Regional Development Strategy: Kadina Forum held 15 July 2019
Response from Fraser Ellis MP, Member for Narungga
I welcome the opportunity to provide written feedback on the work being undertaken to form a state-wide Regional Development Strategy, and the questions posed in the associated discussion paper.
I was pleased to attend the Regional Development Strategy forum in Kadina on 15 July 2019, attended by community members and representatives from local councils and the Regional Development Board.
There are many challenges faced in ensuring towns and communities in regional SA survive and thrive to attract population growth, and those highlighted included the need for investment in infrastructure and services (particularly health), reliable digital connectivity (mobile phone and internet), support for small business and local tourism, attraction and retention of skilled workforces, and the over-reliance and unsustainable use of volunteers to provide emergency and community services.
Whilst the discussion was almost entirely around identifying problems rather than teasing out potential solutions or offering up fresh new ideas, I am optimistic that development of a specific Regional Development Strategy is a very valuable good start in the process of forming a strategic, focussed plan on how best to develop, support and grow regional South Australia.
It is noteworthy that any investment in delivery of essential services to regional areas is also investment in the region’s economic development, and this recognition should be strongly emphasised by policy makers planning future regional development strategy.
Increased recognition that regional road projects build regional communities and unlock economic potential in regions should be reflected in regional development policy formation, just as investment dollars in rural health service improvements and rural hospital upgrades is investment in ensuring regional centres survive and even better, thrive and grow.
Not all communities can have all things. Country people accept this.
But what they do have must be done well.
My responses to the specific questions posed within the Discussion Paper follow:
What are the essential services in your community and how are they best delivered?
Basic essential services are health, communications, energy supply, law and order, roads and transport, education, environment and water. Crucial also is support for the disadvantaged and support for our economically-vital agriculture, tourism and service industries to provide jobs and sustain populations.
Digital connectivity was discussed at length at the forum and I confirm it is a major issue with constituents. Slow internet speeds impact efficiencies and ability to attract investment to regional areas, and we must ensure a level playing field for all businesses and individuals wherever they live and conduct business in the State.
Reliable mobile phone service and power supply are also particularly vital for emergency service provision in regional areas with geographically isolated communities.
Roads must be of a quality to ensure safe travel and transport network efficiency. With no intra or inter-town public bus transport services, all of us living in country areas rely on our own cars or, when we can no longer drive, community transport volunteer services.
On the topic of health, diminishing centralised health services are threatened by GP and staffing shortages being felt across all regions. In recent years surgical services have been downgraded by stealth via insufficient investment in keeping country theatres up to date which then in a domino effect results in falling patient numbers which city-based bureaucrats use to justify service closures.
From contact with constituents, it appears increasing numbers of people in the electorate are either directly going to metropolitan hospitals for reliable health care or being transferred there from local hospitals not equipped to provide the care they need. As a result, city hospitals are overcrowded, ambulances continue to ramp outside them, there’s unacceptable wait times in city Accident and Emergency centres, and literally years-long elective surgery wait lists.
Whilst in-roads into these issues are being made by the Marshall Liberal Government, it is vital that any eroded trust in local health service provision that has occurred under the previous government is restored as the State cannot afford for country people (1/3 of our population) to flood city services. Hence the importance of major capital upgrades of regional hospitals and ongoing maintenance, the latter the Marshall Liberal Government duly recognises via its commitment to annually allocate $14 million specifically for maintenance of country hospitals.
Health services must be decentralised, and the commencement of the locally managed new local health networks the Marshall Liberal Government has introduced is a good start to this process, as is the roll out of supportive telecentre mobile imaging and trials of mobile x-ray machines. But there is much to be done.
For those charged with decision-making across the regional development portfolio, investment in essential health service provision in regional areas must be duly recognised as offering big bang for buck benefits across multiple portfolio areas. Aside from improving health services for local communities, upgraded hospitals and new facilities constructed in regional areas creates jobs, eases pressure on city hospitals, can trigger population migration from city to country, and with the right reform of health training programs, can also stop the drain of young rural people moving leaving regions.
I am a strong believer that existing health services in the Yorke Peninsula and Adelaide Plains regions that are so geographically close (1-2 hrs drive) to Adelaide can and should evolve into major State specialist hospitals/care centres to substantially ease the pressure on metropolitan hospitals and whilst doing so, inject significant economic stimulus and value to regional centres.
For example, the thousands of people waiting years for knee and hip replacements would gladly travel to a regional hospital for such surgery and post-surgery rehabilitation. I am aware Clare District Hospital already does a significant number of knee and hip replacement surgeries and more such elective surgery should be diverted to country hospital theatre lists to bolster their productivity.
Likewise, palliative care centres, dementia and aged care facilities, drug rehabilitation centres, and specialist mental health facilities can be located in regional areas.
With strategic, targeted investment, regional areas can be a major partner with metropolitan health services to substantially reduce the pressures on city hospitals and importantly, save the State from having to build entire new multi-billion-dollar hospitals in built-out CBD/suburbs.
Evidence shows well-resourced busy regional hospitals and treatment centres attract the staff needed to service them by offering a varied, busy and satisfying workplace.
In support of this investment, reform of education and training programs for the health sector needs to occur, including development of in-hospital, on-the-job training programs for nurses (and other specialist areas) within rural hospitals offering nationally-recognised qualifications equivalent to university nursing degree pathways offered in cities. Such initiatives keeps school-leavers in their region and in doing so, helps address regional health staff shortages.
The Barunga Village Aged Care Facility in the Narungga electorate is successfully using such strategy.
Located in the small seaside town of Port Broughton (population 1,125), this provider of premium in-home support services, retirement accommodation and residential aged care is the district’s largest employer (100 staff and volunteers), is renowned for its best practise care, and has won international awards for its specialist dementia services.
To meet its staffing needs, it offers annual intakes of traineeship positions (another seven are currently being advertised for an August 2019 intake), which are particularly attractive for local people of all ages.
Not only is this facility providing essential health services, being the major employer in its district, its existence plays a significant economic role in its region’s survival and growth.
This Aged Care facility additionally underpins a vibrant local retail, services and housing sector and I view it as a model that should be emulated across country areas.
Investment in higher education programs in rural settings serves also as investment in regional development for multi-pronged impact, and such programs should be extended across multiple qualifications on par with university degree pathways.
To address widespread shortages of ambulance volunteers and paramedics across regional centres, regional-based paramedic apprenticeships can also work the same way and are already successfully offered in rural areas of the UK and USA to address skill shortages there.
With investment in health services comes new businesses to rural towns, families moving to the area boosting school numbers and sporting and community clubs, and with population increases naturally comes boosts to basic essential services, justified by increased demand.
Targeted investment, as well as being the most efficient use of tax payer’s money, reaps many rewards, for locals, businesses and the State as a whole.
What priorities should drive government investment in infrastructure? How should regional infrastructure priorities be supported and funded? Is there a role for government here?
It is the role of government to first ensure all regions have essential services, and then to provide the environment in which private enterprise can flourish.
Government should use the expertise available to it to identify rural areas where there is both demonstrated population growth and potential for more growth.
Every region has its strengths and weaknesses, and these must be identified.
As an example, the Copper Coast Council area is a recognised growth area particularly attractive to retirees. Its population grew a stand-out 23.5 % between 2006 and 2016 and continues to rise. Naturally to build on this growth, infrastructure must keep up and such statistics should be used to forward plan for continued growth.
A valid point raised at the forum was the need for regional development decisions to be led by the bottom up, not the top down.
More layers of bureaucratic decision-making are not required.
Best placed to recommend investment needs are the people who live and know the regions --Progress Association leaders, town business groups, local councils, and as mentioned previously, Regional Development Board members. This topic is their core business and their knowledge is vital to decision-making on where money is best spent.
Aside from health services, vital for Yorke Peninsula and the Copper Coast regions is support for the agriculture and tourism industries which includes digital connectivity, ports and jetties upgrades, transport networks, branding and marketing. These are roles government should ensure are provided efficiently.
Here I stress the importance of branding and marketing and the need for substantial government funding to share the message of why living in the regions offers such a quality lifestyle. Media focus is often on what is NOT available in the regions. Let’s talk up what we DO offer – beautiful landscapes, open spaces, friendly people, relaxed lifestyle.
How can regional SA retain its existing young and working age people?
The forum discussed the considerable potential for regional hub universities/higher education opportunities to keep youth in regions longer. Past trends have been to promote online remote learning to remove the need to physically locate services in regional areas. However, quoting a forum participant, recent studies have found courses offered remotely are yielding a 20% pass rate compared with an 80% pass rate for face to face/classroom learning.
As recently discussed with the Minister for Education the Hon. John Gardner, the under-utilisation of Kadina TAFE is of great concern and there is significant potential for improved outcomes for such a valuable regional resource.
The Narungga electorate’s main industries of Agriculture, Fishing, Retail and Healthcare and Social Assistance offer specific scope for increased courses in these fields of endeavour to benefit young people looking for VET/University opportunities and businesses and industry looking to fill recognised skill gaps in their workforces.
I am particularly passionate about arresting the surge of young local people leaving the region directly after finishing school due to a lack of local employment or higher education opportunities.
I see potential to offer university and certificate programs in Agribusiness, Animal Genetics, Crop and Pasture Science, Conservation and Land Manager, Business Management and Marketing.
As well as increased education opportunities, young people will stay in country areas if their towns are vibrant, and can meet their employment, recreation and social needs.
As discussed, offering in-hospital/nursing home training programs in regional hospitals and nursing homes for rural school leavers is also a recommendation.
Regional public transport services provision may also be an important future consideration to better serve young people.
What is required to encourage greater overseas and city to regional migration to regional South Australia?
Population growth brings with it industry growth, job creation, skilled workforces, new small businesses, increased tourism visitation, and more government investment in increased services to meet growth in demand.
We who live here know the benefits: open spaces, more casual living, community camaraderie, spectacular scenery, more affordable housing, lower costs of living, being an easy drive to Adelaide. However, services must be maintained or our people start to move to the city as they age. I have seen evidence of this trend when hospital services were lost at Yorketown, and fear spread that soon there will be no doctors available in a 100 km radius.
Targets should be identified for each region, and investment then strategically placed to support each identified priority.
Such strategic forward planning ensures dollars are spent more efficiently (reducing overlap/duplication/waste); roll out/spend can be staged with confidence; and flagship projects can be located purposefully for vital region to region connectivity flow.
In identifying strategy for Narungga electorate for example, eco-tourism may be the recognised priority for Southern Yorke Peninsula which fits well with ongoing investment in Innes National Park/Rewilding project; cultural tourism for central Yorke Peninsula (Indigenous connections/Cornish history-Moonta Mines National Heritage precinct); health investment for the retirement demographic growth area of the Copper Coast and Port Broughton districts; and horticulture, livestock and agriculture support for the Adelaide Plains and Balaklava/Snowtown areas with its access and proximity to a rail network and Bowmans Intermodal port).
“Big ticket” item decisions should be allocated according to existing or projected growth identification. Using Southern Yorke Peninsula with its tourism identified target as an example, a vehicle/passenger ferry may be the identified priority to boost visitation and vitally link Outer Harbor to Edithburgh, Wallaroo, Lucky Bay on Eyre Peninsula and beyond. Bold vision is needed for optimum impact.
Marketing South Australia’s regions as desirable tourist destinations is another important role of government, and I welcomed the additional $43 million in this State Budget to market South Australia to the world, confirming the Marshall Liberal Government appropriately recognises the importance of tourism as a key economic driver.
Already, domestic and international visitation statistics for SA’s regions are impressive (worth $2.9 billion) and all stakeholders recognise the significant yet untapped economic potential the industry offers.
The commencement of cruise ships into Wallaroo in November may well be a valuable catalyst for new pop-up touring services and with great interest I will see what other challenges and opportunities follow. Certainly, to see the support from the Copper Coast Council and the many community clubs and individuals who are geared to welcome the influx of ship passengers serves as a reminder of how well parochial rural communities support each other and roll out the welcome mat.
Investment in walking trails, bike tracks, tour operators and self-drive tours is already occurring. The investment in a ferry service would build on these successes in a big way and link every region together to help all alleviate the current struggles for regional tourism businesses dealing with significant seasonal highs and lows of tourist visitation.
I am also pleased the Marshall Liberal Government recognises the valuable role roads and jetties play in tourism development and regional growth strategies. Any investment in transport networks is also investment in tourism and regional development opportunities.
Where’s the next generation of business and community leaders and what skills do they require?
There are existing valuable initiatives to encourage community participation and leadership – from councils and business development groups, PIRSA, Ag Bureaus, Progress Associations, Rotary and Lions Clubs, Show societies, RDA, etc.
Instilling a passion in local individuals to care about their region and what happens in it invariably results in individuals rising into leadership positions within their community.
The introduction of more grant programs specifically to inspire and support emerging leaders in business, industry, schools, and communities is recommended.
How can we ensure future regional workforce skills are identified and invested in? How can we upskill or reskill the existing regional workforce so that they can transition into the jobs of tomorrow?
The Marshall Liberal Government has done valuable work in this area since coming to office, with Skilling South Australia on track to creating an extra 20,800 traineeships and apprenticeships within the next four years.
There are almost 70 Skilling South Australia projects worth more than $13 million that have been funded by government and co-designed with business and industry to drive apprenticeship and traineeship growth, with emphasis on creating new business that can survive and grow and build a workforce with the skills needed to fill future jobs.
With this work, and major reform of rural health training programs as previously described, I am confident the State will meet future workforce requirements.
What needs to happen to encourage investment in regional South Australia? What factors would encourage innovators and entrepreneurs to remain or locate in regional SA?
If there is confidence regional populations are growing, private investment will follow. Thus, it is vital well formulated regional population growth strategies are shared and widely embraced and backed by appropriate government infrastructure investment.
Digital connectivity surety is vital for success; no business can run competitively and effectively without confidence in internet, mobile phone and power supply affordability, availability and continuity.
What is also essential is recognition that unlike our interstate counterparts, SA has few large regional centres. We must grow them and to do that, we must make them attractive places to live and do business.
Are there other key enablers that will drive regional development and support our regional communities to thrive?
The Marshall Liberal Government’s Regional Growth Fund is in place and is a vital tool. It is designed to unlock new economic activity, improve digital connectivity, and the Regional Roads and Infrastructure Fund provides specific funding for regional infrastructure. We are on the right track.
The job for State Government is to now explicitly target where tax payer funds should go. All agencies must agree to a specific model of investment rather than a fragmented portfolio-led approach that has, in the past, seen funds granted on hope of a good outcome and where publicity about the investment is given more emphasis than measuring whether the investment worked or not.
As is stated in the discussion paper, population growth is widely acknowledged as a key ingredient for economic growth, and from it often flows higher levels of services and enhanced liveability. Thus, I welcome the recognition by Minister for Regional Development the Hon. Tim Whetstone of the vital importance of a well-planned and focussed regional population growth strategy in meeting our regional growth aspirations.
Other enablers may include smaller, targeted regional grant programs, such as a main street beautification fund for tourist thoroughfare towns to support Progress Associations activities (street art, community toilets, painting empty shop fronts, signage, trees and landscaping, local shopping campaigns etc.) Such projects can cost little yet greatly enhance visitor experience and bring local communities together, instilling local pride and attracting new businesses.
As recently advocated by Food SA, more work around region product labelling and distribution for all local produce would also be welcome and should be led by government to provide cohesiveness and a consistent message.
Waste management is another area I envisage as offering great potential for future economic and jobs growth for regional areas via new recycling businesses and product development. Support by State Government for this largely untapped industry should be a priority.
Finally, I believe a successful regional development strategy will also provide an added benefit of helping to clear some blurred lines of responsibility that I see as forming between tiers of government resulting in inefficiencies and expensive service duplications.
Local councils can be over burdened by State responsibilities and should be freed to focus on core responsibilities – planning, local roads, streetscapes, waste services, stormwater management, libraries, parks and gardens.
A stronger partnership between tiers of government may result from the clear pathway offered via a well formulated regional development strategy.
Regional South Australia contributes an estimated $25.9 billion to the State’s economy with just under 30% of the State’s population.
Rewarding our rural entrepreneurs and communities with focussed, well planned strategic support for their efforts and investment is what they deserve and, equally importantly, will bring significant, measured economic benefit to the State as a whole.