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Power to the People

By Betsy Fysh - posted Saturday, 15 May 1999

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission recent Bush Talks interim report stated that, ‘Many communities in rural Australia are under siege: they have declining populations, declining incomes, declining services and a declining quality of life.’

But at the time of the interim report, Mr.Sidoti had not even been to South-West Queensland.

What will he think when he encounters the people making up one third of the Barcoo Shire who are struggling to raise and educate families without what most of us take for granted to such an extent that we never even think about it - a continuous connection to mains electricity.


These people have been pursuing the issue for more than a decade now, and, during that time they have seen governments come and go, but the promises about connection to power are never kept.

Recently a delegation of women, calling themselves the ‘South-West Women for Power’, went to see ministers of the Beattie government at the Country Cabinet in Longreach. Included in their submission were letters which attempted to give a picture of just what life is like when you don’t have a connection to electricity.

They wrote of 40° heat when fridges become cupboards and freezers fridges; of dashing to the shed to start the engine to receive a fax - tough luck if you’re not strong enough to wind the generator and flick the compression levers; of lugging a 20kg. car battery in to replace the regular one that had gone flat for children’s on-air lessons; of fumbling around in the dark with torches and candles to feed babies at night, and the common encounters with snakes during these nocturnal episodes.

It’s not that it is impossible to generate their own continuous 240v power -one family with a seriously disabled son does just that. But at a cost of $95 per day (for fuel and oil alone) it is way beyond the resources of the families of the Barcoo.

They exist on a combination of gas, kerosene and diesel power limited to about 5 or 6 hours a day. Even the cost of this is far in excess of the $5(approximately) per day that most rural Queenslanders pay for a continuous connection to mains power.

Remote Area Power Supply (RAPS) has been trialled and found wanting on grounds of capacity, reliability and cost.


One woman who is currently studying externally for her Bachelor of Commerce degree writes of having a modem and computer which she hasn’t even bothered to connect up. ‘A large part of my day is spent running around switching things off, to enable me to switch something else on.’

Another asks - with undeniable logic- why, if Australia, through its Foreign Aid Programme, considered the provision of electricity to a remote area in Indonesia to be a basic human right, this provision couldn’t be extended to her?

A teaching mother sympathises with children whose schools are shut down temporarily because of power failures in the heat, but comments wryly that if this were the case at her home, the schoolroom would be shut down for a significant portion of the summer.

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About the Author

Betsy Fysh is a graduate in politics from the University of Queensland. She was active in rural politics during her time in western Queensland, founding the Regional Women's Alliance. Now retired to a small farm near Brisbane, she continues to write and is currently working on a Masters Degree.

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