Inland Growth Summit

MARK COULTON:

It’s always good to be with you. But also, great to be here with my good friend (Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories), Nola Marino.

But having said that, Nola and I turned up in Canberra on the same day in 2007 and Nola is a dairy farmer.

She and her husband started from scratch in Western Australia and being a dairy farmer very much involved in the community. She ran the footy club for a number of years.

And the halls of Parliament House are strewn with the carcass of people who thought Nola’s petite size was in some way an indication that she was a pushover.

And she’s a great champion for regional Australia, and she is doing a great job as the Assistant Minister for Regional Development in the Territories.

So, she looks after a lot of those islands that we have control over.

But it’s great to be here.

And isn’t it interesting that during the worst pandemic the world has seen over this last century that we’ve got a summit here trying to find out how we can get more people to take up the jobs and opportunities in our region.

And that’s not some sort of a fluke – it’s because of the work that people in this room have been doing for a long time to set up to a joint organisation where we do have these opportunities.

And to overcome this problem is a long-term process.

So, there’s a syndrome in Canberra I call silver bulletitus – everyone is looking for, “Oh, no, we’ll get the doctors to the bush, we’ll do this. Oh, no, we’ll do this.”

And, you know, we are sometimes paying the price for that.

You know, one of the silver1)2) bulletitus things we deal with now is the fact that we pay locums three times the rate of a normal doctor to come and fill in a position.

It’s actually a disincentive for someone to actually come and set up and provide permanent services, because they can sit on the Gold Coast for half the year and earn the same money by going to a country town.

So, we’ve recognised that and we’re in the early stages working with the state and the federal government even just here.

And we’ve got five trial sites announced the budget, one that’s up and running call the Murrumbidgee Model trial where we combining the resources of the state government—they’re responsible for manning the hospitals.

We’re responsible for the GP services—and creating an employment environment where people want to come not because of the remuneration but because they’re supported and because it’s actually going to enhance their career.

Offering five-year contracts for registrars so they don’t have to change towns every year, like the current form, a contract that comes with leave, maternity leave, because there’s clearly much more women now coming through the medical fraternity than men, so you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got an environment so that they can still feel comfortable to pursue their career in the regions but it’s not going to interfere with their family life.

Last week the first students in the Murray Darling Medical School were enrolled in Orange, Wagga Wagga and Bendigo.

This time next year they will be enrolled in the new facility that’s being built up here in Dubbo.

Dubbo’s Sydney University campus is going to recruit locally as a post-grad course. So, they are looking for people who may be qualified in education - they might be nurses or paramedics or schoolteachers.

Any degree they’ve got, but they are established in the community and have a desire to do medicine.

They’ll be the sort of people we’ll be recruiting here, so we don’t have to bring people from outside, we’ll grow our own. So, these things take a long, long time.

Another part of my responsibilities is regional communications and so, you know, we’ve had five rounds and five and a half rounds of the mobile black spot program.

We’ve funded about 1200 towers on that program. But it’s basically got to a point now where the telcos have said, “We don’t care. With the subsidy you’ve got we’re not going to go there because they’re not profitable.” So we are changing the guidelines for those programs. And so Round 5A is open now, and it’s open for more innovative models.

Two of the towers in Round 5 are a partnership between Field Solutions and Optus out here in the Macquarie Valley.

There’s one at Nyngan and the other one further out towards Nyngan at Mullengudgery.

And they’ll be delivering high speed, high-capacity broadband off those towers as well as Optus will be providing voice. And so those sorts of collaborations are important.

The regional connectivity program is being assessed now.

It’s grossly oversubscribed but we are looking for innovative ways of delivering telecommunications in that program because in round 6 of the black spot program – and I’ve put in a budget submission for another round of the regional connectivity program – we’re changing the guidelines so that we can be on cutting edge.

But one of my frustrations is that quite often people are languishing thinking that they’ve got no way out, you know, what happens is the phone doesn’t work, “It’s the bloody government’s fault.” All they have to do is whinge about it and my job is done.

Now I was talking to a good friend of mine who was going crook because he said, “I can’t talk to the operator in my tractor.”

I went out there in the car with an aerial and I said, “Well, you know, you need to put an aerial up.” He said, “You’re kidding me? It’s a thousand bucks.” I said, “The tractor and the plant is worth a million. Why wouldn’t you spend a thousand dollars to put an aerial on it so that you can talk to the guys driving it?”

And so we’ve set up a Regional Tech Hub. We went out to tender. The NFF was successful.

These advisers are regionally based. You can ring them up and they’ll talk you through it.

You’ll say, “Look, I’m having trouble with my internet,” and they’ll say, “Where do you live? These are the options.

You might be able to get (your internet from) Telstra or Optus, you know, you might go to the Sky Muster satellite, or do you know that another company is putting a tower up there?

Because I worked at home during the pandemic.

I’m at Warialda, I live out of town. My internet connection is the Sky Muster satellite. I did all my Zoom meetings when I’m at home. All my phone calls came through my iPhone through the satellite, not from the Telstra tower, through the satellite.

And there’s a lot of people who said, “Look, it’s been out for two months and I can’t make a phone call.” “Have you got the Sky Muster satellite?” “No. What’s that?”

So, we need to make sure that people know what’s available but it doesn’t mean that we’re not still striving to fill in those gaps.

There’s still a hundred thousand Australians that don’t have mobile coverage, and that’s their challenge at the moment.

Ultimately it might be, you know, ordering satellites or whatever, but we’re still working in that space.

So, welcome here today.

As Brad (Cam) said in the introduction, I’ve been around for a little while now and I can never remember not only in this job, but I don’t think I can remember as someone that’s lived in the bush all their life a feeling of optimism, not only in the agriculture sector.

You know there’s optimism in the beef industry. I’ve got a little block – Robyn and I trade in a few steers, and so you’ve got to have optimism to pay $1,500 for the steers to buy in.

You’ve got to have a bit of faith that you know that the market’s going to hold up at the other end. But that’s what’s happening right across. We’ve had a great grain market. You know, one thing about the bush – you never know what’s around the corner.

The mice have come to join us, and they’re a problem at the moment. They will move on, as they always do, but they’re causing a lot of grief at the moment eating all the summer crops.

But generally, the optimism is good.

I’m hoping that the discussion today looks at the key things we can do.

We have relied a lot on overseas workers to fill in the gaps, and they’ve done a great job. You know, here in Dubbo, there is a very strong multicultural community that are contributing enormously to this community, and we see that right across in other towns as well.

That’s been disrupted because of COVID. But that’s another way to encourage people to come from elsewhere in the country.

But the other thing we need to do – and I think we are doing much better – is looking after our own.

You know, through the Clontarf Foundation, there were 57 Aboriginal lads do their HSC here in Dubbo last year. And all but a couple of those have gone into trades, they’ve gone into further education. They’re working in the area and that’s what we’ve got to do.

If we want this area to prosper, we’ve got to make sure that we bring everyone with us, and we can’t just ignore some of our people.

We’ve got to bring everyone along with us because it’s going to take all of us to actually do what needs to be done.

So, Brad, well done. Congratulations on your appointment.

You’ve been involved in the RDA for a long time. John – I know he’s not here today; he’s probably fishing or something – but John has done a really good job here for a long, long time focusing on that, and you’re a great replacement to carry the mantle on, and welcome.

So, ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the day and I’ll look forward to hearing some of the outcomes.