REGIONAL Australia Institute CEO Jack Archer says the Coalition government’s newly announced Regional Ministerial Taskforce could be a “powerful way to do something new for regions”.
The Taskforce met for the first time this week in Canberra comprising senior cabinet ministers and will be Chaired by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Its members include Nationals Deputy Leader and Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories and Regional Communications Fiona Nash who says she’s been pushing the idea for about 20-years.
Other Nationals’ members include leader and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester and Resources and Resources and Northern Australia Matthew Canavan.
Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham; Trade, Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Arthur Sinodinos; Health and Sports Minister Greg Hunt; and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash will represent the Liberals, along with Mr Turnbull.
Senator Nash said today the new body would also have the opportunity to co-opt other cabinet ministers as required and when necessary.
She said the aim was to have a cross-portfolio Taskforce that can “focus on the best way to continue and expand our investment in the regions, from across government and not just the regional development portfolio”.
Mr Archer said there was a temptation, when the heat was on regional issues, to “go for the infrastructure stimulus sugar hit”.
He said that approach can be popular but doesn’t necessarily lead to the long term changes in the economy and services that regions are ultimately looking for.
“Its early days, but this (Taskforce) could be a powerful way to do something new for regions,” he said.
“Many of the important decisions impacting regions occur beyond the regional development portfolio in areas like industry, education, health, immigration and welfare.
“Because portfolios operate independently, the Commonwealth intervenes in regions via an ever changing, fragmented mix of programs, services and initiatives targeting specific issues in an uncoordinated way.
“We see this as one of the reasons that increasing investments in many areas hasn’t led to the gains we have hoped for in regions.
“This initiative is an opportunity to define the government’s vision for the future of regions and to bring a range of Commonwealth agencies in behind that.”
Senator Nash said the PM’s presence on the new Taskforce gave it “real grunt”.
“The Taskforce will aim to improve the lives of rural, regional and remote Australians,” she said.
“It will come up with ideas across portfolios including health, education, transport and infrastructure, employment, industry and communications.
“I aim to help build the kinds of sustainable regional communities our children and grandchildren either want to stay in or come back to, and that means thinking well beyond the next election.”
CEO of the Foundation for Regional Development Peter Bailey said the new Taskforce was “a giant step forward to redress the challenges facing the engine room of Australia”.
“At a time when Australia agriculture is the growth sector of the economy, we need to ensure they can maximise the opportunity on offer by government supporting the sector in ways more than money,” he said.
“And with 70 per cent of exports coming from regional Australia, the Taskforce is recognition that greater investment and coordination is needed if regional Australia is to
continue to grow and prosper.
“The challenge is to focus the group on keys issues.”
Mr Archer said his hit list of areas the Taskforce needed to look at included:
• Connecting policies in education, employment, migration and industry to help different regions take their economic opportunities or manage the downturns that inevitably occur.
• Setting a clear ambition for the future of our network of regional cities and ramp up effort in its existing City Deals policies.
• Working across government to decentralise government jobs and bring decision making closer to the regions.
• Getting better bang for our buck in regions. The Cabinet committee to look for ways to create flexibility in how policies roll out in different regions and give regional people more scope to fix local problems and reduce the call of new initiatives on the already strained budget.
• Lifting standards in services, long term infrastructure investment and telecommunications.
• Using migration policy to better balance population growth, easing pressure on the cities and supporting regions that need new people to grow.