Time to get the bush moving

Why has it taken the NSW government nearly two years to establish a parliamentary taskforce to investigate regional development opportunities and government decentralisation?

The Coalition government, with a supposed focus on regional and rural NSW, should have had this committee ready to go when it won office in March 2011.

After all, it had 16-years in opposition to fine tune its policy focus.

While it has been a long time coming, the fact the committee announced yesterday will get to work and report back to the government in March next year is a good result.

But the word decentralisation will hardly excite country communities. It has been bandied around for decades and there is little evidence of large scale success stories.

The last Coalition government moved what was then the NSW Department of Agriculture from Sydney to Orange, but little else has moved beyond the Great Dividing Range.

The big decentralisation push of the ’60s and early ’70s, which centred on regional cities like Bathurst, was only moderately successful.

In fact decentralisation across Australia has a mediocre track record.

This taskforce should have as its primary focus on economic development. If the government is serious about building regional communities and establishing some major inland cities, it needs to provide incentives for businesses and industries to relocate.

The key element to economic development is jobs. It is employment opportunities which make people consider relocation options and which powers support businesses.

Campaigns like Evocities are worthy initiatives, but selling a regional centre’s positive attributes are not enough to make people move unless they can secure the job they want.

Another pleasing aspect of the taskforce’s duties is its charter to advise on strategies and policies like the regional relocation grant scheme which has not worked.

The taskforce’s consultation focus is important and it needs to engage with as many organisations and business groups as possible.

There are enormous opportunities in regional NSW, let’s hope the committee, chaired by Richard Torbay, generates some serious thinking on how to get the bush moving.


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