The regions of Australia — their people, businesses and governments — face pervasive pressures for change. These pressures, which are both domestic and international in origin, bring important opportunities as well as challenges. Adjustment to them is essential, because regions will prosper only if they maintain and improve their domestic and international competitiveness.
This inquiry considered what needs to be done to help people and businesses within regions to adjust to pressures for change, pressures which differ substantially throughout Australia. In undertaking its inquiry, the Commission visited a variety of regions in all States and the Northern Territory. It held discussions with representatives of governments, businesses, unions, regional development organisations and community groups, and it received some 170 written submissions.
The great diversity among regions was evident throughout the inquiry. Some regions continued to grow and prosper even during the recession. Those with rapid growth and young populations have been grappling with pressures on serviced land, and on the provision of roads and schools. Other regions, particularly rural areas and smaller towns, continue to lose population and face the prospect that some of their services and facilities might no longer be viable.
The most striking feature of many regions is their high levels of unemployment, especially in the non-metropolitan regions. Of particular concern is the high incidence of long-term unemployment and the large proportion of unemployed people with limited skills who live outside the capital cities. Unemployment in recent years has brought significant regional social and economic costs.
Against this backdrop, the Commission was asked to report on impediments to regional adjustment of industry, and on ways of facilitating the efficient movement of people and businesses within and between regions. It has concluded that what is needed is a mixture of three types of action by governments:
- the removal of those impediments to regional adjustment that are under their control;
- better focussing of government programs aimed at facilitating adjustment; and
- the avoidance of measures which might create regional adjustment problems in the future