Australian Regional Development Conference 2018

We were excited to attend and host a stall at the Australian Regional Development Conference this year for the first time. The conference provides a platform to network and be part of the conversation on the learnings, solutions and challenges that regional and rural towns experience. The conference theme for 2018 was Uncovering Regional Possibilities with the aim to encourage out of the box thinking and to learn from passionate advocates about what’s happening around the country to develop sustainable communities.

The conferene covers a range of themes from digital connectivity, energy, food & agriculture, liveability & employment, innovation and health services. There were many success stories but we are particularly inspired to hear about the many disruptions occuring around regional areas.

Nina Burke described how the Great Latrobe Park Project team is defining a new future for the void at the Hazelwood coal mine. She explains that they have been inspired by the work done at the Eden Project in the UK. Their proposal has been endorsed by LaTrobe City Council and is in contrast to the plans put forward by the owners of the mine site. Nina explained how the park would offer themed botanic gardens, outdoor sports such as mountain biking, eco retreats, an industrial heritage trail incorporating the now defunct machinery left over from the power station. It was a wonderful example of how a community could benefit while transitioning from the legacy of the coal industry. The proposed tourism park could rehabilitate the site, would provide positive benefits for the community, creating new jobs and stimulating the economy.

Our colleague Amanda Cahill explains how she has been working with coal and gas affected communities to develop economic transition plans that will reduce carbon emmisions while strengthening the local economy. Marcus Foth with whom we have been exploring ideas around the Circular Economy explained how the e-change is impacting the rise of the lifestyle town in regional Australia. Millenials in particular are making use of the flexiblity that the internet provides to look at options outside the big cities, driven by affordability of housing as well as lifestyle choices.

It was exciting to hear about the Biofuel demonstration facility being built in the Hunter Valley where they are developing technologies to produce ethanol from a range of waste plant matter left over from crop harvesting and forestry. This will enable farmers to sell the food portion of their crops while creating a secondary market for leftover waste — creating a new income stream for them. This research will be a valuable part of the Hunter Valley’s transition plans away from coal. If it proceeds to the commercial scale, it could provide hundreds of jobs in the Hunber, while reducing emmisions and creating a new opportunities for the export market.

We hear from Agrifutures Rural Woman of the Year Jillian Kilby who has just launched The Exchange. She explains that it is a space where she is able to help people who have an idea for a start up and wish to take it to the next level. She is an inspiring and authentic speaker with a goal to ensure that no business owner or remote worker stalls at the boundaries of their confidence. She is working with Charles Sturt University to build to build a community for new and growing business owners within Dubbo and the wider region. We hear from Tony Sorenson, a futurist that CSIRO has modelled a number of divergent scenarios for what Australia might look like in 2030. These scenarios have been developed from a number of megatrends that CSIRO have been monitoring. They include planetary push back from climate to bacterial, extracting resources more efficiently even as supplies dwindle and demands increase, the shifting of world economies from west to east, an ageing population that lives longer, exponential growth in digital capabilities, the peer-to-peer economies creating porous boundaries and the balancing of the great expectations of the world’s rich with the basic expectations of the rest.

We come away from the conference having made some valuable contacts and strenthening existing ones. The key to flourishing regional communities will lie in how they respond to the challenges of the future that range from climate variations & liveability to the future of work in an era of technological change. Ultimately, these regional cities will need to be resilient, flexible, innovative, connected and most importantly agile to respond and thrive.

Originally published at www.polisplan.com.au 21 Sept 2018

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