Revamping and de-politicising Regional Development Australia (RDA) committees was essential to bringing significant change to regional centres, according to the chairman of a wideranging report on increasing Australia’s regional growth.
Damian Drum, Nationals MP for Murray in Victoria, told The Land he was concerned that RDAs in Queensland and NSW were not functioning properly, and often political appointments were preventing sensible outcomes for regional centres.
He said he had put it to the Federal Minister for Regional Development, John McVeigh, that something needed to be done to make the RDAs work, as they were the true drivers for regional change as they brought in all interests - community, local government, state and federal bodies.
“If someone comes to us from an RDA and says this is the project they want, then we know most of the work has been done and we will look at it favourably,” Mr Drum said. He said too often people were appointed to committees by one government and that after an election they stayed on and on many issues there was no progression due to politics. He said Simon Crean as Labor Minister for Regional Australia, worked closely with the then Victorian Nationals leader Peter Ryan in a bipartisan way to make sure the RDAs were not politicised and were workable, and people were moved on, if they were not delivering. This had helped Victorian RDAs and Victoria’s regional centres had benefited significantly from this.
But after lengthy committee hearings which produced the report ‘Regions at the Ready’, Mr Drum was concerned many RDAs in NSW and Queensland were not delivering.
Mr Drum said the RDA were the best way to provide “catalytic investments” to drive growth in regional areas. He highlighted a number of initiatives that were game changers in regional Australia. He said in Launceston, the University of Tasmania was transforming the centre of town, with a $260m redevelopment, part of a “City Deal” with the Federal Government providing $130 million toward to project, UTAS providing $64.6m, the Tasmanian Government $60m and the City of Launceston $5.4 million.
Also the Wellcamp airport at Toowoomba was an example how a private investment could ignite a region. Mr Drum said there needed to be more “catalytic” investments. not just top ups on maintaining ageing infrastructure.
‘City deals’ could be very important to centres such as Albury-Wodonga, Orange, Wagga Wagga and Townsville, he said.
Amenity was another major issue for people wanting to relocate to the regions.