The Regional Australia Institute is pleased to present its submission to this inquiry and commends the parliament for its renewed focus on this nationally important issue.
Promoting growth in all regions is crucial to optimising growth in the national economy and opportunity for all Australians. Promotion of growth in all regions is the clear goal for regional development and the reason it must be a core policy concern for the national government.
The time is right for taking our national regional policy approach to the next level. A perception of wasted money patching up widespread regional decline has held Australia back from making smart investments in development of the places that are home for 9 million people and 40% of our economy. Australia’s regions are not in widespread decline and remain a foundational contributor to the national economy. The economic contribution of regions stabilises and diversifies Australia’s economic performance as well a supporting the livelihoods of ~9 million Australians. Policy responses must better understand and reflect regional differences.
The evidence that we include in this submission about the current status of our regions and their future potential contribution to the nation clearly demonstrates how important a commitment to promoting growth in all regions is to the future of Australia.
In outlining the opportunities for the future of regional policy, it is important to acknowledge that in the last few years there have been significant gains in our regional policy approach at the national level. The Australian Government through its Regions 2030 policy has recognised that the scope of policy effort necessary to make an impact on regional futures goes beyond infrastructure investment and regional committees and supported this with a range of good initiatives targeting specific regional challenges. The government has also refined its regional investment approach through a move to several funding streams and is actively trialling deal and place based approaches that provide a pathway to a better practice approach to regional issues in the future. This submission acknowledges this progress and encourages the Committee to consider how we can go further.
Our work shows that three areas should be the focus for a next level national regional policy approach: 1. Establishing a mechanism for government to be flexible in its support for the development of rural and remote Australia. A lot of money is wasted and we are making limited progress in developing the capacity and population of our rural and remote areas because government investments are not fit for purpose for small communities and don’t adequately support local jobs. 2. Developing our network of small regional cities and service centres to take the growth pressure off our big cities and bring new opportunities to the millions of regional people who live in or near these places. 3. Further refining our regional investment strategy to catalyse new growth in regions and increase the local return for taxpayer spend on regional development.