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National inquiry necessary to make most of incredible opportunity

Cathy McGowan AO, independent Federal MP for the Victorian electorate of Indi, is calling for a national policy approach to regional Australia.

Regional Australia is on the brink of an incredible opportunity. There is an appetite across Australia for our regions to reach their potential. The government is showing goodwill to make this happen. The missing link is a strategy to bring together the necessary factors to make sure the rewards last for the next century, not just through the next election cycle.

We need a plan and I am calling for a national inquiry to get us there.

The need to fill this gap in developing a regional strategy was brought sharply home to me last week when I met with around 75 young people from North East Victoria to discuss the Federal Budget. They shared the barriers in rural and regional Australia to being educated, employed and connected in their local communities. They face fewer employment opportunities, little or no transport to get to work, restricted educational opportunities, higher costs to transition to tertiary education, and sparse health, housing, communications and welfare services.

My vision for regional Australia is for its interests to be embedded in all levels of policy making.
Ms Cathy McGowan AO, MP

The plight of young regional people is emblematic of the broader frustration coming from regional Australia. Businesses, farmers and cooperatives across the country are bursting with ideas that could be unleashed by an effective NBN, operational public transport corridors, access to government services and appropriate infrastructure.

People in rural and regional Australia don’t want or need to be seen as a special case. They are a powerhouse of economic productivity. Australia’s farmers support an export market valued at more than $41 billion per annum, and agriculture is widely touted as our next big boom.

What we want is equity of opportunity for those living beyond metropolitan boundaries, and an understanding that one size does not fit all when it comes to government policy.

I’ve been calling for some time for a national policy approach to regional Australia. The regions are part of mainstream Australia and should be considered as such when policy is developed. There are encouraging signs with the government’s push to decentralise the public service, and the release of the government’s Regions 2030 statement.

A national inquiry would be the first step in building a lasting consensus on development in regional Australia and the role of decentralisation. The intent is to take an overall look at regional development policy, invite experts and communities to have input and push for some bipartisan agreement on driving growth in regional areas.

My vision for regional Australia is for its interests to be embedded in all levels of policy making. This will require some lateral thinking, such as encouraging telecommuting in the Public Service, as I have proposed in a Private Members Bill. Most of all it requires proper consultation and a long term plan above politics.

As an independent voice for regional Australia, I’m looking forward to working with the government on making this happen. After all, the interests of regional Australia are in the long term interests of us all.

Ms Cathy McGowan AO, MP is the Member for Indi in Victoria.

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