Grievance delivered in Parliament
Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (15:14): With times of crisis also come times of opportunity. During the pandemic we have all had to rethink the way we live, work and spend our leisure time. One of the biggest re-shifts has occurred around traditional work patterns, flexibility and the nine to five workday. Working from home has become the new normal for some, and it has become clear that the new office environment does not have to involve a CBD location.
The pandemic has opened up a major opportunity to rethink the way we work and the traditional office. Why should your location dictate your job options and opportunities, and why should your job options be dictated by your location? Rather than a city-centric approach, why can we not look at a model that spreads economic and government functions more evenly across the state? This is called decentralisation. This is a word that I heard quite frequently before the state election but have not heard too much since.
Of the 100,000 people employed in the South Australian public sector, only a small percentage are located outside metropolitan areas. New South Wales has 6 per cent, while South Australia has just 0.2 per cent of the workforce based in regional areas, the lowest of all states. The Regional Australia Institute has created a new initiative called the Regional Australia Council 2031. This is the first of its kind in Australia.
Ten major Australian businesses have committed to this initiative, which is encouraging people to live and work in regional areas. There are many who believe that South Australia's regional areas are set for a post-pandemic boom. South Australia is a land-rich state with a low population density, ideal for tree changes and sea changes alike. People will be looking for housing affordability, lifestyle, a sense of community and less commute time, but they will also be looking for good jobs.
Governments need to invest in regional areas to make the most of this opportunity. Departments and positions responsible for making decisions that affect regional people I believe should be based in regional and rural areas. Accountability is paramount. I still find it ironic that Country Health SA, an organisation dealing specifically with regional health, has its main office in King William Street in the CBD of Adelaide. Why not Mount Gambier, Port Lincoln, Port Augusta, Port Pirie or any one of our other regional areas?
Mr Hughes interjecting:
Mr BELL: Even Whyalla. Sorry, Eddie. We want the best and brightest to make South Australia their home and place of work. We need greater investment in our regions. The funding has to be there to back up ideas and initiatives. Things that metropolitan people take for granted—infrastructure, connectivity and support, co-working spaces—are sorely lacking in our regions. It is here where the state government's Regional Growth Fund could provide a solid kickstart.
The state government has committed $150 million over 10 years through the Regional Growth Fund, with three major projects in the Limestone Coast awarded. However, $15 million per year, divided amongst the seven original councils of South Australia, equates to just over $2 million per year per region. I can tell you that much more needs to be done in this space. Millions and millions, if not billions, are spent in our capital cities and regions deserve their fair share.
To see any real economic investment, I would like to see the commitment for this fund increased to $100 million over four years. Now is the time to invest in our regions. If we want the best and brightest working and choosing to work in regional South Australia, we have to offer them every possible option and incentive. I have heard the catchcry #RegionsMatter; now it is time to make that a focus.