Country growth stifled

By Country News

A perception of regional centres as ‘second rate’ and the desire to live in capital cities is stifling regional growth and limiting decentralisation opportunities, a new parliamentary report has found.

Released following 12 months of research into how to attract more Commonwealth and corporate bodies and investment to regional areas, the report found that increased investment was needed to ensure regions were viewed as desirable locations to live and work.

Think tank Regional Australia Institute (RAI) told the committee that regions were ‘‘widely misunderstood’’, with the perception preventing appropriate investment in regional areas.

‘‘(They’re) portrayed in our national economic discussion as perpetual laggards, struggling to transition to services-based new industries, too small to matter, and with little future potential,’’ the think tank told the committee.

‘‘A perception of wasted money patching up widespread regional decline has held Australia back from making smart investments in development in places that are home for nine million people and 40 per cent of our economy.’’

Committee chair and Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum said investing in regional centres would help to ease the pressure on cities including Sydney and Melbourne.

‘‘Our capital cities are struggling under the pressures of population growth, congestion and high cost of living expenses,’’ Mr Drum said.

‘‘Alleviating these problems does not necessarily lie in building more roads, providing more services, and extending the urban sprawl.

‘‘It rests in the potential and capacity of Australia’s regions.

‘‘This support must build on the talent and energy that already exists in regional areas.

‘‘There is a need for appropriate levels of investment; investment in physical and digital connectivity, investment in human capital, and investment in regional amenity.’’

The relocation of Goulburn-Murray Water was heralded as a success story throughout the committee’s hearings, with catchment services general manager Graeme Hannan telling the committee the decentralisation of the body in the 1990s had resulted in more skilled jobs for towns including Echuca, Rochester, Kerang and Wangaratta, and had developed more diverse pathways into employment for local communities.

Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan said regional politicians must now act on the recommendations.

‘‘The work’s not over ... If we are going to have regional Australia reach its potential, it’s going to need significant leadership,’’ she said.

The committee’s recommendations call for greater public and private investment in regional infrastructure, a considered and strategic Commonwealth decentralisation policy, and the introduction of regional City Deals.

The committee also recommends the establishment of an ongoing parliamentary committee dedicated to examining and progressing the issues affecting rural and regional Australia, and a consolidated government policy on regional Australia, prepared through a White Paper and Green Paper process.