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Bush councils' landmark pact to make government less city-centric

Statewide

Ahead of the Queensland election on October 31, political parties are being asked to keep rural and remote communities front of mind.

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The social distancing restrictions and economic recession of the pandemic have prompted speculation more people will leave the cities in search of a better life.

But in Queensland, Australia’s most decentralised state, growth in some areas has been constrained by inadequate housing and planning policies. Communities also have to compete with more populated areas for infrastructure funding and other resources.

The Local Government Association of Queensland has put forward a Bush Councils Compact, on behalf of 45 councils, with the aim of ensuring the next state government implements change within the first 100 days of the new parliamentary term.

Already, the LGAQ has tentative support from the Liberal National Party, the Katter’s Australian Party, and the Greens, however the Labor Party and One Nation have yet to respond. It will likely be a campaign issue.

If supported, the compact would ensure special consideration was given to the potential impact of new legislation and Cabinet decisions on rural and remote areas. It would also require an annual report on the State of our Bush Communities, and a “Bush Champions” scheme for directors-general to better engage with rural and remote leaders.

LGAQ President Mark Jamieson said the compact would hopefully lead to better decision-making, greater revenue certainty and, in doing so, improve the quality of life for people in rural and remote communities.

“Small populations, funding and policy uncertainty, the tyranny of distance and a high dependence on industries impacted by global fluctuations are combining to hurt our bush communities,” said Jamieson, who is also Mayor of the Sunshine Coast.

“One-size-fits-all government policies only add to this frustration by ignoring any unique circumstances existing in rural and remote economies.”

The compact is supported by the Queensland Farmers’ Federation, the Queensland Country Women’s Association and AgForce.

QFF chief Dr Georgina Davis said bush communities, through the agriculture sector, contributed greatly to Queensland’s food security, environmental sustainability and economic opportunity.

“Despite their contribution, Queenslanders in rural and remote areas do not receive the same standard of infrastructure and essential services as those living in metropolitan areas,” Davis said.

“To bridge the divide between the city and the country, while improving the quality of life of rural and remote residents, in the next Parliament, the government must guarantee minimum standards of service delivery and infrastructure for rural and remote communities.”

AgForce General President Georgie Somerset said Queenslanders deserved the same level and quality of services, regardless of location.

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