Tag us! #SEGRA

SEGRA Foundation

It’s time to acknowledge the disease: Why the regions in Australia will never get anywhere unless they get LOUD

By Annemaree Jensen

George Wilkinson is heartily tired of the same old story, the one that says the regions aren’t growing because they’re isolated, have few natural advantages, or are lazy and incompetent. George has a PhD in Regional Development from the University of Western Australia and his research shows that neither of the above arguments actually stand up to statistical scrutiny. His research instead found that Australia is missing critical bottom up economic development channels that have created successful regional economic growth in federations like the US and Canada.

“In Canada and the US there are four recognised and protected tiers of government: local, county, state/provincial, and federal,” George explains. “Local governments are a legally protected tier of government. Both local governments and counties have access to sales tax revenue that enables them to fund infrastructure projects and take out bigger loans. However in Australia, local governments have few powers to raise significant funds for large infrastructure projects outside of rates. They are not being given a fair go.” 

George is unapologetically definite about the severity of the regional development situation in Australia. “Federation is supposed to be a system of government that continually devolves power downwards, however the reality is that Australian states have more in common with the post-colonial governments of Latin America and Africa. The Australian federal government has access to over 80% of taxation revenue and this centralisation of fiscal power puts us on a par with many unitary dictatorships.” 

But George is of the opinion that there’s always hope. “The first step is to acknowledge the disease and then it’s on the regions to get louder,” George states, “Local governments in the regions have more power than they realise if they raise their voices collectively. Australia has now well and truly reached a level of economic maturity that should allow higher tiers of government to focus on empowering the regions.”

Dr George Wilkinson will present at the National Regional and Economic Development Summit in Toowoomba. George is a management consultant with expertise in strategy, organisational design, and change management. He is also a graduating PhD and researcher in regional development at the University of Western Australia. His PhD, titled ‘A Scarcity of Large Non-Capital Cities: A national analysis of the drivers of settlement in Australia,’ examined how institutions sculpt economic geography in Australia.

Registrations for the National Regional and Economic Development Summit are now open.