Media release – Calls for decentralised governance in outback welcomed

Director of the ANDEV/IPA North Australia Project, John Shipp, has welcomed calls for more decentralised governance in remote areas of Australia.

A report by Desert Knowledge Australia recommends radical changes to how remote Australia is run, including decentralising governance and decision making. It found a “deep sense of disconnect and discontent” pervades remote Australia.

“Desert Knowledge Australia is right to point out that remote Australia feels ill-served by government. Our own research indicates resentment of our major centres of power, particularly Canberra, is deep and widespread in remote and North Australia,” Mr Shipp said.

Quantitative polling performed exclusively for the Institute of Public Affairs in May 2011 found that 60 per cent of Australians believe decision makers in Canberra do not understand the needs of families and businesses in North Australia. Only 16 per cent said decision makers in Canberra were in touch with the needs of Northern Australians.

“The needs of remote communities are very different from those in regional centres and the major cities. As the report suggests, we need to radically rethink service delivery and governance in this country so that decisions are made as close to the people as possible.”

Mr Shipp also pointed to Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision as an example of a civil society organisation the Desert Knowledge Australia report called for.

“ANDEV was initiated by private sector individuals in May 2010. It anticipated many of the problems set out in the report, and does exactly what the report says is needed; private sector individuals advocating on behalf of economic development in remote regions of Australia,” Mr Shipp said.

Mr Shipp said he found the idea of a Commission for Remote Australia interesting, but warned that many of remote Australia’s issues won’t be fixed by adding a new layer of bureaucracy.

“The focus of governance reform in remote Australia needs to be reducing regulatory barriers to development and growth. There is always a danger with new government bodies that they will merely make life more difficult by adding complexity to bureaucratic processes,” Mr Shipp said.

“Such a commission is nevertheless worth investigating, particularly if it is combined with a low-tax, low-regulation Special Economic Zone. The commission would need to be independent from the rest of the bureaucracy, be empowered to grant approvals on behalf of all levels of government, and have direct contact with its constituents and various decision-makers at all levels of government.”