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Thursday, 16 March 2000
Page: 14964


Mr NAIRN (11:33 AM) —I am certainly pleased to speak on the tabling of the report Time running out: shaping regional Australia's future, by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Regional Services. I was a member of the committee, along with the member for Braddon, who is here on the other side of the chamber, and a number of other excellent members who participated in quite an extensive inquiry over a 12-month period, receiving numerous submissions and conducting hearings and inspections throughout the country. It is a good report. There will be many aspects of it that I am sure people will not agree with and perhaps there is a number of recommendations that individual members of the committee probably do not totally agree with, but we worked very well together to come up with something that all of us could accept.

There has been a number of reports over the years into aspects to do with regional Australia and infrastructure. One of the recurring issues that comes through time and time again, and which also came up in some study I did within the OECD recently, is that in areas outside the major cities that seem to have done well in the last couple of decades, one of the most common denominators in those regions is very strong local leadership and entrepreneurship. That does not necessarily have to come from the state, federal or local government members. That leadership, more often than not, comes from the community, through the chambers of commerce, individual entrepreneurs, et cetera. When you look around in a regional area where there is generally some backwardness, you will often find a glowing light, a particular town or region doing particularly well, and there you will find some excellent leadership that has been there for some time. That is why this inquiry report contains some recommendations dealing with leadership at that local level—for instance, leadership recognition and award programs, a centre for regional development best practice and a regional development fellowship fund for university placement of regional fellows. All these are about improving leadership at that local level.

One of the other aspects I want to speak about—this is a very extensive report, so I am not going to speak on all of it here today—is planning and coordination. A significant recommendation reads:

The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government establish a National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC), with expertise from the public and the private sectors, to facilitate the efficient and equitable provision of national infrastructure by both public and private sector stakeholders.

This key recommendation is the basis for many of the other recommendations, and concerns an aspect that a number of groups in the community have been pushing for some time. The Institution of Engineers highlighted to me a couple of years ago, in private conversations, that such a council should be formed to look from a national perspective at identifying needs of national infrastructure and how that can be put together.

Another aspect of planning and coordination that I would like to mention is dealt with in recommendation 11: the upgrading, the accelerated acquisition and the sharing of data, including land, geographic, economic and social data, to better facilitate base information needed for infrastructure planning. This is something dear to my heart, as I spent 25 years in surveying and mapping, constantly battling to get more money into the national mapping program for that base mapping. It may be very hard for people who have not worked in that area to understand the benefit of having decent and up-to-date base mapping—particularly now—in a form that can be used by a variety of people in both the public and private sectors. A recent incident has highlighted this.

During the current debate about the southern New South Wales Regional Forest Agreement there have been problems for landowners potentially affected by proposals for reserve. I went to the state bureaucrats and said, `Show me within your system the land tenure for these people overlaid by the proposal that you have for reserves.' They could not do it. I am still to determine why they could not do it, because I think they should have that information, but it highlights that there are some inconsistencies between databases and so on at federal and state levels. If you are going to have any decent planning for the future, you really need to have that sort of information on tap. That is why that recommendation is there, and I would very strongly encourage the relevant government departments to look at that and see how they can respond actively to it.

I will mention just a couple of other things, the first being transport. Two matters mentioned in the report are of particular relevance to my electorate of Eden-Monaro. One is the proposal, which I very strongly support, for a very high speed train between Sydney and Canberra. If Australia is to reconnect with many of the bush areas—and I think there is a disconnection—we need some of the technology for physical reconnection, and fast train technology has the capacity to do that, as shown in the reconnection of various regional towns in Europe to the major cities. Lille, in northern France, is an example: an area which has been depressed because of the closing down of traditional industries—in this particular case, coalmining and textile—has been able to re-establish itself in completely new respects because of the very fast train connection. This technology has a huge potential to allow people in rural and regional areas to gain access to major capital cities throughout Australia.

The other transport matter I want to mention is the Eden port, which is mentioned in the report. Once again, I think strategic port upgrades in various parts of Australia can capitalise on new types of shipping and other trading activities. The Eden port is an example of that and we are currently awaiting a report by the Public Works Committee into the munitioning facility for Eden. The multipurpose wharf that would go with it would have potential, over and above the naval facility, for development right throughout the south-east of New South Wales, not just in my electorate of Eden-Monaro. It would be of great benefit to many parts of eastern, north-eastern and central Victoria as well.

In conclusion, it is a good report. There has been in more recent hours—it is not even days—some comments about the city-country divide, particularly from one of my colleagues. I will not debate that issue with him now, other than to say that I think this report should be looked at very carefully. I think the comments that he has made raise the debate in some respects and that will probably be quite good, but there is a lot to work through with this report. I enjoyed working with the committee on it as well as with the secretariat, who did a great job. All members worked extremely well together and there is a lot of information for all members to take on board and certainly for government to work through as well.