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Australian elections Sunday, 4 October, 1998, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Trouble Outback
Prime Minister John Howard: Courting the rural vote
By David Grossman in the Australian outback

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Wool used to sustain Australia. The country once boasted it lived on a sheep's back, but these days that living isn't so comfortable. Graham Brown is the third generation of his family to raise sheep in the New South Wales bush. He has 7,500 sheep near the town of Orange. Mr Brown says the collapse in world markets especially in Asia has hit woolgrowers like him hard.

Asian crisis has hit wool farmers hard
"We've gone from $6.50 a kilo for wool last year down to $3.00 or thereabouts this year. Our costs of production about $5.50 a kilo" he says.

"You've just have to have a bit of fat under your belt to sustain that, but none of us have got any fat."

It's not just farmers who are suffering. Once you leave Australia's well populated coast and travel across the Blue Mountains to her rural heartland there are hundreds of isolated communities that have seen a collapse in local services.

Mandurama, a tiny community about four hours from Sydney is typical of many. Residents have seen both the town's banks close down in recent years. This now means a round trip of 120 kms to find the nearest bank.

Tom Foster who has run the general store in Mandurama for 16 years blames the government for placing too much emphasis on market forces.

Pauline Hanson: Promising a heady mix
"Anything this side of the Blue Mountains," he says, "the politicians don't care. We don't exist."

The idea that the Liberal and National parties who govern Australia in coalition have given up on the bush has taken root among many country people. Prime Minister John Howard has worked hard to dispel such thoughts.

He announced that if re-elected, the government would set up 500 transaction centres in rural communities to take the place of the services that have deserted the bush.

If rural people are angry with the government, there's not much confidence in the opposition Labor party either. They were in power only two and a half years ago and are blamed for starting the process towards privatising and rationalising services like the banks, healthcare and telecommunications.

That's left the field wide open for others, particularly Pauline Hanson's One Nation party. She has been promising the Bush a heady mix of subsidy, tax breaks and international protectionism.

Links to more Australian elections stories are at the foot of the page.


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