A new approach to regional policy in Australia
Regional Australia is entering another complex period of growth and change.
Market-led investment is occurring in many regional areas off the back of tourism, agriculture and renewed mining investment, and will lead to jumps in labour demand and population. Other regions are at risk of getting stuck with a need for workers and people but without the ability to offer the wages and attractiveness to get them.
At the same time, persistent disadvantage, constraints to workforce availability, substantial industry transitions coming from changes to energy supply and challenging climatic conditions will make it difficult for many regions to truly capitalise on these opportunities.
Standard approaches to regional development (infrastructure investment and grants) are unlikely to be influential in responding effectively to these changes.
Current policy settings are dominated by a view of regions as a series of markets that can be serviced by competitive, uniform funding processes. However, regional markets are anything but uniform, and ‘thin’ regional markets are anything but competitive.
In a package of three papers (outlined below), the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) puts forward ways for governments to address these constraints, unlocking the boost to regional competitiveness needed to ride through the challenging times ahead.
- The Case for Collaboration examines the shift by governments worldwide to more collaborative, place-based approaches to regional policy and outlines key capacities that governments need to be effective.Wider and more systematic adoption of collaborative decision-making and funding processes that work with regions rather than working on them is essential to unlocking regional growth
- Government that works for the Bush makes a case for governments to systematically open themselves up to regional ideas.It challenges governments to embed flexibility in program design and open up government to regionally led innovation
- Public Procurement and Regional Development Briefing Note looks at the ways that governments can and do design public procurement policy to achieve regional development outcomes.Improved use of public sector procurement alongside better policy implementation is a way in which governments can enable regional growth and competitiveness in the future
These pieces result from the RAI’s Intergovernmental Shared Inquiry Program for Regional Policy. They are evidence-based and rigorous, and we have aimed to clarify the evidence base and bring clarity to discussions about better practice.
Together, these papers constitute a bold agenda for policy reform. Fully implemented, they would provide for a regional transformation agency at the heart of government, a network of deals and collaborative initiatives responding to each regions’ unique needs, and a comprehensive approach to ensuring government investment works for local economies.
Governments need to – and already are – shifting their approaches to regions, but there is room to go much further to embed different ways of engaging and investing in regions for their future prosperity.
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