The development of cities relies on the development of regions. The symbiotic relationship between metropolitan areas and the surrounding regions needs to be recognised and managed, to further the interests of both.
This chapter explores the relationship between cities and regions; integrating the development of cities and regions; promoting investment in regions, including through decentralisation and regionalisation; promoting the competitive advantages of regions; and the importance of connectivity to national and regional development.
The relationship between cities and regions
Managing the relationship between cities and regions is a factor in the future success of the nation. The close relationship between cities and regions was emphasised in the evidence presented to the Committee. Planning expert Professor Sue Holliday observed that ‘what happens in our major cities impacts directly on what might happen in the future in our regions’. She argued that ‘they are quite inseparable’.
Ms Pru Sanderson, Regional City Executive with Roads Australia, also highlighted the link between cities and regions, noting that the future success of Australia’s major cities was dependent on developing links with the regions. She stated:
Of the recommendations that we have for you today, there are a number that are more locally driven by state and local government. They are things like the 20-minute neighbourhoods, enhancing the denser nodes around the city and those types of things. Of the things more relevant to the federal government, the first one’s a difficult one: slow the growth of the city, both in population and in size. A successful city doesn’t want to slow its growth by being an unsuccessful city, so Melbourne needs for the regions to be ever increasing in their take-up of population. It is already happening, but it needs to be accelerated. The city can’t cope.
Mr Tim Williams, CEO of the Committee for Sydney, made a similar point about Sydney, emphasising the importance of ‘seeing Sydney in its more city-regional context’. He stated:
The last thing we wanted to tell you is about the regional link-up. We have our own version of a megaregion on our doorstep, which is that in 30, 40 years’ time Newcastle and Wollongong—you imagine if they were reachable by fast public transport in an hour—what would that do? What would I do? The answer is: quite like the London effect in which loads of London’s labour and housing comes from outside London because they can get there rather quickly. That does help to not overheat certainly the housing and labour markets.
Dr Marcus Spiller, Principal and Partner with SGS Economics & Planning Pty Ltd, argued that it was ‘unhelpful and distracting to construct a picture of Australia in which the cities are in competition with rural and regional areas for resources, for capital and for talent’. He stated:
… because of technological change and globalisation the value chain in any business has unbundled to an unprecedented extent so that those parts of value creation that are to do with analysis, science, design, creativity, problem solving and so on have become uncoupled from those processes of value production which are to do with the physical manufacture or growing of things and the distribution of things.
Dr Spiller noted that ‘the creative and knowledge intensive services require big city agglomeration economies to be world competitive’, while ‘regional producers need these city based, knowledge intensive services to be well competitive’. This meant that there was ‘a symbiotic relationship between country and city’, that ‘they are not in competition and policy needs to be framed around this and understand this’. He also observed, however, that ‘forced decentralisation of knowledge based services is likely to damage productivity in both city and country were it to be achieved at scale, which I very much doubt that it would be anyway’. He noted that ‘when you look at where the population is growing it is very much in the big cities and those areas that are linked to the big cities and regional development strategies should understand this typology and be customised towards it’.
In its recent report, the House Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation emphasised the benefits that regional development can bring to urban liveability, stating that a ‘collateral advantage of decentralisation is reducing the congestion and population pressure on capital cities’. In its report, the Committee also set out a number of principles for regional development that emphasise long term strategic planning, including:
Regional Australia requires a long term, flexible strategy and commitment to meet the needs of a modern, globally connected and changing environment.
The suburban interface
Dr Ruth Spielman, Executive Officer of the National Growth Areas Alliance, highlighted the linkages between urban development and the development of the outer suburbs. She noted that the ‘fast-growing outer suburbs play a significant role in our cities’, and that ‘reliance on CBDs is no longer sustainable’. She told the Committee:
When our cities were smaller it was more sustainable for people to be able to get in and out of city centres, but it is not that way now and so we need to look towards a different pattern than one hub and lots of spokes. The fast-growing outer suburbs are in transition and there are some exciting things emerging, but without a coordinated policy focus and dedicated investment we will not overcome the issues that exist, nor benefit from the tremendous opportunities.
Dr Spielman suggested that if the outer suburbs ‘are sustainable and liveable, the rest of the city is likely to be too’.
Mr Aaron Chiles, Manager, Urban Futures, for Wyndham City Council, emphasised the ‘issue of urban areas and the urban-regional or the urban-rural interface’. He stated that:
Our urban growth areas need to be the connectors of our future cities, connecting the capacities of our central business areas with the capacities and opportunities of our rural and regional areas. We believe Wyndham and other growth areas around the country on the urban-rural interface must be considered as critical to the future prosperity of Australia as we hold some of the keys to being hubs or nodes in a constellation of jobs, transport, education, freight and industrial movement intersecting regional and urban areas.
It is Wyndham’s contention that improved investment in infrastructure and growth areas will be beneficial to rural and regional centres by improving the connectivity of these centres to the wider global economy through highly productive and well-connected urban growth areas on the interface of our rural and regional areas.
Mr Chiles argued for a ‘new way of looking at the interface between urban, rural and regional areas … to maximise the development of Australia’s cities to best meet the future needs of our urban, rural and regional areas’. He believed that ‘contemporary forms of how people live, work and play must be considered in how governments develop our cities. These new realities will not be well served by CBD-centric infrastructure investment alone.’
Matching funding to need
Mr Darren Ray, also from Wyndham City Council, highlighted the need to reconsider funding arrangements to reflect this more fluid and dynamic relationship between cities and regions. He stated:
We would strongly agree with you that the current funding and administrative arrangements between what is a region, what is a city, this funding bucket and that funding bucket are actually not serving the sustainable future development interests of Australia. In our written submission we referenced a journal by Collits called Re-imagining the region, which you have no doubt had a look at. It talks about how people are willing nowadays to commute to work and how they live, work and play is very different. It will be even more different in five years’ time. So, essentially, the funding and administrative arrangements should be about characteristics, not about false geographic regions and not about where the Yarra River disconnects the federal electorates of Melbourne, which of course we know will soon change. That principle may even change under the AEC’s redistribution. But we say it is really all about the connections.
Ms Kirsten Kilpatrick, representing the Committee for Geelong, identified a hierarchy of planning that impeded an integrated approach. She stated that ‘the current policy framework for cities in the country is very centred towards metropolitan capital cities, and then regional Australia’. She noted that cities such as ‘Geelong, Newcastle, Wollongong and even the Sunshine Coast’ were often competing for funding with regional areas despite having ‘different drivers and different needs’. She indicated that ‘by identifying a new structure and hierarchy of cities within the country we can look at channelling those funds to the different types of cities and the roles that they play in the overall economic performance of the country’. That sort of planning would enable cities such as Geelong and other regional cities to contribute to the sustainable development of Melbourne:
When we talk about Geelong and its relationship to Melbourne—of course, Melbourne is growing at unprecedented growth levels; that is, it’s third population boom that it refers to at the moment—it’s being able to look at how Geelong and other cities in the state in particular can accommodate some of that metropolitan growth, because of all the attributes that we have in our city, but making sure that we have got the right support structures to be able to make that happen.
Professor Billie Giles-Corti (RMIT) argued that we often focus on the local urban design, but unless we get the regional planning right it’s not going to work as well:
The regional planning includes things like how people are going to get to work through destination accessibility—so is there a good public transport system? That’s critical for people living on the fringe who are very disadvantaged in terms of their access. What's the location of employment? What policies could we use to have more employment at local regional centres as opposed to all having to come into the city? Finally, there is demand management around parking. If we continue to make parking low cost and very accessible, people will continue to drive.
To meet all these challenges, Professor Giles-Corti emphasised the importance of integrated planning:
What we’ve argued is that, if we’re going to achieve all these things, we really need to have integrated planning across all the different sectors. That obviously includes transport policy and it includes land use and urban design policy, but it also includes our policies around employment and economic development, our housing policies, our social infrastructure policies, public open space policies and public safety.
Developing the regions
As indicated above, regional development needs to be integrated with the development of cities. SGS Economics and Planning stated that ‘in large part, the future of regional Australia relies on gaining closer ties with the capital cities’. Indeed, SGS argued that ‘the creation of better cities is essential if regional Australia is to prosper and reach its full potential’. It noted that:
With the acceleration of outsourcing, the proliferation of global supply chains, continuing improvements in communication technologies and rapid advances in international services trade, specialisation in cities has continued to escalate. Increasingly, the abstract, desk based or ‘thinking’ part of the value chain in any productive activity (conceptualisation, design, planning, brokerage, strategic management etc) is becoming uncoupled, in a corporate and geographic sense, from the ‘making and distribution’ part of the chain (growing, fabrication/processing, transport, storage etc). As a consequence, the regions are sourcing more and more of their crucial business inputs from the cities.
SGS observed that this development had ‘played a critical role in shoring up the competitiveness of Australia’s regions’, but had also ‘relentlessly eroded the population “carrying capacity” of non-metropolitan Australia as a whole’. SGS identified ‘four broad categories of non-metro region in Australia’:
regions which are strongly linked to the nearest metropolis
regions beyond the convenient reach of the metros but offering strong lifestyle and tourism opportunities (for example, Port Macquarie/Hastings, Hervey Bay)
agricultural resource based regions, also beyond the convenient reach of the metros, and
mineral resource regions.
Those parts of regional Australia exhibiting significant growth were ‘typically those which enjoy strong links to capital cities’. Outside of those areas, the drivers of growth were ‘support services to local agricultural and resource production’ and population growth was most likely in providing services to the local population.
Role of regional centres
The Centre for Urban Research RMIT highlighted the growth rates and growth potential of a number of regional cities. It noted:
There has also been urban growth in cities outside of the capital cities what Regional Capitals Australia (2014) define as regional capital cities. They are the fifty cities located outside the state metropolitan area providing access to essential infrastructure, services, business, employment and education to city residents and to residents of surrounding towns and rural areas. The rate of growth for these cities is 1.51% pa over the 10-year period, which is a little above the 1.49% pa population growth experienced across Australia as a whole. This indicates that regional capitals have been important in absorbing a significant proportion of population expansion, including overseas migrants (Essential Economics Pty Ltd 2014).
The Regional Australia Institute made similar observations, stating:
The RAI’s Misconceptions report explicitly shows that the top 31 regional cities are home for over 4.5 million Australians and have similar economic performance to the 5 metropolitan cities. The analysis shows that on average all cities contribute equally (per person) to national economic growth and productivity. In addition, the total regional city population is the same as for our largest cities, who benefit from substantially higher planning effort.
RAI observed that ‘the Australian Government has a role in making ‘best practice’ planning happen for all Australian cities’.
Sustainable appropriate development
Professor Marcus Foth (QUT) and Professor Billie Giles-Corti (RMIT) both expressed concerns that regional centres were following planning paradigms that were developed for large cities. Professor Giles-Corti stated:
What’s tragic to me is that we’re building new development in regional cities—also urban sprawl. We’re actually using the same methods. And I think there is a real opportunity, particularly in some places which are reasonably flat, to do that in a different way. I think the same principles will apply, and actually because they're smaller the opportunities are probably even greater to encourage walking and particularly cycling, which is a more affordable form of transport. It would probably be more difficult to provide the public transport in regional cities, depending on the levels of density.
Professor Foth argued for nuanced planning regimes, noting that current concepts of planning and growth for regional centres were copies of those for metropolitan centres. He stated:
The crucial part around the current growth trajectories in regional centres is that they are often a carbon copy of larger centres, having a very simplistic quantitative assumption of what would need to happen in order to make these regional centres sustainable economically and commercially. What I believe is lacking there is the qualitative aspect that actually allows us to differentiate what to grow and what not to grow, what to increase and what to decrease.
He believed it ‘urgently necessary for the federal government to set clear signals around moving away from these very blunt instruments of growth’. Professor Foth observed:
If we continue to have this lack of differentiation, it will also increase mobility but not in the way that we would want. There is the mobility, for instance, of start-up businesses that are supported by local governments like Townsville. Jenny Hill, the Mayor of Townsville, on a panel about regional innovation at the first Queensland Futures Summit here at the Hilton said: ‘What’s the point of growing these businesses and putting all this effort into economic development and regional prosperity when after a certain size they just leave? They just relocate. They have the aspiration of relocating to Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney or even overseas to Singapore because then Townsville is seen as not being adequate.’ She was pointing at a need to identify first of all ways to look at regionality as an asset, as an advantage for those areas, and also at ways that different businesses and different economic development is sustained by being locally specific, not having an aspiration of growing the next Elon Musk and having start-up hype around Silicon Valley that will just be plummeted in those different locations. It needs to be far more locally specific to the different regional areas.
Regional centres should be looking at different aspirations:
We are trialling right now new approaches with regard to what might be possible that sets different aspirations. It sets more qualitative aspirations for local government to invest differently. So, rather than saying we are just five years behind Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane, we could say we are actually going on a new pathway, and that pathway might also be looking at more risky undertakings. It might be looking at, for instance, KPIs around wellbeing and mental health.
Looking at the commuter belt—regional centres within commutable distance from metropolitan centres—Professor Jago Dodson (RMIT) indicated that ‘there are a number of regional cities close to main metropolitan areas that have the capacity to take on further population’. He noted however, that while ‘it is relatively easy to direct population to regional areas, because you can manipulate the release of land and so on … It is much harder to get employment to shift there’. Having very fast connectivity ‘might overcome the need for jobs’, by making interurban commuting viable, but strategies were also required to deepen and widen the labour market within regional towns. Professor Dodson observed that:
One of the challenges that people who move to regional cities or towns for a tree change find is that, it might be fine for a few years but then when they start to look for a promotion or a higher level as they move up their career trajectory, they often find it difficult to find those new opportunities in the regional town, because the labour market is just simply not as developed and advanced as it is in the centre of somewhere like Melbourne or the centre of Sydney with a very advanced economy and many high paid, high value jobs. Regional towns just do not offer that depth. An economic strategy around encouraging greater population growth or decanting or decentralising population to those regional towns would have to be very thoughtful about the ways that it can enable and grow the local labour markets, particularly for the higher-value jobs.
The hub-and-spoke model
Ms Rachael Sweeney, representing Regional Capitals Australia, highlighted the importance of the hub-and-spoke model of regional development. Research done in conjunction with the RAI had shown that ‘where a regional city was doing quite well, say, in access to health and education, the hubs associated with that were also doing marginally better’:
There was a trend being shown. Where a city had excellent access to certain things—a port or airport, health, tertiary education or financial services—the hubs also did quite well. When a city was doing quite badly or not performing as well across those metrics you could see that the regional spokes associated with that city were not doing as well either.
Ms Sweeney cited the example of Wagga Wagga ‘as almost a perfect model of a hub and spoke’:
Wagga is the centre, as you can see, and there is that flower-like model from Lockhart, Coolamon and Junee. You are, basically, looking at people commuting in. The thicker the line, the more people are coming in to access employment in Wagga. So they might be living in Coolamon, Junee or Lockhart, but they're actually moving into the city of Wagga to get access to their daily employment.
Mrs Justine Linley, Chief Executive Officer of the City of Ballarat, observed a similar pattern around Ballarat, stating that Ballarat’s situation was ‘about the relationship with our broader region almost in a shuttlecock shape’, with ‘the ball and the hub and spoke are around central Ballarat with people within a 30- to 40-minute radius around Ballarat but then further out a couple hours towards Horsham and to the South Australian border’. Mr Gary van Driel, Chief Operating Officer at Latrobe City Council, stated that ‘in relation to the role of regional cities, in a hub-and-spoke model, we're providing services and support not just to the population within the centre but to very large regional circumferences around those roles’.
Mr Bruce Anson, Chair of Regional Development Australia’s Barwon South West committee, argued that regional development was not just about growing centres of population; it was also about ‘ensuring that the rural areas have access to services’ through the ‘hub-and-spoke model’. He stated that:
… by having strong regional cities, you actually end up having access to those services in the region. I know surgeons from the Warrnambool hospital operate in Portland, operate in Hamilton, so they travel out and do the surgery. It’s good for the patients, good for the hospital and good for the community. I think we need to set population targets, analyse the job opportunities and what our strengths are—for Warrnambool, for south-west Victoria, it’s food manufacturing and energy—and then what are the jobs that go with that.
Mr Anson saw the value of population targets as a way of reconfiguring the pattern of settlement and more closely integrating urban and regional development:
I think most certainly, and if we could get the federal regional development department and the state department and have some meaningful discussions around population targets. I see absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be saying: Geelong should be 750,000 people by 2050 or 2060. We’re looking at what our potential target could be—and all regional cities are doing this—and we hope that by April to May of next year we will have a position paper that sets out what our population targets are, where we see the job growth opportunities but also what needs to be delivered by federal and state government to facilitate that growth. If we aim to take a million people away from the growth of Melbourne, I think that's a reasonable target. It may be too low, but it’s a reasonable target. The thought of Melbourne at eight million—from Warrnambool to the top of the bridge in about 2½ hours—and then you just don’t know what happens after that.
Investment in regional communities
Investment in the regions is vital to their development, and the evidence presented to the Committee highlights the important role of government in catalysing investment. The Regional Australia Institute (RAI) argued that ‘the Australian Government can play a stronger role in facilitating and delivering private investment in regions’. The RAI observed, however, that ‘while the Australian government has agreed on principles for innovative financing, including Goal 3 “Optimise the impact of public investment in transport infrastructure through private sector partnerships” … Current outcomes are scarce on how this works for regional cities’. The RAI stated that ‘for example Townsville’s City Deal has delivered cross governmental collaboration (local, state and federal) but has failed to fully engage private investors as part of the decision making team, unlike UK City Deals which were often led by private investment consortiums’.
In its own research, the RAI ‘explicitly identifies the need to engage private businesses and other non-government players (including universities etc.) in developing regional cities’. It’s report, Blueprint for Investing in City Deals: Are You Ready to Deal?, ‘lays out key lessons for success from UK experiences of private investment and identifies that for economic growth, cities need to deliver strong political will and leadership, clarify structures for delivery and have capacity for delivery’. It indicated that ‘these three attributes relate to the success of delivering long term regional city growth and regional infrastructure’.
The RAI also noted that ‘the Australian Government via Austrade has a role in promoting the nation as a destination for international investment’. Additionally, ‘other mechanisms such as the Significant Investment Visa (SIV) allow overseas investors direct access to investment opportunities’. It observed, however, that in practice ‘our investment attraction system is poorly aligned to supporting investment and business location in regional communities’.
The RAI stated that:
The Australian Government has a role in enhancing the competitive advantages of Australia as a whole, by providing the connectivity, livability, economic and social infrastructure to ensure that as a nation we maintain the competitive advantage of being a preferred investment location (i.e. low sovereign risk). This can be achieved by lowering transaction costs for regions and investors by reducing knowledge asymmetry between regions and investors. Potential initiatives to achieve this smart policy could include; increasing the transparency of current investment opportunities and investors, providing clear and accountability data on competitive advantage of regions, promote the importance of connections between regions and investment portals (e.g. Austrade and state representatives).
Professor Sue Holliday argued that ‘there is a lot of dynamism in the regions’, and that ‘there are really viable inland and coastal cities that just need some strong commitment in order for them to thrive even more’. But if people were to be encouraged to go to the regions, ‘they’ll want to know not only whether the government is committed to those regional centres but whether the government is understanding what is necessary to make living there worthwhile’:
They will look to the regions for a different lifestyle. When they do, they’ll want to know not only whether the government is committed to those regional centres but whether the government is understanding what is necessary to make living there worthwhile. And that is not just the NBN, although that’s absolutely critical for employment and growing small businesses and larger businesses; they need health facilities and education facilities. They won’t leave the big cities unless they know that they’ve got those kinds of facilities in the regions.
Professor Holliday stated that:
It is mainly a Commonwealth responsibility to support those particular facilities, so I would argue that it is a Commonwealth role to help establish a vision for the future growth of our cities and regions in a collaborative way, but it’s also a Commonwealth role to support those regional centres that we think have the natural dynamism with health and education facilities.
She argued that ‘there needs to be a very clear signal by government, state and Commonwealth, that the regions are back on the agenda’, and stated that ‘the best way to get private sector investment anywhere is for the government to give a very clear signal that they’re on the case; that that’s something that matters to them’:
If we want the private sector to invest in the regions, we have to send a signal. One of the signals that we can send is that the regions don’t have to compete … on a cost benefit analysis with the cities. They’ve got to be able to compete with each other. So a different kind of cost benefit evaluation is necessary because, as long as they have to compete with the cities—as was raised earlier, there are many more people in the cities—the cost benefit economic evaluation—and my background is in economics—is bound to come down in favour of the cities, and the regions once again get left behind.
Professor Holliday concluded by stating that ‘I think we need to (a) have a vision, (b) have a settlement strategy, and (c) know where we want to invest, and then set about supporting those regions with the infrastructure that they need to succeed’.
Mr Gary van Driel, Chief Operating Officer for Latrobe City Council, highlighted the importance of government as an investment leader in regional areas, stating that ‘for private investors here, the returns are often marginal in the regional centres, and so it’s about the opportunity for government to enhance the opportunity for that return on investment’.
Dr Ruth Spielman, Executive Officer, of the National Growth Areas Alliance, emphasised the importance of catalytic infrastructure to regional development:
There are obviously some university campuses, hospitals, health precincts and so forth, but I agree that those pieces of catalytic infrastructure can make a huge difference, and the value-add of other allied uses locating nearby, the attractiveness to businesses, the research that can go along with that and the jobs and services that can be provided—they are really multifaceted. That is what I was meaning earlier when I was saying that when there is spending on those pieces of infrastructure, whether it be a university or a health precinct or whatever it might be, there needs to be a more strategic approach to where those things are going to make the most difference.
The role of universities
The role of universities in the development of regional communities was highlighted in the evidence presented to the Committee. The Regional Universities Network (RUN) observed that:
Regional universities are one of the largest, most visible assets in their regions. They make a fundamental contribution to Australia through their teaching and learning activities; research and innovation; and regional development and service functions. Regional universities help to educate their communities’ future professional workforce and enhance the social and cultural amenity of their regions through the contributions of their students, staff and facilities.
RUN noted that ‘healthy, vibrant regional universities help to make healthy, vibrant regional cities and communities’. It argued that ‘support for regional universities will help to promote regional development, attract private investment, new businesses, inward migration and a more diverse and resilient regional economy’. It also observed that ‘achieving more balanced growth will help to alleviate some of the pressure on our capital cities and their associated infrastructure’. RUN stated that regional universities ‘play an important role in helping to address the significant gap in educational attainment that exists between Australia’s major cities and its regions’. They also ‘diversify and strengthen their regional economies’:
They are a great “value add” industry and encourage the development and economic growth outside capital cities. A report by Cadence Economics for Universities Australia has estimated that for every 1,000 university graduates entering the workforce 120 new jobs are created for people without a university degree. Regional universities therefore boost regional employment more broadly than just through their graduates.
RUN urged government ‘to support regional research which will produce start-up companies, new technologies and new processes to improve productivity’. It argued that ‘it is only when a university is seen to be at the forefront of development, commonly in niche areas, that the best people are attracted to the regions’. RUN noted that ‘currently, investment is focussed on large, well established capital city universities’ and stated that ‘unless we see a policy shift this will continue, and skilled people will be lost from or will not be attracted to regional universities and regional cities’.
Professor Caroline McMillen, Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Newcastle, highlighted the important role the University of Newcastle played in its region:
We earn about $100 million in research income, which places us in the top 10 Australian universities, as I said, and $30 million to $35 million of that is in partnership with industries. Many of those are local businesses brought into partnerships with larger industry partners, sometimes global. That is a very straightforward way of moving forwards, but we have also driven the innovation agenda. We have been supported by the state government in particular to set up an innovation network called the I2N. Our reach is through innovation hubs from the Central Coast in the city centre, with Lake Macquarie and partners in Charlestown, a defence, security and aerospace hub at Williamtown together with industry partners, and then up again to Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter. Those innovation hubs are places with young entrepreneurial co-workers starting out, where we run programs on innovation and entrepreneurship, evening sessions with red wine and cheese, bringing in entrepreneurs to showcase the journey for our students, staff and members of the community. Williamtown, as we can see with the Joint Strike Fighter, is a critical site which will become a hub of industry, innovation and partnership with both the RAAF and defence industries.
We are both initiators and collaborators. Engagement and partnerships are very key. Underpinning all of this is the power of retaining graduates in the region, because building sustainable regional cities and towns that retain both population and talent requires a university to not only open up with its partners those jobs and future workforce opportunities but support the emerging talent in a liveable environment. We work with the city council, again as partners, on the sorts of changes you see here in transport. The revitalisation of the city is key.
She also cited international research which highlighted the important role universities played as catalysts for renewal within former industrial communities. She stated:
… the lessons for us were profound: one of the common elements was that strong universities were present in these regions. They had particular differentiated strengths and operated as very strong anchors for innovation. There had to be visionary civic leadership, some government support for basic research, research facilities with deep specialist knowledge, traditional manufacturing skills—people who knew how to make stuff, which of course was present in the rustbelts, but now being purposed to new industry sectors—an appealing work and living environment, vibrant centres and cities, and capital investment.
Ms Patricia Brand, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Services and Resources, at James Cook University (JCU), highlighted the role of JCU in North Queensland:
Since our establishment in 1970 we have expanded into a multi-campus institution, with our main campuses in the tropical cities of Cairns, Singapore and Townsville, and with smaller study centres in Mount Isa, Thursday Island and Mackay. We also have a campus in Brisbane operated by the Russo Higher Education group. We also recognise our special obligation to be relevant to our own region and have forged close linkages into the economy and social fabric of Northern Queensland. We are dedicated to ensuring that our teaching, learning and research is not only of high quality but also delivers practical benefits to the peoples and industries of the region.
We’ve recently released our economic impact report, updated from 2012, and I’d like to share some of the key statistics with you. Our economic impact is $827 million per annum. That’s a 40 per cent growth in regional economic impact since 2012. The human capital impact of our 2016 cohort of graduates equates to $1.75 billion. We created 5,450 full-time jobs both directly and indirectly. We’re a half-billion-dollar operation with an asset base of over $1.3 billion. The contribution to household income is $513 million. An additional $67 million was generated in expenditure in 2016 from students moving to North Queensland to study at JCU. We have a planned capital investment program over the next 20 years in the order of $1.9 billion.
Ms Brand emphasised the significance of the university to the region, and the hurdles it faced in pursuing its role:
What we wanted to present to you was the economic impact of JCU here in the north, which is significant. What we are trying to do here through the redevelopment of our Townsville campus is beneficial to not only JCU but its broader reach and impact on Townsville and the north more broadly. If JCU grows so does the north. We have developers knocking on our door, wanting to participate in these things, so we are not here looking for handouts of money or anything like that, because we are wanting to be self-sustaining on that front and working with third parties to deliver this. Where it gets really difficult, and this is where we need the three levels of government working together and why we thought City Deals was going to be a part of that solution, is that some of the things that we have had in place, policy settings and whatnot, can be quite restricted and can sink some of these projects, like the distributed infrastructure facility that Alan [Mr Alan Carpenter, Director, Discovery Rise Project, JCU] spoke about.
Dr Scott Snyder, Chief Operating Officer at the University of the Sunshine Coast, also highlighted the potential struggles faced by regional universities, both in pursuing institutional goals and strategic growth, and in developing their communities. He told the Committee:
Around three years ago we were successful in a tender to build a new campus in Moreton Bay. Moreton Bay is just north of Brisbane. It has very poor educational statistics. Just for reference, 53 per cent of young adults in Brisbane have a degree. Twenty-four per cent in the best part of Moreton Bay have a degree. So if you drive 15 kays you have a 30 percentage-point drop in the number of people with a degree. That’s, in part, due to the difficulties of transport but certainly something that the Moreton Bay council actively aim to address.
Moreton Bay council purchased a paper mill, a 200-hectare site, and went to market to find an education partner. We were selected. The interesting thing for us is that this was the start of a journey … The aim of the campus is to reach 10,000 students in 10 years. Moreton Bay’s local government area is about 420,000 or 450,000 people. So if you put Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast together you have a catchment that is large enough to sustain an institution like us.
The development doesn’t neatly fit into any single portfolio. It’s in Dickson so the local member is Mr Dutton. It is right on the border of Longman and Petrie, so those members were also active. We needed to find a way to fund this particular development. The development sits somewhere between federal Treasury, the department of infrastructure, the department of education and the local member's remit. It also requires input from Queensland Treasury, Queensland Treasury Corporation and Moreton Bay Regional Council. We have spent three years now getting to the point where we'll start construction in July.
The interesting thing is that right from the beginning all parties were in favour of doing this. The educational statistics are very obvious. The local government area really can’t develop, make the move, from a very blue-collar to a more middle-class white-collar area without a university. It’s what the ratepayers want. But the mechanism to be able to have some funding and have some students is not clear: who owns it? In the end, after bouncing around for about a year and a half, the department of infrastructure—I guess under Minister Fletcher’s push—embraced our project and, even though we don’t neatly fit into a department of infrastructure package, helped us work through the administration.
University is still key to the community—in fact, the local campus is more key than it’s ever been, because the students mix life and study. They want a local campus within half an hour’s travel that they can attend from time to time. They don’t really want to learn online—that’s for skills upgrade. But the interesting thing for us is that when you go through the data in some detail, it’s actually a compelling case.
Another form of government investment in regional centres is the decentralisation of departments and services. Decentralisation can also be a mechanism for fostering redistribution of employment opportunities from the central urban area to the suburbs.
Associate Professor Matthew Burke, from the Cities Research institute at Griffith University, was part of the Transport Impacts of Employment Decentralisation in Australian Cities (TIEDAC) project, which explored ‘the transport impacts of workers moved from central locations to suburban offices in Brisbane, and modelling possible transport outcomes should such programs be accelerated’. Professor Burke noted that ‘we see lots of advantages for decentralisation in terms of diversifying the employment base in those outer suburban regions and reducing travel times for people’. However, there was also ‘destruction of mode share by public transport and walking, particularly if we don’t build better interconnected, proper public transport systems in the suburbs, which most of our metropolitan strategies now recommend’.
Professor Burke stated that TIEDAC ‘modelled possible decentralisation scenarios where more government workers were moved to look at what the longer term gains and dis-benefits might be’:
Under a more optimistic decentralisation model that included significant investment in cross-suburban public transport in a future Brisbane, we found significant travel time reductions across the city, and no meaningful loss of public transport mode share. Cycling rose as more people lived closer to knowledge jobs. Under a more pessimistic model that included all of South East Queensland, with less cross-suburban public transport, travel times stayed steady or fell but more people drove to work. In both models congestion fell in the inner-city, where it is most problematic. Congestion rose in the suburbs though mostly on links that were contra-flow to peak hour traffic directions, maximising use of existing infrastructure. We also tested for alternative spatial arrangements. We found that moving jobs to a set of nodes across the city in different sub-regions was more advantageous in transport terms than placing jobs into one corridor.
The results suggested that:
… significant improvements can be made to our urban structures via employment decentralisation. Developing stronger suburban employment centres and secondary CBDs can help reduce congestion where it is hurting and bring socio-spatial equity back into our cities. But investment in ancillary infrastructure and services, such as relatively modest improvements to cross-suburban bus services, along the lines of Melbourne’s SmartBus routes, is needed to support such initiatives.
Professor Burke identified several models of decentralisation that were regarded as successful. In Copenhagen, ‘they had their famous five finger plan where they controlled development in the city around five railway lines and they were very clear in trying to create secondary central business districts. In fact, they’re still being created.’ In Stockholm, ‘there was movement of government jobs, but to strategic locations only clustered at the apex of public transport lines’. These cities had achieved in the process more efficient use of their public transport infrastructure. Professor Burke noted that ‘in Singapore, Stockholm and Copenhagen a lot of the lines are running 55 or 60 per cent of the passengers inbound and 45 or 40 per cent outbound, so the flows are very stable. The same happens on their road networks.’ He observed that the Swedish model ‘is a set of incentives’:
… it is working on land decisions—priority land planning; it is moving government workers to prime the pump; it is thinking about teaching hospitals and other things like that; it’s working with clusters, not just a scattergun approach, and trying to get groups of things that kind of fit together to move together; and it’s working with private sector employers who will choose to move.
Professor Burke noted that amongst Australian cities ‘we have one secondary CBD in Australia, I think, and that’s Parramatta, and that happened because of pump priming by government’. He explained:
So, yes, government departments were moved, but they were allowed to come back over time. For every job we moved, about four jobs went there. It was also about putting a teaching hospital in, which I think needs to be recognised, and also reasonable public transport infrastructure, including upgrades to the lines that feed in from the west and upgrades on the line from Parramatta, and there were some ferries and other things over time. All of that sums up and has helped Parramatta become something pretty valuable in Western Sydney. Without it, three million people would not have access to something like a cluster of office jobs that pay quite well.
Professor Paul Burton, Director of the Cities Research Institute at Griffith University, observed that ‘most urban scholars looking at Australia would suggest that we are underprovided for meaningful subregional centres within cities’. He focused on the example of the Gold Coast, suggesting that ‘cities like the Gold Coast need to diversify their employment base’; and that ‘the fact that there are basically no federal or state government jobs in a city like the Gold Coast is one part of the reason for its lack of a diversified employment base’, with a heavy reliance on tourism and construction. Professor Burton thought decentralising services ‘to make them more accessible is a good thing’, but regarded ‘decentralising government functions as part of a regional development strategy is a bit more problematic, because often it doesn’t seem to be based on any particular rigorous assessment of the places that are being proposed’. He remained to be convinced ‘that Armidale came out as the most obvious place in the country to locate’ the APVMA, or ‘that somebody looked at the whole country and said, “If we’re going to move this out of Canberra, where is the best place to put it?” and the answer to that exercise was “Armidale”’.
Geelong was seen as an example of successful decentralisation. Mr Bruce Anson, Chair of Regional Development Australia’s Barwon South West committee, noted the contribution of targeted decentralisation of government services to Geelong’s growth and development. He told the Committee:
If we look at the success that Geelong is having at the moment, the move of the TAC, NDIA and a number of others is fundamentally changing the city of Geelong. It starts with the investment of government enterprises and then that is followed up by the private sector with specialists. In Geelong’s case, a lot of it is coming out of the legal fraternity so now, following government investment, the private sector is following up.
Mr Timothy Hellsten, from the City of Greater Geelong, suggested that Geelong’s success highlighted ‘the significant value and role of the Australian government in supporting decentralisation of government services, particularly those that are targeted to competitive strengths so like services rather than necessarily a random selection of services’. He noted that ‘Geelong has sustained a growth rate of around 2.4 to 2.6 per cent’, and that ‘we anticipate that well over two per cent and closer to 2½ per cent is likely to be maintained into the next several decades’. Such rapid growth presented ‘some pretty significant challenges to the city and it is a series of challenges that we cannot manage on our own’, and that there was ‘a significant opportunity for all levels of government to support that growth’. Mrs Rebecca Casson, Chief Executive Officer of the Committee for Geelong, observed that decentralisation was not just about local, regional or national opportunities, but international opportunities:
There is an opportunity for Geelong to lead the world on social insurance in this space. None of these cities that we visited had any of this type of social insurance activity. We say to you that we are ready, on a global scale, to actually activate the clever and creative vision.
She stated that ‘for us, decentralisation is one aspect that the government can help with. But it’s then about how do we leverage that opportunity, which is why Comcare is so important.’ The Committee for Geelong saw the relocation of Comcare to the region as a further development of its existing specialisation in the social insurance and disability sector.
Mr Todd Denham, a Researcher/Consultant with the UN Global Compact Cities Program, suggested that it was important that ‘regional cities are actually about developing clusters and agglomerations of activity’. He noted that:
There’s some really interesting work to be done in Geelong about the impact of having three similar organisations co-located in the centre of Geelong and how that is more important than, say, a single relocation. If there are going to be programs for the relocation of government services there need to be multiple ones. There needs to be a coordinated, almost ‘picking winners’ strategy rather than just dispersing agencies across the country.
Mr Ben Bowring, Advocacy Projects Manager for LeadWest, advocated the importance of tiering decentralisation, of achieving a level of spatial coordination. He stated:
Our written submission talked about the network based nature of a place like Sunshine, which has been identified as a national employment cluster, being of importance in and of itself to Geelong or to Wyndham as a place further out in our region, or even to Horsham or Ballarat or Bendigo, to some certain extent. It is looking at how you can layer out that decentralisation so that, if something is decentralised to Horsham because it has a specialisation in some area—agriculture or science—the government department or the industries that it then connects into are then layered out to the outer edge of the metropolitan area as much as possible. I think at the moment there is a view that, if something goes to a regional area, that service will necessarily have to orbit in and out of the CBD of the city it came from.
Other mechanisms for supporting regional development
Other avenues for achieving regional growth were also explored. Mr Anson saw other opportunities for government to contribute to his region, in Victoria’s south west, ‘through an opportunity or encouragement’ to attract ‘permanent workers into our region’. Referring to the local abattoir, he stated:
I think there are 1,100 to 1,400 people on site in Warrnambool, so it is a sizeable business. Our challenge is to get workers into Warrnambool who will work in that industry. The majority are 417s. There are a few 457s. One of the things we are pondering is whether it would be possible for people to move from a 417 to a 457 and to permanent citizenship over a period of three to five years. These people have been working in our community. They are a fabulous addition to our community. If they came as a 417 and transitioned through to a 457 and met their English requirements, could they go for permanent citizenship? We would love them …
Mr Anson also urged government investment in enabling infrastructure, noting that ‘our country was settled by equity of access to service particularly power, water and sewerage’. He indicated that ‘a number of industry proposals in south-west Victoria, principally related to the dairy industry—milk powders, milk processing et cetera—need upgrades to sewage treatment facilities, primarily, and in some cases power’, and that currently ‘companies have to pay for that infrastructure and that is preventing the companies from making those investments’. He suggested that this investment ‘could actually be enabled by local communities’, but that, ‘at the moment, in some cases, state government policy is preventing or making it more difficult for enabling infrastructure to be provided’. He highlighted controls on local government action, such as rate-capping, as an inhibitor of local investment, noting that ‘in one of the examples that I've looked at 100 jobs created in our region would cost me $20 a year for 10 years’. He observed that ‘we all benefited in the earlier years from provision of water, sewer and power through government agencies’. Mr Greg Bursill, Chair of the Geelong Region Committee at the Urban Development Institute of Australia, noted that
The rate base is only so much, but, with state and Commonwealth taxing powers being so much bigger, even small amounts of money coming into these areas could catalyse some of the projects that are probably well known in the local community, but they’re just not sure how to fund it.
Mrs Kylie Warne, Chair of the Barwon Regional Partnership, argued that ‘if we can get that infrastructure base right we are very confident that we will continue to attract national and global private investment’. She advocated a ‘triple-helix approach, so, looking at partnerships between the private sector and government, but also research institutions’. She supported place-based solutions, ‘because each region can really carve out what makes it unique’.
Cr Colin Murray, Deputy Chair of Regional Capitals Australia, argued for ‘some massaging of [the] direction of government to try and encourage the population to shift out into the regional capitals’, noting that as we ‘have encouraged growth in the capital cities, we are getting what we see as an imbalance in the government spend towards the problems of congestion and trying to make big cities work’.
There were mixed views in the evidence presented to the Committee on the competitive advantages of regional cities and towns. The competitive advantages of regional areas, particularly in terms of housing costs and lifestyle, can promote decentralisation and regional development. Enhancing connectivity accessibility while retaining regional identity is also critical to that outcome. The Regional Australia Institute highlighted lifestyle as the key advantage of regional communities in attracting population:
No one argues with the mental and productivity benefits associated with less congestion, cultural creativity, greater access to green space; in essence a better lifestyle. Regional cities are currently better positioned to deliver on this through more affordable housing and shorter commuting times. Policy can help to generate better returns from this advantage by supporting cultural diversity and small city planning.
Mrs Justine Linley, Chief Executive Officer of the City of Ballarat, observed that Ballarat was ‘able to attract and retain people from all age cohorts into the city, which means the services profile that we’re required to provide isn’t just for our own population of 105,000 people; it’s actually for the broader region of upwards of 400,000 people’. She noted:
At our last census the demographic profile for Ballarat was similar if not identical in shape to a metropolitan Melbourne suburban area, and it’s the first time that that’s ever occurred. For us that means that we’ve matured as a city. Bendigo’s the same. Geelong is the same.
Professor Marcus Foth, from QUT, argued that it was important to differentiate regional cities from their metropolitan counterparts and not just treat the regions as undeveloped cities. He was concerned that under a strategy of decentralisation ‘the risk is that we encourage regional centres and regional areas to just leapfrog into the urban crisis that a lot of the urban centres face today:
We might then look at cities here in Queensland like Cairns, Mackay, Townsville, Toowoomba and so forth that are saying, ‘We need to accelerate our development in order to catch up with Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane—in fact, with Singapore, Tokyo and Los Angeles.’ But if you ask any citizen in Brisbane or in those regional centres—and particularly those in regional areas—whether they would want to live in Los Angeles, they would probably say no, because they live in a regional area for a reason.
Decentralisation needed to be about differentiation, ‘turning regional Australia around, not as a disadvantage but as an asset, as an advantage, where we actually say regional cities provide lifestyle opportunities and they provide far better abilities to enact policies because they are smaller and they are more agile’.
Mr John Wynne, National Director of Planning at Urbis Pty Ltd, however, cautioned that ‘we have to think about regional centres as like any other place, they have to be balanced communities’. They could not be ‘dominated by one particular demographic or characteristic to be truly successful’. He argued that ‘lifestyle will get you so far but, at the end of the day, you need the things that make life worth living, and that’s what we need to plan for in all places’. He stated that the biggest barrier to people choosing to live in regional cities was ‘access to jobs, access to infrastructure, access to amenity and access to connections and social networks’.
Professor Paul Burton argued that ‘before promoting the competitive advantages of particular places, it is important to understand what they are and how attractive they might be to different groups’. He observed that ‘the declining population in many regional towns suggests that those with choice are choosing to live elsewhere in order to have better access to jobs, schools, medical and care facilities and cultural services’. He stated that ‘simply invoking a mythical Australian attachment to the bush will not overcome the empirical reality of rural depopulation’.
Professor Holiday emphasised that high-speed rail would make a huge difference to the competitive advantage of regional centres. People would continue to live in Sydney, ‘but there will also be people who say, “I don’t like this and I’m very happy to move somewhere else where I can have a better quality of life”’.
Mr Todd Denham, a Researcher/Consultant with the UN Global Compact Cities Program, argued that without sustainable economic and social development shifting commuters to dormitory suburbs out in the regions was likely to be counterproductive. He stated:
The core point of my research is looking at the growth in commuters, and one of the interesting bits of evidence from recent censuses is that people who are moving to places like the Surf Coast and Castlemaine are generally inner-city workers who are highly educated and very well paid. There is a group of people living in places like Geelong with high levels of human capital who, after five years, are completely sick of travelling every day and can’t find a local job. I interviewed a range of commuters and there’s a feeling that they’re stuck. They’ve made a decision to leave for the country and they can’t get back into metropolitan areas because of the house price differential, and also their families have become embedded in local communities and don’t want to move, but there are no jobs.
The key to integrating the development of cities and regions is greater connectivity. Mr Jonathan Cartledge, Head of Public Affairs at the Green Building Council of Australia, noted that ‘the important characteristic there, when you look at regions and hubs in cities, is connectivity and the ability to move efficiently services and goods across the city regardless of where you are.’ He believed that ‘when we talk about delivering functional cities and the amenity and the connectivity that come with that, I think the transport connections are key to that’. Speaking from the perspective of a regional centre, Mr Gary van Driel, Chief Operating Officer for Latrobe City Council stated that:
We’ve focused very much around connectivity as a major focus to enhance the developability of the regional centres, particularly around transport connections and linkages back into and between those cities, and also around communications and IT. So connectivity is a significant focus for us.
Professor Peter Newman, Research Professor in Sustainable Urbanism, Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology, stressed the role of technology in reshaping the pattern of settlement, using high-speed communications to structure work in any number of ways, while fast rail allowed for the redistribution of population according to the Marchetti constant—the 30 minute commute. He stated: ‘For 35 years I have been a large fan of the role that high-speed rail could take in the settlement shaping of Australia and helping attract population into those centres’.
Professor Sue Holliday saw the potential for greater connectivity to not only promote regional development but to form the basis of a ‘new settlement strategy’. She was ‘a strong advocate of high-speed rail for the national regional development role it can play not only as a way of providing fast links between our major cities and our outlying cities but because, as in other countries, high-speed rail transforms those regional centres’. She noted that it was also ‘the main signal to those regional centres that they are back on the agenda in terms of government’s interest’. She advocated ‘“regionalisation” rather than “decentralisation”’, developing the regions rather than simply decanting people into them—creating spaces where people wanted to go. She believed strongly ‘that you should build on your existing towns’:
You have got some really fantastic towns and small cities outside of Sydney and Melbourne that should be built in and of themselves, not as only commuter centres. They should have investment in and of themselves so that people move there not just to commute back into a main city but move there because they have the opportunities, they can build businesses and they can raise their families in those centres. I think there are two roles for these towns between, say, Melbourne and Sydney.
Economic development of the regions was the key—looking at which ‘regions are likely to be able to grow and have a self-sustaining economy, apart from being dormitory’:
If you look around the country at where the economies are, and at what they are producing for Australia’s export economy and the support for our own domestic economy, and when you look at a settlement strategy with that, you think: how can we support that with better transport connectivity? The inland rail decision is a very positive decision for the regions between Melbourne and Brisbane in terms of the inland regions getting access to those two ports. That investment will reap economic benefits for those economies. You call them ‘industrial’ but they might be agricultural, they might be industry, they might be business/commercial.
Importantly, that greater connectivity had a significant role to play in relieving growth pressures in cities such as Sydney. She stated:
We may get to eight million people successfully. The Greater Sydney Commission is now looking at three cities—originally, we had about six—which includes the second Sydney airport and the aerotropolis around the second Sydney airport, which is most welcome. Even if you do all of that, we will need to diversify the opportunities for where people in Australia live. How do you get the agglomeration happening in the regional centres? You look at the dynamism happening in some centres—not all—and at what kind of agglomeration economics might work to be supported in those centres, and then give them the signal that government, state and Commonwealth, will support and invest in them. That will be the signal to the private sector to invest. People will go where the jobs are. At the moment, there are not many jobs in the regions that will attract a lot of people leaving the city. You have to make those kinds of simultaneous investments. I believe time between cities is one of the key investment signals. I don’t think you will get regional development happening without something like high-speed rail. No amount of building more roads or doubling up roads will make them faster. We need to reduce the time between places to give the signal, and the investment signal, that the regions are back in business; at the moment, they are not.
Professor Louise Johnson also advocated the expansion of opportunity to regional centres as a way of reshaping the pattern of settlement, by, firstly, investing ‘in job growth in the expanding service and knowledge sectors locally’, but also by extending ‘the commuting zone, to consciously invest in good quality infrastructure to extend the commuting zone of the very large cities to get people out but also to allow them to commute back in’. She proposed boosting those ‘important transport connections to key regional centres, even by beginning a bullet train between the major cities of eastern Australia’; providing affordable housing in regional centres, and assuring the ‘availability or accessibility of high-level social services via the creation of hubs but also to ensure connectivity via the NBN’. Her final suggestion was attending to ‘community development and social infrastructure’, stating that ‘social infrastructure is really important to both attracting and keeping migrants in regional communities’. Professor Johnson observed that in terms of transport connectivity, fast rail to a regional centre was not so different from the daily commute of many city residents:
There’s also the experience of people that I know and have observed in this locality who basically deal with the commute and the time, because it’s no worse than living in the city and the quality of life is far more worthwhile, but who are also living in this community. They are spending their incomes in this community. They are generating service demands. They’re sending their kids to the local schools. They’re patronising the local hospitals and health centres. They are generating real income.
Professor Jago Dodson, Director of the Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University, stated that ‘improving the speed of the transport system, both the regional connections but also the metropolitan connections as well, would be very valuable’. He suggested that having ‘a very good public transport system that meshes together the entire labour market of Sydney in an efficient and fast way … enables productivity. It is a similar way of thinking of that across the regional scale as well’. Professor Dodson also highlighted another aspect of connectivity—the significance of face-to-face interactions:
Part of the growth of the global economy parts of our major cities, like Sydney and Melbourne, has been driven by the need for firms to have that face-to-face connection, that density, that concentration of connectivity. Everyone is connected via mobile phone, but being able to have a coffee with a prospective business partner seems to be a really important dimension of how the economy works in the contemporary era.
Ms Pru Sanderson, Regional City Executive with Roads Australia, emphasised the need for ‘high-capacity mass transit to regional cities and localised economies in regional cities’. She also emphasised the need for radical change in the conceptualisation of transport connectivity, stating that ‘we also need the government and for us all to have the mantra: “Why would I own a car?”’:
The Melbourne Metro project is going to put a lot of people in Melbourne into a space where they’ll actually start saying that. A lot of the next generations are saying that already. They’re saying, ‘Why would I do that?’ That is our hallmark of success. Along with that, we can’t have that mantra—‘Why would I own a car?’—if there’s not the major investment in smart mass transit systems, embracing the future technologies in transit and all that goes with those, and systems that are clean systems. Obviously, electric vehicles are very important in this. The reduction in fossil fuel reliance is essential, as are removing cost barriers and incentives to electric vehicles and getting the charging networks elegantly and properly through our city’s infrastructure and not piecemeal.
The final recommendation is the quick transition away from building roads to rebranding those into connectivity corridors—addressing this paradigm that roads are for cars and individually owned transits.
Public transport access was seen as vital to the development of regional areas. Ms Angela Murphy, Director, Planning and Economic, for Horsham Rural City Council, explained that ‘public transport is another key priority that Wimmera Southern Mallee is working on … At the moment we really need passenger rail coming to Horsham and the Wimmera’. This would provide access for ‘our older people and our families to business, health and education when they need to come to the city’ and ‘opportunities for tourism and business to go the other way’. She noted that ‘in Horsham we do have the available residential land to take population growth’. The key to unlocking that potential was ‘looking at those road and rail links to improve that connection’. Ms Murphy observed that ‘rail, road and good internet access provide the opportunities, particularly to attract people to come to regions, because they can live, work and play’. She told the Committee:
… we’re fortunate enough to have Mount Arapiles, which is internationally known for its rock climbing, in our council area. So we have quite a number of professionals who come to live in our area because of the rock, and some of them actually still work in our capital cities. They can still go to Melbourne, work three days a week and still have this quality of life climbing the rock every weekend. But, again, if we were fortunate to have passenger rail right outside our back door, I think there is further opportunity to do that and take the need around infrastructure in the capital cities. So I think there is the opportunity to look at some things quite differently.
Mr Aaron Chiles, representing Wyndham City Council, alerted the Committee to the ‘Regional Rail Link corridor that exists in Wyndham’, noting that ‘each of the stations that are already built or planned to be built along that corridor could be a hub that could really integrate those sorts of ideas into it if the planning is done well at an early stage’. These sites provided:
an opportunity for people to gain quick access to places like Geelong or the CBD. The train journey travel times are quite reasonable—under half an hour, for example—but people could work in these locations a few days a week and then also, for example, work in the city and be close to child care and other facilities that they may need to access.
Mr Chiles stated that ‘there are real opportunities in growth areas because they are greenfield settings where there are opportunities to do things afresh to really get high-quality outcomes on the ground that would be more difficult to deliver in existing urban settings’.
Associate Professor Hussein Dia, from Swinburne University of Technology, however, questioned the rationale of using fast rail to broaden the commuter belt. He noted that the ‘the further you move the more services we need to provide, and also there could be social isolation as well if there is not a community’. Simply creating dormitory suburbs in regional centres was not a solution—it was potentially just an expansion of urban sprawl.
Mr Todd Denham, a Researcher/Consultant with the UN Global Compact Cities Program, shared these concerns. He thought ‘high-speed rail connections to places like Geelong are more described as metropolitan expansion projects than regional development’. He indicated a need to ‘distinguish between population growth and economic development in regional communities as a result of the increase in commuting’, and suggested that ‘there are some important questions around the relationship between the growth of commuters in regional communities and local employment growth’. He stated:
There is a lot of talk about fast-rail projects linking communities, and paying for them by the redevelopment of land value uplift. I really question what value that is to regional communities, and whether—with a thorough cost-benefit analysis of those kinds of proposals—the large amounts of money that are required to build some of those projects could be better spent elsewhere for regional communities.
Mr Denham argued for ‘a realisation that commuting is actually a disconnection of population and economic growth’:
The challenge is not relocating people to regional areas; it’s relocating opportunity. If you look at a state like Victoria, almost half of the jobs in the highest income bracket in the 2011 census … were in the three inner city local government areas. People I’ve talked to who commute apply for jobs in, say, Ballarat, and there are 50 applicants. The problem is about finding ways to grow opportunity in regional cities. It’s not relocating people, in my view.
Other evidence highlighted the importance of other forms of connectivity. Ms Rachael Sweeney, from Regional Capitals Australia, noted that ‘if there are good air freight and air passenger connections, you will get growth in those areas because people will see themselves as being able to live in these areas but still get access to the lifestyle things that you might get in a major capital’. Ms Murphy emphasised the importance of road connections, mobile phone coverage and access to the National Broadband Network (NBN). Mr Tim Williams, CEO of the Committee for Sydney, also highlighted the importance of the NBN to connectivity, not only in its own terms, but in terms of its contribution to the development of transport networks. He noted that ‘you can’t do electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles without a big fibre backbone’.
The evidence presented to the Committee has highlighted the links between cities and regions, and the need to coordinate their development through a national plan of settlement. The successful development of each is intrinsically tied up in the successful development of the other. This demands a high level of coordination in planning and governance by all levels of government.
Regional development needs to be seen, first and foremost, as part of a broader pattern of national development, with cities, towns and regions being developed as part of an integrated whole. The ‘hub-and-spoke’ model of development offers the opportunity to integrate regions with regional capitals, regional capitals with state and territory capitals, and the major capitals with each other, in a hierarchy of integration. It was emphasised that a number of regional centres had genuine growth prospects and that growth in the regional centres had the capacity to catalyse growth in the surrounding regions.
Nonetheless, it is also important that regions be able to differentiate themselves from each other and from major urban centres in the planning process—playing to their strengths rather than copying urban planning norms. The potential for regional development needs to be unlocked while avoiding the pitfalls of metropolitan growth—particularly urban sprawl. While connectivity to metropolitan centres is important to the development of regional centres, they had to be ‘balanced communities’, capable of producing employment and leisure opportunities and access to services in their own right. Regional centres had to be more than just dormitory suburbs.
Government has an important role to play in promoting regional development. It can promote economic development by direct investment in regional areas, catalysing investment by the private sector. This could also involve some relaxation of restrictions around local government investing in infrastructure, through targeted loans or management of its revenue base. It can directly promote regional development with overseas investors.
Government investment in post-secondary education is of particular significance, both as an end in itself and as a means of promoting innovation and wider development. The evidence presented to the Committee indicated that regional universities were central to the development of regional economies.
Decentralisation of government services was also seen as a potential catalyst for growth, but it needed to be done in a sustained and coordinated way that saw synergies between government investment and private sector activity. Properly planned investment and coordinated decentralisation offers the opportunity to develop and exploit the natural advantages of regional communities. Geelong is a good example of this process. Governments should ensure that the relocation of government departments to regional centres was done in a in a considered and coordinated away, avoiding the ad hoc scattering of departments for no reason other than laissez faire decentralisation.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government develop a framework for the development of cities and regions outside the major metropolitan centres, based on the hub-and-spoke concept, within the context of a national planning framework. These Regional Plans would:
Explore connectivity within and between regions
Develop options for investment based on a realistic appreciation of regional characteristics
Explore options for local action and investment, including local government leadership in infrastructure and investment
Explore options for strategic decentralisation of government services in a coordinated way
Explore options for developing opportunities for post-secondary education within the region.
It is possible that as a way of coordinating regional development the concept of the City Deal could be extended to regions, providing integrated planning and investment at a whole of region level around a regional capital. Regional plans could be formulated through Regional Deals. This concept will be explored further in Chapter 13.
The Committee notes that connectivity also has a vital role to play in national development. Connectivity is about accessibility to employment, education, and goods and services. Well connected cities and regions means that opportunities can be distributed across a wider population.
The possibility exists, through high speed rail, to bring distant communities to within close proximity of each other, through access to fast rail or high speed rail. Access to employment, education, services and recreation would be available for a much higher percentage of the population. Where someone lived would not predetermine access to opportunities. This in turn would enable a more dispersed pattern of settlement as new population centres could be developed in temporal proximity to employment and services. This would allow the development of polycentric cities, potentially creating a pattern of population dispersal without the attendant vices of urban sprawl.
Both in this inquiry, and in its previous inquiry, the Committee was presented with a number of potential opportunities for high speed rail to open up the development of regions around Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, making those cities more accessible to the regions for the purposes of employment and access to services, while in turn making the regions more accessible for housing, recreation and employment. The possibilities inherent in high speed rail were highlighted in the Committee’s visit to China, where high speed rail is being activity pursued to promote inter-urban connectivity. The Committee travelled the 170km between Beijing and Yujiapu (Tianjin) in just over an hour. Ultimately, with the implementation of successful regional development policies as discussed above, high speed rail would lead to the creation of vibrant and viable regional communities with a substantial range of employment opportunities and lifestyle options. This is a model that must be pursued.
Of course, connectivity within and between regions is not just about high speed rail—roads, air transport, fast rail, shipping (for freight) and the NBN have a vital role to play in improved connectivity and consequent improved productivity. The creation of connectivity corridors, multi-modal transport corridors which can service cities and regions efficiently, should be explored by governments.
Moreover, with proper planning and zoning, the possibility exists for transport infrastructure and urban development to assist in each other’s development—each increasing the value of the other in a virtuous cycle. They can potentially pay for each other through value capture (see Chapter 14).
The Committee recommends, that as part of the national plan of settlement, the Australian Government, in conjunction with State and Territory Governments, undertake the development of transport networks which allow for fast transit between cities and regions, and within cities and regions, with a view to developing a more sustainable pattern of settlement based on the principle of accessibility at a local, regional and national level. The Committee further recommends that the development of a fast rail or high speed rail network connecting the principal urban centres along the east coast of Australia be given priority, with a view to opening up the surrounding regions to urban development.
An important catalyst for regional development is highlighting the economic and lifestyle advantages of regional communities. The Committee believes it would be useful to publish an index of the cost of housing, cost of living and wages at the scale of local communities, thereby giving people a direct comparison of their income and costs by locality. This index could do a great deal, in conjunction with better regional connectivity, to promote the benefits of living outside the major cities.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government consider producing an effective cost of living index, including housing, at the scale of local communities to highlight the economic and lifestyle advantages of living in regional communities.