Governments back new research program that aims to provide guidance and best practice for responding to challenges facing regional areas.
Adapting to a changing local economy, ensuring jobs in the future and balancing urban and regional population growth are the three initial priorities of a new research program from Regional Australia Institute that has been endorsed by state and territory governments.
RAI chief executive Jack Archer said governments had joined with the institute to share ideas and invest in better knowledge for regions.
“This is a really efficient way to work on these big issues, which are often common across different regions,” he told Government News.
“Toowoomba in Queensland has a lot in common with places like Tamworth and Wagga in NSW, so regions can learn from each other and governments can look at what’s working in different places to apply those learnings in their state.”
The RAI, which was established in 2012 to provide decision makers with independent research on regional issues, has been working with regional leaders and agencies around Australia to shortlist common issues for the new program to focus on, Mr Archer said.
“When you think about how regional economies are changing these really are the three biggest issues we have to deal with,” he said.
The first project aims to provide a new evidence base for governments around helping communities that are experiencing major economic change, such as industrial closures.
“There is still a gap in the evidence when it comes to designing policy responses … The Regions in Transition project is going to give governments a policy playbook so they’ll have some guidance when faced with a closure or a big transition in a region.”
A focus on jobs of the future in the regions will see the second project gather evidence on the key roles at risk in different areas. and help local authorities plan how they’ll respond to automation and support regional workforces, he said.
The third project seeks to broaden the ongoing national discussion about a “big Australia” beyond population growth in the capital cities to examining the opportunities for expansion in regional cities and centres.
In addition to the three major projects, the RAI researchers will undertake a smaller initiative on government procurement, examining how policies to buy local can best support regional investment and economic development.
“That project is looking at how we do government procurement well, where you get the best impact and what the options for improvement are,” Mr Archer said.
Work with governments
The RAI’s researchers will be undertaking their analysis in consultation with governments and community agencies to get an understanding of key policy challenges and identify evidence of local approaches that are proving effective, Mr Archer said.
“We get all the governments around the table every three months to talk about these issues and share information. We also spend a lot of time bringing regional leaders in to contribute their views.
“It’ll be a mixture of analysis, new data collection, engagement with policy makers and regional discussions,” he said of the program’s methodology.
In terms of expected outcomes, Mr Archer said the research will culminate in analyses, policy guidance for governments, discussion papers to inform public debate and case studies that convey best practice.
“It’s really important to look at things that are working well, so governments can learn from how various regions are dealing with their challenges. You find approaches can be quite different as you go around the country and so there’s a lot to be learned from those detailed case studies,” he said.
First up, the RAI is preparing to release an analysis into the impact of automation at the local level and likely implications for regional education and employment.
“Off the back of that analysis, which we’ll release in the next couple of months, there’ll be some policy advice back into governments,” he said.