Reviving Regional and Rural Australia

Regional and Rural Australia has been under-represented in national affairs for 100 years.

The Country Party, then the National Party, was set up to leverage the votes of regional and rural people to ensure the development of non-metropolitan Australia. In practice, the Party has been a spectacular failure. Metropolitan cities are now bulging at the seams while country towns continue to export their kids to the cities. This pattern has remained unchanged for a century.

The main problem has been the inability of the National Party to break ranks with the Liberal Party and demand a reversal in the flow of people and resources from country to city in return for political support.

Until regional and rural Australia can elect a bloc of MPs to reverse the flow, Australia’s cities will continue to overflow while country towns die.

This is our 12-point agenda for the development of regional and rural Australia as a powerful political force that can drive the revival of regional and rural communities across the country, ensure the continuation of agriculture as an essential economic and bio-security asset for Australians, and protect the country’s fragile water and land ecosystems for future generations.

1. Introduce a $5,000 annual tax rebate for households living and working in regional and rural Australia. One third of Australian households, specified by Local Government Area, would be eligible with a restriction to households earning less than $180,000 pa. The annual cost in revenue to the Commonwealth would be $17bn, which would pay for itself in reducing the now burgeoning costs to the Commonwealth and States of urban infrastructure.

2. Establish a Norwegian-style Natural Resources Sovereign Wealth Fund by which all tax revenues flowing from mining operations in Australia would be invested and quarantined from ordinary recurrent expenditures of government, with a statutory requirement that 50% of income from the Sovereign Wealth Fund be directed to education/research and development/knowledge clusters  in regional and rural Australia.

3. Introduce a City-Country Work and Family Partnerships Scheme whereby firms in metropolitan areas and firms in country areas are encouraged to partner with each other in developing shared work, training, career development and mentoring opportunities; shared business infrastructure and culture; and shared family and social development arrangements. Partnering firms would each receive a corporate tax rebate of 15% of their tax liability.

4. Establish a new public banking institution to provide core financial services at cost to households, farms and small businesses such as savings accounts, payment services, mortgages and basic credit, and regional and rural lending services, based on similar models in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The entity would be independent but backed by the Commonwealth and funded by government equity, deposits and public debt, and governed by an independent board. After a period 10 years, it would adopt a mutual structure to prevent its future privatization by hostile governments.

5. Ban foreign ownership of income producing land, regardless of size or value. Restrict foreign ownership of rural businesses to a maximum of 50% and require all profits made from any foreign/local joint venture to be either reinvested in Australia or be subject to a super tax of 35% before any profits may be repatriated to a foreign partner.

6. Break-up cartel operations in processing, marketing and purchasing of agricultural products and establish Sustainable Farm Gate Pricing benchmarks across all products.

7. Abolish tradeable water rights, re-introduce the water licence buyback scheme, hard cap commercial water use to discourage water guzzling commercial uses (such as almond trees), and introduce jail terms for private water thieves.

8. Implement the CSIRO’s proposals for giant dams in the  Fitzroy, Darwin and Mitchell River catchments in northern Australia to provide 400,000 additional hectares of irrigated agriculture.

9. Establish a contributory National Drought and Disaster Insurance Scheme to assume responsibility for all drought and natural disaster prevention, response and recovery commitments, run on self-funding insurance principles.

10. Permit farmers and land-owners to approve or veto mineral exploration and mining operations on their own land.

11. Allow households, farmers and small businesses to generate energy and sell it back to the grid without regulatory obstacles or restrictions.

12. Establish a large-scale $5bn National Rehabilitation Scheme to rehabilitate degraded land and eradicate invasive species comprising both paid workers and volunteers. The Scheme would acquire 3,000 properties on marginal, agriculturally unsustainable land which are the most degraded and least commercially viable farming operations, and support owners/occupants of these properties to either remain as custodians of ecological rehabilitation operations or to leave farming.