BIG BENEFITS: Bundaberg Regional Council, led by Mayor Jack Dempsey, says the benefits of decentralisation making governments more accountable and responsive.
BIG BENEFITS: Bundaberg Regional Council, led by Mayor Jack Dempsey, says the benefits of decentralisation making governments more accountable and responsive. Sarah Steger

Decentralisation inquiry: 'Govt agencies should go regional'

BUILDING key infrastructure, decentralising government agencies and establishing a permanent committee focussed solely on issues affecting regional Australia are just three of 13 recommendations a parliamentary inquiry has made.

In its final report tabled on Thursday, parliament's Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation made recommendations to support and promote regional communities like Bundaberg as sustainable and vibrant places to live and work.

The Regions at the Ready: Investing in Australia's Future report followed a 12-month inquiry that examined how best to approach the Coalition's push for regional development and decentralisation of government agencies.

The rationale behind the review was to identify best practice for providing regional communities such as Bundaberg with opportunities to access secure, well paid, public sector jobs, and to enjoy the benefits that come with the presence of a Commonwealth department in a region.

Those benefits, according to the Bundaberg Regional Council, include making governments more accountable and responsive to the Hinkler electorate and creating more opportunities for greater participation of local people.

"Bundaberg would benefit significantly from decentralisation, which would encourage the pursuit of multiple technical opportunities through spontaneous regroupings of skill technology and capital," the submission stated.

"(Decentralisation) also enhances the management of local resources and promotes regional development."

In its report, the committee called for greater public and private investment in regional infrastructure and the introduction of Regional City Deals for rural and regional Australia, which would encourage businesses to move away from capital cities.

"Private sector investment will be more attracted to regional Australia if it knows the development and infrastructure priorities of government," committee chair Damian Drum MP said.

Nationals MP Keith Pitt reacts during House of Representatives Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, February 14, 2018.  (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
BIG BENEFITS: Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt said decentralisation offers housing affordability, better environments for families and more jobs. LUKAS COCH

Hinkler MP Keith Pitt, who has long supported the idea that shifting Federal Government departments out of the capital cities to the regions, said the move would offer housing affordability, betters environment for families and more jobs.

"I have always been an advocate for decentralisation and believe that residents in regional Australia should be afforded the same opportunities of those that live in capital cities," he said.

"The committee's report confirms the important roles industries such as agriculture and tourism play in not only regional areas, but the wider national picture.

"I have spoken with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and (Regional Development) Minister (John) McVeigh about the possibility of a regional cities deal, which could potentially encompass Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and Maryborough, and these discussions are continuing. 

"A regional cities deal would establish a clear framework and bring all levels of Government together for the betterment of the region."

The committee recommended that every Federal Government agency assess the possibility for relocation whenever possible, but always when a new agency or unit was created, merged or reorganised, or property break (lease) occurred.

"Public sector jobs should be more widely distributed throughout the country," Mr Drum said.

Following a call for written submissions on July 27, 2017, the committee receiving 196 documents from councils, individuals and organisations around the country.

National MP Damian Drum. Picture: AAP
Committee Chair Damian Drum.

Mr Drum said the committee's review of the submissions found that decentralisation wasn't just about moving Commonwealth agencies and employees but more about people.

"It is about their families, and it is about communities," he said.

In addition to the positive call for decentralisation, the report also identified a number of risks associated with the committee's recommendation to relocate some public sector agencies.

These ranged from the potential loss of experienced and skilled staff to the costs associated with staff separation or recruitment and training and agency establishment costs.

"There is a risk that decentralisation will have a negative impact on the local area if suitable infrastructure investments are not made," Mr Drum said.

"If a town has limited capacity to support the influx of new employees and their families, decentralisation can create additional pressures. These could include an increase in house prices, overcrowding of schools, and overloading of health and community services.

The report released last week was the third and final report of the House Select Committee. Prior to its release, the committee tabled an Issues Paper on August 24, 2017 and an Interim Report on December 8, 2017

In May, the committee asked for a one-month extension to its final reporting date on May 31.