Here in the Lower Hunter we are part of regional and rural Australia.
We’re part of the country that is often underrated by those who don’t understand what great places rural and regional communities can be to work, live and raise a family.
There are 9 million people living in rural and regional Australia. Collectively we comprise a third of the nation’s workforce. Economically, we account for 40 per cent of the country’s economic output.
I think I speak for all of us when I say that we deserve our fair share of this economic prosperity.
This commitment to achieving a fair go has been top of my mind as I’ve served as Deputy Chair of the Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation.
The committee’s brief was, in essence, to find ways to increase the growth and prosperity of rural and regional Australia.
During the past year members of the committee have been on quite a journey, figuratively and literally. We received almost 200 submissions and conducted public hearing in more than a dozen locations around the country.
It even brought the committee to the Hunter, where I was extremely proud to chair the hearing in Newcastle and receive submissions from organisations including Newcastle Airport, Maitland Business Chamber, the Kurri Kurri District Business Chamber, the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Research Foundation.
Last week I had the honour of speaking in Parliament about the committee’s findings, which were released in the 168-page report: “Regions at the Ready: Investing in Australia’s Future”.
I’m extremely proud that the report has been well-received – described as “good, rigorous work. It makes recommendations that any smart government, of any political hue, could support” (theconversation.com).
The report notes that regional development and decentralisation requires a strategic approach.
We need look no further than former Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce’s catastrophic effort to shift the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority from Canberra to Armidale for an example of what not to do.
The report sets out a solid Commonwealth decentralisation policy which notes that any decentralised agencies or functions need to be a good fit for the location and catalysts for broader social and economic change.
It also notes that all levels of Government should invest in our regions to ensure their success.
Let’s hope that all levels of Government, of all political persuasions, adopt the recommendations as a blueprint for the continued prosperity of our rural and regional communities.