ABC journalist Heather Ewart interviewed Nationals Victoria leader Peter Walsh and deputy leader Steph Ryan at the May Rural Press Club of Victoria lunch on Monday, May 25. Topics included the loss in Shepparton to independent Suzanna Sheed, why they won’t amalgamate with the Liberals, and what they stand for.
photo supplied by Rex Martinich
Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews gave a preview of the vision behind his first budget to a Rural Press Club of Victoria function in Melbourne last week.
Mr Andrews pledged to implement an “affordable policy agenda” in this week’s State Budget to address the challenges and make the most of opportunities in regional Victoria.
Throughout a speech to the RPCV function, Mr Andrews paid tribute to regional Victoria’s current economic contribution to the state and its future potential.
Mr Andrews said “food and fibre” was one of the six types of industry in Victoria with the best prospect for growth.
“(The chief executive of Australia Post) said that now the mining boom was nearing an end, next would be a ‘dining boom’,” he said.
“I thought that was a good line.”
Mr Andrews pledged that he and his ministers would listen to people in the industries that they were making decisions about.
“I think the best kind of governments are ones with a clear plan and a clear vision, but also have an open door and a listening ear,” he said.
“One of (Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford’s) great strengths is her preparedness to master her brief, but also to know and understand that she will never know as much about individual industries as those who run those industries.
“There are some things that I know a lot about and there are some things that I will never know as much about as the people I engage with every day, and that is why an open door is very important.”
Mr Andrews announced at the function that a pledge to has reverse $32 million of cuts to ‘Local Learning and Employment Networks’ (LLEN) would be honoured in the budget.
“Anyone from regional Victoria knows how important these have been over a very long time helping match, particularly young people, their skills to the best economic and employment outcome for them,” Mr Andrews said.
“They have a strong presence everywhere from Geelong, Hamilton, Warrnambool, down in ‘The Valley’, Bairsdale, the Bass Coast, Ballarat Horsham, Kilmore, Benella, Wodonga, ‘Shep’, Swan hill, Charlton and Mildura.
“Those networks were not funded, that was the wrong decision to make and we promised to reverse it…there will be $32m to reinstate those LLENs in (the) budget.”
Mr Andrews said the LLENs provided regional kids and adults, as well as businesses themselves, the support they needed.
“We just can’t have our country kids left behind any longer,” Mr Andrews said.
“We just can’t have a situation where there is a skills gap and a growing knowledge attainment gap, and therefore a lifetime earning capacity gap, between kids in the city and kids in larger regional centres, let alone small towns.”
Other policy hints included reform to Victoria’s rail gauges, an issue where the previous Coalition State Government had intended to start a $400m project to standardise gauges in some areas.
For general spending, Mr Andrews said the Government was the largest purchaser in Victoria and should “buy local”.
“There will be a policy announcement on that soon,” he said.
Speaking in broader terms about his Government’s first budget, Mr Andrews said e would see an “affordable policy agenda” to address the challenges and make the most of opportunities in regional Victoria.
“I hope I’ve given you a sense of the culture of our government and how we are going to go about that task,” he said.
Mr Andrews also took questions from the crowd, many of which came from agricultural industry members and representatives with issues relating to the new State Government’s policy decisions.
Mr Andrews was asked, given the money raised from selling the Rural Finance Corporation, what proportion of the budget would be spent in rural and regional areas.
“A very good question, one that I keep asking the Treasurer,” Mr Andrews said.
“The proceeds from the sale ($400m), by a factor we’ll go beyond that.”
Mr Andrews said country transport projects in the forthcoming budget would not be as big as the recently proposed $5.5 billion Yarra River alternative crossing tunnel project but “everybody in south west Victoria will be supporting of an alternative to the West Gate Bridge”.
A Goulburn Valley local asked Mr Andrews to intervene in the transported water market which had seen huge prices charged to growers.
“Our farmers are struggling, struggling unbelievably with the price of water,” she said.
“This time last year it was $61, this year $151; they simply cannot afford this.
“Water is being profiteered; every day with farmers their biggest concern is water and they cannot make ends meet. We need your help, Premier.”
Mr Andrews said that he needed “to sit down and talk about” the issue.
“I don’t think I’m going to resolve this standing here now.
“I’ve had a number of MPs from that region contact me, it’s been an issue this season and probably last.
“This is an example of where I’m not going to claim that I know more about something than the people that live it every day.”
Mr Andrews said he was visiting the region soon and said he would be happy to meet with locals about the water issue.
Seafood Industry Victoria executive director Johnathon Davey challenged Mr Andrews to justify the impact of a net fishing ban in Port Phillip Bay.
“For the people around the room that’s going to result in about 400 tonnes of seafood that will be unavailable, of which 90 per cent goes into the markets in (Victoria),” Mr Davey said.
“I just wonder where seafood fits into your grand scheme of food security given it’s one of our greatest renewable resources.”
Mr Andrews said they “could have a debate about how renewable that resource is”.
“We took a very clear plan to the election and Victorians voted for it,” he said.
“I think you’ll find it was a bipartisan commitment so no matter who won the election there was going to be a fundamental change to how our fisheries worked.
“We want to treat people respectfully as for some it will be a challenging time, but beyond that I think we are entering a period with some very exciting announcements for the seafood industry.”
Mr Andrews said his Government had a “long term view” for Avalon Airport as a “freight hub into Asia” and there were opportunities to grow the seafood industry along the coast outside of Port Phillip Bay.
Premier Daniel Andrews addressed a full house at the Rural Press Club of Victoria lunch on Thursday, April 30, revealing his Government’s priorities in the lead up to his first budget.
Independent Shepparton MP Suzanna Sheed has given her explanation as to how she, as the locals say, was able to “knock off the Nationals” at last year’s State election.
Shepparton had been held by the National Party since 1967, but Ms Sheed won with a 32 per cent swing after a campaign lasting just 29 days.
Ms Sheed outlined her personal history and the background for her unlikely win at a Rural Press Club of Victoria function in Shepparton on March 25.
Along with independent MP Cathy McGowan, who won the federal seat of Indi from the Liberals in 2013, Ms Sheed has triggered a debate over whether more surprise victories can be won in so-called ‘safe seats’.
Ms Sheed was asked if her type of campaign could be replicated in other seats around Victoria.
“It’s only going to be in some electorates with that high level of discontent,” she said.
“Why would Ballarat or Bendigo or Geelong? They are seen as having the best of both worlds because they are marginal.
“There’s really general acceptance, although people don’t like to articulate it, that being a marginal seat is what gets you the attention.”
Shepparton was one of Victoria’s safest seats until late last year, so what made that regional seat a hotbed of rebellion against the political status quo?
One answer may be the local economy: like other regional centres it is a town of haves and have-nots.
Some shops appear to be thriving, others are just empty.
One of the local hotels had a cardboard box marked ‘resumes’, clearly half full with paper and in plain view from the front counter.
Apart from a constant theme of Government underinvestment compared to similar electorates, Ms Sheed also nominated high youth unemployment as an issue that energised Shepparton voters.
However, Ms Sheed’s personal motivation for putting her hand up to run was investment in local infrastructure.
“I’ve privately lamented the fact that our public transport, our roads, our hospitals, social services and education systems have, for years, not got the investment they needed,” she said.
“I knew there was deep discontent in the community and that people felt disillusioned with political party.
“People felt that the loyalty they had shown the National Party for years was not being repaid.”
Ms Sheed nominated Gippsland as a region that could have seen a strong independent stand a chance of victory.
The surge of media attention after the Shepparton win contained much speculation as to what external factors could have pushed the locals to change their voting patterns.
Ms Sheed believed that the biggest factor was wholly local.
“To get people who were Liberals to vote for me, to get people who were Labor to vote for me, and to get rusted-on Nationals to vote for me, meant that it was about us, about our electorate,” she said.
As a former family lawyer and a life-long Shepparton area local, Ms Sheed said that communities were sick of being offered candidates with little real world experience.
“There are a lot of people in Parliament now who are almost professional politicians who’ve come up through the unions or the party,” she said.
“People are starting to think that maybe that’s not a good thing.”
After the heady days of the campaign, Ms Sheed still wants to focus on the big picture.
“I can’t help but offend people by saying this, but I’m not interested in getting a few thousand dollars for the local hall or the small things,” she said.
“I want to spend my time focusing on the things that will make the big difference: good rail and health services.”
However, the mundane tasks involved in being a local MP, especially one without a party system for support, appear to be creeping up on Ms Sheed.
One question from the audience suggested that she had struggled to get coverage from the local media organisations, which Ms Sheed then attributed to a lack of resources and experience in media management on her part.
Independent MP Suzanna Sheed addressed a Rural Press Club lunch at Parklake Function Centre in Shepparton. Addressing a strong crowd of over 90, she delivered a frank account of what it is like to be an Independent in politics.
Cassie Hough and Peter Gunders
ABC Rural, Australia – Winners of 2014 IFAJ-Rabobank Digital Media Award
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Victorian journalists and photographers have the opportunity to showcase their talents to the world and gain international recognition for their work following the national launch of the Australian Star Prize awards on Wednesday.
Launched at a Rural Media South Australia (RMSA) event in Adelaide, South Australia, the awards support prize-winning writers and broadcasters with overseas travel to experience a World Congress with a focus on international agricultural journalism.
This year’s winners of the Star Prize for Rural Broadcasting, sponsored by global agribusiness bank, Rabobank, and the Star Prize for Rural Writing are set to attend the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) World Congress in Hamilton, New Zealand, from 14 to 18 October 2015.
Speaking at the national launch, Rabobank’s James Robertson said the $6000-travel prizes, including flights, accommodation and congress registration, help induct Australia’s rural reporters into the international media community, and provide them with new global insights, perspective and connections.
Categories for the Rabobank Star Prize for Rural Broadcasting include television, radio and online broadcasting. Entries in the online broadcasting category require a mix of at least three of the following content areas: video, audio, text and images.
Run by the Australian Council of Agricultural Journalists (ACAJ), in partnership with the Rural Press Club of Victoria (RPCV) and other state media clubs, the awards also see the winner of the Australian Star Prize for Rural Photography receive a $1000 cash prize. Categories for the Star Prize for Rural Photography include people, production and nature/landscape.
RPCV president Stephen Cooke said the runner-up in the 2014 Australian Star Prize for Rural Writing, Melbourne-based Sue Neales, testified to the calibre of rural reporting entries in this state.
Neales’s article published inThe Weekend Australian newspaper, titled “Going, going, gone: death of the saleyard” highlighted the importance of livestock saleyards in Australia’s rural areas when the RSPCA proposed a ban.
Adding to this Victorian accolade, Melbourne-based freelance journalist, Nathan Dyer, won the 2013 Australian Star Prize for Rural Writing with a feature article published in R.M.Williams Outback magazine. This piece titled “Scheme of Dreams” examined the Kimberley’s Ord River Irrigation Scheme.
Work entered in the awards must cover a rural or regional subject, and must have been published in 2014.
For Victorian reporters, award entries open on Wednesday, 4 March and entries close on Wednesday, 25 March 2015.
The RPCV, and other state clubs, announce state winners for the Rural Writing, Broadcasting and Photography categories, before they are entered in the national Star Prize competition.
National winners are selected to compete at an international level in the IFAJ Star Prize awards. The IFAJ announces the world Star Prize winners at its congress in New Zealand in October, 2015.
Enter the awards here
South Australia-based writer and Rural Press Club of Victoria committee member, Rebecca Jennings, packed her bags for Scotland last September after being recognised internationally as a ‘Young Leader’ in agricultural journalism.
Rebecca, a specialist writer for Australian R&D journalism and communications company Coretext, was named the Australian winner of the 2014 International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ)-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism award.
After being selected as the national winner by the Australian Council of Agricultural Journalists (ACAJ), Rebecca went on to be selected as one of 10 international winners.
These global Young Leaders were invited to attend a professional development program as part of the IFAJ annual congress in Aberdeen, Scotland, in September. This ‘Boot Camp’ were joined by the IFAJ ‘Master Class’ of journalists from Africa, South and Central America.
The Congress served up everything from Highland cattle to whisky – with plenty of Scottish charm – but Rebecca said the people she met were the highlight.
“The opportunity to meet agricultural journalists from countries as diverse as South Africa, Nicaragua, Nepal, Sweden, Belgium and Canada as part of the joint Boot Camp and Master Class was an amazing experience,” Rebecca said.
“As a regionally-based writer, it can be difficult at times to build professional networks but the IFAJ Congress opened the gate to a fascinating group of colleagues from around the world.”
“Although we face similar issues, such as telling the ‘paddock to plate’ story, many of these journalists also face challenges such as government persecution, which is a foreign concept for a country such as Australia that enjoys freedom of the press.”
Read more about Rebecca’s Scottish experience here.
The experience has already paid off, with Rebecca recently asked to write an article on the Australian drought for the Irish Farmers Journals as well as sharing contacts with a Scottish journalist reporting on bushfires in South Australian.
Rebecca entered the awards with a series of articles exploring how Australian grain growers are embracing electronic technology in their farm businesses. The articles were published in GroundCover magazine, which Coretext produces for the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
Rebecca was raised on a commercial beef property in Queensland, and currently lives on a cropping and sheep farm in the mid-north of SA with her husband Dave.
She is past secretary of the Rural Press Club of Queensland and now a non-executive committee member for the Rural Press Club of Victoria, and one of Victoria’s representative on the Australian Council of Agricultural Journalists.
Demonstrating her ongoing professional commitment to agricultural journalism and rural Australia, Rebecca’s previous roles include: Livestock editor for Queensland Country Life; Media manager at AgForce Queensland; and Communication Advisor with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).