Report Synopsis

Rural Representation. How can rural communities best represent themselves and their cause for the good of the regions and Australia?

Ben Haslett

Australia’s agricultural industries are pivotal to the health of regional Australia. Farming creates jobs both directly in regional communities and indirectly as part of the value-added processes that occur to the primary product. The food and fibres produced contribute in a significant way to Australia’s gross domestic product and to providing essential nutrition to millions of people.

Australia’s population growth is focussed around major urban centres culminating in a relative decrease in farming’s contribution to the national economy and a greater disconnection from farming practices for the majority of Australia’s metropolitan populace. The status quo as described has led to challenges for rural regions in terms of sourcing the resources their communities require to operate optimally in a competitive world market. Additionally, decreased linkages to a citycentric population and industry representation fragmentation have led to what some decision makers have labelled as farming accepting the “least worst” option for their communities.

Larger member bases resulted in greater access to funds and more political power. An ability to reach a city based populace with the rural “story” resulted in more empathy which in turn placed greater pressure on governments to respond to rural needs. Farmer pathways to political positions also increased influence and when coupled to good levels of funding helped protect the interests of regional areas. Conversely, a multitude of advocacy groups led to poorer interactions with government at a national level as did the absence of large industry players from a peak body. Additionally, having to operate in a system that layers a continent’s requirements over that of a country adds challenges to national direction and optimising production.

Australia needs a truly representative, well resourced, peak advocacy body that can present a clear, costed case to key decision makers in a manner that allows them to instigate the requested change without fear of unwarranted public back lash. Specifically, when generating a “case for change” the following need to be considered:

  • Do you have a mandate to speak?
  • What are the key relationships needed for progression?
  • Does the rhetoric behind the case stand up to public scrutiny?
  • Have you an ability to influence the ultimate decision maker?
  • What role will the media play in the success or otherwise of your proposal?

In addition, it is important to understand the challenges centred around:

  • Competition for decision-makers time and money.
  • Structural barriers that may stymie progress.
  • Which vested interests may be a force for or against your case.
  • How best to support politicians in their effort to carry your reform.