Government sets new course for regional development boards

NEW DIRECTION: RDASI chair Mark Schweikert in Goulburn last year with CEO Mareeca Flannery and Wayne Beecher, president of the Inland Wool Brokers.

NEW DIRECTION: RDASI chair Mark Schweikert in Goulburn last year with CEO Mareeca Flannery and Wayne Beecher, president of the Inland Wool Brokers.

Regional Development Boards across Australia will be more focused on creating jobs and investment, following a government shake-up.

The review, by Warwick Smith, followed widespread commentary about the effectiveness of the RDAs. Mr Smith looked at their framework, governance and administration and alignment with government policy “now and into the future.”

Mr Smith had recommended the RDA program be wound up in favour of establishing an Australian Regional Business Advisory Board and a network of directors of Regional Development.

But the federal government instead decided to keep them and give them a “more active and facilitative” role in creating jobs and investment.

“RDA Committees will now pro-actively target, seek and negotiate with private companies, not-for-profits and governments of all levels to bring jobs and investment to our regions,” Minister for Regional Development Fiona Nash said.

“A more rigorous, merit-based appointments process for Chairs and committee members will begin from the end of this year, when most terms of appointment run out.”

Performance measures will be introduced for the first time.

Chair of RDA Southern Inland, Mark Schweikert said he was happy with the review. RDASI covers seven council areas, including Goulburn Mulwaree, Upper Lachlan and Queanbeyan Palerang.

“From our perspective there’s not much change,” he said.

“Were more an advocacy organisation (already) and we’ve been trying to do things like relocating the Yennora wool sales to Goulburn. No one asked us to do that and it’s not what other RDA’s do. We are more hands on so in this case, it’s more a case of the (review) catching up to us.”

But the Yennora bid appears to have stalled for now. Australian Wool Handlers has renewed its lease with Yennora’s owners to host wool sales for another five years. AWH has contracts with Elders, Landmark, Schute Bell and Australian Wool Network.

Yet Mr Schweikert insisted the push was still on the agenda.

“It’s just a matter of what we do next,” he said.

“We are not dropping it. The lease has been signed but no one is frozen to Yennora. People are talking about Goulburn...I’m confident that one day it will happen.”

He dismissed earlier industry concerns as a “furphy” that the bid contravened ACCC rules in regard to competition, and said a lawyer enlisted by RDASI had confirmed it did not contravene any rules.

In addition, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce had written to the Board praising it for a “fantastic job” on the bid. Goulburn MP Pru Goward and Hume MP Angus Taylor are also backing the idea and the Board is seeking support from State Regional Development Minister John Barilaro. 

The study supporting the bid cost “less than $30,000,” according to Mr Schweikert and in his view was money well spent.

“Some of the figures we obtained in that study can also be used to encourage other businesses to relocate to Goulburn,” he said.

The Smith Review found that the RDAs were duplicating planning work already undertaken by state and federal governments.

Under the changes, the current boards will continue until December 31, 2017. The government will advertise for new chairs and committee members who will be in place by late 2017/early 2018. Existing members are encouraged to reapply.

Mr Schweikert said at this stage he did not intend to reapply due to other commitments but if asked to re-nominate, he’d consider this. He is standing for Queanbeyan/Palerang Council at the September 9 election.

“I set up the RDA board the way it is and I’m very happy with it; we’re very active...and I don’t have any unfinished business,” he said.

The federal government has extended RDAs’ funding until the end of 2020. The changes also mean appointment of a regional development director to each of the country’s 52 RDAs.

Ms Nash said it was important regions decided their own futures.

“Government can help row the boat but cannot choose the direction in which to sail,” she said.

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