The Hon Simon Crean MP: Speech to Sustainable Economic Growth for Regional Australia 2011 Conference - Geelong Posted on October 28, 2011

26 October 2011
CS28/2011

My commitment to Regional Australia is long-standing.

I have spoken about it over many years at SEGRA conferences but I have put it into practice in all of my approaches to policy development and implementation.

My engagement over the past 12 months as Minister convinces me that Australia is poised on the cusp of a new era of strength, diversity and prosperity and that the regions are crucial to shaping it.

Today I want to talk about:

  • The importance of regional Australia and why as a Government we have invested heavily in its future;
  • And the importance of embedding regionalism - changing the way we govern the country by embracing my calls to 'join the dots'.

NATURAL RESOURCES, SKILLS AND INNOVATION

As a country, we no longer predominantly rely on our comparative advantage in natural resources.

We have also developed great competitive advantages through investments in education, skills, innovation and infrastructure.

Whilst we face many challenges - a high dollar knocking around our manufacturing base and tourism and education sectors; natural disasters reducing our capacity and costing us billions; and a global economy which is fragile and uncertain, one thing is certain, there is no country better placed in the world to meet these challenges.

We have massive job growth, a strong budget and a huge pool of domestic savings.

We can face these challenges because of hard decisions taken in the 80s and 90s:

  • Floating the dollar
  • Cutting tariffs
  • Wage restraint
  • Compulsory superannuation
  • Medicare

These bold reforms were not always popular, but were taken always with the nation's best interests at heart.

Together with our early engagement of Asia, they laid the foundations for our prosperity.

They kept us out of recession.

They made us the envy of the developed world.

CAN'T SQUANDER THE LEGACY

That legacy can't be squandered.

It must be built upon.

The regions are critical to our success.

Our economy is in transition.

It is a patchwork economy.

And the regions are the patches.

I have visited hundreds of those patches and I know their potential because I have engaged with a re-invigorated regional leadership who share the vision to realise this potential.

It is a partnership I will continue to encourage.

It is a partnership I want to build.

A partnership built around localism.

I believe in localism.

I have seen it work.

As Primary Industries Minister in the Hawke Government, we got far better natural resources and land management outcomes by establishing Landcare and developing local solutions.

As Employment and Training Minister in the Keating Government I established Area Consultative Committees to identify the skill and job needs of an economy coming out of recession.

Now as Regional Development Minister in the Gillard Government, I am re-invigorating the Regional Development Australia structures, established under the Rudd Government, to identify opportunities for diversification and strengthening their economic base, coming not out of a recession, but in a challenging and exciting environment of sustained growth.

INVESTING IN REGIONAL AUSTRALIA

While we challenge regions to be their best, we don't expect them to do it alone.

That's why this year's Budget saw a massive commitment to regional Australia of $4.3 billion - massive investments in regional hospitals, health care, universities and infrastructure.

It's why 130,000 Australians will have the opportunity to learn new skills for jobs in sectors suffering critical skill shortages through the new $560 million National Workforce Development Fund.

It's why we've invested in better facilities in every primary and secondary school across the country; provided incentives to improve teaching and better information about the performance of schools.  

It's why we opened a $500 million fund to build world class education and training facilities for students in regional Australia and increased recurrent funding for universities with regional campuses by $110 million over the next four years - to help overcome the higher costs of regional campuses.

Better teachers, better facilities, more opportunities and greater retention rates across in board in secondary school, in TAFE and in our universities.

In this year's budget, we announced a $1.8 billion investment to support upgrades to regional health infrastructure.

In August I joined the Prime Minister and Health Minister to open the new round of the Health and Hospitals Fund, which will see $475 million invested in regional hospitals around Australia: another important dot-joining exercise that will create jobs and new health services for regional communities.

And our commitment to the NBN will significantly benefit regions vital infrastructure in the great enabler of regions - connectivity.

$63 BILLION SINCE 2007

I could go on - but I will leave you with just one figure - $63 billion.

That's our estimate of what the Government has committed to regional Australia since 2007.

We have made these investments for a number of reasons.

We know that education and training is a long-term determinant of regional economic growth.

And we know that if you train in the regions, people stay in the regions.

We know that regions need to be connected and have access to markets.

We know that regions have to be able to capitalise on their comparative advantage and firm competitiveness so they can reap the benefits of efficiency and economies of scale and remain competitive.

But we also know that for people to stay in the regions, and for regions to attract new workers, new families and continue to grow, we need in invest in liveability.

In quality services such as health and childcare.

In sport, creativity and culture.

In a healthy environment, and in new ways of delivering these services, for example by creative application of the NBN to deliver e-health, e-education and e-commerce opportunities.

The roll out of the NBN is continuing apace, with 60 release sites already announced - more than half of which are in regional Australia, outside the major cities - and a range of Digital Hub, Digital Enterprise and Digital Local Government programs to assist communities to reap the benefits.

THE CHALLENGE IS TO JOIN THE DOTS

The challenge of the regions is how well they access these many and varied funds in health, education, infrastructure and economic development.

Not by looking at them as discrete sources of funding, but by 'joining the dots'.

It is only by joining the dots that we challenge the departmental structures of government.

The size of the commitment at the Commonwealth level also gives huge leverage with other levels of government, local and State.

So I just don't want you to join the Commonwealth dots, but the State and local government dots as well.

CHANGING THE WAY WE GOVERN - FROM THE BOTTOM UP

Through the newly-established Cabinet Committee for Regional Australia, I am actively engaging with my Commonwealth ministerial colleagues.

I am also actively engaged with my State counterparts to develop a framework for more effective government co-operation.

With local government, we have a process of active engagement through the RDAs and through the Ministerial Council.

The aim is to drive a 'whole of government' and 'whole of governments' approach to regional development.

If we get this right, then we will embed localism as a new factor in the way we govern this country.

It will turn 'top-down' federalism on its head, and create what I call a 'bottom up' approach to co-operative federalism.

With local government, regions, state government and the Commonwealth working together, effectively and efficiently to ensure that all of the patches in our patchwork economy contribute to and share the benefits of growth.

We need to embed this regional approach, this 'bottom up co-operative federalism' in a way that cannot be unpicked.

In a way that compulsory superannuation and Medicare can now no longer be unpicked.

This is my challenge, and it is your challenge.

RDAF

The Regional Australia Development Fund is an important investment in the future of the regions.

However, for RADF to work effectively, the proposals that come forward from the regions must stack up.

I don't want wish lists - they must be priorities; they must clearly be about the benefit the investment will bring to the region, and therefore to the nation.

Following a review of Round One of RADF, a revised set a guidelines for Round Two are being finalised and will be released shortly.

The aim of the revised guidelines will be to:

  • Strengthen the role of RDA's in the process;
  • Improve the quality of submissions;
  • Maximise the leverage of funds or partnership investment from local, state government and the private sector;
  • And re-emphasise the need for projects with tangible regional benefits.

In looking ahead to Round Two I want emphasise three things:

  1. The importance of setting clear priorities;
  2. The strength of the RDA speaking with one voice;
  3. And the power of community partnerships to better leverage funding.

Beyond Round 2, there can be up to three more rounds of RADF, but that is contingent the passing of the Mineral Resource Rent Tax through the Parliament - another test of the Opposition's commitment to regional Australia.

STRENGTHENING RDAs

Strengthening the capabilities of the RDA's has also been critical.

We announced $20.3 million for the RDAs in this year's Budget - on top of the $15 million in annual funding and the $4 million boost in 2010/11.

Off the back of this Budget commitment and the new resources available to RDA's to boost their capability, I have requested they all review their strategic plans.

These revised plans are due by the end of the month.

The aim of these updated plans is to enable better assessment, input and prioritisation by RDA's not only for Round 2 and beyond but the other programs around which we are challenging the regions to 'join the dots'.

A NEW CHALLENGE

This is the challenge I put to this conference and to SEGRA.

The challenge to help embed this regional approach.

The challenge to see Australia's future as a future of strong, diverse regions, with a clear plan, clear priorities and strong community and business support.

Of course I am speaking to converts, and as part of that challenge we need to convert others to the cause.

Over the past few months, I have made many visits.

In all my engagements two common themes emerge.

The first is that 'diversification is the key'.

The many people I have spoken to look at the regions doing well, and they see success built on diversity.

With diverse economies and growth come jobs and lower unemployment rates.

You only have to look at Geelong as a case in point - a city and a region that over the past 20 years has diversified significantly, and like their football team, have reaped the rewards.

The second key theme is that they want to embrace a clean energy future and a more liveable environment.

I talked earlier about the importance of facing up to global challenges - about making decisions that may not be popular in the short term but which have the nation's long-term interests at heart.

THE CLIMATE CHALLENGE

Climate change is another one of those challenges, not just here but across the world.

Contrary to the opinion polls and the negativism of the Opposition in Canberra, regional leadership gets it.

They know our planet is warming, they know carbon pollution causes climate change and they also realise that if we change human behaviour we can cut the carbon footprint.

For them it's not just about tomorrow.

It's about rewarding innovation and creating new jobs today.

That's why the vast majority of local governments and regional bodies set themselves targets for emissions reductions or for green job opportunities.

In Darwin, they're capturing methane gas for electricity at the Shoal Bay waste disposal site.

In Geraldton WA where they see themselves as another Pilbara they are committed to becoming a carbon neutral city and are looking to renewable energy to power the new growth.

In Whyalla they are exploring rare earth processing and solar concentrators to reinforce the renewable energy capacity of the Eyre Peninsula.

Tasmania has a bright future built on a sustainable forestry, with huge opportunities presented by its clean energy, clean air, clean surplus water.

Far North Queensland is looking to positioning itself on renewables and tropical expertise.

The world is moving to a clean future and so are our regions.

They have determined what they want.

What they want from Government is a plan that delivers incentives to cut pollution and helps families and businesses adequately along the way.

Most of all they want us to support and grow job opportunities, because there is nothing more important to Australian families.

ACTING NOW TO CUTTING POLLUTION

That's why we have acted.

That's why we have made tough decisions.

To price carbon pollution.

We've priced carbon so the 500 biggest polluters pay for every tonne of pollution they put out.

Our aim is to cut pollution by 160 million tonnes by 2020.

Will those businesses pass on some of the costs?

Yes they will, but average prices will rise by less then 1 cent in the dollar - under the GST it was 10 cents.

If the big polluters don't want to pay the tax they will invest in the technology to cut their pollution - and there is significant assistance to help them do it.

MAKING THE TRANSITION

Every cent collected under the scheme will go back to families, to businesses and invest more in clean energy.

Back to families - with nine out of every 10 getting more money through increased pensions, direct payments and tax cuts.

Back to industry - with grants and loans to help them make the transition.

Back to Skills and Training - $9 billion for training so our kids are at the head of the queue for jobs in the world's biggest emerging market.

Back to our farmers - even though they won't pay the tax they will be able to get grants for things like carbon farming where they can lift productivity and in the future through trading carbon credits for the carbon they capture.

POSITIONING AUSTRALIA FOR SUCCESS

So as much as it is another challenge, the opportunities are huge.

I know the regions are up to this challenge - and the Commonwealth Government will work side by side with them and with governments at all levels, and with organisations like SEGRA.

That's why we've committed the resources. 

That's why we have made the tough decisions to position Australia for success, for long-term prosperity and to keep ahead of the rest.

So let's get on with it.

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