By Georgie Somerset,
Beef farmer, wife, mother and AgForce Queensland General President
Some people in our great state think farmers are looking for a handout to overcome the issues they face. Let me tell you, they’re not.
What everyone living in regional Queensland is after is a fair go – whether they’re farmers, teachers, doctors, nurses, small business owners, hairdressers, waiters, the list goes on.
And everyone in the regions can and should expect the same level of support from all political parties as those living in metropolitan areas.
This isn’t a whinge. It’s a reality check. Because the truth is if something doesn’t change soon, it’ll be too late.
For communities, for businesses, for individuals – for the very real people who are just like you, but are now, in many instances, having to live in conditions more reminiscent of some third-world countries.
Limited water, lack of connectivity, poor roads and other infrastructure, shortages of, or in some cases no, teachers, police and doctors.
Imagine having to drive 90 minutes to take your sick child to the doctor because the local GP closed six months ago. Imagine the anxiety you feel on the way.
Imagine having to jump out of your truck and unhitch your trailer because the bridge is so fragile it can’t take the weight – not all in one go – and you do that twice a day just so that you can get the food from the farm to the city.
Imagine having to decide not to plant crops this year for the hundreds of thousands who enjoy eating the corn you grow, because the land is so dry and there’s no water to irrigate them anyway.
That’s not to say Brisbane doesn’t know hardship.
In 2007 it became Australia’s first capital city to enforce level five water restrictions, which meant everyone in the south-east was only allowed to bucket-water their gardens twice a week, received tiny hour-glass timers in the mail to make sure showers didn’t last longer than four minutes, and faced a 150 per cent rise in their water bills.
Then there were the floods, the most recent in 2011. Many lost their homes, others are still paying off the crippling expense of having to renovate or rebuild.
What shone out most brightly during this time of hardship was the way everyone stood together. It didn’t matter where you were from. It didn’t matter if you were directly affected or had driven from one side of the city to the other to help clean mud and debris off the personal belongings of someone who was.
It was the Queensland spirit of mateship and togetherness that helped people through it. We didn’t turn our backs on our neighbours. We just got on with it – helping each other out.
We’ve seen the same spirit of mateship recently towards people in the bush as well.
Countless individuals have given their time and money to those suffering from prolonged drought, and from the floods that so devastatingly affected those in the north-west of the State earlier this year.
The problem is these issues aren’t over.
More of Queensland is drought declared now than it was twelve months ago. Entire communities are still recovering from the northern floods and will be for many years.
But the most exhausting part of this for people in regional Queensland is the relentless tide of red-tape and legislation that continues to work against them experiencing that ‘fair go’ I mentioned earlier.
And that’s the problem. It seems to be relentless, and it seems to be targeted at those of us in the regions.
It shouldn’t have to be an ‘us and them’ issue. It shouldn’t be a choice about looking after our own patch.
If regional Queensland is struggling, we’re all struggling.
If farmers can’t grow the crops for our cereal and curries and stir-fries, we all suffer.
Maybe it’s easy to forget when it isn’t happening next door. Maybe it’s easy to say, ‘if they don’t like it, then they shouldn’t live where they do.’
The thing is most people living in regional Queensland – farmers and others – do like it, it’s their home and they wouldn’t have it any other way – they love growing food and fibre to feed and clothe people.
The farmers I know and speak to overwhelmingly love and care for their land and their animals, they love providing for their families, for their communities, and for all of the millions of Queenslanders who live next door, down the street and beyond – for every single one of us grappling with life all the way from the city to the bush.
But they don’t like the drought, and the floods, and they don’t like the feeling that there are people out there pitting mate against mate and city against country.
We’re all in this together, and the sooner every single one of us realises that the better off every single one of us will be.
We need you to stand with us – to stand up for regional Queensland – our farmers, teachers, doctors and nurses, our small businesses, families and community organisations.