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REGIONAL AVIATION A PRIORITY FOR AUSTRALIA TO SOAR

Ahead of the 2024 Federal Budget Regional Capitals Australia is making a call for Australia’s regional airports to be front and centre of the Federal Budget.
 
Cr Kylie King, Chair of Regional Capitals Australia (RCA) said while regional airports were critical to the nation’s economy and security, it is estimated that 60 per cent of regional airports currently operate at a loss due to ageing infrastructure, rising security and regulatory burdens and staffing costs.
 
“Unfortunately, regional councils are feeling the pinch due to increasing costs of delivery across the board, and they can no longer afford to pick up the shortfall,” Cr King said.
 
“Australia’s regional airports provide a critical role in border protection, medivac, defence and disaster response, and it’s only reasonable that the Federal Government contribute to their ongoing operations,” Cr King explained.
 
Regional airports are also key gateways for the movement of our nation’s FIFO workforce, air freight, business travel and the growth of new jobs and aviation industries.
 
For example, the City of Geraldton relies heavily on the local airport for the transport of mining workers, tourists, Royal Flying Doctor Service, RAAF deployments and connections to regional Western Australia.  Unfortunately the lack of funding for capital upgrades is impacting the potential for tourism growth, airfreight expansion and aviation services for the region.
 
An estimated 200 regional airports are owned and operated by local councils across Australia but rising costs means that many airports are operating at a loss and a burden on regional ratepayers.
 
“We are concerned that unless the Federal Government steps in, Australia’s regional airports will be deemed unviable, putting the handbrake on regional growth and our nation’s health and security at risk,” Cr King concluded.  

Image L-R: Cr Russell Webb Mayor of Tamworth Regional Council, Cr Daniel Scott Mayor of City of Karratha, Cr Kirsty Dellar Deputy Mayor of City of Kalgoorlie Boulder, Cr Kylie King Mayor of Albury City Council, Hon Catherine King MP Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Cr Mathew Dickerson Mayor of Dubbo Regional Council, Cr Phill Cronin Mayor of the City of Busselton, Cr Dallas Tout Mayor of Wagga Wagga City Council

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT IN 2023

As 2023 draws to a close, I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of our stakeholders for their support throughout a busy and productive year.

Regional Australia has never been more relevant or important to the fabric of our nation, and it has been heartening to see the regions continuing to grow and produce for communities.

Please note Regional Capitals Australia’s (RCA) Annual Statement which outlines our work throughout the past year to deliver a stronger future for regional capitals across Australia.

RCA’s 2023 advocacy program has delivered significant results for regional Australia including: 

  • Regional infrastructure programs;
  • New regional grant funding guidelines that better reflect the needs of our members;
  • Increased support for regional arts and culture;
  • More funding for digital connectivity; and
  • A big boost to local roads funding.

Of course, to truly unlock the potential and power of regional Australia requires increased investment in housing, skills, soft and hard infrastructure, regional airports and better mechanisms for population planning.

Over the next 12 months RCA is firmly committed to working with our elected leaders to champion a better future for regional capitals and the eight million people who rely on them every day.

In closing, please accept my warmest wishes to you and your family for the holiday season and I look forward to working with you in 2024.
Kind regards
Cr Kylie King 
Chair
Regional Capitals Australia

NEW LEADERSHIP FOR REGIONAL CAPITALS

Regional Capitals Australia (RCA) today announced its leadership team following the recent Annual General meeting.

Cr Kylie King, Mayor of Albury City Council was re-elected as Chair, with Mayor Peter Carter from the Town of Port Hedland elected as Deputy Chair.

Chair Cr Kylie King said: “It has been a privilege to serve regional Australia during the past year as Chair, and I look forward to continuing in this role to ensure a viable and secure future for the next generation.”

“Regional Australia is thriving but we know there is much work to do to, this includes collaborating with the Federal Government to deliver suitable housing, better connectivity and making sure we have the skills our regional economies need to prosper and grow,” Cr King explained.

“Over the next 12 months, our priority will be to advocate for strategic investment to unlock the potential of regional Australia – particularly funding for soft and hard infrastructure, regional airports, and better population planning,” Cr King said.

RCA’s advocacy program over the past year delivered significant results for regional Australia including the introduction of new regional infrastructure programs with refreshed guidelines to better meet our members’ needs.  We have also seen our advocacy yield results with increased support for regional arts and culture and more funding for local roads.

Cr King thanked the outgoing board members for their contribution particularly Shane Van Styn who has served for more than 6 years on the Regional Capitals Australia board.

“Mr Van Styn has been a longstanding and tireless advocate for regional Australia providing steadfast leadership over many years, and we wish him well with his new endeavours” Cr King said.

Additional Executive positions confirmed at the AGM were as follows:

  • Secretary – Cr Mathew Dickerson, Mayor of Dubbo Regional Council; and
  • Treasurer – Mr Frank Zaknich, CEO Albury City Council.

State Representative Board positions confirmed were:

  • NSW Regional Representative – Cr Doug Curran Mayor Griffith City Council;
  • VIC Regional Representative – Cr Trent Sullivan Mayor Geelong City Council;
  • WA Regional Representative – Mayor Jerry Clune Mayor City of Greater Geraldton; and
  • QLD Regional Representative – Cr George Seymour Mayor Fraser Coast Council.

“It is an honour to be continuing in my role as Chair, and I look forward to championing the interests of regional capital cities and the people who live there” Cr King concluded.

Regions Rising: National Summit 2023

RCA attended the Regional Australia Institute’s National Summit in Canberra from 13-14 September 2023, with Chair Cr Kylie King a leading presenter at the conference, sharing the opening panel session to discuss progress on the Regionalisation Ambition 2023.

The first progress report into the Regionalisation Ambition was released, indicating that housing and workforce shortages are continuing to hamper regional growth.

The regional rental vacancy rate has increased from 1% to 1.5% which is higher than capital cities, while monthly building approvals have declined. 

Recruitment difficulty in the regions currently stands at 69%, up from 64% just one year ago which confirms anecdotal evidence across all regions that it is increasingly difficult to recruit staff and find suitable accommodation.

There was however positive progress on a number of measures including education, population, digital inclusion, education and employment:

  • The regional population has increased from 9.5 million (2021) to 9.6 million (2022);
  • The Australia Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) score in regions has increased from 67.4 (2021) to 69.8 (2022);
  • The attainment rate for regional students has increased from 69.6% (2020) to 71.4% (2021);
  • Post school qualification completion rate for regional Australians has increased to 58.4%;
  • Life satisfaction and wellbeing in regions has improved to a score of 73;
  • The number of childcare services in regions has increased by 5.2%;
  • Across all domains (except Yr 7 spelling), NAPLAN results have improved for very remote students;
  • The proportion of overseas arrivals in regions has increased slightly to 18.5% (up from 17.4%);
  • Regional workforce participation increased to 63.9% (but still lower than capitals); and
  • Over half of employment in renewable energy generation was based in regions, growing by more than 60% since 2016.

Over two days, the Summit heard from leaders across Australia to discuss how to ‘shift our gaze’ and make further progress on the measures in the Regionalisation Ambition.

Image: Regional Capitals Australia

Federal Regional Funding Program Guidelines

Below is a snapshot of regional funding program guidelines for the two new federal programs: Growing Regions Fund and the Regional Precincts and Partnerships Program.

This analysis shows where RCA’s recommendations have been adopted across both programs.

RCA RecommendationGrowing Regions FundRegional Precincts and Partnerships Program
Funds to be exclusively allocated to regional communities: excluding suburban and metro projectsYes – capital cities excludedYes – capital cities excluded
Review the stated intention to allow State Governments to access federal regional grant programsState Govts ineligible for fundingState Govts can apply provided they demonstrate a partnership with local government
That the Govt commit to annual rounds of fundingThree rounds committedRolling fund – no open or close date
Implement a two-step application process to ensure resources aren’t wasted filling in grant applications with little chance of successYes – EOI and then full applicationNo
Guidelines should support the development of a broad range of enabling infrastructureYesYes, with the exception of housing and emergency management
Funding caps should set Federal contribution at between $10 and $50 million and reflect an accurate population planning statisticYes – $500,000 – $15 millionYes – $5 million – $50 million
Council resources should be used to carry out infrastructure delivery as an in-kind contributionNoYes – contributions can be cash or in-kind
Support for business case developmentNoStream 1 provides funding for business case development

Image: City of Karratha

SEGRA Summit

Cr Matthew Dickerson represented RCA recently at the SEGRA (Sustainable Economic Growth for Regional Australia) National Regional and Economic Development Summit in Toowoomba.  SEGRA is a not-for-profit company that aims to advance regional Australia, and connect and empower rural communities.

Cr Dickerson was one of the opening speakers in the “Influence and Engage” panel session and also presented a highly-engaging speech on “Investment and Planning for Regional Cities”.

Image: SEGRA Foundation

Spotlight on: Armidale – Fast 5 with Armidale Mayor Cr Sam Coupland

How is your community changing and what is driving the growth in the Armidale region?

The overarching strategy of Armidale Regional Council is to grow our population by 10,000 in the next 20 years and then another 10,000 in the following 10 years.  Armidale has two unique factors that are going to underpin this growth – the Renewable Energy Zone (see below) and intensive horticulture.

To achieve this goal council itself needed to be on a secure footing.  Historically Armidale Regional Council (and its earlier iterations) have been financially strapped and as a result the region has never realised its potential.  This current council was determined to put this right and applied for and received a 58.8% rate increase – over three years – which came into effect this financial year. 

What are the biggest priorities for Armidale Regional Council right now?

Our priorities are everything required to achieve the target population growth, specifically:

  • Water security for a population of 50,000+ and associated industry;
  • Ensuring there is sufficient housing;
  • An additional 4,000 jobs will lead to a population increase of 10,000;
  • Improved civic amenities; and
  • Proactively drive tourism.

What are the most significant infrastructure challenges facing Council over the next 5 year and how are you adapting to meet those challenges?

  • Water security:  Council has 80% of the funding to double the capacity of its main water storage (Malpas Dam) and are finalising the pre-construction work which will see the raising of the dam wall being completed by 2026.  In addition to this, in December 2022 Council purchased a disused hydro dam (Oaky Dam) as a backup water supply. 
  • Housing: Armidale Regional Council is putting the finishing touches to the Housing Strategy and Local Strategic Planning Statement.  Both documents have been prepared with assistance from Macroplan and will be put before council in the October meeting and then on public exhibition.  The housing strategy has identified more than 8,500 lots for development which will be sufficient for a population increase of 20,000+.

The New England region has been selected as a Renewable Energy Zone by the NSW government. What does this mean for your community and what has Council learned from the process so far?

The Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) will be the biggest change to our region since settlers arrived with sheep in the 1840’s.  Such change has both positives and negatives for the region.

At one end of the spectrum, the nature of how renewable projects come into being sets the scene for social friction in a community.  This is initially between host landholders and near neighbours who discover they have been kept in the dark about developments which will fundamentally change their amenity and possibly their livelihood. 

The social friction will then radiate outwards to the town centres during construction phase as a tight accommodation market is placed under increased stress and the availability of skilled labour is soaked up.

On the positive side, the construction phase will likely last many years and provide a boost to local economies.  There are post construction opportunities to build on the renewable projects such as green hydrogen production and recycling.  There are opportunities to monetise the wave of renewable developments to ensure multi-generational benefits to the community.

Armidale will effectively become the dormitory for the REZ.  Based on the number of proposed renewable energy projects in the region, practically this means we will need to accommodate 2,000+ workers for the next 10 years.  This is a good problem to have but it requires council to have a solid plan on how we want these workers to be accommodated and what legacy may be left for the region at the conclusion of the construction phase.

All projects in the REZ are either State Significant Developments or State Significant Infrastructure and the initial attitude toward council by government and developers was one of tokenism – some would say patronising tokenism is more accurate.  By banding together with the other councils in New England we were able to establish a ‘Statement of Expectations’ which established some road rules on how renewable developers would participate in our region. 

One of the key items in the Statement of Expectations was that renewable developers pay 1.5% of construction cost as part of a Planning Agreement.  This has now become the industry standard.  In Armidale we will be pooling all funds from the planning agreement into a Future Fund to ensure intergenerational benefit from the REZ.

How do you see the role of regional capitals in the broader context of Australia’s growth?

Regional capitals have the capacity and desire to grow their populations which dovetails as a solution for the state capital cities which are bursting. 

Regional capitals need to be seen by all levels of government as a partner in Australia’s economic and population growth.  Government needs to deliver tangible solutions and do away with platitudes.

Image: Cr Sam Coupland, Armidale Regional Council

Regional Grants Programs

RCA’s advocacy on guideline development for the regional grants has paid off with the government adopting of the majority of RCA’s recommendations.  

The guidelines for the Growing Regions Fund and the Regional Precincts and Partnerships Program include the following new initiatives that aligns with RCA’s regional grants advocacy:

    • Funds exclusively allocated to regional communities (at the exclusion of suburban and metro projects) with guidelines that support the development of a broad range of regional projects and enabling infrastructure;

    • Further funding rounds have been committed for both programs, with the Growing Regions Program instigating a new two-step application process to avoid lengthy application processes for projects with little chance of success;

    • Both programs prioritise community and public infrastructure, with the Growing Regions Program accepting applications valued between $500,000 and $15 million, and the Regional Precincts and Partnerships Program suitable for projects valued between $5 million to $50 million;

    • Support for business case development is available in Stream 1 of the Regional Precincts and Partnerships program; and

    • Council resources (in-kind contribution) are able to be utilised for the Regional Precincts and Partnerships program.

RCA thanks our members for their contribution to our survey which helped shape and determine these recommendations.  Ensuring that regional programs are designed to meet the need of regional communities is fundamental to growing thriving regional capitals and is also a core objective of RCA.

See our table of recommendations and how these are incorporated into the two key regional programs.

 

Image: Maryborough, courtesy Fraser Coast Regional Council

 

Australian Government Urban Policy Consultation Network

Regional Capitals Australia (RCA) has been invited by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development the Hon Catherine King MP to join the Australian Government’s Urban Policy Consultation Network, which will provide advice and feedback to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts on urban policy issues.

In particular, the Network will provide advice on the development of the new National Urban Policy, which will shape the direction of Australia’s cities for the decades ahead.  The policy will aim to develop a shared vision to ensure growth in cities is sustainable to meet the challenges of the future.  The first meeting was held on 20 September and RCA Chair, Cr Kylie King was in attendance to represent regional capitals.

Image: City of Greater Geelong

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