VICTORIAN Nationals MP Darren Chester has been appointed Chair of the House of Representatives Select Committee’s inquiry on Regional Development and Decentralisation which is investigating best practice approaches towards relocating government departments and corporate entities into rural areas.
Mr Chester was dropped from federal cabinet in December after serving two years as the Transport and Infrastructure Minister and replaced by his party leader Barnaby Joyce.
He now replaces Dr John McVeigh as the Select Committee Chair for the decentralisation inquiry after the first-term Queensland Liberal MP was promoted to cabinet, to become Regional Development Minister, to replace Fiona Nash after she was disqualified from the Senate due to dual citizenship.
The Committee’s inquiry into decentralisation aims to broaden the scope of the government’s policy intent, beyond moving Commonwealth agencies like the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) or AgriFutures Australia, to also look at opportunities to incentivise private sector re-locations.
Victorian independent MP Cathy McGowan was one of the driving forces behind the inquiry’s establishment in mid-2017.
An interim report was released on December 8 last year indicating the Committee had resolved to request a deadline extension to produce its final report by May 31.
“The Committee considers it appropriate to request an extension because of the sheer quantity of evidence received to date which requires a thorough and considered treatment, and so that it can conduct additional hearings,” it said.
The preliminary report also indicated that 11 public hearings had already been held in regional areas as well as at Darwin and Launceston with more scheduled for 2018, including next week in Canberra, then at Toowoomba, Townsville and at Armidale where the APVMA has been controversially shifted to, from Canberra.
The interim Committee report said it had received and published a total of 187 written submissions to the inquiry, with preliminary analysis showing the breakdown of submitters being; 27 per cent from local councils or groupings of local councils; 16pc from individual submitters; 10pc from industry bodies; 9pc from Regional Development Authorities; and 8pc from community groups and non-government organisations.
Mr Chester said the Committee was inquiring into the best approaches to growing and sustaining regional communities throughout Australia along with public and private sector decentralisation initiatives.
He said he had strong views on the issue after working with regional lobby group ‘Champions of the Bush’ prior to entering parliament and spending the past two years as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.
“I’m not going to pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry but I have no doubt that connectivity in all its forms is critical to the future prosperity of regional communities,” he said.
“It’s about connecting our communities to each other, to capital cities and to the world through better road, rail and airport links, along with telecommunications improvements.
“Improved connectivity makes it easier for people to run their businesses and live in regional areas.
“It’s an important inquiry being undertaken by MPs from all sides of politics and I’m looking forward to working with them and the expert panel as we develop our report in the months ahead.”
Mr Chester said he supported the concept of public sector decentralisation but predicted more jobs would flow in the future from encouraging corporate moves to regional areas.
“We need to remove any barriers for businesses looking to decentralise their operations as our capital cities become congested and productivity is impacted,” he said.
“As city land prices increase, it will become more attractive for some businesses to relocate and governments at all levels need to provide the infrastructure to help that happen.
“Our belief in the future of regional communities needs to be backed up with strategic government investment that makes a real difference in people’s lives.
“I think the decentralisation of public service jobs is a good initiative but it isn’t the only answer to regional growth.
“Sustainable regional growth requires an ongoing program of regional development and infrastructure spending that would give the private sector more confidence to invest outside the major cities.
“Businesses will only make the decision to move or expand to regional areas if those locations are well connected to each other, our capital cities and world markets.
“We need to consider the provision of transport and communications connectivity to build on current strengths, while investing in services and facilities that support locals, attract visitors and encourage growth in new and emerging industries.”
Committee Inquiry Website:
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