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Who wields political influence in the regions? Since its inception as the Australian Country Party in 1920, the Nationals have aimed to promote rural solidarity and ‘countrymindedness’, and have long held influence as Australia’s ‘third party’. Recently, however, the Nationals have faced difficulties engaging a previously loyal base, resulting in worsening results on state and Federal levels.
Are the Nationals facing a branding crisis from which they can recover, or are changing regional demographics rendering the idea of a specialty country party obsolete? What are the challenges of representing rural interests in politics, and what could a party offer over independents – particularly when geographically distant electorates can have very divergent interests?
Sally Warhaft is joined by former Victorian Nationals leader Peter Ryan for a considered look at politics in the country: the evolving role of the National Party, the rising power of independents, and the driving concerns of regional Victorian voters.
Sally Warhaft is a Melbourne broadcaster, anthropologist and writer. She hosts the Fifth Estate, the Wheeler Centre’s live series focusing on journalism, politics, media, and international relations, now in its ninth year. She is a former editor of the Monthly magazine and the author of the bestselling book Well May We Say: The Speeches that Made Australia.
Sally is a regular host and commentator on ABC radio and has a PhD in anthropology. She did her fieldwork in Mumbai, India, living by the seashore with the local fishing community.
Peter Ryan was the leader of the National party in Victoria from 1999–2014.
During his time as an MP, he served as Deputy Premier for four years and Member for Gippsland South for 22 years, overseeing ministerial portfolios including Regional and Rural Development, Police and Emergency Services and Bushfire Response and State Development.
A Week in the Country
Life in the country has a lot going for it. There’s the solitude, the scenery, the extra brain space available when your mind is not jammed with parking and public transport-related neuroses. Many of Australian literature’s best loved writers, from Henry Lawson to Miles Franklin to Colin Thiele, have taken life in the bush as their inspiration.
In a week of events with a special regional focus, we’ll get past the romance – and past the past – to focus on the realities of contemporary country Australia. We’ll find out from writers, regional leaders and political figures about what matters in regional areas, from infrastructure and innovation to creative expression, cattle exports and climate change. In the heart of the city, join us for some conversations about life in the regions.
Stream it from the regions
By popular demand, we're offering everybody the chance to contribute remotely to Question Time: Regional Focus. We'll stream the event live via Periscope (download the app to your Apple or Android phone or tablet), and relay some of your questions to the panel in Melbourne on your behalf. Follow @wheelercentre or keep an eye on our Twitter feed to see when it's getting started.
For in-depth insider analysis of current affairs, it doesn't get any better than The Fifth Estate.