Address to the Daily Telegraph Bush Summit

11 Aug 2023
Tamworth, New South Wales
Prime Minister
Check against delivery

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

It is such a pleasure to be back in Tamworth.

When it comes to bringing Australians together, this city has done some heavy lifting. For more than half a century now, you have been bringing Australians together from all over the continent.

The Tamworth Country Music Festival is recognised as one of the world’s great music festivals – and it’s your enduring gift to all of us.

And speaking of great phenomena that began in Tamworth, it’s great to see Josh Hazlewood here after a fantastic Ashes series, successfully retaining the Urn.

It means so much when an international sporting star gives back to their home town. We all start our sporting careers at our local club. For some of us, tragically, that’s as far as it goes.

But for boys and girls in regional Australia to see someone who played on their ovals taking wickets at Lords means the world.

Speaking of success on the world stage, let’s talk about Australian barley. There’s no point hiding our light under the bushel – it is the best barley in the world.

Just last week, China announced it was removing the tariffs on Australian barley. Then two days ago it was announced that two of our biggest exporters, CBH Grain and Emerald Grain Australia, can resume barley shipments to China immediately.

To get a sense of the scale of this decision, the value of these exports is around $900 million a year.

Every time you hear a dollar figure like that, look past the figures and try picturing what it means in terms of jobs, of livelihoods, and the health of communities, of families and individuals.

Of course there are many complexities involved in the decisions of a foreign government, even one as welcome as this.

But for our part, my Government is working hard to repair and maintain Australia’s relations with our friends, neighbours and trading partners.

What it doesn’t mean is saying yes to everything. Our approach to China offers a solid template – co-operating where we can, disagreeing where we must, and always engaging in our national interest.

We can have respectful dialogue without changing any of our fundamental positions – and still make progress.

A real, tangible outcome like this is good for our farmers. I’m looking forward to heading just up the road later this morning to visit Kevin Tongue’s farm. He’s just one of the many barley farmers who will be feeling the difference.

And just as it’s good for farmers like Kevin, it’s good for the communities they live in.

One in four Australian jobs are in exports, and jobs in export industries have higher than average pay. Exports are crucial to our agricultural industry.

So this decision is good for our economy and good for jobs. Ultimately, it’s good for all of us.

Positive outcomes like this one are a timely reminder that amid the challenges we face, there is opportunity and possibility.

We have the chance of an even better Australia within our reach. But if we are to grasp it, we have to let ourselves be guided by two fundamental truths.

The first is that there is so much value in the knowledge of people on the ground. People understand what’s going on in their own communities, and it’s worth listening.

The other is that we’re better off when we bring people together and work together.

That’s so much of what the Bush Summit is about.

I’d like to express my appreciation to Ben English and The Daily Telegraph for setting it up and – just as crucially – for remaining committed to it.

The Bush Summit is a rock solid part of my diary. I’ve been to every one.

As I said at the first one in Dubbo in 2019, bringing people together is such an important step because it is only together that we can rise to meet the challenges facing us. And the unavoidable truth is we’re not short of challenges.

When we gathered in Dubbo that year, we were in the middle of the worst drought in living memory.

Then began the first fires of what would become the long Black Summer.

The smoke had barely cleared when Covid hit. Then the floods came.

Now we look ahead with some apprehension to what summer will bring.

During the floods, I saw devastation that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I heard stories of courage. Stories of loss and heartbreak – homes gone, businesses painstakingly built on dreams and hard work left in ruins.

But there were also stories of resilience and extraordinary strength.

Few things give you a sense of perspective quite like being in the presence of someone who has lost everything – but who is not only determined to stay standing, they’re making sure their neighbour does as well.

In the coming months my Government, through the National Emergency Management Agency, will work with states and territories to deliver a suite of preparedness activities to support communities for the upcoming Higher Risk Weather Season.

We have committed funding over five years through the Disaster Ready Fund to help communities protect themselves against the impacts of natural disasters.

We are addressing a broad range of natural hazards, infrastructure needs, as well as systematic risk-reduction projects.

With the country moving into hotter and dryer conditions this summer; the potential for drought over the coming years is on everyone’s minds.

Our advantage here is that Australian farmers are some of the best in the world at preparing for and managing drought.

And as a government we recognise the importance of supporting efforts to adapt to a changing climate.

We will build on the momentum coming from the farming sector and to ensure our investments are well targeted and working for farmers and regional communities.

We have engaged with stakeholders and will continue to do so to ensure that farmers and rural communities are equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge to effectively handle the heightened risk of drought.

I’m pleased today to announce an additional $38 million in funding to support the long-term trial of new and emerging agriculture practices to build drought resilience in a changing climate.

The program will support long-term trials investigating innovative and transformational cropping, grazing and mixed farming practices.

This includes looking at crop rotation, soil management, feed for cattle, and infrastructure across Australia.

This investment will build a long term evidence base to accelerate the adoption of best practices across the agricultural sector.

It will provide farmers with the confidence to invest in technologies and practices that have been proven across different landscapes and production conditions.

This program is part of the Future Drought Fund, which provides funds to strengthen drought resilience across the agriculture landscape and throughout regional communities.

The FDF is already providing grants to fund projects in the Tamworth area to promote drought resilience through better farm and land management practices.

The Tamworth Regional Landcare Association has received funding for workshops, field days and mental health training through the Helping Regional Communities Prepare for Drought Initiative.

We are supporting the Tamworth/Walcha region to develop Regional Drought Resilience Plans to prepare for and manage future drought risks.

We’re also providing funding to Farmers2Founders to increase drought resilience, including in Tamworth, by facilitating adoption of technologies that optimise profitability and productivity while enhancing soil health, land condition, and water management.

We know, that with the right approaches farmers can keep their farms more productive for longer, keep feed in their paddocks for longer and moisture in their soils for longer.

We know you’re taking every step you can to ward off the impacts of drought, and this Government will be there with you.

During the terrible months of the Black Summer, Australians did what they always do: they responded to the worst of times by being their very best.

Even the smallest communities in the bush showed such gigantic spirit, with friends and strangers alike looking out for each other, often putting their own safety on the line for those around them.

Courage and leadership like that is a reminder every government has a duty to measure up to the qualities of the people we have the great privilege of representing.

And one of those qualities is looking ahead and planning for the future.

We see that in the farming sector and all the steps being taken to take the changes we see on the horizon and turn them into opportunities. To mitigate risks and become more resilient.

Reducing risk means being ready for the next fire, the next storm, the next drought.

It means reducing emissions – not just because that’s what supply chains are increasingly demanding, but also because it make businesses more resilient over the long term.

It means ensuring soils are carbon-rich because that means they are more productive soils.

It means looking for more ore efficient fertiliser applications – because they cost less, waste less and release less nitrous oxide.

Australian farmers are ahead of the curve on so many measures. And this government will continue to work with you to encourage this innovation.

Both as Prime Minister and as a former Regional Development Minister, my dedication to regional Australia is absolute. An Australia that isn’t so top heavy with capital cities will be a nation more in balance with itself.

As with any aspect of creating a better future, good intentions alone are never going to cut it. We must improve connectivity, whether it’s with better roads, better rail or better internet.

Too many businesses in regional Australia continue to be held back by broadband which is neither fast enough, reliable enough nor good enough.

Nothing has the power to knock the tyranny of distance out of the equation like world-class communications technology.

As well as removing a major handbrake on growth and jobs-creation, it can play a vital role in healthcare, education, and help individuals feel more connected.

Bit by bit, we are reducing the need for so many of us to be concentrated in a handful of big cities. As new possibilities open up, some of the ways of working that we have for so long taken for granted will start to look a little bit retro.

We’re investing in Rewiring the Nation to bring our energy transmission into the 21st century, underpinning the reliability of electricity across Australia.

Making sure every part of the country has the power they need, when they need it.

Ultimately this will reduce power bills, taking pressure off families and business-owners alike. It will help Australian manufacturing, so much of which takes place in our regional cities and towns.

More manufacturing is good for our regions. It means more jobs and letting us become what we need to be: a country where we make things here. A country better able to stand our own two feet.

But there’s still a lot to do, and that includes better access to quality health. We’ve delivered on our commitment to make medicine cheaper.

And in late October, the Tamworth Medicare Urgent Care Clinic will start seeing patients, making it easier for the community to access urgent care and take pressure off Tamworth Hospital.

We’re planning 58 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics across Australia, with 14 of them in NSW.

Cheaper child care is another election commitment we’re delivering on – it’s good for families, it’s good for the economy. And it’s great for the kids.

Another important component in building a better, stronger regional Australia is the creation of more regional university hubs.

We want more young Australians to have the chance to go to university. At present, postcode is a significant barrier for young people getting that chance. The opportunities that are available to you in life should not be dictated by your address.

An early evaluation of Study Hubs – what were then called Regional University Centres – found that they have a good triple effect.

They attract people to the area, help locals stay during their study and give students a path to local jobs once they have finished studying.

The evidence is that in places where these hubs exist, university participation goes up. We will add 20 more in the regions.

More Australians will be able to take advantage of the lifestyle that regional Australia makes possible – and in turn, they will add to the strength of the communities they become part of.

But a lot is asked of communities like yours. We ask you to grapple with nature in a way most Australians will never have to. And in doing so, you forge strong bonds and build strong communities.

Strong communities build back faster, they problem solve together, they keep each other safe.

Risk reduction and resilience aren’t just about infrastructure.

Roads that don’t get washed away are vital, communications systems that can work across state borders and through bushfire smoke are essential, but the most critical ingredient in recovery and resilience is human relationships.

Australia’s regions are diverse, each with unique strengths and challenges. Delivering on the potential of regional Australia requires building on each region’s unique strengths.

The values and aspirations of a community inform the actions they want to take to build resilience and reduce disaster risk.

Communities know the situation on the ground better than anyone else.

Together, we can keep building a better future.