ASSISTANT Minister for Regional and Rural Australia Lisa Chesters says the digital divide is a “standout” issue in her region and the energy crisis is also high in priorities.
But farmers and others are also concerned about diminishing rainfall and moisture levels restricting crop growth this season, while those she spoke to at the Elmore Field Days in regional Victoria this week also said they felt Canberra was a “just a joke”.
“We did have a good July and August but then it just stopped raining,” she said.
“It’s quite warm today and people are worried they’re not going to get any extra rain which will be disastrous for the crops but they’re also worried about the cost of temporary water.”
What are they saying about the current state of federal politics?
“They’re actually saying to me, ‘Canberra is just a joke. Is Barnaby Joyce still the Deputy Prime Minister? Isn’t he just about to be kicked out of parliament?’” Ms Chesters said.
“The Nationals have a tent here at the field day and so people are saying to me, ‘We’re just going off now to visit the multi-Nationals’.
“It’s all tongue in cheek of course, which comes from farming and regional communities – but there is a serious side to it all.
“Here we have senior government ministers who can’t fill in the correct paperwork so it doesn’t instil a lot of confidence in this government when you’ve got people who don’t have their paperwork in order.
“And that’s the bush for you – they’ll call it as they see it – but when it comes to energy, the people I’ve been chatting to out here, a lot of them are looking to go off grid, because they have no confidence in the grid we have.”
Ms Chesters said those she spoke to just wanted to see the citizenship issues that are impacting Mr Joyce and six other members of parliament, “sorted out”.
“They see it as a great distraction from the government getting on with business,” she said.
“They’ve become a bit of a do nothing government.
“Many people are making comments like, ‘The moment a federal politician comes on television I just turn it off’ so there’s just no confidence in the government.
“They’re saying, ‘the fewer distractions we have the better’ and people just sort of roll their eyes.
“I’ll be honest with you, the inter-Nationals and multi-Nationals is not their first priority and it comes up later in a conversation.
“But the first thing people want to talk to you about is how can we fix connectivity, how can we get this satellite sorted so we get decent service and then energy.
“Towards the end of the conversation they’ll say, ‘The government really has to sort their stuff out in Canberra’ and there’s this collective rolling of the eyes.”
But what are they saying about Labor’s performance in opposition?
“They’re telling me it’s great that you’re out here talking to us and asking us how we can improve things,” Ms Chesters said.
“I believe you can learn a lot form the grass roots and we need to work out a way to better gather those ideas and experiences and feed them into Canberra to help use that as a foundation for policy and government direction.
“I have had a few people say they’re backing in Labor’s call for a judicial inquiry into the Murray Darling Basin Plan and lots of people in Victoria are cranky that we’ve kind of done everything right - but there are real question marks about NSW.
“They’re saying ‘it’s been going on for a long time and we just want to get to the truth of it’.
“They’re saying, ‘there’s something not right with Griffith and we want to get to the truth of what’s going on’ and they want it to be looked into.”
The energy crisis and its impact on the cost of farm commodity production or manufacturing, the economy and jobs, is also high on the list of political based discussions, Ms Chesters said.
“They’re saying we’re the biggest exporter of gas and the biggest producer of gas in the world, why on earth don’t we have a reservation policy,” she said.
“They really support the call to pull the trigger on gas exports and guaranteeing supply to local industry and local households and local communities.
“Some of these areas don’t have access to natural gas so it’s not a frontline issue for them but they are saying energy prices are tough.
“They’re also saying that they’re located near renewable energy sources like batteries and solar panels so a lot more farmers are looking to go off grid once the cost becomes more affordable and they say, ‘I’d rather take care of it myself and invest in infrastructure than having to rely on Canberra’.
“People are saying we need to take care of ourselves before exporting all this gas and I agree with that.
“There’s a lot of concern about the pressure that gas prices are putting on food manufacturers.
“If you can’t process the carrots and potatoes, it has a knock-on effect for the farmers – so there is a concern here among the farmers about the costs being imposed on processors.”