| September 05, 2017

Regional Development and Decentralisation report

It's great to stand in the parliament and talk about the inquiry that is currently underway in relation to decentralisation, and it's great to see members of the committee here today contributing to the debate on this motion. The contribution that we've just heard from Labor is quite typical. It's one of those situations where they have a lot to say but not much is actually said. To find a decent decentralisation policy from Labor the member had to go back to Gough Whitlam, back to the mid-seventies. That says a lot.

Regardless of whether you agree with our decentralisation policies and our actions, it can at least be said that they're happening today and at a pace that's never been seen in the federal parliament before. A commitment and a conviction from the Leader of the National Party, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, is making this policy a reality. I would also like to acknowledge the member for Indi, who is here. She had a role to play in the formation of the committee. I will read from the terms of reference so that we fully understand where we're heading. They talk about 'a best-practice approach to regional development considering Australian and international examples', and 'the benefits of economic growth and opportunity being shared right across Australia'. This point goes to the very heart of National Party philosophy: why should the wealth that comes from hundreds of jobs within the government sector be cordoned off for the capital cities of Melbourne, Sydney and, potentially, Canberra? To us in the National Party, it would seem fair to share that wealth around Australia. Another of the terms of reference talks about 'growing and diversifying of the regional economic and employment base'.

These terms of reference will give us an opportunity to also identify the characteristics of the various entities across both the private and the public sector that would be best suited to decentralisation without impacting on their ability to perform their functions. The motion we are debating here today talks about the issues paper, so we have a great opportunity to talk a bit about this body of work that has been put together by the committee to help us with our inquiry.

In relation to the best-practice approach to regional development, the issues paper talks about a key finding of the Regional Australia Institute, which was:

Government has diminishing control over the factors that shape Australia's regions. Such factors include the global economy, technological change, the environment and population.

But it goes on to say:

… they continue to have a role in providing the right political and policy settings for fostering regional growth.

I think it puts us into a position where, yes, we do not have total control; however, we have this ability to set the policies and get the right political framework.

It also goes on to say:

The report highlights that successful adaptive and development strategies for Australia's regions need to be:

led by local communities;

This can best be done by a place based approach.

The 'place-based' approach is important because it recognises that regions are different, that one-size-fits-all approaches are often inappropriate, and that local communities must be central to development efforts.

It's also an opportunity to talk about some of the examples of successful regional development, which are also listed. The state revenue office has moved out of Melbourne into Ballarat. The Rural Bank has been located for the last 15 or 20 years in Bendigo, TAC has moved to Geelong, and the NDIS, as a government entity, is going to be set up in the regional city of Geelong.

There are some other state-level examples of decentralisation where the government has as a whole picked up its various government departments and moved them out to the regions. The New South Wales department of agriculture moved to Orange in 1992. The New South Wales Labor government moved at least seven agencies from Sydney to regional centres between 2000 and 2005. As I said earlier, the TAC has moved to Geelong, and WorkSafe has also previously moved from Melbourne to Geelong. The New South Wales Office of Local Government has moved to Nowra, the New South Wales department of mineral resources has moved from Sydney to Maitland and the Western Australian Department of Water has moved from Perth to Mandurah.

Some of the Commonwealth entities that have been moved include RIRDC, which moved an office out to Wagga, and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, which has established an office in Adelaide. Pesticides has moved to Armidale, the head office of the NDIS has moved to Geelong, as I mentioned earlier, and the CSIRO will establish an agricultural research facility near Berowra in New South Wales.

With all of those actions actually happening, that's the space within which decentralisation fits. It is often easy to confuse decentralisation with regional development, but what we are about in this instance is growing the state by decentralisation. We also understand work that has been done by the department of planning and regional development in Victoria has revealed that, when you put 50,000 new people into either Melbourne or Sydney, that's going to come at a cost to government of around $4 billion for infrastructure and improvements. Those same 50,000 people, when relocated to live in a regional city, would cost in the vicinity of $1 billion. It's a saving of $3 billion, and these costs need to be acknowledged.

Our job as a government is to provide the environment for the private sector across the whole spectrum, from small family businesses, farms, agribusinesses and manufacturers right through to larger corporate enterprises that can thrive and flourish. Any effort at regional development must be focused on regional communities where there is demonstrated evidence that the local economy provides the basis for a sustained demand for workers. This is something about which the National Party are very proud that we're in a position to drive this investment throughout regional Australia. The Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has said

The Nationals believe in decentralisation which is spreading job opportunities across Australia.

We know there are significant savings in moving to regional areas …

Careful and targeted infrastructure development is needed. One of these great infrastructure needs centres around connectivity. We need to be well connected to our regions and our regions need to be well connected to the capital cities both by road and by rail. We need to be connected by internet and wi-fi coverage. We need to be well and truly connected by mobile phone towers. We are very proud of our effort. In this term of government, over 760 towers either have been built or are currently being built, giving coverage to 32,000 homes. It's impossible for this regional development or decentralisation to take place unless we actually have a properly connected regional Australia. We are proud of what we're doing in relation to roads and of our Inland Rail project, which is in the vicinity of $10 billion, to make sure that we have the opportunity to get our goods to the correct port.

It is a fantastic opportunity to work with Dr John McVeigh on this committee. We will, in fact, make sure this committee gets out to regional Australia to look at some of the examples where regional development has worked well. What are some of the formulas that sit in behind successful decentralisation and being able to move private sector businesses out to the regions to take advantage of what the regions have to offer? Hopefully, we will be able to put recommendations that will lead to further decentralisation.

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