OPINION

How rural Australia can 'bounce forward' after coronavirus and create a resilient future

I don't always see eye-to-eye with global oil executives, but I was heartened by what the boss of BP said recently about how the coronavirus crisis could redefine the way we think about our communities and the challenge of climate change.

"This cruel pandemic is showing us much about what really matters," BP's chief executive Bernard Looney said.

"This crisis has helped make clear that the world in which the sole objective of a company's purpose is to maximise profit is no longer acceptable," he said.

The priority for governments, business and community right now is to work together to support people who are suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Catering to our country's immediate health, safety, employment and financial needs has to be today's focus.

But fast forward a few short months and the spotlight will turn to rebuilding jobs, industries and social wellbeing.

What do you want your community to look like on the other side of this crisis?

When the time of isolation is behind us, I want regional Australians to have fulfilling, sustainable jobs. I want local businesses to be resilient. I want our children and grandchildren to have a secure future, whether it's on the land or in town.

Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Kelly OShanassy.

Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Kelly OShanassy.

In order to do that, we must recover from COVID-19 in a way that also tackles that other crisis: climate change.

I reckon this major disruption to our way of life could be a re-set moment to help us build better Australia.

There is much discussion already about how Australia can "bounce back" from this crisis. But as we emerge from the pandemic and rebuild our lives, wouldn't it be better if we could bounce forward!

Governments and business will need to make many choices during the transition. Will we follow the old path of polluting fuels, or should we strike a new road towards a clean economy powered by solar farms? Do we fast-track gas exports or renewable hydrogen exports?

We know what's needed to solve the climate dilemma, one already giving us longer and more severe droughts and devastating bushfires. We have the solutions and ingenuity.

The scientific evidence is that we might have 10 years until climate change has truly devastating impacts on all our lives. We can do a lot in a decade.

We know what's needed to solve the climate dilemma, one already giving us longer and more severe droughts and devastating bushfires. We have the solutions and ingenuity. And the last few weeks show us governments have the ability to lead.

Rural and regional Australia is central to bouncing forward. Here's what we need to do.

We create new markets and more than a million jobs in clean industries. This lowers electricity prices, cuts air and climate pollution, and builds a better future for our kids. This is already occurring in many parts of Australia. In Tasmania alone, renewable energy jobs are surging, where full-time equivalent employment in the sector increased by more than 11 per cent last year.

We fund rural renewal. If the Morrison Government put $4.5 billion a year towards rural and regional community regeneration, it would begin to fix the damage this summer's bushfires have done to the natural assets on which many communities rely. It could help increase their capacity to attract tourists and produce agricultural products.

We invest in the rural communities facing the biggest disruption from climate change - the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, the Hunter Valley in NSW, Collie and Geraldton in WA, Port Augusta in SA and Gladstone in Queensland - and help them become clean energy and export centres. These regions can have a bright future with clean energy and exports, or a highly uncertain future without.

We incentivise our farmers to store carbon in soil and communities to plant forests.

We shift government subsidies from fossil fuels to clean energy infrastructure. This will help build wind and solar farms, put solar panels on schools and country fire service sheds, renewable grids and storage batteries and energy efficient buildings.

We help companies re-fit aluminium smelters to run on clean energy.

We make Australia rich by directing government stimulus to climate action. And by rich, I mean a wealth of purposeful jobs, clean air, plentiful good food and vibrant communities.

We bounce forward, not back.

Together, we can do this. With our neighbours, our friends, fellow business owners and farmers, employers, staff, and governments we can work together more than we ever thought possible.

Kelly O'Shanassy is the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

This story How rural Australia can 'bounce forward' after coronavirus and create a resilient future first appeared on The Canberra Times.