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Australian Regional Development and Population

Let’s not beat about the bush, there’s room aplenty. THERE was a time when rural MPs mouthed the word “decentralisation” as if it would solve all the problems that beset our society. They pressured governments to provide incentives to encourage businesses to relocate to small country towns. It was great for the footwear, clothing and other small industries until low-wage countries put them out of business. The result was often catastrophic.

State governments did their best by moving government departments and tertiary education institutions to the bush while Canberra contributed with strategically placed defence establishments.

A concerted effort was made by the Whitlam government, which recognised Australia was one of the most urbanised societies in the world, with some 90 per cent of the population living in urban areas. The Department of Urban and Regional Development set out to establish major growth centres in Albury Wodonga and the Bathurst-Orange district. When Malcolm Fraser came to office he couldn’t close DURD down quickly enough. It was the last serious federal attempt at decentralisation.

Four barriers exist, state (who are the biggest barrier) and federal governments hold the carrots and sticks to attract investment which emasculates regions, while service and sophisticated industries require local HR sources e.g. science and engineering graduates, and compromised further (including for teleworkers), due to lack of cheap, fast and accessible internet, plus social and psychological barriers that come with the territory e.g. fear of outsiders and closed networks.

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