Regional Australia is the driving force of our economy, but the regions are so much more than their economic contribution alone. They are places to raise a family and they’re places to experience the best of tight knit communities. But regional Australia faces its share of challenges too, which the recent state of the nation report makes all too clear. This report is part of the Regional Investment Framework announced in last year’s budget as the government’s approach to delivering regional investment. It sets out priority areas for investment implementation, but even before I turned to page 1 I could have said what those priority areas are. People across my electorate constantly tell me that in areas like housing, health care, education and child care, regional Australians are not getting a fair go and it’s holding us back.

This is the government’s flagship report on the regions, but all it does is outline national policies and add ‘including regional Australia’. Now that is not good enough. Regional Australia should not be an afterthought to policy designed for the cities. Regional communities know what the problems are and we know the solutions too.

We need a vision for how government will take advantage of the strengths and the highlights of our regions. This starts with targeted policies that address the unique challenges in regional, rural and remote communities—policies that are place based. For example, in my electorate of Indi, the housing crisis is all too real. I know that for families in my electorate, it’s never been harder to find a home.

At the National Regional Housing Summit earlier this month, the regions spoke with a unified voice and supported my calls for a dedicated regional housing infrastructure fund. Unfortunately, this government has announced no targeted housing solutions for regional Australia. It has rejected my amendments to dedicate 30 per cent of housing funding to the regions and is silent on my proposal for a regional housing infrastructure fund. But regional Australia desperately needs this funding. Without addressing housing supply, we can’t house our current population, let alone the essential workers that we need. We need more nurses, more early-childhood educators, more teachers, more electricians, more engineers and more planners in the regions.

In the next decade alone, Australia will need more than 210,000 new workers to drive the energy transition. And guess what? These jobs will disproportionately be in rural and regional Australia. The economic opportunities from this are enormous, if we harness them. But we must include ways to share these profits to ensure that a fair share of the benefits from this renewable energy transformation actually goes to the communities hosting the solar, the wind and the transmission infrastructure that are driving the energy transition. This starts with making the necessary investments in affordable and accessible education and training.

Like many of the policy challenges we face in regional Australia, the energy transition also represents great opportunity. But this report gave me no sense that the government understands how to respond to our challenges or our opportunities. On that note, both the State of Australia’s Regions report and the recently released University Accord review recommend expanding the Regional University Study Hubs program. I’m pleased to see this—and there’s much else in the University Accord review document that I am happy about.

In my electorate, hubs in Wangaratta, Mansfield and Corryong are helping to close the education gap, and I am supporting the push for additional hubs in Murrindindi and Benalla. By making it easier for young Australians to take up apprenticeships and study at regional universities and TAFEs, we can ensure regional communities actively shape their future and are not shaped by it.

There’s another piece to this complex puzzle: a commitment to fix the lack of available and affordable child care in regional communities. In towns across my electorate, there are more children than childcare places, creating lengthy waitlists. I want the government to listen to the Productivity Commission and the ACCC and invest properly in regional child care.

So, while I commend the government for publishing the State of Australia’s Regions report, there is so much more work to be done. As a proud regional Independent, I won’t stop pushing this government to make the investments that unlock regional potential. But we need a clear and targeted plan—not just a report, but a plan. We need a demonstration of government leadership that will set the regions up for a prosperous future, for now and well into the future. Let’s harness the strengths of regional Australia; let’s get on with the job; let’s target policies towards regional, rural and remote Australia.

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