Local, Independant and Effective

National inquiry into decentralisation welcomed

Posted June 02, 2017


"The time is now. The right people are here. The parliament is together in its will. And I say to all my colleagues throughout rural and regional Australia, come and join us; this is going to be the most exciting thing we do for the next eight months."

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (09:32): I would like to add my comments to the minister's and welcome the government's motion here and acknowledge the work of the Prime Minister, the member for Mayo, the Leader of the House and many members of parliament we have worked with on this particular motion over a period of time. I would particularly like to acknowledge the people of Indi, who have asked that this motion be brought to the House. Also, I would like to thank my staff, particularly the work of Jeremy Mickle, for the huge amount of work they have done.

I think this is going to be a visionary committee. I know that the intent is to look at regional development, the future of Australia and the role of decentralisation to assist and support in doing that. There are so many innovative and creative things happening in rural and regional Australia. There are so many wonderful people doing amazing things, so many communities, projects and issues that can really value add to how the government wants the country to be. We can build connections.

Before I address the details of this particular motion, I would like to share with you, Mr Speaker, a couple of moments of history if I could. In the 1990s, as president of Australian Women in Agriculture I was approached by John Anderson, then Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the National Party, to chair the Regional Women's Advisory Council. This was a national representative council reporting directly to the Deputy Prime Minister on issues of important to Australia. As chair of that committee, we did an enormous amount of work of joining up government and talking to the government about how their issues impacted on the lives of people in rural and regional Australia. Our first report was called The success factors. It talked about the success of economic growth and development in rural and regional Australia. It underpinned the next part of the work that I and many of my colleagues did for the next 15 years and directly resulted in me standing to become a member of parliament. There was so much wisdom in The success factors about how government and communities can work together. I am looking forward to bringing some of that knowledge back to this committee.

Before I was involved in Women in Agriculture, in my earlier life I was working for the Victorian Department of Agriculture. The Premier of Victoria at that time was John Cain. John Cain established a committee called the Rural Affairs Committee of cabinet. He brought together some of the key portfolios that impacted on rural and regional Australia. I had the fortune to be a staff member who worked to that committee of cabinet, and I could see the impact joined-up government had. I could see the impact of partnerships between communities and government. I could see the respectful relationships developed when rural communities better understood how government worked. I could see the capacity-building that happened right across rural Victoria as cabinet ministers came out, met with communities and better understood the problem, and then we worked together to actually be solutions focused. It was a most amazing career for a young country woman from a farm to get a really good experience of how government works in partnership with communities.

And the results were amazing. Right across Victoria, communities came together, people put their hands up to become part of government. They joined committees. The capacity-building happened as people understood that they had authority, they had personal power and government was a partner. And in supporting this particular motion I am hoping we can do the same thing. I am hoping we can bring government together. I am hoping we can work with the opposition, and it is so good to have you here today. I know there are issues about the actual format of the committee, but I am looking forward to working with the government, with the opposition and with my crossbench colleagues, to ask, 'What's our vision for rural and regional Australia?'—how we can actually work together and with government as a partner to do the detailed planning that needs to happen for us to be the shining light that I believe we can be for this wonderful country.

Before I talk about some of the key aspects of the committee, I really want to acknowledge the work everybody has put in place to get here today, and particularly for me as an Independent to be standing here to put my hand up to be on the committee—and I certainly hope to—and to work with all my rural colleagues. I know we have the connections, we have the links, and we want to do this. I will note just a couple of things about the committee that I think are going to make a really big difference. It is going to look at best-practice approaches to regional development, considering Australia and international examples, and many of us have great knowledge of how things work in other countries. We are going to look at decentralisation of Commonwealth entities and functions as a mechanism to increase growth and prosperity in regional areas—again, considering Australian and international examples.

Really importantly for me, with my background in business, we are going to look at the actions of the Commonwealth that would encourage greater corporate decentralisation and what can be learned from corporate decentralisation approaches—how we can bring business with us. I will give you one example of this. In my local community of Bright last week I met a woman who has a consultancy company working for Google, out of Bright. She does it all by telecommunications. One of my volunteers this week works for the Victorian Department of Agriculture. He is part of the department's HR team and works from Rutherglen. We have so many examples of this joined-up, clever decentralisation approach that we could bring to parliament and work to.

In closing, I say, the time is now. The right people are here. The parliament is together in its will. And I say to all my colleagues throughout rural and regional Australia, come and join us; this is going to be the most exciting thing we do for the next eight months.

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