Australians living in the regions have benefited from millions of dollars in desperately needed new infrastructure and advocacy for their needs at the highest levels of government thanks to News Corp Australia’s agenda-setting Bush Summit.
Now in its fourth year, and running nationally for the first time, the Bush Summit has created tangible change across the bush, including the establishment of the Rural Advisory Panel which provides `advice to the government from the people on the ground and not bureaucrats in the city.
The event has also protected the livelihoods of farming communities by pushing governments to introduce the ‘right to farm’ legislation to keep activists off farms.
The summit series launches today in Tamworth NSW before hitting the road for events in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia next week.
Watch live in the video player above as the 2023 Bush Summit unfolds.
BARNABY GOES NUCLEAR ON RENEWABLES
The tussle over the transition to renewables has taken centre stage at the Bush Summit.
“These companies are not doing it to save the planet. They’re doing it to make money,” New England MP Barnaby Joyce said of the energy companies coming into his electorate with renewable projects.
Joking that he had to deal with some of these companies with former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull “when we got along”, the former Deputy PM said he wasn’t for net zero “if it’s going to put you out of business”.
Australian Energy Council chief executive Sarah McNamara said there are 100 wind farms operating across Australia’s east coast and it was a “really delicate difficult thing”.
Transgrid’s Craig Stallan said his company was consulting the community about transmission lines currently being built in the Snowy Hydro region.
“It takes time to get some of these decisions. We don’t make these decisions … we push it through the machine to try and get the best outcome,” he said.
Squadron Energy CEO Jason Willoughby said 90 per cent of a wind farm is recyclable, in response to a question about waste produced by renewable energy.
They panel shared their thoughts on the future of energy, with Mr Joyce declaring: “By default we’re going to go nuclear.”
TRANSMISSION LINES ‘DIVIDE COMMUNITIES’
Farmers have shared the challenges and opportunities surrounding energy transition.
Tamworth farmer Jacqui Gidley-Baird’s property has been earmarked for transmission lines to run through it.
“So very terrifying news, and the worst thing was, is we now find that it’s not as nice as people think,” she said.
“It will change the way that we operate our farm significantly. We cannot cultivate under these transmission lines. We can’t grow the fodder, we can’t self-graze because although these transmission lines don’t give off radioactive energies, they actually do short electric fences, so we can’t use electric fences anywhere near them.
“Plus we take on a massive fire risk,” she said.
While she supports renewable energy, she said putting the lines in communities had been done the wrong way.
“Landholders like myself that (are facing) compulsory acquisition of my land, taking away all my ability to operate, taking away my capital value and my children’s future, my neighbour’s futures,” she said.
“My husband and I are Rural Fire Service volunteers. We will never forget the fear after the drought and the fires … and putting towers like that in communities that need aircraft to fight fires and taking away their ability to actually protect themselves – it’s not the way to go.”
Bendemeer farmer Rachel Rummery said renewable energy is the way forward, but farmers must be consulted. She has a wind farm being built on her property, but has been consulted about that.
“We also have the possibility of transmission lines crossing our land, and we get very little choice in that. At least (with) the wind farm I’ve had a choice, they’ve come to me and said, ‘would you like to be involved? These are the benefits’, and I got to choose. (There’s) no choice with a power line,” she said.
CRICKET TALENT PLUCKED FROM BUSH
Australian cricketer – and Bendemeer-raised local hero – Josh Hazlewood has told the Bush Summit of his upbringing playing cricket around Tamworth, saying there’s still plenty of talent coming out of the bush.
“I probably don’t get back enough to realise it, but there’s still young guys coming through (here) all the time,” he said.
“Opportunity is the key word, and no one gets through the net now, NSW does a great job of finding all the talent, and getting it to Sydney.”
He said Test cricket is still the pinnacle of the game in Australia, India and the UK, but other countries have slid towards shorter formats of the game.
“You see all the youngsters go in that direction until they realise they may not make it, and they go back to the franchise stuff,” he said.
BATTLES, BENEFITS OF BUSH
Stakeholders from business people to local police have told the Bush Summit of the challenges and benefits of living in the regions.
Penny Ashby, founder and designer of Lady Kate Knitwear in Narrabri said her biggest challenges were the “the same things I talk to my friends in the city about … most things are only small hurdles. When you live in the country you get used to having to access something via telehealth”.
“As long as you have good internet connection …(you’re) not disadvantaged at all where you live,” she said.
“Childcare and education … is a real problem where we live.”
Ashraf Al-Ouf, the CEO Bayer Group Australia and New Zealand, said a big health divide remains between the bush and metro areas, with bush access to GPs a big issue.
One in four people in the bush has cardiovascular issues, compared to one in five in the city.
Royal Flying Doctor’s chair Tracey Hayes said lack of housing was a major issue, and law and order “is a challenge”.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Pisanos, regional NSW field operations, said there were great attractions in the bush, especially for young cops, but also challenges.
“The greatest incentive we have … is about lifestyle and community, and the civic leadership role police can play in small towns and communities,” he said.
“There’s the challenge of when you stop being a cop. I think regional country cops take the issues in the community personally.
“Youth crime is a major issue, we’re seeing issues around serious youth crime. The age of criminal offending is shifting down younger.
“We just can’t arrest our way out of some of these complex societal problems.”
WE NEED NUCLEAR: DUTTON
Opposition leader Peter Dutton, at his first ever Bush Summit, has said there needs to be an “honest discussion” about the transition to renewables and said nuclear energy should be explored further as an option.
He said regional citizens had been treated as “second class citizens” with wind turbines and transmission lines headlining their concerns.
“I live on a small rural property about 35-40 minutes out of the city in Brisbane, people in my community wouldn’t tolerate turbines going up in their suburbs, pure and simple,” he said.
“They want that amenity and I think there is a divide now between cities and regional areas where people in regional areas are being treated as second class citizens.”
He said Australia should chase small modular reactors like China, France, the UK, and the US.
“It doesn’t need to be refuelled, we can deal with the waste responsibly. And you don’t have the disruption to rural communities that we’re seeing unfolding moment,” he said.
DAM NUMBERS ‘NEVER STACKED UP’
Water and environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has defended controversial water buybacks and the federal government’s withdrawal of support for the Dungowan Dam project while speaking at Bush Summit.
She said the numbers never stacked up on Dungowan Dam.
“Infrastructure Australia said this was the worst benefit cost ratio of any project they had ever examined. This has a benefit cost ratio of 0.09,” she said, adding that meant practically for every $1 spent, the value returned would be nine cents.
She also said she’d pursue water buybacks in the Murray Darling Basin as part of its push to avoid a water shortage.
“My position is we need to look at all viable options,” she said.
“We’ve had a couple of good years … but already the dry times you can feel them coming back.”
“I don’t think there’s any unconventional time to say we need to achieve all the objectives of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
“I don’t see how we can achieve (the plan) without that (voluntary water buybacks).”
RENT FREEZE ‘THE LAST THING WE NEED’
NSW Premier Chris Minns backed federal Labor’s attack on the Greens’ push for a rental freeze.
The Premier said a rental freeze was “the last thing we need”.
The Greens have aggressively attacked, and delayed, the Albanese government’s push for their Housing Australia Future Fund by demanding more support for renters.
“When rents have gone up 24 per cent in the last 12 months, that’s the last thing we need,” he said.
“Everyone who hasn’t already jacked up their rent would immediately do it and they do it before the rental freeze comes in.
WAGE CAP SCRAP BOOST TO REGIONS: MINNS
NSW Premier Chris Minns says government modelling estimates indicate scrapping the wages cap will pump more than $124m into the pay packets of government workers in regional NSW, and deliver the biggest pay rise to public sector workers in NSW in more than a decade.
“Our wages offering will deliver a $124.5 million boost to salaries of public service workers throughout regional NSW, he said, adding that the flow-on effects for communities would be even greater.
He said this was the first step to resolving NSW’s essential worker recruitment and retention crisis, “but it’s not the last. We know that recruitment is key.”
He said the $20,000 boost to incentives for health workers, aimed at enticing them to the bush, was another important step to fill hard-to-hire roles in rural NSW.
“Which is why, today, I can announce the NSW Government will be doubling incentives for health workers to move to regional communities,” he said.
“We have to grow the workforce in rural, regional and remote areas.
“We know that workforce and skill shortages are contributing to inequitable health outcomes.
“The previous incentive, set in 2010, was never reviewed despite clear strain on our regional health system.”
Teachers Federations members also protested outside the Bush Summit ahead of Mr Minns’ speech.
Asked about the stalemate in pay negotiations with the union, Mr Minns said the agreement in place until January, and the government wanted to bring talks forward “because we recognise that there is a chronic teacher shortage”.
“We are committed to lifting first year teacher pay from the lowest in the country to the highest in the country,” he said.
SHOPPERS NEED SUPPLY CHAIN TRANSPARENCY
The Bush Summit’s panel on economic and environmental resilience has heard of the need for more transparency over the supply chain, so shoppers better understand where their food and clothes come from.
Brad Banducci, Chief Executive Officer of Woolworths, said the company was “focused on innovation” and transforming the supply chain.
Merrilong Pastoral Company owner David Brownhill told the Bush Summit “every farmer has it in their best interest to look after their farming asset” and that the message had to get through to consumers about the effort Aussie farmers went through to get the best possible product to shop shelfs.
Elders managing director and CEO Mark Allison, said Aussie farming was in a sweet spot after several good seasons and good prices for livestock and produce, but digital infrastructure must improve to allow more farming operations to be able to run from the bush.
Mr Brownhill connectivity issues were highlighted by him “paying some billionaire” $130 a month to use their internet service – referencing Elon Musk’s satellite internet system – rather than using the government-run NBN.
PM MEETS PROTESTERS
Greeted by protesters outside the Bush Summit, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has met with some of the protesters in a private room after his address, and Q&A with The Daily Telegraph editor Ben English.
James Golden, chairman of the apolitical Renewable and Transmission Line Action Network (RAT: AND), said he was representing angry farmers from far North Queensland down to Tasmania.
“I would like to compliment the Prime Minister for speaking to us for 25 minutes,” he said. “But it is not enough for us to be heard yet.”
The farmers are unhappy that foreign owned companies are looking to put thousands of hectares of solar panels and wind turbines on prime agricultural land.
“The Prime Minister has promised to give us a seat at the table,” Mr Gooden said. “He was very receptive to us calling for a senate inquiry into this.”
Farmer John Peatfield was also in the meeting and told the Prime Minister that farmers were unhappy with the actions of foreign owned companies putting in solar panels and wind turbines.
VOICE, HERITAGE LAWS ‘DIVIDE US’: RINEHART
Billionaire businesswoman Gina Rinehart has called on the government to invest in primary industries across the region as she welcomed the Western Australian government’s decision to abandon controversial heritage laws.
“(It was) an act that placed burdens on the backs of West Australians, burdens that many would not have been able to carry,” she said.
She added the prospect of national heritage laws was a threat until it was “dead, buried and cremated”.’
“It is a threat of a risk of bureaucratic … regulation over the heads of anyone in regional Australia.”
Ms Rinehart’s speech was delivered to the Bush Summit by Hancock Prospecting chief executive Adam Giles, on behalf of Ms Rinehart.
He likened an Indigenous Voice to Parliament to cultural heritage laws — saying they are designed to divide us, and said the government’s pursuit of the Voice as an “oxymoron”.
“They are putting transmission towers in a sacred site … so on one hand we are talking about the Voice and Indigenous decision making. To be putting transmission lines through sacred sites, it’s an oxymoron.
“I think we should march forward as a population together and not have these divisive things that upset us.”
He called for the government to work with Aboriginal sacred sites to ensure they can be protected.
GROWING CITY-BUSH DIVIDE: RINEHART
Ms Rinehart also called for war veterans, pensioners and students to be allowed to work as much as they want without “onerous” hours restrictions.
“(We need to focus on) deleting the upper limit on work hours so that our war veterans, our pensioners, and our university students could all work as long as they wanted.”
Ms Rinehart said “huge and unnecessary large intakes of migrants” were to blame for a growing city and bush divide because they did not have a connection to the bush.
She slammed the ballooning public service workforce, arguing not enough done to invest in boots on the ground in regional Australia.
Mr Giles also spoke up against the risk of the energy transition – including transmission lines and wind turbines – on primarily agricultural land.
“You can’t be in a situation where Australia is going to destroy all our green pastures … so you can supply power to people living in a concrete jungle in the city,” he said.
To applause, he said the agriculture industry was shouldering the responsibility of climate change and reaching net zero.
“If you’ve got people in the cities creating all that carbon, why are you coming out to my farm and disturbing my farm?” he said.
“The best people who can manage their farms are the farmers themselves … farmers on the ground know their country.”
‘NEED TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT’: PM ON THE VOICE
Mr Albanese has talked about The Voice, saying something had to change as only four out of 19 Closing The Gap targets are being met.
“All of these stats … show we need to do something different,” he said.
“There’s no question that not every Indigenous person has the same position (on The Voice),” he said.
“(But this is) elected by Indigenous people themselves … a body elected by Indigenous people of Indigenous people to make representations to government.”
He added The Voice would result in an elected body of Indigenous peoples who would advise the federal government
“The power of the voice is just the power of its ideas … we are the only former colony on earth which does not recognise first peoples.”
PM BRACED FOR NATURAL DISASTER ‘PERFECT STORM’
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, in a Q and A with Daily Telegraph editor Ben English, has talked of the natural disasters which Australia has to brace for yet again.
“It’s a perfect storm because you’ve had good weather conditions in terms of rain has meant that you’ve got that undergrowth (which) has come back. But if you combine that then with a summer which is hot and dry, they’re quite dangerous conditions,” he said.
He said the federal emergency ministers would soon meet with state ministers to discuss how emergency services across Australia could best prepare for this year’s predicted bushfire season.
Mr Albanese, who was met with a wall of protesters out the front of the Bush Summit event, acknowledged rural communities – worried about the transition to renewable energy and wind farms and transmission lines – needed to be better consulted.
“We need to always try to do our best, whether it’s a private sector taking action or government, to consult with people, because you have better outcomes,” he said.
“Change is difficult … but we need to make sure the community is consulted appropriately.”
PM ON CHINA: ‘CO-OPERATE WHERE WE CAN’
Mr Albanese also added Australia has been added to China’s list of preferred destinations – meaning “tourists will be coming back”, which he said previously contributed $1b annually to the Aussie economy.
The Prime Minister said while China dropping tariffs on Aussie barley was welcomed, his government would not compromise its values for other economic benefits.
“We’re not about to change our values, we’re not about to change our support for human rights,” he said.
“I want more engagement between China and the United States. The truth is there is the risk of conflict in our region … the consequences of that would be enormous.
“A war in our region would have a very significant impact on every Australian.”
He said Australia’s approach to China is “co-operate where we can, disagree where we must”.
The Prime Minister also revealed at Bush Summit he would go to India for G20 and Jakarta for ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).
PM DETAILS $38M DROUGHT PACKAGE
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese kicked off his address to the summit with a statement on Australian agriculture’s importance to the economy as well as his government’s stance on foreign diplomacy.
He said China dropping tariffs on Aussie barley in the past week would reopen a market worth $900m to Aussie barley growers.
“Of course there are many complexities involved in the decisions of a foreign government, even one as welcome as this,” the Prime Minister said.
“But for our part, my Government is working hard to repair and maintain Australia’s relations with our friends, neighbours and trading partners.
“What it doesn’t mean is saying yes to everything. Our approach to China offers a solid template – co-operating where we can, disagreeing where we must, and always engaging in our national interest.
“We can have respectful dialogue without changing any of our fundamental positions – and still make progress.”
Mr Albanese also thanked The Telegraph and its editor Ben English for its founding, and continued support, of rural Australia through the summit.
“The Bush Summit is a rock solid part of my diary,” he said, adding he had been to every event since it started in 2019.
Detailing his $38m federal package to help droughtproof the bush, Mr Albanese said his government was taking every step they could to combat drought.
“We know, that with the right approaches farmers can keep their farms more productive for longer, keep feed in their paddocks for longer and moisture in their soils for longer,” he said.
“We know you’re taking every step you can to ward off the impacts of drought, and this Government will be there with you.”
BETTER CONNECTIVITY VITAL: ALBANESE
Mr Albanese also made the major call that connectivity in the bush had to be bettered, as future ways of working meant “we are reducing the need for so many of us to be concentrated in a handful of big cities”.
“We must improve connectivity, whether it’s with better roads, better rail or better internet,” he said.
“Too many businesses in regional Australia continue to be held back by broadband which is neither fast enough, reliable enough nor good enough.
“Nothing has the power to knock the tyranny of distance out of the equation like world-class communications technology.
“As well as removing a major handbrake on growth and jobs-creation, it can play a vital role in healthcare, education, and help individuals feel more connected.”
He also flagged the need for better tertiary education in the bush – saying 20 more study hubs would be created under his government.
“Another important component in building a better, stronger regional Australia is the creation of more regional university hubs,” he said.
“We want more young Australians to have the chance to go to university. At present, postcode is a significant barrier for young people getting that chance. The opportunities that are available to you in life should not be dictated by your address.”
DECISION MAKERS MUST ‘FACE THE MUSIC’
Daily Telegraph editor Ben English has promised the 2023 Bush Summit will see Australia’s decision-makers held to account, with issues such as drought, health worker shortages, rural crime and housing shortages to be at the forefront of the discussion with the country’s top politicians.
“In the home of country music, we are going to make our decision makers from the Prime Minister down, face the music,” Mr English said.
“And that’s entirely how it should be. It’s what makes the Bush Summit so special. We come to the Bush to hear, to listen and to grill the high and mighty.”
He said the first Bush Summit in 2019 occurred when the bush was broken by drought, with the Bush Summit since then pursuing a plethora of issues and opportunities in regional Australia.
“Since the grim backdrop to our first Bush Summit, the bush has been a story of revival. Three years of La Niña have delivered the bountiful arc of our never-ending climatic cycle,” he said.
“But as our front page story revealed yesterday, a new dry is looming. That is why this year’s Bush Summit is so critical. We must again use this platform, when everyone from the Prime Minister and the Premier gather to face their bush constituents, to ensure everything possible is being done to help our farmers get through another drought.”
“At the same time, regional towns across the nation are groaning from shortages of housing, and critical front line workers. Many still suffer from appalling standards of connectivity. The sick still have to travel for hours to get the critical medical attention they need. Thousands of young children can’t get into child care. And crime in some parts is on the rise and terrorising communities. As grim as they are, we need to hear about, and report on these problems.”
‘RENEWABLES RUINING BUSH’: FARMERS PROTEST
More than 100 angry farmers protesting against the rush to renewable energy across their land waved placards and chanted outside the Bush Summit.
Local MP and former deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the “apolitical” group had pulled together thousands of landholders from 240 groups stretching from Queensland to Tasmania.
“Renewables are not a solution, they are ruining the bush,” Mr Joyce said.
The Summit is being attended by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek and NSW Premier Chris Minns.`
“I would love Mr Albanese to come out and address these people, but he won’t,” Mr Joyce said.
“So the only way they can have a voice is to protest like this,” Mr Joyce said. “It won’t stop here.”
He vowed to take the protesters to the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra to highlight how renewables were turning agricultural land into “industrial landscapes”.
Emma Jeffrey from Walcha said the placement of wind turbines and solar panels on prime farming land was “not cheap and not safe”.
“People in the cities just need to look at their power bills and they will see putting renewables into the grid is not making them cheaper.
“We don’t want them on prime agricultural land, they stop us from fertilising the land and managing bush fires,” she said.
POLITICAL HEAVYWEIGHTS, NATIONAL FOCUS
As the 2023 Bush Summit kicked off in Tamworth at 9am, News Corp Australia’s executive chairman Michael Miller welcomed a bumper crowd including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, federal Opposition leader Peter Dutton, NSW Premier Chris Minns and deputy Prue Car, and NSW Opposition leader Mark Speakman.
Mr Miller highlighted the expanding reach of the Bush Summit, which in 2023 has gone national with a countrywide focus.
“By broadening the scope, national issues, as well as local ones can now be addressed, discussed, and when needed, solutions found,” he said.
“The fact that the current Prime Minister has attended every Bush Summit also speaks to his commitment to the people of the bush.”
$38m TO PROTECT AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE
Drought-resistant crops, super soils, and feed for cattle that can help farms stay “ahead of the curve” when the next big dry strikes will be funded under a $38m investment unveiled today at News Corp Australia’s National Bush Summit.
Anthony Albanese has announced grants for six long-term trials of drought-resilient farming practices when he visits Tamworth to deliver the keynote address for the summit series.
The Prime Minister said the funds from the $5bn Future Drought Fund would support a range of innovative research projects designed to equip farmers long term for a changing climate.
“This investment will build a long-term evidence base to accelerate the adoption of best practices across the agricultural sector,” Mr Albanese said.
“It will provide farmers with the confidence to invest in technologies and practices that have been proven across different landscapes and production conditions.”
About $8m will go to Flinders University to lead research into the climate resilience of cropping, livestock and mixed farms, while $7.99m will help Deakin University investigate how diversity in pastures could lead to 365 days of feed production in southern grazing areas.
Research into drought resilient broadacre grains and grazing conducted by the University of Melbourne on trial sites in Victoria and Tasmania will receive $7.2m.
The Cooperative Research Centre for High Performance Soils will receive $3.94m to evaluate drought resilience in farming systems and soils at sites in Western Australia, NSW and Victoria.
About $6.23m of funds will go a Charles Sturt University-led consortium investigating cropping and livestock in response to “seasonal variation”, with trials to be undertaken across multiple sites in NSW.
https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/bush-summit/bush-summit-23-pm-pledges-38m-to-help-farmers-deal-with-climate-change/news-story/5dd524d422e6183132732f080b4e8997 Bush Summit 23: PM pledges $38m to help farmers deal with climate change