(Australian Associated Press)
New Nationals senator Susan McDonald has called for regional taxation zones and wide-ranging decentralisation of services to dramatically revitalise the bush.
In her first speech to parliament, the Queenslander said even opportunities between the bush and cities began to diverge in the 1990s.
“It was a time of productivity commissions and user pays. It was a time that the ground cracked and the chasm that divided regional communities and urban places began,” she told senators on Tuesday.
“That gap has widened to the point that something dramatic needs to happen to revitalise the heart and the soul of our nation and to draw our people home.
“This big country needs dreamers – giants who imagine more not less.”
Senator McDonald, who will chair the Senate’s regional affairs committee, said a country like Australia needed secure, reliable and affordable water, electricity, communications and transport.
She called for bold economic policy including taxation zones and rebates to give incentives to businesses and people to escape urban congestion in favour of building the regions.
“In one big country, decentralisation shouldn’t just be a policy of government, it should be the business of government, entrenched across the political divide as the natural way of government,” Senator McDonald said.
The former businesswoman, who grew up on her family’s property in Cloncurry, also said there needed to be a review of Australia’s aviation industry to examine the cost of air travel for country people.
“In the regions we rely on roads and airports and there is no moral reason why it should cost more to fly from one of our capital cities to one of our regional towns, than it does to fly overseas,” Senator McDonald said.
Senator McDonald said the government must not shy away from investing in health services, education and significant infrastructure in rural Australia.
Investing in nation-building dams across Queensland was also a priority.
“Government must not turn around with a calculator and a balance sheet in hand and say that an inadequate population makes these crucial growth services uneconomical,” she said.
Senator McDonald, who has helped boost the number of women in the Nationals’ party room from two to six, said she was proud of not being pre-selected because of a gender quota.
Before entering parliament at the May election, she was managing director of Super Butcher, a meat retailing business owned by her family’s MDH company.
MDH is one of Australia’s largest cattle operations, spanning 14 properties in Queensland over an area of 3.36 million hectares.