THE Australian Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee's Final Report into the "future role and contribution of regional capitals to Australia" has been released, with a recommendation for the government to develop a national strategy to grow regional capital cities.
Regional Capitals Australia (RCA) Chair, Mayor Shane Van Styn, welcomed the significant work undertaken by the Senate Committee to deliver the report and noted that the mandate and key policy push of RCA had been endorsed when Senators recommended nine areas for action.
"This report is recognition of the lived experience of the 8 million or one in three Australian's that live in or rely on a regional capital city for their everyday needs," Mayor Van Styn said.
"The report also recognises the many voices, in addition to Regional Capitals Australia, who see the development of our member cities as key to a strong economic future for Australia," Mayor Van Styn said.
During the inquiry the Senate Committee heard from national and regional stakeholders including RCA, Infrastructure Australia, the Regional Australia Institute and the Regional Universities Network as well as local government and chambers of commerce.
These stakeholders informed the Committee's key recommendation that included:
- The development of a national strategy to support the social and economic development of regional capital cities whilst also promoting population growth in these cities;
- The development of clear data sets for each city that maps how the infrastructure and services in regional capital cities are used by residents and communities in the surrounding rural areas (also know as a hub and spoke model) to inform investment priorities; and
- Accelerating the roll out of the NBN to prioritise regional capital cities.
"It is our belief that the economic success of Australia depends on national leadership to carve a path for growth and investment in our member cities," Mayor Van Styn said.
"We also believe that this strategy will deliver wider benefits to rural communities surrounding our cities – today's report highlights that members of the Australian Senate agree with our view, " Mayor Van Styn said.
"Through our advocacy we have begun to see national policies being developed that will impact the growth and development of regional capital cities from the Australian Government such as; the inclusion of regional cities in the Smart Cities Plan and City Deals framework and ensuring the Building Better Regions Fund is exclusively available for regional areas", noted Mayor Van Styn.
The next major policy milestone for regional capital cities will be the creation of a new federal regional development policy, scheduled to be undertaken in 2017.
"RCA will use the recommendation from the inquiry to continue to engage with the government on the important role that regional capital cities play in bridging the metropolitan and regional divide for the benefit of all Australians," said Mayor Van Styn.
Senate Inquiry Recommendations:
The committee recommends that the Australian government work with state governments to develop a definition of 'regional capital'.
The committee recommends that the Australian government work with state and territory governments and regional capitals to develop a national strategy for regional capitals. As a starting point, the strategy should:
- provide a framework for consultation between the respective governments and regional capitals;
- take into account the social needs and economic benefits of regional capitals; and
- provide an aspirational target of population movement to regional capitals from capital cities.
The committee recommends that the Australian government develop a national data set focused on regional capitals. Specifically, data should be gathered on:
- who is using the resources in each regional capital (including non-residents);
- how much Commonwealth and state funding is provided to each regional capital; and
- the projected growth of each regional capital.
The committee recommends that the Australian government accelerate the roll-out of the National Broadband Network to all regional capitals across Australia.
The committee recommends that the Australian government modify the university funding criteria to enable organisations that support distance university education to apply directly for funding administered under the Higher Education Support Act 2003.
The committee recommends that the Australian government undertake a comprehensive review of its funding model in relation to Australia's regional capitals.
The committee recommends that the Australian government work with the local government grants commissions in each state and territory to modify the Federal Assistance Grants program to ensure that the program recognises:
- the projected growth of each regional capital; and
- supports regional capitals to fund the cost of maintaining infrastructure used by residents in surrounding regions.
The committee recommends that the Australian government work with state governments to develop a shared methodology for infrastructure assessment.
The committee recommends that the Australian government fund an awareness campaign to promote the benefits and opportunities of relocating to regional cities.
Specific Recommendations from the Greens
The Australian Greens recommend that the government request the Productivity Commission to undertake an inquiry into the success of previous decentralisation policies in Australia and the potential for future active decentralisation policy in Australia, particularly in light of the strains on settlement patterns in capital cities.
The Australian Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee's Final Report is available from the Parliament of Australia website at <http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Rural_and_Regional_Affairs_and_Transport/RegionalCapitals45/Report>.