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Regional Development - Paul Collits
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Regional Development - Paul Collits

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  • 1. EIDOS Institute Conference Regional Policy in Australia – Decidedly a Work in Progress Ass Prof Paul Collits Research Director Economic Development and Enterprise Collaboration USQ Fraser Coast
  • 2. Abstract
    • “ Regional development policy is highly problematic in and for Australia.  Unlike the European situation, where regions (countries) have come together to establish an explicit regional policy framework with coherent (if highly controversial) interventions to reduce regional disparities, Australia struggles along with stop-start political commitment, a complex mix of often competing policies and strategies, frequent conflict over responsibilities between different levels of government, and an inadequate conception of what the “regional problem” is, beyond the vague notion of a city-country divide.  There is a poor connect between research (theory), policy and practice, and indeed a poor understanding of the core questions of regional development – How do we define success?  Who is responsible for regional development?  What drives regional growth and decline? And, What works in terms of strategies and programs?  Answering these prior questions and creating appropriate vehicles for communication between researchers, policy makers and practitioners would provide an important initial step towards setting regional policy to rights in Australia”.
  • 3. Two Views About Evidence Based Policy
    •  ” The importance of specifying precise objectives for the selection of policy instruments is obvious: different goals require different types of policies for their achievement. Similarly, it is impossible to estimate how effective regional policies have been, or will be, unless it is clear what they are designed to achieve. Without clarifying the objectives of regional policy, evaluation degenerates into measuring the effects of regional policy rather than measuring the effectiveness – and there is a world of difference between the two.”
    • Armstrong and Taylor
  • 4. Two Views...
    • “ There is nothing a politician likes so little as to be well informed; it makes decision making so complex and difficult”
    • J M Keynes
  • 5. The Argument in Outline
    • The state of regional development thinking, policy and practice in Australia is profoundly unsatisfactory
    • There is a need for a new understanding of regional development
    • The development of a fresh theoretical perspective must begin with asking the right core questions and figuring out the best way of answering them
    • This task must draw on both existing theory and Australian regional realities to develop a new, peculiarly Australian theory of regional development
    • The core theoretical focus must be on explaining growth and decline in order to understand competitive regional advantage
    • What evidence based policy would look like is yet to be determined
    • The necessary conversations are not taking place at present
  • 6. Defining Regional Development
    • The deliberate attempt by government (at any level) and/or regional actors to influence regional outcomes, either in relation to the economy, the community or the environment, or all three, with varying objectives that generally relate to some notion of “regional well being”.
  • 7. Regional Policy in Australia
    • Three levels of government – national, State, local
    • All involved in regional development
    • BUT... no “regional” government really
    • AND... no clear constitutional allocation of responsibilities
    • Hence regional governance is problematic, chaotic
    • Shifting emphases and foci
    • Peaks and troughs of political interest in regional development
    • There are many, often uncoordinated interventions across all three levels of government
    • Spatial or place based policy is generally a peripheral concern of government, well below macro-economic policy and even industry policy
    • Despite this, a motherhood commitment to regional Australia
  • 8. How Regional Policy Has Evolved
    • Policy has evolved in a number of specific ways, as well as reflecting peaks and troughs of interest
    • From top down to bottom up, reflecting general OECD experience
    • A downscaling of policy reach and ambition
    • Neo liberalism and globalisation in the 1980s
    • Abandonment of decentralisation as a policy objective in the late 1970s
    • Increased recognition of local knowledge but no matching resourcing
    • A multiplicity of programs that “cover all bases”
  • 9. The Poor State of Regional Development Theory, Policy and Practice in Australia
    • There is a disconnect between scholarship in economic development and practice
    • Regional development scholarship in Australia is spread across several disciplines / silos and there is little cross disciplinary interaction
    • There is an ageing scholarly population
    • Regional policy is poorly understood (including within government) and driven by political imperatives and cycles
    • There is little policy learning and little corporate memory
    • The “region” is poorly understood
    • There is no single, widely accepted theory of regional growth and decline
    • Evaluation is infrequently and poorly done
    • Regional governance is chaotic and complex
    • Too much practice falls back to a “shoot anything that flies, claim anything that falls” approach
    • There is no consensus, or even much discussion, about what regional policy is really for, and how it is best done
  • 10. An Example of the Malaise - Competing Conceptions of what Regional Policy is and is for
    • Regional policy as “getting our fair share” of the goodies (against other regions or against the city)
    • Regional policy as country marginal seats strategy
    • Regional policy as equity between regions
    • Regional policy as equity within regions
    • Regional policy as driving economic development
    • Regional policy as providing/supporting quality of life
    • There is little evidence these confusions are being addressed / resolved
  • 11. We Need to Start with the “Great” Questions
    • How do we define success? (or, what is the problem we are trying to solve?)
    • Who is responsible for regional development?
    • What drives regional growth and decline?
    • What “works” in practice?
    • Other important questions – how do we know why “what works”, works? What are the triggers for intervention? How much intervention is required? Which regions should governments help (most)? Which economic activities should we grow?
    • The recent Grattan Institute report focuses on the last and is, at best, an incomplete analysis
  • 12. Summary
    • There is little evidence of a “new paradigm”
    • Regional policy, as opposed to “a fair deal for regional Australia”, needs greater and more focused attention
    • New vehicles are needed for innovative policy discussions involving all the players
    • There needs to be more government interest in funding regional development research, if the “new paradigm” is to have any meaning