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Researchers working on regional development in Victorian universities have collaborated for more than a decade. Working under the auspices of the Victorian Universities Regional Research Network (VURRN), a number of shared events and projects have been conducted, seeking to inform policy development in Victoria. In that spirit, researchers at RMIT, La Trobe and Federation Universities have cooperated in preparing this submission.
The authors of this submission note that the review has a very comprehensive set of Terms of Reference. The comprehensive agenda is very important as too much regional policy formation in Australia has been fragmented and even contradictory. A key objective for the review should be to establish a coherent foundation for policy development which is cross-sectoral and encompasses the contribution of government, business, university and non-government partners.
There is substantial research available on most of these topics, not least work undertaken within the Department itself and its antecedents. However, this submission does not set out to deal with each issue. This is partly because the scale of material available, but also because we have chosen to highlight key areas where we have specific expertise. Details of the authors’ publications and current research projects can be provided on request.
Underpinning Axioms to Inform Regional Policy
- Regions are diverse. Universal Statewide prescriptions are hit and miss.
Work with regions to define their employment and related development needs.
1. Regional employment is a function of the success of regional, state and national economies. These economies are contingent on circumstances beyond a region’s control at any point in time and over time.
Encourage a broad-based diverse regional economy with strong emphasis on local value-adding.
2. Skills enhancement must be demand-side driven. Training for the sake of it is a waste of time for all involved.
Enhance knowledge and skills through industries with education and training providers in partnership.
3. Regional employment is influenced by many factors not always related to economic success. Business owners make employment choices based on a range of factors, for example employment rules and regulations.
Work with business owners to understand their aspirations and needs.
4. Regional growth and employment are not always correlated. Regional GDP can be strong in a region with relatively high unemployment.
Develop employment initiatives that engage long-term unemployed in community development endeavours.
5. Investors from outside of a region make decisions related to national and global rates or return, rather than local priorities. If local owners sell, don’t be surprised if external investors do a slash and burn.
Encourage local investment options (for example, community banks), support local businesses that continue to be viable to stay local.
6. Government’s role in export development is complex, and needs to focus on understanding global value chains and emerging markets. Regional businesses have shown themselves to be adept at finding their niche.
Showcase local export development initiatives.
7. Businesses learn from each other; they can both collaborate and compete according to sectors and circumstances. The real competition is global, rather than local. Show off those who succeed to those who aspire to succeed.
Facilitate local networking. Celebrate success via regional events such as annual shows etc.
8. Serendipity is a major catalyst for change. Create the context for this to happen. Infrastructure matters: transport, health, education and training, communications should be top priorities.
9. Strategic planning processes should be focused on the conversation. Plans will change. Develop strategic thinking processes across communities, encompassing both local assets and external trends.