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Address ... to the University of Central Queensland business lunch on regional development

Parliamentary colleagues

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you Professor Wilson/Robert Armstrong for your introduction.

I am very pleased to be able to meet with you on my visit to Central Queensland.

First let me offer my sympathy to the Moura community over the recent coalmine tragedy.

This close knit community has had more than its share of such tragedy - the impact of this most recent mine accident will obviously be felt by the people of Moura for a long time to come.

As well, the drought is taking its toll on farming communities in this region.

The Federal Government is sympathetic to these disasters.

Last week, my colleague, Senator Collins announced nearly $14 million to assist areas hit particularly hard by the drought.

Rural Adjustment Scheme funds are also being reviewed to ensure that viable farms can get access to financial assistance more easily to tide them over in bad times.

At times like this, it is important that communities stick together - and that they are supported in rebuilding shattered lives and looking to the future.

And while the drought and mine tragedy are taking their toll on the people of this region, they are also having an economic impact in terms of decreased production, increased production costs and reduced stock-carrying capacity, among others.

Many of these events are cyclical.

But there is no doubt in my mind that Central Queensland has the diversity and strength to come back strongly from such adversity.

And that is why I would like to speak to you today about regional development and Central Queensland's role in the regional development of Australia.

The title of the McKinsey Report into regional development, which I recently launched, is - Lead Local Compete Global - and I think this message has much pertinence for Central Queensland.

Being able to supply goods and services on a sustained and competitive basis directly into the global economy is the cornerstone of regional development.

The Government has worked hard to create the right environment for Australia to be a key competitive player in the international economy.

The economy is continuing to strengthen, exports are growing and inflation remains low. The rewards are starting to come through.

As part of that process we want to encourage growth in the right locations. But importantly, we want to encourage the right type of growth so that it fits the needs and resources of the location.

At present the global economy is 120 times the size of the domestic Australian economy and growing at such a rate (particularly in the Asia/Pacific) that in the next 20 years it will be 180 times the size of our domestic economy.

As a nation we have made a good start in launching ourselves into the international economy.

Overall, in the last 10 years, exports have outperformed imports in terms of both value and volume.

For example, in June this year, exports of goods and services rose by 8% despite subdued world economic activity.

For the same period, imports rose by 7% (only 1% less than exports).

Over the last 20 years, the direction of trade has also changed. Exports to South East, Asia have more than doubled - from a mere 6.4% in 1973 to nearly 14% at the end of 1993.

The APEC area now accounts for 75.5% of our export customers, compared to the European Economic Area which now only provides l2% of our customers.

We have also seen changes in the composition of our exports.

The new performers are elaborately transformed manufactures, processed food and fuels.

Yet I note that coal accounts for upwards of 70% of the value of regional exports, followed by beef and sugar at 13% and 5% respectively.

However, each commodity is exported in raw or partially processed form only.

Whilst Central Queensland is a massive contributor to the Queensland and Australian economy in terms of export earnings, the region needs to investigate the scope to add regional value to its exports.

Mineral exports, primary products and other rural product exports, for example wool, have either held their own or fallen over the last decade.

The focus of the Government's White Paper, released in May, is very firmly about driving the external competitiveness of our economy through our highly productive workforce, the innovative enterprises in our regions, and by lifting government performance.

Whether they be urban, provincial or rural, the regions are now the key to continuing equitable and sustainable economic and social development.

This means thinking of Central Queensland as an important economic catchment zone in its own right, but with key economic linkages to Brisbane and the world.

What we should aim for in Central Queensland is an environment that supports the competitive investment and employment generating decisions of the business sector in partnership with each other, with governments and with the community.

The approach is colloquialised as 'bottom up'.

The Government recognises the need for support so the business sector can take on extra employees, borrow and spend for investment, RD and technology, and to seek export markets.

Such activities involve both risk and commitment.

Yet the support for business to take the risks and make the necessary commitments needs to be driven at the regional level.

This is because regions provide a ready-made catchment where many of the inputs necessary for good business decision-making can be captured and given the focus, and the direction, to support initiative and reduce the risks involved in actively pursuing externally competitive growth.

The Regional Development Program is designed to help regions to help themselves in this regard.

But it is potentially much more than this.

The focus on regional development provides us with a longer term framework from which we can consider, in an integrated and connected way, directions for the whole raft of other matters which affect the physical, social and environmental well-being of regional communities.

To achieve this integration, the Regional Development Strategy is working from four basic principles:

The first, which I have already mentioned, is being externally competitive.

The second is self help.

Committed and energetic leadership can have a significant impact on a region's growth.

It is also a prerequisite or dramatic growth or rejevenation of a region.

I see in this room today, many of the people who will determine the future directions and the economic development goals for the Central Queensland region.

This is why the Regional Development Program has given considerable emphasis in our support programs to regional leadership, to developing a fully shared vision, and to providing assistance for appropriate organisational structures, and growth strategies.

If there is no leadership, then any initiatives that occur run the risk of not reaching their full potential.

If there is no leadership, then any initiatives that occur run the risk of not reaching their full potential.

From my discussions with groups throughout the country since the launch of the White Paper in May, I think this will be a special challenge in some provincial regions because they will need to resolve strong community dynamics and rivalries before they even get to first base.

However, to achieve a genuine partnership, to create a strong sense of being a cohesive region, you must have a clear, realistic and agreed economic focus and direction.

You need to ask yourselves, what is it that the Central Queensland region wants to be the best at?

And what is the result for which you would like the other regions to recognise Central Queensland?

Central Queensland is undoubtedly well endowed and able to have something that is very exciting and special on the world economic stage.

This is evident in the work already done in developing the Strategic Directions document for the Kelty Task Force on Regional Development.

Kelty acknowledged the many opportunities in Central Queensland and the vision that this region has of its future.

Kelty saw, amongst other issues, how the value of education and research facilities in the region would contribute to the regional vision.

The breadth and diversity of resources and commercial activity led Kelty to conclude that the Central Queensland region has the wherewithal and entrepreneurial backing to bring these opportunties to fruition.

However, a vision will only ever remain a vision unless the action is put in place to realise it.

For this, as I have said, you need leadership committed to the vision and an organisation with the breadth of expertise, contacts and 'fire power' to support it.

Again, here in Central Queensland, you have some of the very best people in your business community, in your education and health service sectors, trade unions, infrastructure industry, the community sector and in government, to push this forward.

There is also considerable expertise in the traditional sectors of manufacturing, metals processing, mining, electricity generation.

There is considerable expertise in the trade union membership.

And there is now considerable expertise in the emerging industry sectors of tourism, education and research, and in the increasing area of sophisticated producer services.

As a significant economic region, Central Queensland has considerable infrastructure.

Rail and road transport networks, airports and deep water ports together with the associated materials-handling facilities at Mackay and Gladstone put Central Queensland in contact with the rest of the world economy.

In fact you have a problem here that few other regions will need to overcome.

You have so many areas in which you have key people already operating on the world stage - people who can come together to help drive the regional economic development agenda and the vision for Central Queensland.

Keeping them involved in a way that meets their own and the region's needs will be a big challenge.

I am well aware that historically, Central Queensland has not always found co-operation easy to achieve.

This has been for a whole host of reasons that are probably best left behind. But the stakes are now just too great for something like lack of co-operation to get in the way.

If I can leave one message with you today, it is that you need to harness the wealth of expertise you have on hand.

The region you call Central Queensland, based on the six autonomous regions of Rockhampton, Gladstone, Bundaberg, Emerald, Longreach and possibly Mackay, has that wealth of expertise and natural resources.

It is important to recognise that certain tasks and issues go beyond the boundaries of each individual area.

You need to evaluate any missed opportunities of the past, and ascertain how you can best grab hold of the opportunities that stand before you.

The third principle underpinnning the Regional Developmen [Development] Strategy is "best practice".

Best practice is one of those over-used words but in the context of regional development we are talking about benchmarking economic activities against similar activities of other regions - both national and international.

Best practice gives responsibility to all of us - as politicians, as government bureaucrats, as employers, as employees, as local councils, as infrastructure managers, and as research and development organisations.

We all have to be good at marketing and promotion.

We all have to put ourselves in a continuous learning situation where we can adopt, and adapt, the best approaches to those areas that underpin the competitive economic direction of the region.

There are already a number of good examples of best practice in Central Queensland.

The mining industry, the beef industry, the metals processing industry, and the Gladstone Port Authority, to name just a few.

All these sectors have lessons that can be built on across the board.

As a region you will be considered great in the international scene when investment inquiries and calls for advice start coming to you from all over the world.

I understand that this is happening here in Central Queensland through the efforts of the University and the International Business Exchange group and that you are experiencing more frequent visits by overseas industrialists, as well as an increasing number of visits and enquires being made to the university and other research institutions.

It is also evident in the investment plans outlined in the University of Central Queensland's publications.

The final principle underpinning the Regional Development Strategy that I want to say something about today is partnerships.

This means networking, further development of cooperative clustering, and strategic alliances, both within and across sectors, within and between regions, inside and outside of Australia.

It means recognising the advantages of working with a range of complementary partners in creative and flexible ways to enable you to have that little extra competitive edge.

However, like anything, it is important to get the fundamentals right.

You must have a vision that includes all that is the essence of Central Queensland and not the latest 'flavour of the month'.

The more creative the linking of the fundamental fabric of the region, the greater will be the competitive potential.

Parochialism can be a positive and can be channelled into making the region the best it can be in a highly competitive world economy.

There is extraordinary potential here in Central Queensland - the people, business enterprises, infrastructure, institutions and environmental are all key assets.

Institutions like the University are tremendous assets to effectively work with the community in driving the economic vision for the region.

I thank you for the opportunity of talking with you today and commend your enthusiasm for the project at hand.

I am confident that all the ingredients of strong economic development are on hand in this region.

And my Department is keen to work with you to harness the great potential for further economic development in Central Queensland.

I wish you every success.

Thank you.