SOME of the best and brightest minds from across rural, regional and remote Australia will join forces in Toowoomba next month to chart a path towards sustainable economic growth outside the nation’s capital cities. 

The inaugural National Regional and Economic Development Summit will explore innovative solutions to the complex challenges facing regional Australia, over two days of thought provoking discussions, workshops and networking opportunities. 

From why local government should get out of its own way to unlock growth and prosperity, to the impact of “childcare deserts” on local economies and why some regions “spiral up” after natural disasters, the program champions what’s possible in country communities with the right frameworks and community engagement. 

Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre precinct will host the two day event. IMAGE: Southern QLD Country Tourism

The summit will be hosted by the Sustainable Economic Growth for Regional Australia or SEGRA Foundation, in partnership with Toowoomba Regional Council. 

The SEGRA Foundation is now in its 27th year and its values of inclusivity and being bi-partisan, evidence based and solutions focused will guide the national event, which has replaced the group’s long-running annual conference.

The new format was designed to maximise participation and interactivity between guests and generate practical solutions they can take back to their communities and use to lobby local, state and federal governments.

Day one of the Summit will follow a format of “Think, Discuss, Act” as attendees gather on the main stage of Toowoomba’s iconic Empire Theatre (pictured above) to engage directly with speakers, panellists and peers. 

They’ll unpack four key themes; influence and engagement, jobs and skills, digital connectivity and economic development. 

SEGRA Director Caroline Robinson. IMAGE: Supplied

SEGRA Foundation directors Caroline Robinson (WA), Ashley Bland (NSW), Simon Boughey (TAS) and Charles Jenkinson (WA) told the Caller they had bought together the “doers” from rural Australia, from government, academia, not-for-profits and industry to present at the Summit.

Caroline Robinson (pictured left) said she wanted attendees to feel energised and connected after the two days, and like their voices had been heard, having contributed to discussions of national significance. 

“We will formulate a pre-Summit survey seeking attendees’ input to help guide the program and we believe it will be an opportunity to listen to different perspectives and work collaboratively across geographical boundaries,” Robinson said. 

“The challenge for policymakers, politicians and foundations such as ours is that no two regions in Australia are alike.

“However, what is consistent is that people make the difference. 

“This year’s summit will be investing in the people who lead and activate rural, remote and regional Australia.” 

Day two of the summit will see 40 different presenters tackle a wide range of topics in small group sessions such as mentoring and career development, tourism and events, migration and multiculturalism and community resilience. 

Guests can expect plenty of networking time at the National Summit. IMAGE: SEGRA

Robert Prestipino will be sharing his insights on how “micro precincts” can help save small towns. 

Prestipino is an urban designer, registered landscape architect and Australian certified economic developer who created a “micro precinct framework” which puts local small businesses at the core of liveable communities and economic growth. 

One of his success stories is the Quilpie Wellspring precinct created for the Quilpie Shire in Outback Queensland which, like many rural communities, is facing a declining population and dwindling job opportunities from traditional industries in the area. 

“The Quilpie Wellspring precinct concept essentially utilises a vacant area in the centre of Quilpie to support a range of co-located family businesses that benefit from shared water and energy costs,” Prestipino said. 

“The project also builds in circular economy principles such as photovoltaic panels and water cycling in order to further reduce business operating costs and to boost profitability, as well as to reduce environmental impacts.” 

The summit’s other keynote speakers include food waste charity OzHarvest’s Bernard Tobias, Federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories Kristy McBain and the University of Western Australia’s Dr George Wilkinson. 

Wilkinson said he was tired of the old story that the regions weren’t growing because they were isolated, had few natural advantages, or were lazy and incompetent. 

Instead, his research in regional development found Australia was missing critical, bottom-up economic development channels that had enabled successful economic growth in federations like the US and Canada.

Guests can expect him to fire up when he outlines how local governments are missing out on the tax revenue needed to fund key infrastructure projects. 

“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,” Wilkinson said. 

“The first step is to acknowledge the disease and then it’s on the regions to get louder. 

“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.” 

A networking dinner will be held at the Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport terminal. IMAGE: Southern QLD Country Tourism

Minister McBain told the Caller she was looking forward to practical ideas to enhance regional economic development being shared and forged during the summit. 

“‘We want people in our regions to seize diverse employment, training and economic opportunities so that communities can thrive,” she said.

The SEGRA Foundation said Toowoomba was an ideal location for its new event, as a regional city of more than 166,000 people coupled with a diverse economy. 

Guests can also expect plenty of networking time, including a dinner in the terminal at Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport (pictured above) after a tour of the adjacent business park. 

The National Summit runs July 26 and 27 with early bird registration open now.

For more information and to book tickets, head to the SEGRA website

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