Oakeshott Wants Fair Go for All in Australia; Rob Oakeshott Has a Clear Blueprint for Regional Australia,reports Daniel Burdon

Article excerpt

IN his now famous 17-minute speech to announce his support for Labor to form government in September 2010, independent MP Rob Oakeshott hinted at what was to come for regional Australia during the 43rd Parliament.

Emerging from 17 hectic days of intense political negotiations, Mr Oakeshott said the agreement he and fellow independent Tony Windsor had struck with Julia Gillard would aturbo-chargea regional Australia.

Making no fewer than six references to regional Australia, the speech was a transparent display of his priorities.

aWe are asking for equity. Equity has not been delivered to regional Australia for too long and that is now about to change,a he said.

While many efforts have been made since Federation to create an even playing field for regional Australia against the voter-heavy capital cities, the combination of a minority government, formed with the support of two country-based independent MPs, put the issue front and centre. So, what have the past two years actually delivered for people living outside the nation's cities?

As part of the agreement to form government, the independents had many demands of the Prime Minister.

Among the demands were reforms to the way the Parliament would function, the creation of 55 committees to help guide regional investment around the nation, and a promise of $9 billion for remote, rural and regional areas.

It was an achievement of which Mr Oakeshott was particularly proud a one unlikely to have been delivered without the unusual circumstance of the current Parliament.

aBut it's there now, and we have developed a whole new framework to ensure the issues people in regional areas are worried about are taken into account,a he said.

aThose changes, and the $9 billion we were able to secure a those are things regional Australia simply would not have otherwise.a

Mr Oakeshott said the Regional Development Australia committees, closely linked to local councils, were crucial to the anew approacha to regional development.

aSince Federation, we've had a top-down approach to regional development,a he said.

aBut these committees now mean locals are making the decisions about what are the most important projects for their region.

aAs long as the projects have financial backing, the government comes on board to top it up, and I think that's helped to empower regional communities.a

Another initiative was the creation of an $8 million Regional Australia Institute a a new body dedicated to solving research and data problems anywhere in the country except for the major cities. It has already compiled a list of 80,000 existing regional research papers, helping to find gaps in research and data about the regions to better target future efforts.

Mr Oakeshott said other crucial measures in the agreement included dedicated regional funding for health, education and transport infrastructure, as well as regional jobs expos.

aI think what I'm most proud of is that we were able to secure investment in regional hospitals and education,a he said.

aWe got a $1.8 billion round of health infrastructure funding last year for regional projects, as well as $41 million for other primary care services. …