After years and months of fruitless complaining, North West Queensland finally had its chance to vent its anger on the ridiculously high cost of air fares in the region at forums in Cloncurry and Mount Isa on Thursday.
I attended both hearings and while each was quite different from the other, both were important in articulating our case for change, and also importantly getting politicians to understand our real life experiences with the issue.
The Cloncurry hearing was the formal Hansard-recorded hearing where organisations like local councils, MITEZ and ICPA had the chance to articulate their interests.
The most interesting speaker was Hamish Griffin who has gained a reputation as an astute social media commentator and a person who has done more than most to ignite that critical urban interest in our problems.
The Isa forum was more informal, mostly off the (Hansard) record and a chance for local citizens to tell the pollies their sometimes heart-breaking real world stories of what exorbitant airfares mean to them and their families.
One of the most enlightening comments I heard all day was from NXT Senator Rex Patrick who said that when he goes back to Canberra he would remember things people said to him here which would affect his thinking on all issues affecting rural and regional people – not just about air fares.
This is a key point and one touched on by McKinlay Deputy Mayor Neil Walker.
Our country towns are suffering with many issues: lack of opportunities, closing businesses and services, difficulties of attracting and retaining staff, remoteness and many others.
Canberra, and Australia as a society, needs to consider what we want from our country towns. Are we just prepared to have them wither away and die and let everyone live in the big city suburbs or are we going to seriously look at what we can do to put our country towns on life support.
Some industries – notably telecommunications – have a concept of a “universal service obligation”.
We must look at all these obligations holistically unless we want a landscape dotted with ghost towns in the coming decades – Derek Barry