language teacher, conveyancer, legal secretary and newspaper journalist.
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