Regional policy in Australia: can smart specialisation deliver vibrant and prosperous regional Australian Communities

Anthony Hogan, Bruce Wilson, Chole Ward, Emma Shortis

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Regional policy in Australia is fragmented, incoherent, and reactive. With responsibility sitting uneasily across Federal, State, and local governments, there is evidence of both duplication in responsibilities and significant gaps in the policy frameworks affecting country Australia. Over the past forty years, this has been exacerbated by the public policy which has focused on reducing costs and introducing markets to various aspects of public service provision across Australia, with lasting, negative effects on country communities. This article reviews the multiple challenges facing public regional policy in Australia and considers those challenges in light of international experience and policy development – particularly that led by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the subsequent development of ‘Smart Specialisation Strategies’ (S3) policy in the European Union (EU). This analysis suggests that over the last ten years, policy initiatives in the EU in particular have demonstrated the value of taking a more deliberate approach to regional policy. This observation has been tested in Australia through policy experimentation with S3 in Gippsland in southeast Victoria. This case study suggests that the implementation of S3 might have a transformational effect in country Australia, but that S3 alone would not be enough to deliver vibrant and prosperous regional communities. In line with the gradual evolution of ‘S3’ in Europe to ‘S4’ – Smart Specialisation Strategies for Sustainability - there needs to be a more comprehensive framing of the relationship between city and country Australia, and a new social contract. In the context of the social and environmental challenges identified by country Australians themselves, socio-ecological innovation has emerged as a distinct imperative for this policy experimentation in the Australian context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306-330
Number of pages24
JournalAustralian Jounral of Regional Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2022


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