Bridget McKenzie flags next generation of Nationals' decentralisation policy

Senator Bridget McKenzie has spoken of the Nationals' decentralisation plan for the first time since returning to cabinet. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Senator Bridget McKenzie has spoken of the Nationals' decentralisation plan for the first time since returning to cabinet. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Bridget McKenzie wants the government to adopt a population-shifting plan aiming for half of Australia's future population growth to occur outside capital cities, incentivised by $100 billion in government spending directed to the regions through the decade to 2030.

Boosting regional Australia has been a "vexed" policy area for bureaucrats, the Minister for Regionalisation told a summit in Wodonga on Friday in her first major speech since rejoining cabinet and taking charge of the Nationals' efforts to decentralise the public service.

Not all regional centres will take up the invitation to grow, she said, but she envisaged many non-capital cities "with populations well in-excess of 300,000" with targeted support from government and business.

"As a government we want to invest in regional centres that are already well-primed for growth," Senator McKenzie said.

"I've asked my department to identify a group of regional cities that have met a defined set of criteria based in research that could be used as future cities of rapid growth."

Candidate regional centres for the targeted public funding needed to already have populations between 25,000 and 250,000 and be at least 90 minutes travel from a capital city.

Australia's geostrategic interests would also be considered in prioritising regional centres, such as manufacturing capabilities, proximity to critical raw materials and key infrastructure, she said.

Encouraging city dwellers to leave for regional centres was part of the "dreaming and scheming of federal governments" throughout the last century but was what Australia should be doing "if we're serious about reducing emissions and growing sustainable, prosperous regions", she said.

"We cannot nor should we continue to concentrate growth on capital cities - they just keep getting bigger, and they're not any healthier, particularly Sydney and Melbourne," Senator McKenzie said.

"The greater goal of regionalisation is to be a better, stronger nation, with regional cities that are underpinned by innovative industries built on the competitive advantage of each region that are supported by skilled and stable workforce."

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Senator McKenzie said her department had estimated government investment in the regions through to 2030 would likely exceed $100 billion, excluding health and social security measures, based on current and previous funding levels.

Backing sustainable, prosperous regions was in the national interest and the interests of her political party, she said.

Some of those programs, like the Building Better Regions Fund, have been criticised in parliament for the appearance of partisan pork barrel efforts.

Senator McKenzie was previously a cabinet minister with responsibility for Agriculture and Sport.

She resigned in February last year over a sporting grants scandal in which she diverted public funds to a gun club that she was a member of and had not disclosed. She was re-appointed to cabinet in July.

This story McKenzie's decentralisation plan 2.0 takes shape first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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