CQ University Professor of Regional Economic Development John Rolfe.
CQ University Professor of Regional Economic Development John Rolfe.

Regional Australia can lead COVID economic recovery

THE CENTRALISATION and city-centric mindset of governments must change if Australia is to recover post COVID, say regional development experts.

Yesterday CQUniversity's Rise of the Regions Expert Panel called for innovation to drive the economic recovery of regional Australia and cities like Gladstone.

The panel featured Next Economy CEO Amanda Cahill, CQU Professor of Regional Economic Development John Rolfe, and Smart Precinct North Queensland CEO Matt Steine.

It was unanimous among the panellists that regional Australia was best placed to lead a COVID-19 economic recovery.

Prof Rolfe said the inland rail project was an example of city-centric thinking.

"That project will mean a lot of agricultural processing is happening in Brisbane, because that's the end of the line - but it's faulty planning, because it shuts the regions out of processing," he said.

"The rail head should go to somewhere like Gladstone, so it's closer to agriculture supply sources, and connected to another port.

"Government shouldn't just automatically locate everything in the capital city every time."

Mr Steine said social shifts presented by the virus situation had presented unique opportunities.

"COVID-19 has reduced the advantaged of being in a densely populated metro city - and instead, having a dispersed population, coupled with existing information and communications technology like NBN, is going to be really attractive to business," he said.


Smart Precinct managing director Matt Steine. Picture: Evan Morgan
Smart Precinct managing director Matt Steine. Picture: Evan Morgan


Almost 60 participants from around Australia logged on to the free panel discussion.

Prof Rolfe outlined the required "push factors" for decentralisation.

"For instance, Queensland Health spends millions of dollars every year to fly people to Brisbane from the regions to access specialist health care," he said.

"The whole system is set up on centralising specialist services in the capital, and bringing people in - but that just means the regions are overly reliant on the cities."

Instead of competing to attract new business and industries, Mr Steine said regions must embrace "co-opertition" - a combination of competition and co-operation.

"We need a situation where the state and local markets work better together, and I think we could do a lot better planning out a total regional economy, with hubs that reflect the strengths of individual regions," he said.

Author of What Queensland Wants, Dr Cahill, said lessons could be learned from the past.

"This is the time for learning the lessons of Queensland's LNG expansion - for any energy transition, there's a huge amount of infrastructure that's required," she explained.

"But are we going to be investing in building the skills needed regionally, or will we just do the FIFO thing again?"

"Because we know the implications of that are that money doesn't stay in the region."