Federal Budget 2017: boost for regional Australia?

With the city getting its fair share of funding, it’s great to see the government pledging to increase investment in regional areas in the 2017-18 Federal Budget.

The big headline here is that the government has committed to a $472 million Regional Growth Fund.

This fund will seek to develop “infrastructure projects that back regions’ plans to adapt to the changes taking place in the economy”. But there’s nothing concrete on what these projects may look like at this stage.

It’s also putting another $200 million into the Building Better Regions Fund.

In a major infrastructure announcement, it’s committed $8.4 billion in equity for the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail Project, which will significantly expand freight capacity on the eastern seaboard.

This means more product from regional areas can make its way to Australian cities and ports.

The government has also promised to put $24 million into a Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships program.

This will make available scholarships of up to $20,000 each for students undertaking undergraduate or post-graduate studies in “priority fields of study” including science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health.

If you’re a small business in a regional area, the Government is aiming to help your success by stimulating activity in regional areas and make a more skilled workforce available.

Time will tell whether the funding is enough to meet this lofty goal.

It’s about skilling up the workforce in regional Australia to meet the needs of tomorrow’s industries.

The government has also promised to “refocus” an existing measure in the Entrepreneurs Programme to encourage more incubators to set up in regional areas.

This includes grants to support the establishment of regional business incubators.

Why is the government doing this?

While Australia remains a densely urban country, it’s vitally important that the whole country is considered.

The Treasurer acknowledged tonight that “some regional areas have been disconnected from our national growth”.

Any measure which stimulates economic activity in regional areas has the potential to help small businesses in those areas.

The government’s focus on building skills capacity is also an acknowledgement that Australia’s transition to a knowledge economy has the potential to act as a further drain on regional areas.

For decades young people in regional areas have gone to the ‘big smoke’ to chase work and training. With many of the jobs of tomorrow slated to be based in the CBDs of major cities – this could be amplified.

What the government is trying to do is make sure people in regional areas have the skills and capability to work in the industries of tomorrow. It’s taking the first steps in redressing some of the expected ‘brain drain’ from the country to the city.