The tyranny of distance - by The Hon. Tony McGrady AM, Mayor of Mount Isa.Rural and regional Australia is a subject which receives some coverage, but certainly deserves more attention and results from governments.
We all read about the tyranny of distance but you have to live in remote areas to appreciate the disadvantages which people in rural Australia face Ė you canít read about it, you have to live it.
I am pleased that the Federal Government in opposition promised a White Paper on Northern Australia and now in government have committed their government to do so.
The fact that this issue has been placed on the national political agenda is a victory for the many people who have been engaged in this campaign for many years. I have had discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister about the question of a review of the zone allowance being part of the White Paper and I have been assured that this issue will be reviewed.
When the zone allowance was introduced by the Chifley Labor Government in the 40s, the intent was to compensate those people who lived in regional and remote Australia for the disadvantages which they suffered as well as compensating them for the high costs of living and the lack of facilities which our city brothers and sisters take for granted.
The major problem with the zone allowance was that it was never indexed, so it is now quite irrelevant as far as tax incentives go.
When I arrived in Mount Isa in 1963 the zone allowance was $560 per year and the basic wage was approximately $40 per week so you can understand how relevant the allowance was in those days, but as it was never indexed it has lost all the benefits and attractions which it had in those early days.
It is my firm belief that if we are to arrest the population drift from Northern Australia to the coastal cities and towns and the social problems associated with the re-settlement of large numbers of people, then proactive initiatives have to be introduced by governments to encourage people to move to regional and remote areas. But just as important is retaining people in these areas.
Surely we must all be concerned as the population drift continues and rural Australia is denuded of people, and as families leave the small towns we see the loss of a police officer, a nurse, a teacher and maybe the closure of some of the facilities such as schools and hospitals.
With a realistic zone allowance we could attract young doctors, nurses, journalists, school teachers and other young people who would come out to live, settle, raise their families and become part of the social fabric of those small communities. This is not just a dream, it could become a reality.
Obviously there would be a cost involved but the reality is that the numbers of people involved in such a scheme would be few compared to the millions of people who live in the cities.
It is rural and regional Australia which is creating the new wealth for our nation Ė itís the mining towns and camps and the cattle properties. These are the industries which are wealth generators, and I believe governments can and should ensure that policies are put in place which will attract people to these areas and keep them there. A reasonable zone allowance will do just that. If we continue to ignore this issue it will be at our peril.