Deep Systemic Reforms Needed to Support Regional & Remote Australia

The Federal Election result – and particularly the role of the Independent MPs – provides the nation with a real opportunity to look seriously at the problems facing regional and remote Australia, and how we must fix them, says the remoteFOCUS group.

“It is in the national interest to greatly improve not just the delivery of service and infrastructure, but also the governance, and how governments engage with all of regional and remote Australia. The ‘better deal’ agreement for regional Australia is very good, as it deals with some of the backlog of inadequate services and infrastructure and provides other good reforms as well,” says Fred Chaney, Convenor of the remoteFOCUS group.

“But significant reforms on how government works for regional and remote Australia are needed to achieve long-term, sustainable and systemic change – not just a short-term injection of interest and funds.

“Now is the time for deep thinking, commitment and real action across the board to stop the collapse of regional and remote Australia. It simply does not have to remain a failed state.

“The plight of regional and remote Australia has been an urgent issue of national importance for many years, but the election result and the subsequent talk of looking after regional and remote Australia properly has focussed more attention on it. This provides us – the nation – with a real opportunity to do something about the failure to properly engage with, govern and service the 85% of the country which contains 5% of the population and which produces so much of our national wealth,” he said.

Remote Australia is plagued by inadequate services (including basic services which are correctly considered to be an everyday right by urban Australians); failing or non-existent infrastructure; inadequate health and education services, and housing; and environmental degradation. Investment by government in regional and remote Australia is too often inadequate and ineffective.

remoteFOCUS is a group of concerned Australians* with extensive experience in dealing with regional and remote Australia, driving a major process to develop long-term sustainable cost-effective options to greatly improve governance, policy and infrastructure and service delivery in rural, regional or remote Australia.

“Many people talk about Indigenous remote Australia as a failed state, but the remoteFOCUS group contends that this failure extends well beyond the Indigenous sphere – all remote Australians are affected by the need to significantly reform the way governments govern and engage with remote Australia”, said Neil Westbury, co-author of the influential book Beyond Humbug, and member of the remoteFOCUS Reference Group.

“What has become clear is that regional and remote Australia has been systematically neglected for years, as the democratic processes have become concentrated on the direct needs of marginal urban electorates rather than the distant voices of remote and regional Australia’, says Professor Peter Shergold, from the Centre for Social Impact, and also a member of the remoteFOCUS Reference Group and formerly Australia’s most influential public servant.

This leads to significantly negative consequences in remote Australia and ignores the fact that what happens in remote and regional Australia has major effects on Australia as a whole: economically, socially, culturally, and environmentally.

"The way governments try to work with people out here just doesn't work well. It doesn't work well for us Aboriginal people, but it doesn't work well for everyone else either", says Mr Harvey Murray, Chairman of Cosmo-Newberry, a Ngaanyatjarra community 900km northwest of Perth.

The remoteFOCUS Prospectus outlines the crisis facing Remote Australia and the apparent failure of successive governments in remote Australia. The remoteFOCUS project, which is facilitated by Desert Knowledge Australia, is engaging in a consultation process with regional and remote communities and a range of stakeholder groups to help develop and refine a series of practical reforms.

Media contact: Simon Balderstone. 0419 732 004