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Reinvigorating the regions

REGIONAL businesses face all the problems of those in the city but also deal with the added pressure that comes with their location; it’s an isolation that acts as a barrier to potential markets or access to cheap and abundant inputs, including workers.

But perhaps most telling is the regions’ separation from the capital market. In many ways the regions have fallen victim to an ‘out of sight-out of mind’ mentality.

These were some of the obstacles touched on at the recent Regional Chamber of Commerce conference.

In his address to the conference, WA Premier Geoff Gallop emphasised the importance and difficulties of attracting capital funding.

“For too long the venture capitalists, bankers and the financial community have wanted to locate themselves and their capital in Perth,” Dr Gallop said.

“The innovation and the ‘can-do’ attitude needs to be recognised by the financial community.”

To do this, Dr Gallop said the Government was facilitating a number of tours that take investors into the regions.

“It’s about putting the investors on the ground to ensure this happens,” he said. “This partnership requires you as chambers to look at what you’ve got. At the end of the day we want capital to meet with business.”

WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy president Peter Lalor said for regional areas, particularly the South West, the key issue was investment in transport.

“In my view, the key to the successful and ongoing development of the South West region is continued investment in transport and shipping infrastructure and lower energy costs,” he said.

But Mr Lalor said perhaps the biggest impediment to regional growth was the lack of good facilities in terms of health, education or law and order. The shortage of entertainment or restaurants also was of concern.

He said research by the mining industry into regional areas indicated that people in the city and coastal areas, particularly in the past 10 or 15 years had a lifestyle, which was the envy of the world.

“The problem is that this lifestyle is, in general terms, not accessible to people or workers in regional areas,” Mr Lalor said.

“The continuous failure of government to provide proper health care, hospitals, nursing and so forth has left workers in a situation where they simply cannot, in most cases, take the view that they would prefer to live in these areas rather than the city.”

He said a unified policy for regional Australia was required to bring together the ideas of all levels of government so as to ensure the regions were sustainable.

“Governments and some sectors of industry have removed services and community infrastructure from regional areas over a long period of time,” Mr Lalor said.

“Until this situation is reversed it is very difficult for employers, whether they be in the public or private sector, to entice people to work in regional WA.

“Until the government invests in regional communities – as it has said it will – employees and management can see limited benefit in living in regional WA.”

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