Regional deals must be considered
Posted June 28, 2018
Cathy has called on the government to consider the recommendations in the final report from the Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation. Cathy has highlighted the proposed Regional City Deals and the need for White and Green papers to progress regional development policy.
Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (11:13): by leave—To endorse the comments of the chair and deputy chair—thank you. What I'm so pleased about is that this is a principle-based report and if the recommendations are accepted by the government it will lead to good governance for all of Australia. The principle that the deputy chair has referred to that I most want to stress, the one that's most important to me, is that of subsidiarity. This is a concept which says that decisions are made at the level of governance most close to the people who are going to be impacted by it. I think it's that particular principle that governs the whole report. How do we make sure that the people who live in the regions and in rural and remote areas of Australia have decisions made for them and by them at the level closest to them?
If I could briefly pick up on three of the recommendations in the report that support this principle. The long-term recommendations, as has already been mentioned, are about policy. I and very, very supportive of the green-paper and white-paper policy processes. As we travelled around the country, we saw examples of where this process works. It had the unanimous support of the committee and it's a process that, if we do well—which, of course, we have the capacity to do—will give this country a regional policy that will be there for the long term for all people.
However, in the report there are also some short-term, easily picked up recommendations. I'm delighted the minister is at the table. From my perspective, the most important recommendation in the report is about regional deals. I'm delighted that, when the minister was speaking to the National General Assembly of Local Government, both he and the Prime Minister endorsed this concept of regional deals. We look forward to working with you, Minister, on piloting these in the very, very near future and getting them underway. I think we can do things in a reasonably short time frame to actually show the people of rural and regional Australia that they have been listened to and to say, 'This report has been taken seriously, and here is the action that the government is going to take as a result of it.' We all know how well the city deals are working. So taking that machinery of government and applying it to regions will, I think, have a really big impact. So, Minister, I'm looking forward to working with you as we do that.
The other aspect of the report that I really like is the practical nature of the recommendations. I acknowledge the member for Murray for his work and his absolute tenacity in supporting Regional Development Australia groups as the main mechanism for grounding these regional deals. It's a strategic approach. We already have Regional Development Australia bodies in place. Let's use them. Let's do strategic planning at the regional level and then let's work with the governments—the Commonwealth government, state governments and local governments—and communities to do the planning and strategising that will enable these deals to take place. Here is a huge call-out to the RDAs: we're really looking forward to you having the resources you need to do the planning you need. We can work from that.
The other aspect of the report that I would like to talk about is that it is bipartisan. Again, I would like to acknowledge the leadership of all the chairs we've had and the contribution of the Labor Party. We have worked really hard with our communities, because we absolutely understand that, if we are going to get the development that we need in the regions, it's got to be a parliamentary activity. We can't fight on traditional tribal lines. It's got to be everybody working together regardless of their political affiliations. We have that in this report. It's a fantastic achievement. I'd like to really pay tribute to the leadership, who did the really hard work to get everybody to agree to the recommendations. So congratulations to this parliament. I think it will make the people of Australia really proud that, when we have to, we can work together as a parliament, not play those tribal games and deliver a report that everyone agrees with.
But, having done the report, the work's not over. As the deputy chair said, we've recommended setting up a parliamentary standing committee to make sure it gets supported. But here is my real call-out. It's to the Prime Minister and to the relevant ministers. This is only going to work if we have leadership. One of the reasons why this committee exists is that it had the support of the Prime Minister in the beginning. So I know he is onside with this. But, if we are going to have regional Australia reach its potential, be full of opportunity, be caring, be prosperous and take its place in this nation, it's going to need significant leadership. It's going to need us all pulling together behind that leadership. We absolutely know it's possible, but it's not going to be easy.
I mention to this parliament that one of my predecessors as the member for Indi, Lou Lieberman, in his maiden speech in 1993 said regional development was his major issue. Twenty-five years later I'm standing here as the member for Indi making the same call. But we must draw a line in the sand. We can't keep going without a national strategic approach to regional development.
In bringing my comments to a close, I want to say to my colleagues in this House—to the members of the National Party who represent regional seats, to the members of the Liberal Party who represent regional seats and to the members of the Labor Party who represent regional seats—that we have shown we can work together. We have a report here that has some significant recommendations in it. Over the next six months, if we can get that standing committee set up really quickly and begin to do the work that we know we can do so that, before the next election, before we all go out and face our electorates again, we can say, 'We have done this, we have delivered regional deals and we have the standing committee,' and if we could even get the Commonwealth government, through its cabinet, to reform its Regional Ministerial Taskforce to provide the coordination we need, they would be such good activities about which we could go back to our communities and say, 'Tick—we've done what we said we were going to do.'
In bringing my comments to a close, I also want to acknowledge—the general thankyous have been done—and thank the people of Indi for 44 submissions. Forty-four community groups and individuals got together. They did the hard work. They put the hours of preparation in. They heard the call. They turned up at the hearings. They delivered results. I have to say proudly that there were more submissions from Indi than from any other electorate in the country. Clearly, my electorate cares, and I care. So thank you to the people of Indi for absolutely getting behind me as your member. We'll continue to advocate for this.
The other people I need to thank are my staff. All our staff have worked so hard on this. I want to acknowledge Kerryn Lee for managing the diary, a really hard task. It was very, very difficult as we chopped and changed and did the hearings around the country. I want to acknowledge my electoral officers, Christine, Sara and Peter, for handling the constituent inquiries—fantastic. I want to thank my media people—Leah currently and other media people—who have got behind this whole process and helped explain to my electorate and particularly to the young people in the electorate why this is important. I want to thank Jeremy, my political adviser, who continues to give me really sound advice on how to do work. I thank George for a fantastic job, which you continue to deliver; you continue to persist. I know that in the last month you've worked so hard on this draft. I thank Di, my chief of staff, for the guidance you give all of us to enable us to keep doing our work. And to all my other staff, who I'm not going to name, but to all of you: this has been a whole-office job; it's been a whole-community job, and I am so pleased that we've got to this stage. I give my commitment to my community to work with my colleagues now, to work on the standing committee, so that we can advance the recommendations and actually do the hard work that we know needs to happen next.
Thank you, Deputy Speaker, for the honour of being here. I thank my colleagues, the chair and the deputy chair particularly, for your work. It's been a real—I want to say 'baptism of fire'—challenge, but I think that, if we can do what needs to be done next, we will all retire from this job, in the long term, very proud of the work that we've done for regional Australia.