Federal Labor policy on regional development will be one of the most critical issues which will be debated at the ALP National Conference this week.
Regional Australia faces a range of imminent challenges which include:
- the reduction in water supply and the critical consequences for regional communities;
- the challenge to connect all of the nation, not just the cities, to fast, affordable broadband over the Internet, which Labor will address through its commitment to deliver a new broadband network; and
- ensuring the sustainable development of all of our regions and their natural resource base.
What is crucial for government to recognise is that different regions face different challenges. They also offer our nation a range of opportunities. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.
I also believe these challenges confirm a new federal approach to regional development is required. One focused on local needs, not just the needs of MPs.
On coming to office the Howard Government declared “it saw no clear rationale or constitutional basis for commonwealth involvement” in regional development. They abolished successful regional programs and their solution was to leave regional development to the states and local government.
This agenda was led by the then Minister for Regional Services and National Party Minister, John Sharp.
If the National Party does not stand for regional development, what does it stand for?
In more recent years, the Howard Government’s approach to regional development has largely been focused on grant-based programs.
But in 2005 the Senate found there were serious failings in transparency and accountability in the administration of these programs. The Government has failed to implement the most important recommendations to address the Parliament’s concerns. As a result, the rorting will continue and Coalition MPs can and will roll out another pork barrel.
Labor supports the Regional Partnerships and Sustainable Regions programs. The need for investment in our regions is compelling.
Labor is committed to restore the highest levels of transparency to regional programs by adopting all of the recommendations from the Senate inquiry.
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