Many rural areas across the western world are facing similar problems.
Looking at the state government’s ‘Fit for the Future’ framework for councils and shires across the state, many country councils have failed to meet the required criteria purely because demographers predict their populations will fall.
Part of this underlying problem lies with public policy settings and advice which abounded in the 1970s and that was telling farmers they had to get big or get out.
This meant many landholders borrowed huge amounts of money and many unlucky farmers then confronted droughts and exorbitant interest rates which drove them off the land.
So we had a complex set of circumstances which no-one in public life seemed to understand at the time – smaller farmers had been bought out, with many disappearing from districts which previously had plenty of people, and the blokes who went bigger, then went broke, also left the land.
This saw a decline in the populations which supported local schools, government services and local businesses, so those rural communities were not only diminished, they became less self-reliant because they were less able to support themselves.
Now we need some artificial stimulation from government to ensure the survival and self-reliance of many of our small communities into the future.
Let’s start with a pretty simple concept that could make a huge change for little federal and state outlays, but an idea which wouldn’t be popular with senior bureaucrats.
At the moment, ‘Our ABC’ is a city-centric ego-wrapped national public broadcaster and is looking at withdrawing some of the already scant services it offers the bush, with talk that one of the two live programs it runs in local areas across the country will be shut down among other cutbacks.
Instead it will concentrate on enhancing its multiple digital platforms and other pet projects of senior management.
I watched ‘The Killing Season’ which screened on the ABC at a cost of a few million taxpayer dollars and learnt not much that was really new and saw not much that was in the national interest – if we needed this series so badly, let the ‘market’ decide to make it.
But it stroked the feathers and egos of senior people at the ABC and that, it seems, is the ABC management’s priority these days – cry poor, cut essential country services, but keep the top end of town rolling along.
Here’s an idea for the ABC bosses to ponder on, one that could make a real difference for regional Australia – look at how much real value each Landline episode brings to the bush and further afield, that program makes such a positive difference.
Identify target towns and establish a two-person ‘multi-media crew’ in the area, let’s say Warren in the first instance.
This team would have a number of functions and it would vary depending on where they were stationed, but at the very least they could be feeding real local stories into the regional ABC newsrooms.
This crew would be tasked with a number of duties including working with local schools to upskill students and teachers across multi-media formats, showing them how to film, record, work on digital and social media platforms and how to build and maintain websites.
These students could then run ‘after-school’ classes, under the supervision of these experts, to teach the town’s elderly how to engage with the internet, an initiative which would not only help those seniors but also build community by engaging different generations in the experience.
If the crew was moulded on a sliding scale, that is, the senior person would leave after a two-year stint, that would ensure there was always one person who’d been in situ for a year, ensuring a continuity for the town.
Local students could try their hand at reporting stories for their local, regional station.
They could also set up cost-effective websites for local businesses, making some pocket money and guaranteeing towns like Warren a far greater web presence than could have been dreamed possible.
This would ensure local kids had real life jobs’ skills and also potential employers in the local area.
The ABC could identify the best and brightest and have scholarships. All sorts of state and federal departments could chip in a little bit each as nearly all of them would get some benefit – a very small amount from a lot of different bodies adds up to not much at all for each contributor.
Local kids could be ‘contracted’ by health agencies to run locally designed awareness raising programs etc, getting very cheap outcomes for the agencies and enormously powerful real world experience for the participating kids – it would also make the older people in the community proud of what their youth are achieving, thus building community spirit and morale.
ABC could run national regional/rural/remote awards for film/video etc projects and have a national awards’ night where the best and brightest get rewarded in various ways for their efforts.
The internet is not going away and is only going to get much bigger, thus this could see real sustainable skills being learnt that can lead to real and sustainable jobs, and it will be a whole-of-community, whole-of-nation thing, not ‘make-work’ or painting rocks white.
We need the federal Nationals to flex some of their current ‘balance of power’ leverage and get ABC fan Malcolm Turnbull to ensure the broadcaster focusses as much on what Australia needs as it does on what top management wants.
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