Federal government's regional taskforce to address the rural divide

SUPPORT: Sussan Ley
SUPPORT: Sussan Ley

The federal government has taken a step to prove it cares about regional areas and understands the different attention required.

A new regional taskforce, made up of eight high-profile MPs and chaired by the prime minister, was announced this week as a way to improve policies and funding for country areas.

Farrer MP Sussan Ley said a one-size-fits-all approach did not work for rural areas, so she believed a taskforce to aid departments to work together on funding could help solve issues.

She said having the taskforce chaired by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull meant he could address specific regional issues in areas such as childcare, mobile phone coverage and jobs for young people.

“They’re so different in the cities than they are in regional communities,” Ms Ley said.

The taskforce was welcomed by Indi MP Cathy McGowan, but she also said it needed a “revolution” for the government to work alongside community groups.

“What I want the government to do is unleash the energy and creativity that is rural and regional Australia,” Ms McGowan said.

“I’m really keen for the government to develop a process as well as outcomes for regional Australia.”

The MP had already clashed with taskforce members Simon Birmingham and Matt Canavan this year over their reluctance to officially recognise regional issues in their policies.

“Government doesn’t like being flexible, government doesn’t like working with communities … They’ve put up a strong resistance because they like the old way of doing things,” she said.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge and the challenge can be met.”

The specific work of the taskforce has not been revealed, but deputy chair Fiona Nash said she would give an update over the coming months.

Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie said the taskforce would help to solve the “digital divide” in Australia and bring a stronger focus on areas such as education.

“If you look at year 12 completion, completion of early childhood education, rural and regional Australians are behind their urban cousins on every single marker and it’s not because our kids aren’t as smart,” she said.

“I think it’s an opportunity for our whole government to understand the nuances of regional Australia.

“Where policy might not quite fit, sometimes we may need to tweak certain aspects of our policy approach.

“I think it will also be a focus of the minds, some of those issues which may have been swept under the table actually become more of a focus, which is a good thing.”