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7 savvy business women on the problems of rural Australia

23 August 2019

2019 Rural Womens Award Collage 3 2

Rural business women award winners explain what they see as the pressing issues faced by rural Australians

Victorian 2018 AgriFutures winner Melissa Connors explains what for her are the most pressing issues faced by rural Australians?

There are two issues as important as each other:

Firstly, without doubt, the Climate Crisis. Farmers can no longer operate as they previously have. Climate Change has affected the way farming and agriculture operate within our regions. Only those farmers who can adjust and adapt while accepting new technologies and ways of thinking will remain or become successful.

Secondly, mental health issues in our communities. We need to step back from our devices and reconnect in 'real life'. We have gone too far in our reliance and dependence on our screens. Our devices are the supporting act not the main event and the sooner we turn to each other in person the sooner our communities will begin to see recovery. People need people and that is relevant throughout all Australia not just in our rural communities.

Linda Blackwood, Northern Territory’s 2018 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award winner, says the issue is: “The growing divide between the agricultural sector and consumers.”

Alex Thomas, AgriFutures South Australian Rural Woman of the Year, believes that global sustainability relies on the prosperity of rural and regional communities to take Australian produce to the world. The rate of work-related fatalities in rural industries is eight times higher than any other industry nation-wide, and 93% of those fatalities are men.

The health and safety of rural industries is the health and safety of our nation.

The current paradigm around paperwork, policies and procedures for ‘compliance’ with work health and safety legislation does not support this. Thirty years ago, nobody wore seatbelts… and today? We do it without even thinking about it. Good things are already happening in rural industries, and culture change has never been born from 'box-ticking'. It’s time to show compassion, to adopt a lens of appreciative inquiry and to support and encourage our farmers, fishers and pastoralists to do things better - safer.

Allison Clark, Tasmania’s AgriFutures Award winner, says “At the heart of my thinking is the workforce of the future. Technology will impact us all in many ways, and how we make sure that those individuals already facing difficulty do not get increasingly left behind is a ‘wicked problem’. Our design thinking needs to be open, engaged, and informed for the full range of diversity or we run the risk of leaving more people behind. I would encourage everyone to bring someone from ‘outside the box’ into your box the next time you have a planning or strategy activity and gain some great moments of change which will add meaning to all involved.”

Krista Watkins Darrylin Gordon And Westpac Womens Markets Felicity Duffy

Krista Watkins, AgriFutures Queensland winner and overall National winner (above centre), believes the issue for rural Australians comes down to “decent connectivity – Monday-Friday office hours are painfully slow. So much of our work is on the cloud like everyone else and poor connectivity makes a five-minute job two hours.

“Rural business suffers because of challenges such as connectivity, distance, availability of other services, making innovations a hard sell to others.”

Darrylin Gordon West Australia’s winner and national runner-up (above centre right) says lack of consistency in local service providers hurts people’s chances. Engaging with local service providers means keeping on top of things otherwise the communication line breaks down. It can be challenging, but when local support services have stepped in and helped with the training program, it’s been amazing.

Credit Clancy Job

Jillian Kilby NSW winner (above, photo Clancy Job) believes there are plenty of issues facing rural Australians: drought, access to education, access to labour, water, the list goes on.

“The issue we focus on at The Exchange is increasing confidence, capability and capacity of people in the Dubbo Region to start and scale their businesses. We do this through coworking and community. Every week, we have people come to us saying ‘I want an off-farm income’ or ‘I have always wanted to start my own business’, and ‘I have this idea to value-add produce on our farm. Can you help?’

“We can help, and we do.”