Launch of the Australian Regional Development Conference
05 September 2016
Federation Ballroom, Hyatt Hotel, Yarralumla, ACT
Introduction and acknowledgments
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen—and welcome to the 2016 and third Australian Regional Development Conference.
My thanks to TonyMcBurney, Professor Fiona Haslam McKenzie, Susan Benedyka, and Mark Glover for inviting me to open the Conference.
It is a pleasure to do so.
Your conferences bring together people with excellent insights into an essential item of national business—ensuring that Australia's regions progress and meet their full potential.
I certainly understand the need for governments and enterprises that work in the regional space to take actions that are informed by these insights.
This will help us to build the kinds of regional communities our children and grandchildren will either want to stay in or come back to.
The particular significance of regional innovation
The focus of this year's Conference on regional innovation is one of great interest to me.
Australians—including our Prime Minister—have a very good grasp of the importance of innovation to national progress.
Regional Australia has been innovating and embracing innovation for many decades.
Regional innovations have included better use of technology on the farm, long-distance education via radio and aerial medical services.
Farmers can now control their irrigation systems from their home computers of even from their mobile phones. They can also download a manual or YouTube instructional video to help them fix a part on their tractor or machinery.
Regional Australia accounts for around 65 per cent of Australia's export earnings by value—and 45 cents in every tourism dollar is spent in regional Australia.
Many Australians now see regional Australia as a very attractive sea-or tree-change alternative to a capital city.
This shift creates some great opportunities.
In western Queensland, for instance, many boutique coffee shops have sprung up in regional centres, often owned by young women.
This is a great example of regional businesses adapting to the changing tastes of regional people.
The efforts of these rural businesspeople clearly show a spirit of regional innovation and commitment.
The Coalition Government's key regional approaches
The Coalition Government recognises both the diversity and potential of regional Australia. This is especially true in the National Party. Regional Australia is in our DNA.
Diversifying regional economies requires innovation and strong leadership within regional communities.
This Coalition Government's aims to build regional economies and I want to outline our key policies.
The Regional Jobs and Investment Package
The Regional Jobs and Investment Package will invest $200 million to boost local economies, create jobs and build sustainable regional communities. A key thrust of the package is that the nine pilot regions choose the investment priorities they see creating jobs into the future.
The Package has a direct link to regional innovation. It is structured around the three streams of business grants which grow local jobs, build local infrastructure, and invest in skills and training programs.
Each region will be able to pursue new opportunities, and invest in skills and technology.
Of course, no single level of government can do everything alone. The Australian Government will seek co-contributions from project proponents and other governments to leverage additional investment.
Our approach to this programme is that Canberra will not dictate priorities to the regions.
Rather, we intend to engage local communities in delivering regional innovation from the ground up. Local communities will assess their region's economic opportunities and competitive advantages, and develop local investment plans that reflect their strengths.
Existing regional initiatives
The Regional Jobs and Investment Package will complement the new Building Better Regions Fund. The Building Better Regions Fund builds on the National Stronger Regions Fund, or NSRF.
The NSRF has successfully funded priority economic infrastructure across Australia—with over $500 million approved to 162 projects.
The Building Better Regions Fund will be directed to projects outside of major capital cities.
The Fund will support investment in local priority infrastructure and community investments such as building local leadership and supporting and building local tourist events.
This will help build regional innovation and help create attractive, economically sustainable regions where people want to live, and thus grow regional Australia.
The Regional Jobs and Investment Package and the Building Better Regions Fund complement other Government measures.
The Coalition Government continues to support local economies through grants to infrastructure and other regional development projects.
Drought remains a brutal reality in regional Australia, and my portfolio administers the Drought Communities Program, which provides employment for people whose work opportunities have been affected by drought in eligible local government areas.
The Government is investing $35 million over four years from 2015-16 into this programme.
Transport infrastructure investment
We recognise that investment in an effective transport infrastructure system is the basis of any successful Nation—and of successful regions.
That is why the Australian Government is providing over $50 billion for infrastructure investment to 2019-20, and beyond.
This includes our investment in critical regional links such as Queensland's Bruce Highway, and the Pacific Highway in New South Wales. It also includes our continuing investment in successful regional initiatives such as Roads to Recovery and the roads Black Spot Program.
We've also committed $100 million to Outback Way, the road connecting north-east to south-west Australia.
In addition, we have committed an additional $594 million from the 2016-17 Budget in equity funding to the Australian Rail Track Corporation, to support the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail. This project will have huge benefits for regional Australia.
Modern business and social connections are increasingly dependent on our communications networks.
In recent months, one story in particular has highlighted the importance of communications technology to regional Australia—and the ingenuity of the regional people using it.
The town of Blackall in central-west Queensland had been without a hairdresser for several months. The community was worried locals going elsewhere to have their hair cut would also complete other business, such as grocery shopping, elsewhere on the same trip. This would take more dollars away from Blackall. The Mayor of Blackall-Tambo, Andrew Martin, devised an innovative solution.
He put out a call on Facebook last April—and had inquiries from as far afield as Melbourne, Indonesia and Russia.
Blackall now has its own hairdresser—from Rockhampton—and the town sees this as an optimistic development after a difficult few years dealing with drought.
Such stories emphasise the importance of the Government's efforts to deliver the social and economic benefits of modern communications technology to regional communities.
Mobile Black Spot Program
The Coalition Government's Mobile Black Spot Program is greatly improving mobile coverage and competition in regional and remote Australia.
The Coalition has committed $220 million towards three rounds of the Mobile Black Spot Program, which will deliver funding up to 2020.
Round 1 of the program is delivering 499 new and upgraded mobile base stations across Australia. Among other things, this provides:
- 68,600 square kilometres of new and upgraded handheld coverage; and
- over 5,700 kilometres of improved major transport route coverage
Our $100 million commitment to Round 1 leveraged further co-contributions of $285 million from Telstra, Vodafone, State and Local governments, businesses and community organisations.
Round 2 of the program is well underway. The applications phase closed in July, and has attracted strong interest from industry and State governments. I expect to announce the successful applicants under this Round before the year's end.
It's worth noting the Labor Party did not invest a single cent into expanding mobile coverage, nor deliver a single mobile phone tower in six years of government.
NBN fixed wireless and satellite services
The Government is also committed to rolling out high speed broadband to all Australians through the National Broadband Network.
Around 700,000 homes and businesses in regional areas are now able to access NBN fixed line services. The rollout beyond the fixed line footprint is also progressing very well, and we expect it to be largely complete by 2018.
The Sky Muster satellite service, which commenced in April, is delivering high speed broadband to Australians who would never have otherwise received it.
It enables people in Australia's 'hardest to serve' areas to access the benefits of broadband internet.
As of August, more than 20,000 premises are using Sky Muster services, and NBN expects to provide services to 85,000 premises by mid-2017.
The NBN is scheduled to launch its second satellite in October 2016, which will provide additional data capacity. These two satellites are ultimately expected to extend services to over 240,000 homes and businesses, though they have capacity for many more.
I am particularly pleased at how the NBN is improving access to education for students studying by distance education. With the launch of Sky Muster, NBN's wholesale education satellite products are now available for eligible distance education students and remote schools. We have set aside an additional 50 gigabytes of data per month for each child studying through distance education.
A priority for NBN over the next 12 months is to further improve the delivery of education services through Sky Muster with features including multicast video, video conferencing, pooling of data allowances and un-metered education content for specified websites.
We are also innovating our approaches in an area that until recently I was directly responsible for—improving the quality of health in regional Australia.
These efforts are now in the very good hands of my colleague the Hon Dr David Gillespie.
David has come to his role with excellent experience as a regional medical practitioner—and improving regional health remains one of the issues that continues to engage me, and the Coalition Government generally.
I am proud of our approach to two issues in particular. The first is the shortage of GPs in rural areas. Last year, I redirected $50 million away from paying GPs extra money to practice in big regional cities, and instead invested it into extra incentives for GPs to practice in small rural communities.
During the election campaign, I announced a commitment to develop a National Rural Generalist Pathway to also address the lack of medical professionals in regional areas.
Our approach includes training, proper recognition for rural GPs who have many general skills, and the appointment of a Rural Health Commissioner to progress the pathway.
Secondly, the Government is investing almost $300 million over four years from 1 July 2016 to tackle the drug ice. This investment will improve after care, education, prevention, treatment, support and community engagement.
The package includes an investment of $241.5 million to be provided to 31 Primary Health Networks (PHNs), which will use their local knowledge to boost the alcohol and other drug treatment sector and reduce demand for ice.
This is a major commitment—and it demonstrates that innovation must tackle issues that are both challenging, and distressing.
Thank you again for the opportunity to open the Conference.
You are undertaking most vital work here, and I certainly want to be kept informed on your efforts.