Harbinger Consultants

Creative Sustainability :: Place, People, Product, Potential, Partnership + Pollinating

FORUM | Regional Cooperation & Development

In her capacity as Deputy Chair of Regional Development Australia Brisbane, Linda attended the Regional Cooperation and Development Forum which was part of the Australian Local Government Association’s National General Assembly in Canberra. High points of the day included remarks from Professor Andrew Beer of the University of Adelaide, and Peter Brain, author of the State of the Regions Report which was launched at the Forum.

Professor Beer addressed some historical issues and framed these as policy cycles, possibilities and strategies. He stressed the problem in increasingly regional inequality. He also presented a useful slide showing the peaks of troughs of federal government attention in regional development. While Beer didn’t make the connection, it was apparent from this slide that Labor governments tended to pay more attention to regional development than other governments. He also stressed that regions and cities are becoming the foci for competitiveness. Given the reference to cycles, he speculated that the current interesting in regional development is unlikely to last and that there was a need to both ‘make hay while the sun shines’ and ‘not build straw houses’. In other words, there was a need to think, plan and act for the future – beyond parochial interests – part of that must be framed in terms of resilience, flexibility and innovation.

It seemed that Beer was calling for a stronger national narrative of regionalism. The language of this endeavour needed to have more utility and cultural grounding for the task so as to secure enduring commitments to regions. As a national narrative, it makes absolute sense for the cities to be included in the regional agenda. However, what remains unclear is how regional development and urban policy interact and interleave.

Economist Peter Brain also presented an overview of the State of the Regions Report, themed ‘Beyond the Mining Boom’, in which he states that “Australia’s 67 regions are no longer converging towards more equality … Inequality between regions has been growing for the past five years”. Brain’s sobering, yet witty and rapacious, commentary presented an overview of issues associated with dependence on mining. Both Brain and Beer were highly critical of the recent Grattan Institute report, Investing in Regions, which Brain described as ‘a shallow and empty document’. He warned of the need to plan beyond the mining boom, which tends to boost employment in the early construction stage before flattening to operations, so as to avoid ‘the Dutch Disease’ where a resources boom resulted in poor long term economic prospects and losses in productivity. Instead of becoming complacent, promoting ‘business as usual’ and allowing a focus on mining to crowd out other industry, it was essential to consider more successful economies, such as Norway. He has noted in the Report that “there is already abundant evidence in the latest statistics that the mining boom is having negative effects in much of Australia. These trends are likely to intensify over the next five years at the very least.” Additionally, the report stresses the need for and benefits of broadband including the potential for productivity increases.

There were also workshops where those involved in local government and regional development had an opportunity to identify regional challenges and opportunities. These conversations highlighted the need for integrated place and people based approaches with a strong emphasis on regional governance and leadership, particularly local engagement and empowerment.

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