From Stefano de Pieri, patron of IPCS

28 April 2020

The pandemic will, I think, have several devastating effects in regional Victoria. The government refusal to take care of temporary visa holders—students and workers—is cruel and sends a bad signal. With the country closing its doors to immigrants in the immediate future, one is left in doubt about the capacity of regions to obtain enough labour on farms and maintain the wonderful impetus towards multicultural regional Australia. There is not a region that has not benefited from new arrivals and their creativity in regard to food production and cultural enrichment. This is a process that has been steadily expanding over the last fifteen years.

There are thousands of temporary visa holders who have cases before the Immigration Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The Attorney General should direct the Tribunal to urgently process these applications or consider a general amnesty. These people are already here and working. With closed borders there will be no immigrants in the near future. The associated impact will ricochet through Australian society in ways we have not yet begun to imagine.

The virus has obscured urgent issues around the health of our rivers. Recently I was able to witness the wondrous effects of recent rains—water trickling down the Darling, over its dry bed, scattering spiders and other insects on its way. It was beautiful to see the water mounting to a reasonable level and at the same time it was hard to contain my anger about the mismanagement that caused the problem in the first place.

The death of many regional newspapers is another worrying aspect of the crisis in rural Australia. Whilst many publications are folksy or outright conservative, they still play an important role in community life. Thinking people who rely on the ABC are noticing a shift towards an appeasement with the Murdoch media. This accommodation is very wrong: the Murdoch denialists are a foreign multinational interfering in the democratic process. And the nightly propaganda broadcast on Sky News via the former Win regional channel is also depressing.

We had planned a discussion at IPCS on the Future of Water, centring on Margaret Simons’ new Quarterly Essay, Cry Me A River, which presents analysis of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. That event and others in our ‘Future of Food’ series were scuttled by the pandemic lock down. The social distancing measures have generated a particular kind of grief for those of us who take special pleasure in convivial opportunities for coming together face to face with our friends and colleagues in the city. IPCS is just beginning to delve into these city/country/food/climate change issues. We are disappointed to have to pause much of this work, but rest assured we will be back! 

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