Video: Albury Wodonga experience an inspiration for regional inquiry submissions
Posted September 06, 2017
With ten days remaining for submissions to the Parliament’s inquiry into regional development, inspiration can be taken from the Albury Wodonga experience. Text of Cathy's speech to Parliament is under the video.
Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (17:56): I would like to acknowledge the work of the member for Grey and support the comments that he's made about how important this particular inquiry is. I also acknowledge the work of our chair, the member for Groom, Dr McVeigh, and the deputy chair, the member for Paterson, Ms Swanson. I would also like to put on record the support of the Prime Minister for this particular inquiry and acknowledge his support for it.
As a committee we have a really important task: to look at a best-practice approach to regional development and to look at the decentralisation of Commonwealth agencies and the action that the Commonwealth can take to encourage greater corporate decentralisation. Before I get underway with my speech, I would just like to acknowledge to the Deputy Speaker my constituents in the Speaker's gallery, particularly Phil and Sam—thank you for coming—and also Claudia and Merren, whom I'm going to refer to in my speech. I'm really glad to have my constituents here, so thank you for coming.
In my speech today, I want to talk a little bit about the terms of reference of the inquiry. I want to talk about one particular case study in the issues paper, which we're addressing. I want to particularly stress that there are only 10 more days for submissions to come in, so it's a call to action to the people in my community and all around Australia—I welcome the member for Durack—to get your skates on, because we need your input. If you want to appear before the inquiry as we travel around Australia, you have to put a submission in. I just need to say 'submission' is a fancy word for a letter, and the letter has to have three things in it: it has to describe what your issue is, it has to be addressed to the right people—so you have to get those details right—and, importantly, it has to have a recommendation telling us what you think needs to be done.
If I could begin with a bit of the problem, why do we need this? For too long, I believe that regional Australia has been governed by policy silos that are disjointed and not connected. We've already been hearing today in this place about this 'one size fits everybody'. I know it's really hard for people in the city to actually understand that the country is different and that we're not all homogeneous and not all the same. If we're going to do good policy implementation, we have to recognise regional and social differences, and that's been hard for government to do. There is this whole problem we've faced of trying to say to a government that has to look after two-thirds of the land mass of Australia, 'You have to pay attention to the people who live there, because they understand.' We call this place based planning.
I know it's really hard for the people in the cities to understand, but we in the country get it and we know how to do it and we know what's good for our community. So you've got to engage with people, and particularly local knowledge.
The member for Grey talked about connectivity and connectedness. It's not only about physical connectivity—mobile phone coverage, the NBN and public transport that works—it's about how you bring people together at the micro level in a community, at a local government level, at a regional level, at a state level and then at a Commonwealth level. That is quite an art because you've got to break out of your silos, which are often issues based, and come together around a region. That's been a challenge and I don't think we've done it really well in the past, and I'm optimistic that with this inquiry we'll do it better.
As my colleagues in the House know, regional Australia contributes one-third of our national output and it's home to something like 8.8 million Australians. It provides major jobs for people. It's a formidable contributor to the national economy. What I'm hoping with this inquiry is that not only do we take what we know works but we actually do the planning, position ourselves and ask: where does regional Australia exist in the future? It's a really important inquiry and we need to do it well. I mentioned putting a submission in. To the people in my electorate and regional Australia, we're basically looking for three things. What's working, what could work better and what role can the Commonwealth play to bring it together? The terms of reference are in the issues paper. We talk about best practice. How do you grow the population base? How can you share opportunity? How can we develop the capacity of regional Australia? What's the role for leadership? What's the role for education? How do we grow and diversify our economic base? How do we have vibrant, cohesive and engaged regional communities? It's not just about infrastructure. It's not just about decentralising departments. We're looking at vibrant, cohesive and engaged communities. How do we get people to know that they've got a real stake in the future?
The other area of the terms of reference that I'd like to speak about, given my background in business and my absolute love for small business in regional Australia, is section c., which talks about the role that the Commonwealth has in supporting corporate decentralisation. I want to pick up on a couple of the terms because I'm really going to be advocating hard in my community to get submissions on this but also in the committee. What do we have to do to encourage early-stage equity or debt finance to support start-ups and establish businesses in the region? We need to examine access to capital for regional businesses, including agribusiness, manufacturing and technology, and we need to consider the adequacy of businesses in their access to early-stage accelerators or incubators, including access to business mentors, business networks and capital. So it's not just about decentralisation of government departments; it's how we grow the capacity. How do we retain skilled labour and how do we leverage strong transport and communication connectivity? It's a great issues paper and I'd like to acknowledge the work of the secretariat in putting it together—good job, team.
I'd like to spend some time talking about best-case practice in the context of a really personal experience of mine. I grew up in the area of Albury-Wodonga, which, as we've been talking about today, was a focus during the Whitlam years. Albury-Wodonga is a regional capital, but it supports an area of 180,000 people, so it's a really important part of the Australian regional sector.
Albury-Wodonga is one of the largest, fastest-growing regional inland communities. It's got about 8,000 local businesses and the gross regional product is valued at about $5.9 billion—at a local level, it is really significant. The major income streams in Albury-Wodonga are rental, hiring and real estate services, at 14.4 per cent; public administration and safety is at 13.4 per cent; and I'm really proud to say that 13.1 per cent is manufacturing—and manufacturing is growing, unlike in other areas of regional Australia, where it is falling off. In Albury-Wodonga we've got a really strong manufacturing base and it does a terrific job.
One of the reasons why Albury-Wodonga is going so well is the Whitlam era, but it wasn't only Whitlam. That was really good, but we had bipartisan support. So, when Mr Whitlam's period of government ended, we had Malcolm Fraser come in. He picked it up and he absolutely supported what we were doing in regional development.
We need that. If we're going to have long-term sustainable development, we've got to have bipartisan support. We can't have both sides of parliament bickering. So it's really important that in this committee we come up with a bipartisan report, because we've got to then go to government and say, 'Here's the collective agreement and the best knowledge.'
There are a few things that I just want to point out about Albury-Wodonga that absolutely work—welcome, Deputy Chair; it's good to have you here. We've got TAFEs. We've got universities. So we grow our own workforce, which is really important. We've got really good health services. We have fantastic local businesses, and I've referred to manufacturing. We're surrounded by really careful planning around our environment, so we've got superbly treed and landscaped hillscapes. We've got parks. We've got bikeways that look around our creek areas. It's because the community was designed, and it was really well created, by people who cared. So we know how to do it. Forty years ago, we began doing it really well.
So the task for you guys, and particularly for my constituents here today, is to say: in the next 40 years, what do you want in Albury-Wodonga, and how can you contribute to this inquiry? I want to particularly call out to the young people of north-east Victoria: get your thinking caps on and make a submission through the North East SAY competition that's going on. Put your ideas together, because we can do this for the future, but we really need your young creative minds and your creativity if we're going to do it well. I really want my community to get hold of this issues paper and to pay attention to it. You've only got 10 days. I'm keen for you to present to the committee, but you need to put in a submission if you're going to have your opportunity in song or dance or art or video or music and some wonderful ways of talking about how we want the future to be.