The term regionalism describes the process where regional communities have
greater influence over and participate more directly in the decision making
that impacts on their region and their futures. Regionalisation is the process
of government or industry creating administrative regions for more efficient
program management, with powers devolved to a greater or lesser extent, from
central administration to regional managers. Many regional development
activities have their origins in regionalisation, but are essentially
characterised by a close connection to regionalism.
The potential for NSW Government services to be regionalised was explored
under the Wran Government in the early 1980s, but proposals did not proceed.
Today, many of the arguments that led to the call for regionalisation in the
1980s are still voiced.
In terms of regional development per se, it is apparent that there is
confusion over the roles of the different levels of government, and of what
regional development entails. The history of government involvement in regional
planning and development has tended to be one of a series of fits and starts
with none actually realising anywhere near its full potential. The jury is
still out on regionalism and the effectiveness of sustainable regional
development initiatives and their associated regional organisations.
A review of the seminal literature on regional development, and key lessons
about how regions work and how governments can intervene, is presented.
The level of involvement of the Commonwealth Government in regional policy
has varied over the years, and the debate about the respective roles of
Commonwealth and State Government in regional policy has been waged vigorously
over the last five decades.
In NSW the Department of State and Regional Development is the lead agency
in the promotion of both regional and metropolitan development. The Department
sponsors and provides financial support to 13 Regional Development Boards. The
Boards are designed to provide a strategic framework for economic growth and
the development of local leadership. However, the most appropriate method of
coordinating regional development in NSW is an issue of considerable debate.
The development of four urban regions: the Hunter; Central Coast; Western
Sydney; and the Illawarra is then discussed. The regional development
strategies used for each of these areas are compared, and it is concluded that
solutions and funding allocated from centralised bureaucracies without
community involvement will not produce long term sustainable regions.