There’s an entrenched bias in our society that the majority of people are completely blind to, but it’s one that affects millions of people.
Anyone who has ever spent time in rural and regional Australia knows what an amazing place it is. The fresh air, big skies and friendly smiles from the people you meet, who are all too willing to share what they have with visitors. This is the real Australia, one where people spend their lives with the people they love, but one that is at risk.
Regional Australia is a long way – both physically and philosophically – from the political and economic power centres of the major cities. For years, city-focused governments of every persuasion have used cost benefit ratios to justify spending in Sydney and metropolitan centres, leaving the regions to fight for the scraps.
However, while Greater Sydney certainly has a large proportion of the population – 4.8 million of the State’s 8 million people call it home – it only occupies 1.5 per cent of the landmass. This means that while the regions produce all of the food, all of the fibre, all of the resources, they get precious little in return.
On average, people in regional areas get a far smaller return for their tax dollar than their city counterparts do, but those numbers just don’t stack up when you consider how far those dollars need to go.
The State Electorate of North Shore has five public schools, one public hospital, and a few hundred kilometres of state roads.
But the seat of Murray has 59 schools, 10 hospitals and almost 2000km of roads. It’s even worse in Barwon, where there are 69 schools, 28 hospitals and more than 4000km of state roads.
Clearly the idea that population numbers somehow constitute a fair and equitable way of allocating government spending is ridiculous. Building thousands of kilometres of roads, railway tracks and bridges costs a lot of money in the regions, far more than those communities can afford.
Look at what the regions produce for the city: Food, electricity, billions in export revenue. Surely that’s worth something. Surely it’s worth protecting and investing in.
For years, formulas and cost benefit ratios have been used to justify spending in Sydney and metropolitan centres, but it’s time for the people of rural and regional NSW to stop being short-changed.
The people of the real Australia – outside of the big cities – deserve the fair go that they believe in, and we as Australians shouldn’t be afraid to build up the bush because when the regions are strong, Australia is strong. This is something our forefathers understood when they built the telegraph lines, put telephones onto outback stations, and built railways through the desert.
The people who know what it’s like to live west of Parramatta, north of Hornsby and south of Sutherland don’t want roads paved with gold. But they do want roads to be paved. They accept that they won’t have the latest state-of-the-art hospitals, but good surgeons and GPs are hardly a luxury. And they know that the big city private schools may top the academic tables every year, but the very least we could do is give country kids a fair go as well.
We need to protect the regions and invest in them, regardless of what some treasury analyst says. The highly-educated bureaucrats can’t see what is plain to regular Australians: Our regions are too important to ignore. And if that means spending money inefficiently to build something that will change lives for entire communities, then so be it.