Regional policy and practice (May 1993)

15 May 1993

The subject matter tor this editorial originally came in a fit of pique when it seemed the promised Minister for Regional Development had been lost in the election aftermath. Nevertheless it reappeared as part of the Ministry of Industry, Technology and Regional Development, the reworked DITAC, under Alan Griffith. On reflection this is probably not a bad idea. And at least it gets us into the inner Cabinet!

Now we have regional development back on the political agenda let us hope they do something worthwhile with it. According to the Australian Labour Party Policy Document 1993, a taskforce under Hon. Laurie Brereton, MP, had been established to develop a program for the then proposed Department of Regional Development. This policy document appears to focus in regional issues relating to adverse effects of individual restructuring on some communities, the impact of Commonwealth programs on "lagging" regions and impediments to adjustment in these regions.

May we suggest that this an altogether too negative approach to regional development. As the articles in this and previous issues of Regional Policy and Practice suggest, what is happening on the ground in regional development agencies involves positive outcomes by communities to build up their economies rather than simply reactions to macro forces beyond their control. This positive approach is reflected in the recent emphasis by State Government on ‘self-help’ regional policy and on local comparative advantage strategies which involve building on strengths. This appears in sharp contrast to the terms of reference of the current Industry Commission inquiry into Regional Industry Adjustment which focuses on impediments to labour and capital mobility. The last thing a "lagging" community needs is to lose to better off regions more of those workforce and entrepreneurial skills and capital it still has, thereby serving to denude its ‘self-help’ options. Rather, what is required from the Commonwealth Government is a clearly articulated statement of how regional commodities and regional industries fit into the overall development strategy for the country.

Equity considerations are clearly important in ensuring all Australians regardless of where they live have the opportunity to share any future prosperity and participate in the economic and cultural benefits of moving into a global system. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that globalisation has an intra-national as well as a supra-national regional dimension. It is at this level that the inclusion of regional development with industry and technology makes sense. MITI, which is increasingly becoming an acceptable model for individual development in Western nations, has a series of regional bureaus as well as sector divisions. While this might be explained in terms of the political influence of Japanese regions, it also reflects an acknowledgement that economic growth has to be shared around and that small and regional businesses need to be integrated into sector development. Regional development thus ensures an efficiency element by not excluding potential global firms from industry development on the basis of location. The importance of regionalism in industry development becomes explicit as global firms move from being large integrated transnationals to being more frequently characterised by collaborative alliances between independent firms. Existing regional organisations would be readily transformed into supportive offices to assist local firms in this process if a well understood strategic direction for each sector existed.

The concept of clusters of related industries which form input-output relationships and collaborative R & D ventures with each other is also a clearly regional aspect of this new approach to industrial development. The development of successful industry clusters would clearly add to the local development impart of global growth in regions such as the Illawarra, Hunter and Latrobe Valley which contain industries capable of competing in global markets.

The cynic is now crying that all this has been tried before. This is true. However, now it is possible to add elements which were missing in the earlier experiments. For that is what they were — experiments. Now we need the Commonwealth Government to provide an overall strategic framework as to sector development and internationalisation in which regional firms can confidently advise local firms and develop regional plans. Then regional networking and international regional alliances can occur not in isolation as has occurred in the past but as an integral part of future national development.

Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that regional development is not just industry development. This destination has been lost in same States while being well accepted in others. Regional development also means community development as is illustrated in the U.S.A. examples included in this issue. The community side involves employment issues, particularly training and placement services. It also involves community enterprises and community self-help projects related to the provision of new facilities. Increasingly, it will also involve local responses to environmental and conservation issues. It is important this side of regional development does not get lost within a new focus on industrial development. To solve this problem perhaps the establishment of regional agencies capable of packaging and reconciling the different programs to meet specific local needs will be required. So please excuse the overly political nature of this editorial. However, the 1993 elections while seeming to mean ‘back to business’ also contains within the new Ministry format the opportunities for a new and vigorous redirection of policy. Nowhere is this more needed than in regional development. Let us hope the opportunity is grasped by our policy makers. And our practitioners, probably some of the hardest working grassroots toilers in economic development are given some sign that the light in the hill still shines.

 On a more prosaic, but no less important, note this issue focuses on regional policy and practice in Western Australia. We are fortunate to have contributions on an interesting cross section of topics that reflect the diversity of the regional practitioner’s domain. Subject matter ranges from the development of an innovatory industrial estate and promotion of the remote North-West, to small business promotion and local government reorganisation. The editors, and the readers for that matter, owe the authors a considerable debt of gratitude for their efforts. We look forward to receiving future contributions from ANZRSAI members and others in the remaining states.



The Meenaar Industrial Park - a Cooperative Approach by State Government and the Avon Community.

Facts and Figures #1

The Amalgamation of the Kalgoorlie and Boulder Councils in Western Australia

The Pilbara 21 Report: Another Pipe Dream?

Facts and Figures #2

Narrogin Enterprise Centre

Local Development Initiatives in The Mid-Atlantic Regions of the U.S.A.

Community Economic Analysis

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