Faces of Tamworth: regional advocate Robbie Sefton

AT HOME: Businesswoman and farmer Robbie Sefton at home – not doing donuts in  the driveway – with husband and partner Alistair Yencken.
AT HOME: Businesswoman and farmer Robbie Sefton at home – not doing donuts in the driveway – with husband and partner Alistair Yencken.

REGIONAL Australia is more than doing doughnuts in the driveway, Tamworth businesswoman Robbie Sefton told Australia during her appearance on Q&A two years ago.

The award-winning corporate executive and business owner also called for a change in the conversation about regional Australia at the conclusion of ABC Television’s Q&A program, broadcast from Tamworth Memorial Town Hall on Monday.

“The conversation tonight has been quite negative,” she told the audience.

“The truth is regional Australia is a great place to live, to raise kids, and to work.

And, in the aftermath of that national conversation, Ms Sefton has spoken more expansively about the bush and how she sees the way forward.

“It was exhilarating to find the spotlight on rural and regional Australia, as ABC Television’s Q&A took over the Tamworth Memorial Town Hall last Monday night for a ‘get real’ conversation between politicians and locals about life outside Australia’s big five cities,” she said.

“Many critical regional issues were raised, including the need for better health services, proper access to the NBN, and serious concerns about how coal seam gas and other extractive industries can coexist with agriculture.

“These are important questions,  and rural Australians need answers, especially as we approach an important election.

“But that’s not all we need to talk about. I want to change the conversation about rural and regional Australia.

“I joked that living outside a city means you can do doughnuts in your driveway. But here’s the real bottom line – regional Australia is a great place to live, to raise kids, and to work.

“The real story is that regional Australia is prosperous, diverse, with small cities growing faster than capital cities. The regions could be where we see incredible technology changes come into their own in the coming years.

“According to the Regional Australia Institute, our regions contribute a third of national output, are home to 8.8 million Australians, employ one in three working Australians, and have contributed half our nation’s growth in the post-GFC era.

“Deloitte has identified agribusiness as one of five Australian industries with potential for huge productivity growth in the coming decades. Global demand for food is growing, and Australia is uniquely placed to take advantage of this, especially through new technologies and innovation, like growing algae for biofuel, developing aquaculture, and carbon farming.

But success is never guaranteed, and regional Australia needs smart investment and smart leadership  to fully realise the potential opportunities.

“I’m a big believer in a two-way relationship between communities and governments. In regional Australia we’re not looking for handouts. We’re looking for support from governments so we can become more innovative and ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century.

“Here’s what regional Australians need from candidates in the coming election:

* Commitment to agriculture as a thriving, modern, sustainable and innovative industry

* Support for regional job creation – including via the digital revolution – in the context of massive technology changes in the workforce

* Support for regional city and town development that mixes technology and local innovation

* Provision of infrastructure, including high-speed broadband and inland rail

* Transparent and evidence-based processes for managing conflicts between agriculture and extractive industries

* Continued funding for research and development so agribusiness can rise to the innovation challenge, and realise its incredible potential.

“I’m proud to have been born, raised and educated in regional Australia, and I’ve made my life here. I’m a farmer, and I run a regional communications business. I’m an employer, committed to providing great career opportunities for people living in the regions.

“Yes, we have problems in the regions, but cities have problems too. We’d like better healthcare, better mental health services, and proper high-speed broadband so we can run our businesses, take proper advantage of new technologies that could transform our lives and work, and enjoy our leisure.”