It's time for regional policy
Posted September 17, 2018
Cathy has called on the government to commit to effective policy to help rural and regional areas prosper.
Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (11:53): I move:
That this House:
1. notes that:
a. the population of Australia has reached 25 million, a decade earlier than anticipated;
b. there are significant opportunities to grow the population in regional Australia and the planning needs to be put in place and the plan needs to be developed together with the communities it will impact;
c. this Parliament has completed multiple inquiries that outline:
i. the actions governments should take to address the impacts of population pressure; and
ii. actions to address the pressure on the telecommunications, infrastructure, social services, education and health care needs of regional Australia;
d. the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities report Harnessing Value, Delivering Infrastructure(November 2016) called for the Government to promote a better balance of settlement through decentralisation to the regions linked by faster transport connectivity and particularly through high speed rail; and
e. the Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation report Regions at the Ready: Investing in Australia's Future (June 2018) called on the Government to state its regional development policy through a comprehensive Regional Australia White Paper, considering:
i. regional Australia's population needs as part of the broader national context, including urbanisation, ageing, depleting populations in smaller towns, and migration;
ii. the use of the skilled migration program to support regional development;
iii. improving education and training of young people, in particular Year 12 completion rates—in regional areas;
iv. the development of a national regional higher education strategy;
v. the need for access to information technology, strong and reliable communication, specifically mobile phone and NBN;
vi. the need for strong and reliable transport infrastructure to support passenger and freight requirements;
vii. the role of amenity and social infrastructure, specifically the cultivation of social, cultural and community capital in supporting regional development;
viii. incentives and strategies to improve private sector investment in regional areas; and
ix. the role and funding of local governments to better support regional areas; and
2. calls on the Government to deliver on the recommendations of the Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation, Regions at the Ready: Investing in Australia's Future, including stating its regional development policy through a comprehensive Regional Australia White Paper, following a Green Paper public consultation process.
Colleagues, it gives me great pleasure today to move this motion on policy around population and the future for regional Australia. We've recently heard the Prime Minister tell us that he's now got a new generation of leadership. So my call-out to the government is: let's have a new generation of leadership around regional development and the policy that goes with regional development.
Recently, the parliament presented a report called Regions at the ready. I was part of that inquiry and I'm really proud of this report and the recommendations in it, and I'll refer back to it.
We are at the ready. The regions are at the ready. They're ready to grow. They're ready to do the heavy lifting that's needed to, over the next hundred years, make Australia the wonderful place it is. Communities are at the ready. My communities are organised. We've got growing businesses. We've got people moving to the regions. And we're really keen to grasp and to create, for the whole of Australia, the wonderful opportunity that we know we've got in the regions.
In my electorate we've got the Hume RDA, Regional Development Australia, organisation. They're coming to parliament later this week to talk to government about their long-term strategic approach to not only north-east Victoria but southern New South Wales. So my community are at the ready, but what we're missing is government. Where are the government when you need them? Today I call on the government to please respond in a very timely way to our report. Tell us how you think population, which is very important, is going to be integrated in all the other things we know we need in rural and regional Australia. We're going to be talking about infrastructure and how important that is. What we really need is an approach that is inclusive. The answer is not just to send migrants to the country. That's part of the solution. We learnt when we did Regions at the ready that we need an integrated strategy for how that's going to happen.
Our report developed some very important principles. One of the most important pieces of work we did as part of that regional inquiry was to talk about a comprehensive green and white paper process that would result in a report to government on how population would fit into the whole infrastructure of Australia. I want to read into Hansard one of the recommendations from this report. I want the government to hold steady before it makes its announcement about population and say how that approach to population is actually going to fit in to what we need the regions to do. I ask that it consider the skilled migration program. There are things we could do to make that work better.
We need to talk about education, training and skills development. We need to talk about the completion of year 12 and the transition to TAFE or university. In my electorate of Indi those numbers are really poor. We have very few people taking up higher education. We really need to do something about it. We need to link into a regional higher education strategy that will give the people who live in the country the opportunities to get the training they need. We need to talk about effective communications—having mobile phones and the NBN work. We need to talk about public transport, high-speed rail and rail infrastructure that really work. We need to talk about the role of amenity, social infrastructure, culture and community capital to support the lifestyle of our communities. We need to include incentives and strategies to increase private sector investment in the regions.
We really need to pay attention to local government. I have got nine local governments in my electorate of Indi. They are at the coalface. They are under resourced with finance and under resourced with the people and the things they need to do the high-level planning involved to bring a region to its potential. They need resources. More than anything else, the Commonwealth government needs to pay close attention to the knowledge, experience and skill of local government. We need to vertically integrate local government, the state government and the Commonwealth government so that they're all working together to put the people who want to live in the regions into places where they're going to be welcomed and where there's the capacity and ability to grow.
My call out today is: sure, we need to think about population but we really need a strategic approach to how the regions are going to grow and how the population, particularly migrant and skilled people who come to the regions, have the resources they need.