Will we get our White Paper?

Today, the Morrison Government finally released the elusive report of its Expert Panel (headed by The Hon Peter Ryan) into elements of the excellent Regions at the Ready report.

So what does the Expert Panel report say? Among other recommendations, there’s this:

‘The Expert Panel recommends that a White Paper [on Regional Australia] be delivered as soon as possible.’

Which is terrific news! On the downside, the Expert Panel said that the White Paper should be completed no later than July 2020. But we’ve waited this long, so what’s another year, right?

But after all the waiting, are we actually going to get our White Paper? The omens are mixed. On the one hand, yet another group of smart, eminent Australians has concluded that we genuinely need a White Paper on Regional Australia, to address some big, burgeoning issues (like population, education and infrastructure). But on the other hand, we still haven’t convinced the government.

In tabling the Expert Panel report, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack made this pointedly non-committal statement:

‘The Expert Panel’s recommendations are thoughtful and diverse in their scope and continue to inform our policy considerations for Regional Australia’.

So where does this leave us? The long delay in releasing the Expert Panel report doesn’t inspire hope; nor does the complete lack of fanfare (not even a ministerial media release) in making the report public.

Those of us who live in, or barrack for, regional Australia have been here before. Lack of government commitment to developing smart, sophisticated policy for regional communities is de rigeur, and stretches back decades. We need to throw out the old playbook for regional development policy and write a new one. Ironically, a White Paper would fit that bill.

The BCA weighs in

Did you hear Jennifer Westacott’s speech to the National Press Club last week? The Business Council of Australia (BCA) is weighing into the regional development debate. ABC Radio Central West NSW asked me about it this morning, and you can listen here at 41:42. (Short version: I may not agree with all of the BCA’s proposed policy solutions, but the fact that they’re highlighting the policy failings of recent years is a very good thing.)

Why ‘decentralisation’ of government jobs is no substitute for proper regional development policy

You might have heard that the Federal Government is relocating jobs at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority from Canberra to Coffs Harbour. Now, I like Coffs Harbour as much as the next person – but is the transfer of 50 jobs a reasonable substitute for proper regional development policy there? Short version: no, it’s not. Longer version: listen to me on ABC Radio here, at 3:36-14:32.

Making an impact on policy

Three cheers for research that influences policymaking! I’m so pleased that the Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation found the research and recommendations in my book useful. Have you read the committee’s report? Here it is.

Our Canberra launch

The Dean of the ACU Canberra campus, Patrick McArdle, very generously hosted my colleagues, friends and family last night for the book’s first launch event. (Big shout-out to my mum for driving a couple of hours to attend!)

Our guest speaker, Cathy McGowan AO, MP, the Member for Indi, reminded us all of what’s at stake in the struggle for good regional policy: maintaining the strength and spirit of our regional communities, and giving kids in regional Australia the educational and employment opportunities they deserve.

You can grab a copy of the book here.

A special guest

We all know that a book doesn’t exist (not properly) until it’s been launched. So we’re really looking forward to our book launch at the Australian Catholic University in Canberra on Thursday 31 May.

And who’s our special guest on the night? None other than Cathy McGowan AO, MP, the independent Member for Indi. Cathy has spent the past year toiling away on the Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation. So really, there’s no-one better to launch this book!

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