Could flexibility from government solve a problem in your region?
The Regional Australia Institute is looking for help from regions to identify areas where flexibility from government could help resolve local issues.
Progress in regional development is usually tied to spending more money. But what if we could do better with existing resources by changing the way they are used or getting rid of barriers to local progress.
A lot of money can be wasted in regions if central government solutions aren’t a good fit for local conditions. We also know that regional people are often very frustrated with governments’ inability to get services and investment right for their local community.
Here are a few examples of opportunities to solve problems with a more flexible approach that we have identified already:
- For training and education: Changes to the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment mean that the course is now unlikely to be viable in regional areas. Requirements for a minimum class size of 8 and at least 1 face-to-face class per week are impossible to meet in rural and remote areas. Without flexibility a decline in people able to deliver training in these regions is likely.
- For job seekers: Mandatory activity requirements can place unreasonable burdens on job seekers in regional areas. The Skills for Education program requires daily face-to-face interaction. In regions where job seekers need to travel long distance and there is no public transport this approach can’t work.
- For childcare services: Under Education and Care Services National Regulations, long day childcare centres must be open for a minimum of 48 weeks per year to offer the childcare rebate to families that use their services. In small towns with seasonal work and population patterns it creates unnecessary rigidity and associated costs, meaning local childcare may be unviable.
- For mental health services: Medicare has recently extended coverage to psychological services delivered by video links. Unfortunately at least 1 of the first 4 sessions must be face-to-face. In regional areas where there are high levels of need and low levels of service it risks reducing the impact of this welcome change enormously.
- For grants: A Council received a sizeable grant to install exercise equipment in parks. The capital works funding did not provide resources to encourage use of the equipment by the community. Existing health programs also did not provide for this, despite being directed at issues such as obesity and heart disease which are potentially reduced by better exercise habits.
- For funding guidelines: King Island has a major environmental problem with wallabies. Landcare groups can access funding for replanting native vegetation but not fencing. Replanting is pointless as the new plants are immediately eaten by wallabies, but exclusion fencing would result in native plants regrowing by themselves anyway. The funding guidelines cannot respond to this issue.
- For the Newstart program: Newstart arrangements are reported to the RAI as making it risky for people to take up temporary work. In areas where work is seasonal, people will choose to stay on Newstart rather than work and risk a loss of income. States and regions have reported an interest in supporting better engagement of unemployed people in work, but there is no simple way to trial an adjustment to Newstart rules to see if better employment results can be achieved.
These are just a few of the many examples of generic regulations and program rigidities which are leading to substandard outcomes for regional communities and wasted government resources. There are many others, and more are being created all the time.
Public Service reform is also challenging government to be more open and responsive to feedback and use place based policies to make progress.
The RAI is working on options that governments could use to be more flexible in order to help solve problems in regions, but we need more examples like those above to support the case for change.
If you can share an example from your region the RAI will help raise the profile of the issue and make the case for government to solve the immediate problems, as well as implement longer term change.
To share your story please get in touch with [email protected]