Local, Independant and Effective
February 16, 2019

Federal response to Regions at the Ready report represents a lost opportunity

The Liberals and Nationals Government is mistaken if it believes its response to the Regions at the Ready: Investing in Australia’s Future report demonstrates a strong and ongoing commitment to rural and regional Australia.

It is now almost two years ago since the Government answered “yes” to my call to establish a national inquiry into regional development and decentralisation.

This week, eight months after the committee released its report, the Morrison Government responded to its 13 recommendations. Those recommendations came after the committee undertook a year of analysis, 14 public hearings and considered almost 200 written submissions.

To say that I am underwhelmed is an understatement.

Most disappointing is the lost opportunity to progress the vision outlined in the report for the sustainable growth and development of regional Australia.

The Government accepted just five of the report’s 13 recommendations outright, and four of those are focused on the decentralisation of public sector jobs. Among the remaining recommendations, noted or agreed in principle by the Government, are those which follow a visionary path to grow and develop regional Australia; co-ordinating the delivery of jobs, housing, roads and physical infrastructure to support a planned approach.

Instead of accepting the report’s recommendation for the Government to state its regional development policy through a comprehensive Regional Australia White Paper, the Government will establish an expert panel to assess the key issues raised in the report. The panel has a tight timeframe; it must report by 31 March 2019 and I have asked the Government to circulate its terms of reference for comment.

The Government has had the Regions at the Ready report for eight months. Its response, while outlining what has already been delivered to the regions by way of competitive grants, fails to focus on the strategy and planning needed to develop an effective and far-reaching policy framework.

Back in 2017, those of us appointed to the House of Representatives committee looked forward to a wider review of best practice approaches to regional development; the role of decentralisation of Commonwealth entities as a mechanism to increase growth and prosperity in regional areas; and the ways in which Government could encourage greater corporate decentralisation.

Amanda Walsh, writing for The Conversation in June 2018 and again this week, described the committee’s report as “a far-reaching and highly practical work program for regional development”. I thank her for the recognition of an outcome that ensures a better way of designing and delivering regional policy.

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