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.

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