Thursday, 25 February 2021
The opportunities that come from our experience with drought, bushfire and COVID-19 need to inspire our efforts to recover, renew and rebuild. The challenge now is to build on that and cement those experiences into our long-term response. The pandemic has shifted the way people want to live and work—just talk to any regional real estate agent. Demands for homes to buy or rent or land to build on is through the roof. This is outstripping supply. It creates opportunity but it also creates a housing crisis for the vulnerable members of our remote communities. Remote work, once a bumper sticker for entrepreneurs in silicon valley, has become an Australian reality, and we've seen that spike on one of the slowest internet services in the world, with Australia being ranked 61st. Imagine what we could achieve for people in the regional people and businesses if we had an NBN that could keep pace with our vision and ambitions.
Previously, regional development has happened in a disorganised and ad hoc manner. The numbers speak for themselves. Sixty-four per cent of Australians live in one of our big cities, yet you talk to those families and many dream of living a life with more space, less congestion and closer connections to communities and environment. Job opportunities, internet speeds, mobile phone reception and a lack of housing prevent people from leaving the big smoke. What 2021 and the years ahead require is an all-of-government approach to regionalisation, tying together the efforts and responsibilities of local, state and federal governments. The federal government could and should be playing a leadership role in the development of our regions. Many regional communities already know what's already required; they just need the backing of levels of government to make it happen.
Just last week, I attended Merimbula's town summit, organised by the Merimbula Chamber of Commerce. The summit was another powerful example of leadership, unity and cooperation that is so critical for our future. Property and business owners, government agencies, politicians of all persuasions, community leaders and service clubs contributed to developing a 10-point plan, outlining projects and ideas to enhance the town for residents, visitors and investors. The summit highlighted the perennial catch-22 of regional development: people won't relocate to the regions without improved infrastructure and jobs, but governments won't make investments without the population to support it. It's an equation and a way of think that is broken and has unfairly disadvantaged country towns and people for decades. Working together, following the example-setting Merimbula, let's develop a renewal plan for Australia that starts in our regions. The number of people might not be there to justify the investment, but, when you commit to the end goal, when you commit to building and strengthening Australia as a whole, the business case stacks up and the true power of regional development is released. (Time expired)