Regional Australia Institute National Summit address

**Check against delivery**


I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet – the Ngunnawal people – and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

And thank you especially to Richie Allen for your warm and gracious Welcome to Country.

As a proud member of a Government fully committed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, I also extend that acknowledgement to all other First Nations people joining us today.

I want to thank the Chair of the Regional Australia Institute (RAI), Christian Zahra, for his kind introduction.

I also acknowledge Liz Ritchie, CEO of the RAI, who will address you shortly.

There is a terrific list of speakers over the next two days and I look forward to tuning in virtually to some of these where I can.

We know the opportunities inherent across regional Australia are vast.

However, it takes the ideas, ambitions and importantly, the cooperation, of all of us to harness these opportunities.

When we work together – in genuine partnerships – it is possible to achieve the potential of our regions.

It’s a privilege to address you today as Minister with responsibility for regional development as a part of the new Government.

I previously served in this role in 2013, and I am very pleased to once again be representing the regions within Cabinet.

It’s fitting, as the Regional Australia Institute approaches it’s eleventh birthday, to reflect on Labor’s long commitment to the Institute.

The Institute was founded back in 2011 with seed money from the Gillard Labor Government. 

Since then, it has played a significant role in providing publicly accessible research to inform regional policy

Our Government recognises the Institute’s continuing efforts in this regard and the useful part it plays.

We will invest a further $5 million over the next three years to bolster the Institute’s research and policy capacity.

Providing evidence-based insights to the needs of regional communities is an essential element in developing best practice policy and place-based approaches.

One thing I have always appreciated in the Institute’s work is its sense of optimism.

For too long the popular regional narrative has been of loss, disaster and inequality – of pitting city against country.

The Institute’s work – deploying facts and knowledge to the task – has helped to focus opinion leaders and decision makers on the wealth of diverse possibilities that reside in our regions.

This optimism is justified.

Regional communities and industries are well-placed to expand their central role in Australia’s economic and social story.

A role which encompasses our existing industrial heartlands, our food and fibre centres, our world-class tourism hotspots and our emerging new energy and resources hubs.

In the year to June, our agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining industries – located across our diverse regions – comprised 72 per cent of the value of Australia’s merchandise exports.

Some of these industries, such as mining, agriculture and tourism are thriving in my own electorate in regional Victoria. I have got to know them well over my 21 years in Parliament.

And regional Australia’s population growth has recently outpaced that of the capital cities, increasing by 1.0 per cent between June 2020 and June 2021, compared to a population decline of 0.3 per cent across the capital cities over the same period.

As decision makers, we cannot be complacent – realising the full potential of our regions must be a purposeful exercise.

To build a better future in regional Australia, regional communities need a cohesive and strategic plan that recognises their diverse strengths, needs and opportunities.

This Government is committed to delivering a better approach to regional development, and in particular the Commonwealth’s investment in our regions.

An approach built around partnerships and collaboration.

An approach that respects and responds to the diversity of regional needs, opportunities and ambitions.

And an approach underpinned by honesty, transparency and integrity.

I live in the regions and I love the regions.

As the member for Ballarat, I am passionate about playing my part in ensuring we harness regional strengths and opportunities – not just in Ballarat, but right across the country.

But I know that neither I, or my Government, will have all the answers.

That is why, as Minister, I am committed to working closely and productively across the three levels of government, as well as with industry and businesses, local communities and representative groups.

Genuine partnerships – where we engage, listen and respond to local needs and opportunities – are fundamental to good outcomes.

This is how we can discern those actions and investments that will spur local economic growth, improve liveability and enhance productivity.

Last month I met with industry, unions, local government, peak body groups and other stakeholders for a series of roundtables.

I wanted to ensure I heard from a wide range of voices and perspectives, in the lead up to the Jobs and Skills Summit earlier this month.

The Summit was an important first step in our Government’s plan to address key job and skill issues in regional Australia.

And as we get to work on our Employment White Paper, we will continue to listen to the concerns of regional Australia and implement solutions that allow our regions to grow.

We know that local government has its ear to the ground, so we need strong, direct links between federal policy making and the local level, if we are to improve Australia’s regional development architecture.

Our Government understands and respects the importance of local government.

In addition to returning ministerial responsibility for local government to Cabinet, we will re-establish the Australian Council of Local Government.

This is an annual meeting with the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Mayors, Shire Presidents, councillors and local government stakeholders.

We will also seek to strengthen links between communities, their representatives and Government decision-making, including revitalising the Regional Development Australia structure and purpose. –and develop the capacity of local government in this regard.

Minister McBain, who will speak to you later today, will be taking forward this important work - to strengthen a coherent regional architecture to underpin the way Federal Government can work effectively with the local government and regional communities.

Further, we will consider options to transform Regional and City Deal approaches into a genuine Partnerships model – promoting genuine collaboration on longer-term place-based planning between the three levels of government, business and the community.

And we will partner with local governments and community organisations in precincts – to deliver meaningful outcomes for places in regional Australia. From design upgrades of main streets to enabling infrastructure for a new employment hub - this is the kind of investment that changes what it means to live in regional cities and towns.

My approach will be to leverage what already works and collaboratively improve on what doesn’t.

I welcome your ideas and involvement with this task.

This Government recognises that a one-size-fits all approach to regional development isn’t suitable. Australia’s regions are as diverse as the people who call our regions home.

The needs of the Hunter are different to those of the Pilbara.

What works in Bendigo may not fit community expectations in Bundaberg.

And development opportunities in Darwin differ to those in Devonport.

Our regions have different strengths, challenges, needs and opportunities – factors that affect their economic and social prosperity.

We need to work with local communities, listen to local leaders, and together do the detailed work of confirming the right investments for achieving agreed outcomes.

This means that Commonwealth investment in regions will also be diverse – ranging from smaller-scale projects like local roads and recreation, through to significant investments like enabling infrastructure for next-generation industries in clean energy and resources.

For example, this Government has committed to delivering $1.5 billion to construct common user marine infrastructure at the Middle Arm Sustainable Development Precinct near Darwin.

Presenting an opportunity to make a significant contribution to resilient and sustainable growth in Northern Australia – and for the Territory to become a world leader in the processing and export of gas and critical minerals...

We have also committed $500 million to commence early works, including securing corridors, for a High Speed Rail connection between Sydney, the Central Coast and Newcastle.

In addition to investment to seize opportunities in the new energy sector, this will help drive economic growth in the Hunter and along the Central Coast.

This investment is part of our broader commitment to establish a High Speed Rail Authority – to provide advice on a High Speed Rail network and to begin work on delivering it.

High Speed Rail will be a gamechanger – promoting growth, boosting access and supporting sustainability for regions along its route.

And we will, of course, invest in a range of community-focused, smaller-scale infrastructure projects right across the country – supporting people, communities, towns and regions to thrive.

The foundation stones for strong, productive and enduring partnerships are transparency and integrity.

My ministerial colleagues and I are committed to developing Australia’s regions, including by delivering a range of projects that create jobs, build resilience and unlock economic growth.

But regardless of project type or intended outcome, expenditure of Government funds must be equitable, transparent, and responsive to genuine need and opportunity.

Ensuring fairness and transparency in grant administration is a key element of our Government’s approach to regional investment.

I know that time, passion and hope is invested by communities across regional Australia in considering and applying for regional grants.

It is only fair that regions know the rules, have access to suitable opportunities, and are provided transparency around decision making.

The principles guiding our Government’s approach to regional development are also guiding my approach to our Government’s first Budget this October.

But no one Budget can respond to every opportunity across regional Australia and the task of Budget repair is essential to ensure our future prosperity.

Building a better future for our regions will take time, focus and sustained energy.

The RAI Framework being launched today identifies many of the big issues facing regional communities and some proposals to address them. 

And it recognises that no one group can do it alone and that the aims are complex and long-term.

It will take the collaboration of governments, industry and communities – informed by local knowledge and a broad evidence base – to create dynamic, stable, connected and secure communities across the nation.

I welcome you to join me, as a true partner, on this journey.

Thank you for having me here today.