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Address at the launch of 'Beyond the capitals: urban growth in regional Australia', Flinders University, Adelaide

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am pleased to be in Adelaide today to launch this book, Beyond the Capitals: Urban Growth in Regional Australia by Andrew Beer, Andrew Bolam and Alaric Maude, members of the Geography Faculty here at Flinders University.

This study was commissioned by the Urban Futures Research Program of my Department of Housing and Regional Development because we needed to know more about the factors that lead to urban growth or decline in our non-capital cities.

As many of you here today know, urban development research in Australia has largely focussed on the capital cities.

The literature has lacked a systematic description of the functions performed by regional cities.

Yet the vitality of the Australian economy and the internationally known qualities that characterise Australia as a civil and successfully competitive society, are symbolised in both our capital and regional cities.

Without a comprehensive research base there will be gaps in our ability to formulate urban policy.

We needed more information on the contribution regional cities make to the economy.

For example, we need to have up to date information on the population characteristics of these cities so that appropriate services can be provided.

We need to know about the adequacy of the social and physical infrastructure in these cities so governments and the private sector can make timely and wise investment decisions.

One in ten Australians, approximately 11.3 per cent of the population, live in the 79 regional cities that formed part of this research.

These cities and their population have grown rapidly, but disparately.

This research will help the Government and the community to manage change and ensure that all elements of the national economy are dynamic.

There is now a growing body of literature that shows cities and city regions are emerging political and economic forces.

The challenge for all governments is to ensure our cities are internationally competitive.

And that the communities in these cities are afforded comparative lifestyles and life opportunities.

This research shows that there is 'not a typical regional city".

Further, the findings highlight the marked similarity between capital and non-capital cities.

They are in terms of population structure, industry structure, and the need for continual upgrading of technology and infrastructure.

Beyond the Capitals complements the work undertaken by the Government's Task Force on Regional Development, and the McKinsey & Company report on the growth potential of Australia's regions, Lead local, compete global.

The result of all of this work, has been growing recognition by government of the important role regional cities play in enhancing the nation s economic performance and international competitiveness.

Therefore we need policies that support sustainable growth and arrest decline.

The regional cities in this research have experienced the consequences of national economic restructuring, technological and demographic change in the same way as capital cities.

However, participating in the process of restructuring, no matter how painful that may be in some communities, has identified new strengths.

By taking advantage of natural advantages such as access to raw materials, transport and water supply, regional cities have increased their importance as manufacturing centres.

Their contribution to export activity is substantial.

However, there is a need to increase activity in some of the service sectors such as business services so that growth of existing businesses can be supported.

The Government's renewed emphasis on regional development through the White Paper initiatives and especially the Regional Development Program, will assist regional cities with restructuring.

The Regional Development Program is a means of ensuring that national decision-making processes do not overlook the special needs of regional-l communities.

Of particular concern to the Federal Government and the growing populations of regional cities are the problems of unemployment and the adequacy of infrastructure investment for growth.

This is why the change to the national policy of the Labor Party last week in relation to infrastructure provision was a landmark decision.

Because it recognises the potential that infrastructure investment can play in facilitating faster rates of economic growth and labour productivity.

This research clearly shows that regional cities are important centres for manufacturing, mining, wholesale and retail trade, transport and storage, community services and entertainment, recreation and personal services.

They are a far cry from the sleepy country towns many have thought them to be.

The relatively rapid urban growth of Australia s regional cities between 1976 and 1991 can be seen as a result of the growing importance of national markets.

This has contributed to the decline of the established state-based urban systems and the emergence of a truly national urban system.

Increasingly the economies of regional cities will become more integrated with both national and international markets.

However, this integration can bring volatility as well as growth.

So a diversified economic base is required to ensure long term viability and sustainable economic growth.

Through this research a more detailed picture of the nature and operation of regional centres is being built.

As we move forward, a sound knowledge base and continuing research will be vital elements in on-going government policy-making.

Beyond the Capitals is the first major piece of research to be published by the Urban Futures Research Program.

It is a valuable addition to the research available in this field.

Hopefully the book will stimulate some lively debate and encourage further research into some of the issues canvassed in the book.

I wish to thank the authors for the significant contribution they have made in this regard and I hereby launch Beyond the Capitals.

Thank you.