OPINION PIECE: Decentralisation no easy fix for the bush

Decentralisation is trotted out from time to time by lazy politicians with no real ideas.

They know most people think it sounds like a good thing. It's an easy way to be popular. But decentralisation is not an economic plan.

Further, in recent years just about every regional community across NSW has lost a large number of Centrelink, Medicare, AEC, and tax office staff. Few communities could hope to have those replaced by a relocated agency. There can be no one-size fits-all approach to building stronger regions. Every region and regional town is different.

Some towns were established on a railway line which no longer exists or a highway that has been by-passed. Some were once home to the employees of a mine, or manufacturing plant which moved on long ago. Often these towns have lost so many residents the local school or hospital is no longer viable. They've lost their only GP and can't attract a new one. Many have lost their Post Office and their local bank branch.

Other regional towns are doing quite well. They may have a strong services sector, be minerals rich or have a strong agriculture sector. They may enjoy the benefits of a strong tourism sector. Every town's needs and aspirations are different.

Beware the politician who says he or she comes with simple solutions or opportunities for these towns. Regional communities need more than spin. I believe in six basic rules as a foundation.

First, no region can reach its full potential without a strong economy and that requires competent economic management at the national level.

Second, remember the private sector is the key driver of economic activity and jobs growth.

Third, government must provide the enablers - roads, rail, bridges, ports, telecommunications (NBN), an educated and healthy workforce which has access to support like childcare.

Fourth, government has a role to play in industry development; to provide strategic guidance for investors and to help create market opportunities.

Fifth, government must provide for the protection and efficient management of the natural resources we so heavily rely upon. In the 21st Century, we must focus on the long game.

The sixth rule is; the best results come when planning comes from the bottom up, not dictated by Canberra. Locals know best! 

This piece was first published in The Land on Thursday, 15 June 2017.

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