6 Pillars for Regional Revival

The recent (March 2014) South Australian state election is likely to bring into the mix a rare opportunity for rural people to have a voice about what happens in the state's regions in the next four years, and hopefully beyond.

The two main political parties in South Australia have a poor record extending over many years, decades in fact, when it comes to regional development and support. Their policies for the regions are very flimsy.

Here are several examples - contraction of government services from regional centres, reduction of natural resources management support (NRM Boards are a shell of what they should be), loss of agricultural extension officers (long gone), decline in rural road funding. Combine these with a centralisation policy (e.g. planning matters), an Adelaide-centric focus on investment (look at the billions that have been spent in and around Adelaide in recent years), no industry decentralisation policies ... and the gap between city and region has widened to an alarming extent. 

This is an imbalance that must be corrected. 

The Need For Change

I have written extensively in recent years about regional change - why it is needed, what can be done, and how it can be introduced. It's all on this website. 

The systems that are most under threat in the future are agriculture and biodiversity. For more information, read these series of articles and these on climate change.


     Sustainable agricultural landscapes and biodiversity

Read A Proposition For Change for further insights and why change has to begin now in the agricultural landscapes. The potential is for thousands of jobs to be created. An additional article is here --> Low carbon technologies and the climate

The Yorke and Mid North Regional Climate Change Action plan has three priority projects.

  • Regional Sustainability Centre
  • Coastal Digital Elevation Modelling
  • Low Carbon Transition Prospectus

Each of these, plus all the regional actions as described in the action plan summary, should become part of a regional investment program. This applies not just to the Mid North region of the state, but to all other regions with similar actions.

    Transport network

Improvements to the gravel road network are much needed. Local Councils are unable to keep up with their maintenance programs. This is very much a local, state, and national issue and with federal financial infrastructure support, the prospects are high for regional employment and development.

In addition, it is proposed that there be an assessment of the opportunities for a revival of rail transport on un-used rural lines.

     Small town survival 

Read this brief case study - Ideas For A Small Town - that reveals 7 strategies that can lift local business. Of particular note is the strategy about the "business pollinator" hub. This is the type of opportunity that RDA should be involved in but isn't (see pillar 6 below).

     A new scope for visitor/tourist/traveller infrastructure

Read the following report about the multiple benefits of restoring vacant and run-down farm buildings for farmstay accommodation.

Farmstay and Heritage Farm Buildings - a proposal for the Mid North region of South Australia

Use defunct railway reserves as interconnectors and walking/cycling trails for a rural farmstay network and national/international visitor experiences. The Mid North of SA has many of these old, almost out-of-sight, railway corridors weaving their way through the agricultural landscape. Only one or two have been used, and there's very good scope to extend the regional network.

     Decentralisation policies

This vitally important subject just doesn't seem to be cutting through the dense smoke that envelopes the flawed "Greater Adelaide" model. It is time to get it on the agenda for public discourse and policy development in South Australia. 

Consider population; here is what the ABS states in its most recent figures …

In the ten years to 2011, the population of Greater Adelaide increased by 108,200 people or 9.4%, while the remainder of the state grew by 18,300 people (5.1%).

Click here --> for further details about SA's population

I'm not convinced about endless population growth (it's out of control globally and is a lost cause), but the point made here is that South Australia is the most centralised state in Australia, together with Western Australia. Greater Adelaide has 77% of the state's population. What is of concern are the urban expansions into rural precincts such as Mt Barker, Gawler, and more recently, Roseworthy. All are destined to become "Greater Adelaide". This needs to stop.

     Lifting local government importance

Nearly all of the previous pillar points are connected with the roles of local Councils. Two key areas that need change are in planning and economic development. There are more of course, but let's just stick with these two for now.

State planning and development legislation means that central control resides in Adelaide for particular planning matters. Another deficiency is the unwieldy, complicated, and confounding Development Plan format. Local decision-making by local communities - beyond the scope of local "Development Assessment Panels" - needs to be given greater emphasis.

The second key area is in economic development. The Regional Development Australia (RDA) model does not have runs on the board in some areas and in my view their functions should be devolved to local Councils - with appropriate fincancial support of course. To my knowledge this arrangement has not been tried in South Australia before. Local government is - or should be - in a better position to integrate local business opportunities, planning, and policies suited to local conditions. RDA is not able to achieve that, and it is simply another layer of "service" that complicates a regional development paradigm. In my view, Councils need to be given the confidence and the incentives to get out and "recruit" industries from greater Adelaide. 

Where To Next?

The six pillars underpin a potential revival of the rural regions, with great scope for the future. The story of South Australia is not just about Adelaide. 

If the present-day focus on "Greater Adelaide" continues unabated, then the demise of the rural sector will continue. Rural folk don't complain much to their state and federal representatives, but there may come a time when this could change.

Rural people need to raise their share of the Gross State Product pie. At just 4.4% (about $4.5bn) attributed to agriculture and forestry, it is so small as to be insignificant in a $94bn product pie, and THAT is why the attention to the regions is out of sight and out of mind. Go to the pie chart again and check the figures.

It can all change with just one new policy move - a disbursement of 20% of mining royalties to regional re-development and sustainability. How much would this be? 

About $46m annually - or just 1% investment in agricultural and forestry output value.

This 1% annual "investment" has the potential to return up to $1bn annually, just from landscape-scale change. 

For verification, download and read this report - South Australian reforestation carbon market (CSIRO).

Add the opportunities and potential from the other five pillars, and what have we got? 

What do you think of the Six Pillars for Regional Revival?

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