There’s a lot of talk out there about rural and regional stuff: about the distance and the time and the isolation. Everyday, governments and agencies are talking making sure rural and regional communities aren’t excluded from anything, at least anything of which they’d want to be part. To listen to the soundbites every single one of these policy developments are a great leap forward for social inclusion but it sounds more like electioneering to me.
The decades old chit chat about marginal seat voters (Eden-Monaro come on down) determining the government of the day isn’t innaccurate, that is how the system works. The creation of a set of docile aphorisms that speak of rural and regional communities enables the central authorities to include rural and regional communities in whatever scheme or proposal is being announced today with a view to staying elected next time around.
But let’s be clear: inclusion is not mobility. Inclusion makes you part of the whole but it doesn’t for one second impact on the ability of an individual, a family, or a community to alter their station. Social inclusion is what we have now instead of social mobility. Part of this is the ongoing denial of class politics in Australia, the obfuscation and erasure of economic disability.
Another part acknowledges that we don’t have the imagination to think about people who live differently, who might think that “rural and regional” is a one-size-fits-all cliché to describe myriad variations in life and location, and those who might regard social inclusion as being somewhat a mixed blessing. Like being volunteered for a membership in a club that you don’t want to join.
For me, all the targeted strategy in play regarding rural and regional communities is never going to work because it never really considers the specificities of any particular rural and regional community. I’ve heard it said many times: you can’t make policy on the basis of exceptions but when the goal is to bring the exceptions inside the tent doing so on a flat earth basis seems both crude and patronising.
As I listened to the radio this morning and the Minister for Something waxed lyrical about rural and regional priorities, I was reminded of Kev Carmody’s Droving Woman, a haunting tale of loss and hurt and harm a long way from help:
The enormous vastness of them inland plains
Gives you a lonely contentment to which you can’t put a name
And if you had that feeling, and you felt that swoon, would you fall for something as tokenistic as social inclusion?