Part 4: Activities
Regional Development Program
Through the Regional Development Program (Program 3.1) the department:
- influenced policy and program outcomes
- delivered a whole-of-government agenda for regional Australia
- maintained a regional evidence base
- delivered a regional ministerial budget statement
- managed regional and local government grants programs
- led the redesign and implementation of a revised Regional Development Australia program
The program contributed to one of our purposes: supporting regional development and local communities.
Influencing policy and program development
The department influences policy and programs to ensure evidence-based support for regional Australia. Our aim is to build more resilient local economies and enable regional communities to drive their own futures.
The Regions 2030: Unlocking Opportunity policy statement was released at the end of 2016–17. It delivered a whole-of-government agenda outlining the Australian Government's focus for regional Australia as well as relevant current and future government activity in regional communities. The Regions 2030 agenda is driven by a commitment to position Australia's regions to unlock economic opportunities and ensure the benefits of Australia's growing economy are felt right across the nation.
The Regional Australia Ministerial Taskforce, chaired by the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP led delivery of Regions 2030 and met in March and October 2017. The taskforce ensures the challenges and opportunities facing regional Australia are at the heart of government decision-making by bringing together key ministers from across government.
Building on Regions 2030, the department has explored policy solutions to help regions maximise their strengths and enhance resilience. This includes:
- examining ways to adapt the City Deal model for regional Australia
- helping mobilise action across all tiers of government to address the specific challenges
- capitalising on regional opportunities
The department worked closely with other portfolios to ensure the interests of regional Australians are well represented. During the year we:
- contributed to whole-of-government responses to major policy reviews, including the Independent Review of Regional, Rural and Remote Education
- worked closely with the Department of Jobs and Small Business and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to analyse issues facing vulnerable regions, and to ensure that adequate support is in place
- hosted the Trailblazers program in February in partnership with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal. This involved welcoming dozens of young leaders from across regional Australia to Canberra for a week of events and meetings with senior ministers and parliamentarians. The Trailblazer program provides young people in regional Australia an opportunity to share their experiences and highlight the positive changes they are making in their community
Regional evidence base
One of our key focuses is maintaining a regional evidence base to track trends and issues relevant to the development of Australia's regions. This is done through the annual updates of the Progress in Australian Regions series, which inform communities and influence regional policy decisions.
The department released the Progress in Australian Regions Yearbook 2017 in December, the fourth annual edition in the series. This edition updated information from previous yearbooks and incorporated newly released data from the 2016 Census.
The department continues to focus on building the evidence base around best practice regional development policy and has commissioned a number of major research and evaluation projects to inform our policy work, including:
- research from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) on the mega trends affecting regional Australia and likely future scenarios
- an evaluation of regional infrastructure grant programs to explore the economic and social outcomes of government funding. The evaluation includes an in-depth analysis of five case study projects across regional Australia. It found government funding for regional areas delivers a range of benefits, including local jobs and flow-on employment in the wider economy
The government supports the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) to deliver high quality research for policy makers. In the 2018–19 Budget the government committed $1.2 million to the RAI over three years to deliver a national program that will inform public debate on issues that affect regional Australia.
The department participated in international forums during the year to share best practice and learn from the experience of other countries. This included attending the 38th and 39th meetings of the Regional Development Policy Committee of the OECD in Paris in December 2017 and April 2018.
Regional Development Australia Committees
The independent review of the Regional Development Australia (RDA) program was released in August, together with the government's response. The review, prepared by the Hon Warwick Smith AM, provided a framework to reform and refocus the Regional Development Australia program and to facilitate economic growth in the regions. Key program reforms were:
- a new charter for RDA committees which focuses their work on facilitating economic development by creating local jobs, attracting investment and driving innovation
- consolidating the four Melbourne RDA committees into one, which is consistent with other capital city RDA committees
- expanding geographic coverage of the RDA network to include external territories of Christmas, Cocos (Keeling) and Norfolk Islands and the Jervis Bay Territory
- implementing a rigorous merit-based appointment process for the RDA chair, deputy chair and committee members
- establishing new performance measures to ensure the outcomes of RDA committee activities are properly monitored and measured
The new role of RDA coordinator was also established to work with all levels of government and the RDA committees. This will ensure regional development efforts are effectively coordinated, and facilitate discussions with and between government agencies to help committees achieve their regional development objectives.
The Australian Government recognises the important role of RDA committees:
- the Department of Jobs and Small Business is engaging employment facilitators as part of its $18.4 million Regional Employment Trials program. This initiative is being introduced in 10 selected disadvantaged regions, and facilitators will work with committees to generate projects, connect with local stakeholders and promote economic opportunities
- the Hon Dr John McVeigh MP, Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government, sought the assistance of RDA committees to identify transformational projects for consideration under the Australian Government's $272.2 million Regional Growth Fund
- the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science has sought RDA feedback on a range of policy and program initiatives. This includes the Industry Transition Framework and the $20 million Export Hubs initiative, as well as an assessment of regional economic indicators that will inform industry policy
- in its response to the Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education (the Halsey Review), the Australian Government recognised RDA committees play an important role in promoting education programs. Where appropriate, they also act as a conduit between education providers and employers to help regions address skills gaps
- in its response to the Productivity Commission report on the telecommunications Universal Service Obligation, a taskforce was established to engage with stakeholders on the roll-out. It has consulted with more than 30 RDAs to date
In 2017–18 the department administered $18.3 million for RDA committees.
Deputy Secretary Judith Zielke PSM opening the Regional Development Australia Forum
Regional Ministerial Budget Statement
The government delivered the Regional Ministerial Budget Statement 2018–19 to coincide with the May Budget. This outlines the Australian Government's investment in our regions across all portfolios. The 2018–19 Budget included more than 500 initiatives, including over 100 programs focused on creating jobs and supporting regional economic growth.
Australian Government Decentralisation Agenda
The Decentralisation Agenda forms part of the government's commitment to promote economic activity in Australia's regions. It is designed to ensure every part of Australia benefits from our growing economy. Decentralisation of government jobs outside of Canberra, central Sydney and Melbourne will benefit regional communities by:
- creating local employment
- diversifying local economies
- stimulating economic growth
It also has the potential to provide long-term operational cost savings.
On 8 May 2018 the Australian Government announced that a number of positions would be relocated from Canberra, central Sydney and Melbourne from five government entities:
- 10 positions moved from the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations in Canberra to Darwin
- seven positions moved from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's Indigenous Affairs Group Regional Network in Melbourne's CBD to Shepparton. A further 25 positions moved from Sydney CBD to Parramatta
- the Unique Student Identifier Registrar moved 40 positions from Canberra to Adelaide
- the Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner will be established in Adelaide, creating four new positions
- three positions were moved from the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities' Indian Ocean Territories unit in Canberra to Perth
- the Inland Rail Unit established nine positions in Toowoomba, Dubbo and Wodonga
Water infrastructure policy and funding
On 19 December 2017 the Australian Government announced new portfolio arrangements that transferred responsibility for water infrastructure policy from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities.
The Australian Government's almost $2.6 billion commitment to build the water infrastructure of the future is being realised through the $580.0 million National Water Infrastructure Development Fund and the $2.0 billion National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility.
In 2017–18 the department completed a second funding round for the National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility and the capital component of the fund. The round was over-subscribed, with 19 expressions of interest received seeking over $376.0 million in Commonwealth funding. Five of these had received funding under the feasibility component of the fund to bring projects to the ‘shovel-ready’ stage.
Five projects were awarded funding between April and June 2018, including:
- $25.3 million for the Scottsdale Irrigation Scheme in Tasmania
- $11.6 million for the Mareeba-Dimbulah and $3.0 million for the Nogoa–Mackenzie water supply scheme efficiency improvement projects in Queensland
- $190.0 million for the Myalup Wellington Project in Western Australia
- $3.0 million for the Sunraysia Modernisation project 2 in Victoria
The Australian Government also announced it would provide an additional $46.1 million for the development of Rookwood Weir in Queensland, increasing its commitment to the project to $176.1 million. The department is working with its Queensland counterparts to deliver the project.
These announcements saw total commitment to water infrastructure across the two programs reach $631.0 million, including $230.0 million for projects in northern Australia—well above the target commitment of $200.0 million set in the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia.
During the year 22 feasibility studies were completed and the Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment—an initiative of the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia—was completed by the CSIRO.
Construction commenced on three water infrastructure projects including the Macalister Irrigation District and South West Loddon Rural Water Supply projects in Victoria, and the Northern Adelaide Irrigation Scheme in South Australia.
During the year the Australian Government committed the first concessional loan through the facility of $50 million. This is to co-fund construction of the Myalup-Wellington Project with the Western Australian Government. Construction of this is expected to commence in 2018–19, with loan payments to be made on completion of construction milestones. The Australian Government has passed the Investment Corporation Act 2018 to establish the Regional Investment Corporation, which will administer water infrastructure loans from 1 July 2018.
Regional program management
The government funds regional development programs to create jobs, drive economic growth and build stronger regional communities.
Regional Growth Fund
The $272.2 million Regional Growth Fund was established in 2017–18 and supports infrastructure projects to unlock economic opportunities across the regions. The fund provides grants of $10 million or more for major transformational projects, which support long-term economic growth and create jobs, including in regions undergoing structural adjustment. State and territory governments, local governments, the private sector and not-for-profit organisations were invited to apply for funding. Applications opened on 2 March 2018 and closed on 27 April 2018. A total of 337 applications were received seeking funding of more than $5.9 billion for a total project value of more than $17.9 billion.
Building Better Regions Fund
The Australian Government announced $200 million to deliver a third round of the Building Better Regions Fund, bringing the total commitment for this program to $641.6 million from 2017–18 to 2021–22. The fund is supporting regional and remote communities to partner with governments and other stakeholders and take advantage of a range of economic and regional development opportunities. A key objective of the new round will be to improve tourism-related infrastructure so more people can visit, enjoy and stay in regional Australia. Funding of $45 million has been earmarked for these projects. Local governments and incorporated not-for-profit organisations are eligible to apply.
Round 1 resulted in 257 projects being funded across regional Australia. Round 2 opened on 7 November 2017 and closed on 19 December 2017. A total of 839 applications were received. Successful Round 2 projects are expected to be announced early in 2018–19. The department will support a review of the guidelines before the launch of Round 3.
The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Business Grants Hub administers the grants assessment and contract management processes for the department.
Regional Jobs and Investment Packages
The department administered the government's $222.3 million Regional Jobs and Investment Packages. These will assist 10 pilot regions in Australia to diversify their economies, stimulate economic growth and deliver sustainable employment. The regions identified for investment are experiencing economic slowdown, but have untapped potential, which could lead to new growth and economic diversity.
The 10 pilot regions include Bowen Basin, Wide Bay Burnett, Tropical North Queensland, NSW North Coast, NSW South Coast, Geelong, Goulburn Valley, Latrobe Valley, Regional Tasmania and Upper Spencer Gulf.
During 2017–18 funding for 233 projects was approved with a total Australian Government commitment of $220.5 million.
The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Business Grants Hub administers the Regional Jobs and Investment Packages assessment and contract management processes.
Community Development Grants Programme
The Community Development Grants Programme was established to support infrastructure that promotes long-term improvements in the social and economic viability of local communities.
A total of 796 projects are being delivered with a value of $1.0 billion. During 2017–18, 110 projects were completed and a further 130 commenced.
National Stronger Regions Fund
The department administers $243.4 million through the National Stronger Regions Fund for infrastructure projects that deliver economic benefit and address disadvantage. Like the Building Better Regions Fund, National Stronger Regions operates as a competitive grants program. During 2017–18, 70 projects were completed and 114 were underway.
Drought Communities Programme
The Drought Communities Programme provides employment for people whose work opportunities have been affected by drought in eligible local government areas. The Australian Government has committed $34.5 million for the initiative over four years from 2015–16.
Funding is targeted towards local government areas that have experienced severe drought conditions. During 2017–18, 29 projects were completed and 51 were underway.
Stronger Communities Programme
The Stronger Communities Programme (SCP) supports community organisations and local governments with small capital projects that deliver important social benefits to communities. The Australian Government has committed a further $22.5 million to deliver a fourth round of the initiative. Like the first three rounds, round four will make funding of $150,000 available in each of the 150 federal electorates in 2018–19. Members of Parliament will identify suitable projects, and funding of between $2,500 and $20,000 is available for eligible projects. Funding must be matched in cash or in kind on at least a dollar for dollar basis.
The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Business Grants Hub administers the grants assessment and contract management processes. During 2017–18, 2,217 Stronger Communities projects commenced under Round 3 of the program.
Tasmanian Jobs and Growth Package
The department administered $11.4 million through the Tasmanian Jobs and Growth Package for measures that support growth and employment, and stimulate Tasmania's economy. Three Tasmanian Jobs and Growth Package projects were completed in 2017–18 and three were underway.
University of the Sunshine Coast, Moreton Bay Campus—concessional loan
See Infrastructure Investment section of this report.
North Queensland Stadium
The $250 million North Queensland Stadium project will deliver a 25,000 seat regional stadium in Townsville. The Australian Government committed $100 million to the Queensland Government for the construction.
Preparatory works were completed and major construction works began in May 2018. The project completion remains on track for the 2020 National Rugby League season.
The government delivered Regional Ministerial Budget Statements in 2017–18 to outline the Australian Government's investment in the growth of our regions.
Summary of expenses
For a summary of expenses please refer to Regional Development Program (Program 3.1) at Appendix A.