'Confused governments erode regions'

REGIONAL Australia is at a crucial crossroads and the head of the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) wants it to change.

There is a lack of data about regions and a disconnect between high-minded academic research and the reality of policy.

The institute launched in February as part of the deal that saw Julia Gillard secure minority government nearly two years ago.

Institute chairman and Inverell mayor, Mal Peters has taken up the cause with gusto.

Mr Peters said the institute aimed to improve government policies so they better served regional Australia.

"We are looking at the potential for new growth and prosperity in the regions, but a lot of the basic information we need is not readily available.

"So it's no good knowing what could be done if we can't develop better strategies for the regions," Mr Peters said.

Mr Peters said that one of the main problems regional areas faced was the "diffusion" of government programs and organisations.

"Right now, what we've got is regional natural resource management groups, the Regional Development Australia committees and all these different groups."

What happened over time was governments became more confused and the groups engaged in a defence of their patch of turf.

He said this confusion eroded regional people's confidence in the government to address problems that affected them.

"We have a priority issue, and our first objective is to gather the factual information and create a useful database of research on rural and regional issues."

The institute has seven major issues it wants to tackle - from land conflicts to the social dislocation caused by fly-in fly-out mining and how regional Australia responds to natural disasters.

"We need to do the work to understand what the motivators are for people moving in and out of regional areas are - and that issue needs some good thinking.

"While we've got some big challenges, there's some huge opportunities in regional Australia outside major cities and we want to tap into those," he said.

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