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The Nationals Member for Gippsland Darren Chester has been appointed as the new chair of the Federal Government’s Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation.

The committee is currently inquiring into the best approaches to growing and sustaining regional communities throughout Australia along with public and private sector decentralisation initiatives.

Mr Chester said he had strong views on the issue after working with regional lobby group ‘Champions of the Bush’ prior to entering Parliament and spending the past two years as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.

“I’m not going to pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry but I have no doubt that connectivity in all its forms is critical to the future prosperity of regional communities,” Mr Chester said.

“It’s about connecting our communities to each other, to capital cities and to the world through better road, rail and airport links, along with telecommunications improvements.

“Improved connectivity makes it easier for people to run their businesses and live in regional areas.

“It’s an important inquiry being undertaken by MPs from all sides of politics and I’m looking forward to working with them and the expert panel as we develop our report in the months ahead.”

Mr Chester said he supported the concept of public sector decentralisation but predicted more jobs would flow in the future from encouraging corporate moves to regional areas.

“I’m passionate about investing in our regions and ensuring our regional centres are thriving and we promote the benefits of these communities as widely as possible,” he said.

“We need to remove any barriers for businesses looking to decentralise their operations as our capital cities become congested and productivity is impacted.

“As city land prices increase, it will become more attractive for some businesses to relocate and governments at all levels need to provide the infrastructure to help that happen.

“Our belief in the future of regional communities needs to be backed up with strategic government investment that makes a real difference in people’s lives. I think the decentralisation of public service jobs is a good initiative but it isn’t the only answer to regional growth.

“Sustainable regional growth requires an ongoing program of regional development and infrastructure spending that would give the private sector more confidence to invest outside the major cities.

“We need to encourage private businesses to expand or move to regional areas to boost local jobs growth. Businesses will only make the decision to move or expand to regional areas if those locations are well connected to each other, our capital cities and world markets.

“We need to consider the provision of transport and communications connectivity to build on current strengths, while investing in services and facilities that support locals, attract visitors and encourage growth in new and emerging industries.”

The committee is expected to hold several public hearings in coming weeks and is due to table its report to Federal Parliament in May this year.

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