Mr RAMSEY (Grey–Government Whip) (15:38): I thank the member for Paterson for those remarks, and I think it’s important that perhaps someone from the government side as well make a presentation on this particular report, considering that the member for Groom has been promoted and will no longer be the chair of this committee.
We commenced the inquiry on 17 July 2017, and I refer to remarks that the member for Groom made at the time:
… the Committee’s inquiry is wide ranging and will explore ways to increase the growth and prosperity of regional and rural Australia. While decentralisation of Commonwealth entities has been identified as a potential means to achieve this, the Committee wants to examine, more broadly, how public and private investment can assist in building and sustaining our regional communities.
It has become quite apparent to me through the course of this inquiry that there are no silver bullets. Of course we need private enterprise as well to be investing in these regions, because at the end of the day anything where the government supplies the jobs comes at the cost of other jobs in the economy somewhere, through taxation. So it’s very important that we forge these partnerships.
We released an issues paper on 31 August, and that highlighted that we should be seeking to find the best-practice approaches to rural development, decentralisation of Commonwealth entities and corporate decentralisation-once again, that theme of finding more than just a way of moving government departments into the country, even though that is very important.
We called for submissions, and, as the member for Paterson said, 187 have been received. I thank all of those for the effort and time that they’ve put into those submissions. I particularly thank those that’ve made themselves available to the 11 inquiry days we’ve held-10 of those out of Canberra. As, of course, would behove a committee that is looking into decentralisation, we all thought it was very important that we get out of Canberra, that we go and visit the regions and that we talk to these organisations individually.
There are two distinct groups that we’ve seen large representations from: local government and the RDAs around Australia, which is not particularly surprising. These are both types of organisation that are deeply interested in the goings-on of our regional communities.
The committee has resolved to request an extension. There is a vast amount of material to work our way through, and so we are hoping to produce the final report on 31 May.
In particular, I would like to recognise the fact that the government seems to understand that this is a real opportunity for Australia. The government has directed the ministers to look at all their departments to see what functions it is that they perform that would not necessarily be easy to transport but that could be done not only at least as efficiently but even more efficiently by relocating to country regions. The ministers will all be reporting back to cabinet in due course on those moves. There is a set level of criteria in portfolios, which the minister is assessing.
I would also like to back up the member for Paterson’s remarks and thank the former chair, the member for Groom, Dr John McVeigh, for his contribution in putting together this interim report. We will have to go on without him in the future.
I will remark on some of the people that’ve come before us. I was particularly pleased when we came to Murray Bridge in South Australia-it is not in my electorate but certainly some people from my electorate attended-that we had representations from Professor John Halsey, who is conducting the government’s review into regional, remote and rural education, and that we had a representative from Eldercare, who told us about the difficulties presented in providing aged care in smaller rural communities. Both of those industries-education and aged care-are very good demonstrations of decentralisation of industry, so I was very pleased they were both there.
We heard some great contributions from others. Of particular interest was when we went to Orange and had a talk about the long-term benefits of the New South Wales government relocating the department of agriculture to Orange around 20 years ago. All of that has been very interesting. We’ve much more work to do, I look forward to continuing to work with the member for Paterson. Thank you very much for your indulgence.