Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Language of Rights is Wrong for Bush Talks

By David Moore - posted Thursday, 15 April 1999

Since Steele Rudd, the creator of "Dad and Dave", described the conditions of the rural poor in his book On Our Selection, the hardships faced by those in the the bush have rarely been far from the surface of Australia’s collective consciousness. Australia’s rich social and economic history drips in stories of rural isolation and disadvantage.

It is surprising, then, that the content of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC) interim Bush Talks report should raise any eyebrows. But it does, because it couches rural disadvantage not in the traditional terms of drought and flooding rain, but in the language of Human Rights. It also comes at a time when the rural constituency has thrust itself back to the forefront of the political debate for the first time in decades.

There is no question that the challenges facing the bush extend even further than those that faced Dad and Dave. Added to isolation and extremes of weather has been the uneven impact of economic change and persistently low commodities prices. While some regions have benefited from change, many rural areas are still doing it tough. Really tough. Many areas in "the bush" are yet to see the benefits of the so-called computer age. But has there been a systematic denial of Human Rights?


The language of human rights does not sit easily with the challenges facing the bush. Rural communities still have access to those fundamental rights like universal suffrage, free speech, right to life, free assembly and so on. Ultimately every person in the bush can exercise another fundamental right- the freedom to move, as was so sardonically pointed out by The Australian’s editorial the day after the Bush Talks report was released (although many rural families find themselves trapped in rural poverty).

The disadvantage faced in the bush is not so much an abuse of fundamental rights but a consequence of two things. Firstly, the burden of geography and secondly, the side effects of an economy that is in constant, but inevitable change.

Ultimately, some of the issues facing the bush may never be overcome - the ‘tyranny of distance’ in the bush will always preclude access to the same level of services and human interaction that is enjoyed by those in the city. It is simply unrealistic to expect that a community of 500 people spread over thousands of square miles can access services in the same way as an urban community. Perhaps the real issue is the degree to which the differences between rural lifestyle and urban lifestyle have widened. The city has enjoyed the benefits of technological revolution more than bush has - and people in the bush know it. While the city surfs the information super highway, some in the bush can’t access a fax machine.

It is hardly coincidental that the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission commenced its Bush Talks at the height of Hansonism. The success of Hansonism was symptomatic of the social and economic dislocation of some communities from the remainder of Australia. The Hanson message was embraced widely (but not exclusively) in rural communities. The spotlight was thrown on the difficulties of rural life simultaneously with the revolt against ‘political correctness’ and the political power of minority lobbies. Perhaps more than any other body, the HREOC was identified with those minority lobby groups, and it needed to demonstrate its relevance to a wider constituency.

When it was released, very few media commentators picked up that the Bush Talks report was not a report to the community, nor to government. It was a report to itself. The aim of the Bush Talks programme was to guide the Commission on its own future activities. Chris Sidoti, the Human Rights Commissioner, was not necessarily criticizing the Government. He was trying to be relevant.

The motivation for Bush Talks is questionable because it serves a narrow agenda. However, the Government has recognized its importance as another dialogue with the bush. At its inception, the Bush Talks programme was welcomed by the Attorney-General for the HREOC’s attempt to seek relevance. Following the report’s release it was welcomed by the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government on the basis that any constructive discussion about issues in rural and regional Australia was always welcome.


Ironically, rural communities embrace the Bush Talks forums at the same time as they continue to flirt with One Nation or like "rump parties". Sidoti’s report is laced with reference to United Nations treaties and conventions, yet One Nation is about isolationism and repudiating all things transnational. No single body received as much criticism from the Hansonites as the United Nations and multinational corporations. However, rural communities where Hansonism flourished also participated strongly in forums underpinned by the language of the UN.

Like One Nation, the HREOC did not provide any meaningful solutions to address the issues affecting the bush. Neither did the report acknowledge the many steps taken by the Federal Government to overcome the shortfall of services that some communities face. Its lack of balance is not surprising - as Hansonism showed us, the problems are far easier to identify than the solutions.

To Sidoti’s credit he identified what Hanson would not, that some communities had prospered from change. That only supports the proposition that the problems in the bush are structural rather than indicative of any systematic human rights abuse.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

David Moore David is the owner of The Next Level Consulting Services, a former Army Officer of 15 years and Chief of Staff to the former Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough. He holds a BA in Government and Australian History, and Post Graduate Business qualifications. He was a policy and media adviser in the previous government in areas including local government, regional services, employment, treasury and families and community services.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by David Moore
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy