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Monday 5 August 2019

The Drought Summit held recently in Dubbo has highlighted the issues facing farmers and businesses in regional areas.  As a result of the summit promises by Government to commit funding and carry out an action plan to assist regional communities is cause for cautious optimism.

Leaders at the summit have put forward some laudable action points including: New Water Resource Projects (i.e. dams and irrigation systems, “Right to Farm” legislation, streamlining approval processes for regional projects, increasing the Payroll Tax threshold to $1m for Regional Areas, tourism push to “visit the bush”, black spot free for internet in regions and a minimum service standard for numbers of teachers, nurses and police for country towns.  If implemented in part or whole these action points would benefit all regional communities in NSW including Port Macquarie.

Even though Port Macquarie is not as dramatically impacted by the devastating and prolonged drought as our counterparts in Western NSW the big ticket challenges for all regional areas remain the same.  These challenges are transport and services infrastructure, water resource management and reliable, affordable power supply.

As Port Macquarie continues to grow the business community here has an expectation that all levels of government will plan for and deliver the necessary infrastructure to support business activity.  Typically business operators comprise the silent majority who pay rates and taxes with the understanding that politicians and bureaucrats will plan, design and construct the necessary roads, pipelines and services reticulation.

For example the Ocean Drive duplication is now fully designed and funded so it is anticipated that construction will commence in the not too distant future.  By contrast The Orbital is currently in early planning stages and has recently been through an extensive community consultation process.  Council has now resolved to undertake further work on a business case and alignment options which will require more detailed investigation.  This road link is critical to future transport planning and it is the expectation that Engineers can find solutions that both minimise impacts on residents and provides an efficient traffic network.

Water resource management is now a constant challenge for both farming irrigation and domestic drinking water supplies in all regional areas.  The Dubbo Drought Summit has given rise to a Federal Government commitment to provide funding for future proofing regional areas.  This will almost certainly include new dams, pipelines and irrigation systems.  Such large scale water resource infrastructure will also bring many business opportunities to regions as well as the obvious security to food production and water supply for domestic uses.

Reliable and affordable energy supply is critical to the success of every small business operation and particularly those in regional areas where profit margins are less certain and prone to a higher risk factor.  Power generation has been politicised and debated at every election and all levels of government under the media spotlight for the past decade or more without any real progress being made.  The solution, as with many things is not any one single source of power generation but rather a raft of differing technologies that take advantage of resources and topography.

In a country as diverse and resource rich as Australia there exists a wide range of reliable and affordable power generation options that include nuclear, gas, coal as well as renewables such as hydro-electric, solar and wind.  Federal and state governments challenge is to provide the necessary leadership, legislative framework, certainty and incentives that promotes investment in all viable forms of power generation.

Whilst the Dubbo Drought Summit is rightly focused on those regional and farming communities devastated by this unprecedented event it has brought Government attention to the needs and challenges of all regional areas with renewed hope for some positive outcomes.

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