Much of my electorate is in a state of flux and transition as the industrial landscape changes, but now, more than ever, our economic success rests with the skills that can be captured and the work that can be obtained. One line of thought is simply to relocate government departments from Canberra to the regions. But decentralisation isn't an economic plan in and of itself, and there are a multitude of factors that determine the success of decentralisation. This was noted in the 2015 Regional Australia Institute discussion paper, TheFuture of Regional Australia: Change on Our Terms, which made the key finding that government has diminishing control over the factors that shape Australia's regions.
For a stark example of ill-thought-out decentralisation, we need look no further than the Deputy Prime Minister's controversial and ultimately failed decision to move a government crop and veterinary chemical agency to his own electorate. The agency shed jobs, employees were not happy with the forced move, and some workers had to work out of a local McDonald's because their new office wasn't ready.
The fallout from the agriculture minister's grand decentralisation vision was, I believe, pivotal in sparking this select committee investigation. If nothing else, we learnt that this was not the platform for an arbitrary decision. It requires investigation and it requires consultation, analysis and, crucially, planning. As such, our brief as a committee has been to inquire into and report on best practice approaches to regional development and the decentralisation of Commonwealth entities and ways to support corporate decentralisation. In some cases, that may mean enabling towns to provide their citizens with infrastructure that every community needs to thrive—things like roads, rail, bridges, schools, public transport, educational opportunities, health care and support across different life stages.
Beyond that, the committee will travel to hear firsthand about what towns and cities believe they need to succeed. I have publicly encouraged every council in my electorate to put forward a submission, explaining how their LGA is suited to and can meet the need of government functions. On the flipside, the inquiry has asked all government departments to indicate whether or not they are suitable to move at all or in part some of their operations to the regions. If, indeed, they feel their operations are unsuitable, they have been asked to quantify that as well.
I'm broadly supportive of decentralisation and the concept of sharing the wealth across our wide, brown land. I was born and bred in the Hunter Valley coalfields and have long fought for families and friends in my regional community to reap the same benefits of health, education, transport and services as their city cousins. Of course, we want more people in our towns, more customers in our shops, more volunteers for our local firefighting brigades and more kids to play in sporting teams and to attend school.
As federal parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to make sure regional and rural areas and their communities are not left out of our nation's planning. I am loath, however, to uproot families and shift them to the country or expect an existing community to simply assimilate a great chunk of potentially disgruntled neighbours into their tight-knit communities because one government minister thinks a pork barrel might be good. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation and we impose our will on others at our peril. I eagerly await the interim report in December and the final report in February of next year. We can then move towards a plan to boost our regions in a sensible and productive way, and I am pleased and committed to work with this committee.