| February 28, 2017

The Benefits of Decentralisation

Delivered: 28th February 2017, Federation Chamber, Parliament House, Canberra.

It gives me great pleasure to rise in this place and contribute to the grievance debate.

My contribution relates to decentralisation, regional development and population dispersal.

In Australia we have an unhealthy reliance on our capital cities—87 per cent of Australians live in urban areas, 64 per cent of our population live in the capital cities and 81 per cent of our population live within 50 kilometres of the coast.

When you take all of those measures into account you can see that the dispersal of our population in Australia is rather lopsided.

We should be looking for a balance of development between metropolitan and nonmetropolitan Australia.

We know that regional Australia can deliver a much more liveable, equitable, efficient and environmentally sustainable outcome for all Australians.

We also know that the cost of relocating 100,000 people into our major capital cities is measured in the billions of dollars when we have to have renovations done to our freeways and we have to build infrastructure in the inner cities to cope with such an expansion of the population.

It is probably measured in the tens of billions of dollars. However, we can put 100,000 people into regional towns and cities in Australia and the cost can be measured in a few millions of dollars, with a little bit of additional infrastructure.

In the main, the infrastructure is already there—the electricity supply, the gas supply, the road network, the sporting infrastructure, the housing blocks.

It is all in place already; all we simply need to do is move the people in and they can enjoy what we have to offer in regional Australia.

We also should be looking at some of the other important opportunities present in, for example, tertiary education.

In the seat of Murray we have the University of Melbourne medical school based at Shepparton, and the university send their medical students up there for a couple of years during their six-year training program.

The University of Melbourne also has an agricultural university at Dookie, and again they send their students to Dookie for a number of months to gain first hand experience.

La Trobe University at Shepparton has nursing, allied health and business education, and many of the students are doing very well.

These education institutions play a very important role in offering opportunities for students to get their tertiary education and their tertiary qualifications in the regions as opposed to having to go to Melbourne, Bendigo or Ballarat. So there are fantastic opportunities right in the seat of Murray.

The National Party are proud of the fact that we are driving decentralisation and we have been very proactive when it comes to pushing these results into rural and regional Australia.

We are looking to see how we can take government agencies into the regions.

We know that the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee will be holding an inquiry into the operation, effectiveness and consequences of relocating Commonwealth entities, as well as the economic, environmental and capability implications.

The Minister for Regional Development, who is also the Minister for Local Government and Territories and the Minister for Regional Communications, Senator Nash, has stated:

Public service jobs are a huge driver of downstream jobs, especially when placed in regional and rural towns.

Regional Australia deserves the benefits of public sector employment just as much as any capital city.

It is certainly the case that when you bring high quality, highly educated bureaucratic and administrative staff into the regions the boost that they can give regional towns and cities, with their co-curricular activities after work, taking positions on boards and in sporting organisations and helping to grow the community, is amazing.

Relocating the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to Armidale was one decentralisation initiative undertaken by the coalition government.

Relocation of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation to Wagga Wagga was another. Planned decentralisation works have also been successful in Victoria, where they have moved the TAC to Geelong and the State Revenue Office to Ballarat.

At the Victorian level, they are looking to relocate WorkSafe as well.

The Commonwealth government has relocated the National Disability Insurance Agency to the regional city of Geelong, and that is certainly something that we wholeheartedly agree with.

In the electorate of Murray we are also campaigning very vigorously to have the Murray-Darling Basin Authority relocated to Shepparton, given the fact that the decisions that are made by the authority have a huge impact on the daily lives of the people who live in the Goulburn Valley.

When it comes to agricultural produce, there would possibly not be an area that is as productive as the Goulburn Valley in the whole of the Basin.

So, with these decisions that are being made by the authority, it would be a good fit for members of the authority to actually live and work in the environment where those decisions are having consequences.

I think it would certainly be a win-win for everybody.

I know that the Shepparton mayor has been a huge driver in this happening, and the Committee for Greater Shepparton and the CEO of the committee have pushed very, very hard for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to relocate to Shepparton, because it would be a good fit. Peter Thompson from Geoff Thompson Fruit Packing, a major employer and a serious fruit horticulturalist, also thinks that this plan has real merit.

We have to acknowledge that growing regional Victoria and regional Australia is not just something that will happen by taking a few government agencies out into the regions.

It is also contingent upon a large proportion of government investment in amenity. Programs like the Building Better Regions Fund enable the federal government to co-invest with the state government, local government and community organisations to grow a whole range of different projects, whether they be sporting facilities or our Mobile Black Spot Program, where government is co-investing with the private sector in telecommunication for better mobile telephone capacity.

There is also the NBN and the investment in rail.

We need to invest in passenger rail so that we can get cars off the roads.

And, again, it grows the amenity of the people who are living in the regions when they know that they are better connected to our capital cities.

They love living in the regions, they love being separated from Melbourne and Sydney, but they also love the concept that they can be connected to their capital city by a couple of hours on a train.

Sporting and cultural facilities play an integral part in this.

It is great that in the city of Shepparton we are going to build a world-class art museum on the banks of Victoria Park Lake.

There has been a huge push from the community to make sure that the project, a build of over $35 million, is going to proceed.

Other highly talked about projects are some of the road upgrades that have taken place around Shepparton, including the $20 million investment into the arterial to get trucks out of the centre of Shepparton, and upgrades around the outskirts of Yarrawonga.

In moving towards better population dispersal, we need to look at it not as a one-off option but as an all-in.

It is moving some agencies out of the capital cities. It is real investment—co-investment by the federal and state governments—in regional areas.

It is a matter of looking at all the preferred decentralisations and other regional development initiatives that will lead to us having a much better spread of population and much less congestion in our capital cities.


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