A profound opportunity lies before regional Australia, says Cathy McGowan
Posted June 09, 2017
Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (19:40): Tonight I rise to talk about the profound opportunity that exists for regional Australia. I will call on my community to keep on speaking up and encouraging others to do the same, and I will call on the government to take a strong leadership role to make the best of the opportunities regional Australia has. The national spotlight is firmly on Australia's regions, and quite rightly. There is nowhere more innovative, nowhere more agile, than in regional Australia, and the strength of our regions I believe lies in our connectedness. Our survival depends on building connections. People in rural Australia know that education, health and employment have to be addressed together. We believe in connections and we know it works.
For regional policy to have legitimacy, it needs to have the same approach—to make connections with the government, with issues and with the community it affects. We know that this approach works. It is an approach that has allowed me to represent my community as an Independent member since 2013. It has seen the establishment of the Alpine Valleys Dairy Pathways Project and a cross-border approach to vocational education and work force development. In Indi we ensure that the community plays an active role in developing their own solutions, and we call this 'The Indi Way'. The government has an opportunity, and I believe it has the goodwill, to lead for regional Australia. But to do so it must adopt a coordinated approach.
For too long the budget and specifically the regional budget statement have been seen as a way of understanding the government's plan for regional Australia. When I read these documents, all I see is a collection of individual investments across portfolios that tell me nothing about the government's overall strategy or vision for the region. I believe regional Australia deserves more. Last week Senator the Hon. Fiona Nash, Minister for Regional Development, unveiled 'Regions 2030: Unlocking opportunity in regional Australia'. It outlines the government's vision statement for regional Australia and its key initiatives but, for me, there is a missing link—how do these initiatives connect to support economic growth; how do they connect to bring better health and educational outcomes? I welcome the government's commitment to invest in working partnerships with communities and to support local decision making, but I want to build on this. The government knows that for regional Australia to reach its full potential it needs to build a lasting consensus across all levels of government, issues and communities, and it needs to invite experts and communities to have input. This should form the foundation of a regional policy for successive governments.
In the weeks following the budget I have been out and about asking the people of Indi what does the budget mean to them and what do they need and what is missing. The message has been so clear: they are talking about connection—connection between education and health and infrastructure. The government has acknowledged that a one-size-fits-all approach to regional development will not work, but it still has not told us how it will address these matters to actually recognise the challenges and opportunities for regional Australia. I have called on the government to establish an inquiry into regional development and decentralisation. An inquiry is about bringing skilled minds together to solve a problem, and the objective of this inquiry is to have a serious discussion about unlocking the potential for regional Australia. These terms of reference—which were tabled yesterday in a notice of motion—would look at decentralisation in the broader context. I believe there is another opportunity for the government, if it can ensure that the Regional Australia Ministerial Taskforce builds connections between initiatives and across portfolios to make the best of opportunities.
In conclusion, to my community I say: you get this. Hundreds have responded to my budget survey to tell the government to focus on health, education, infrastructure and environment. People in Indi have a voice, and, as your representative, I will ensure that government hears it. Go to the website, fill in the survey and encourage others to do the same. To my colleagues in this House, I say: you get it. You understand, as local representatives, that your community have strong views about connectivity. And to the government I say: you are the final piece of this puzzle. I know you want to get it and you want to listen, but to do so you really need to build connectivity across portfolios, issues and communities. (Time expired)
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