Government, opposition fight over regional development

Regional Development Australia (RDA), a new joint Commonwealth-State regional development arrangement, took a major step in NSW today with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Commonwealth and New South Wales Governments.
Signing on behalf of the Commonwealth, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Northern Australia, Gary Gray, said the MoU laid the foundation for the new relationship between the Australian and NSW governments. Local Government will also have a strong role in RDA.
"The new Regional Development Australia committees replace the 14 NSW Area Consultative Committees (ACCs) and the State’s 13 Regional Development Boards (RDBs)," Mr Gray said.
"The members of these committees have been consulted, and are contributing to the implementation of the new arrangements and their help is vital to the successful transition."
The NSW signatory, Minister for Regional Development, Phillip Costa, said the next step would be to fill the new RDA committees with people committed to the development of their regions and with the ability to strongly represent the grass-roots views from their regions.
"The governments will soon be publicly inviting expressions of interest for RDA committee members, including chairs and deputy chairs," Mr Costa said.
"Membership is being sought from a wide cross section of community members who can demonstrate a commitment to the future of their regions. Local Government will also be represented on the new committees.
"Regional Development Australia committee volunteers, with local experience and a diversity of views, will be a valuable source of regional advocacy and be able to integrate the work of all levels of government to improve regional economies and amenity."
Mr Costa and Mr Gray said there would be resources to get the job done – existing funding for the current boards (Commonwealth and NSW) will transfer to the new Regional Development Australia.
"The Regional Development Australia committees will assist all government agencies to focus their work on the priorities identified by each community. The new RDA committees will build on the excellent work undertaken by the ACCs and RDBs," they said.
"This agreement is about the three levels of government working in partnership to benefit local communities and find local solutions, while being able to concentrate the expertise of the whole of Australian governments".
The Federal Opposition, however, has a different opinion on the development
Plans by the Federal Labor Government to close its network of regional development agencies by 30 June 2009 will have major consequences for local communities, Shadow Minister for Regional Development Warren Truss has warned.
“Labor’s plan to shut down the Federal Government’s Area Consultative Committee (ACC) network, recently re-badged as Regional Development Australia (RDA), means that the Federal Government will no longer have a direct role in regional development. Its ties to the regions will be severed,” Mr Truss said.
Under Labor’s proposal, ACCs will be folded into State Government agencies.
“The decision to axe ACCs as we know them is a clear breach of Labor’s stated election policy.
“ACCs provided a strong link between the regions and Canberra. They identified worthy local projects that required some additional assistance to make a big difference within the local community and provided advice on Federal Government services and at the local level. That link will now be lost as local communities will have to wade through layers of State Government bureaucracy to have their voice heard at the national level.”
Up to 150 staff stand to lose their positions once the network closes.
“No arrangements appear to be in place to allow for the transition of ACC staff to the new state-based RDA bodies, in spite of Minister Albanese providing an assurance earlier last year that they would.
“While Kevin Rudd has been calling on the private sector to maintain their staff, his own Government is preparing to axe positions right around the country.”
“ACC committee members are unpaid volunteers, who give of their time, skill and expertise to help grow and sustain their communities. Labor’s ingratitude for their service is disgusting.”
Mr Truss said Labor’s new RDA National Advisory Council must have greater regional representation.
“Labor proposes that its Regional Development Advisory Council will include as members; two academics; a member of the Board for Social Inclusion; but only three regional representatives. The new regional advisory council could be stacked with people from metropolitan areas.
“The model is flawed. Regional development must be driven at the local level and the Federal Government must respond to local needs.
“For more than 12 years, ACCs have served their communities by facilitating regional development, providing access to Commonwealth grants, contributing to policy and working with Government, business and community sectors to improve economic and social opportunities in local areas. Labor’s plan to delegate regional development to the States is another demonstration that Labor is not interested in regional Australia,” he said.

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