Growing Australia’s Great Regional Cities
In testimony before the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee inquiry into the future role and contribution of Regional Capitals to Australia, Jack Archer, Kim Houghton and Leonie Pearson discussed the RAI submission and ‘City Deals’ as one way policymakers can make a real difference in growing Australia’s Great Small Cities.
The RAI team outlined in their submission and testimony that regional Capitals, Australia’s Great Small Cities, are critically important to the future prosperity of the nation. Upcoming work by the RAI has found that the 31 top regional capitals produce roughly the same output as Finland, house 1 in 5 Australians and are 88 per cent as productive as the five major capital cities. They are also the population growth centres of the nation.
However, there is a gap between metropolitan and regional cities. Metropolitan cities lead with high salary earning capacity, technology connections and skills. Regional cities lead with attributes of housing affordability, ease of commute and lifestyle. Australia has a diversity of cities – and policy needs to reflect this.
Of acute interest to the inquiry was, what does a City focused policy look like?
Jack’s testimony explained “Our instincts on this are that in a time when there is not a lot of federal resource to spare, we should be focusing on making the most of the investment where we are already making it—better coordinating that (resource) and making sure the existing investments into these places are working well. I am a bit wary of the idea that if we just push more money in there things will be better.”
Currently it is almost impossible to identify which cities are underfunded and which are overfunded or what the impacts of this are. A better approach would be to use our resources more strategically.
The RAI are currently looking at the City Deals model in the UK to identify if a similar approach could work in Australia. Our current thinking is the Commonwealth could make a small pool of incentive-based funding available to local and state government to enable them to set themselves up on a smart development trajectory. This approach would encourage more collaboration between different levels of government and provide the necessary flexibility so that regions can pursue the high-value projects that meet their specific needs.
Introducing a version of City Deals in Australia has a number of advantages. They are flexible enough to reflect individual city personalities, but strong enough to drive innovation and productivity in all Australian cities. Of course, City Deals were first developed overseas – we need our own Australian take of these that reflects our ‘fair-go’ approach and a distinctive Australian interpretation.
To test out these ideas, the RAI will be reaching out to our regional cities to see what a City Deal would mean for them. We want to use the experience of local leaders to help identify how we can best develop Great Small Cities and better share the benefits of our success across all of Australia.
If you would like to be involved or have a story to share, contact the Regional Australia Institute to join the Great Small Cities discussion.