In a first of its kind, the Regional Development Australia (RDA) areas of Tasmania and southwest Western Australia last month signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish an exclusive collaborative relationship designed to support economic growth in their regions.
In his announcement of the MOU, Former Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government, the Hon Dr John McVeigh, said, “Despite being on opposite sides of the country, these regions have similarities such as the range of products they produce, the industries in each region, and tourism.
Dr McVeigh said the distance between them was actually an advantage because they would rarely compete in the same markets.
This cross country collaboration is the most extreme so far, yet it serves to magnify a trend seen widely across regional Australia.
Twin towns mark III
In the spirit of collaboration traditional cross-border rivals AlburyCity, NSW, and City of Wodonga, Victoria, have created a combined masterplan for their region titled Two cities one community (2C1C).
AlburyCity Mayor, Kevin Mack, said that uniting the two cities makes a great deal of sense.
It has been tried twice before and met resistance from residents.
Mayor Mack is enthusiastic about the prospects of this third attempt, emphasising that this time it is community driven.
“That’s why we call it Two Cities One Community, because we are looking at ways to overcome the barriers and are actually looking at ways of becoming stronger together.
“Its about leading the way and saying to people you can do things better together, instead of having one of everything in both states let’s just have one for the one community and…make it a cheaper and more beneficial way of doing business.
“We share the same waste facility with Wodonga and five other councils on both sides of the border.
“It’s about getting that cost share and creating opportunities for that infrastructure.
“We’ve recently invested in a great Albury Wodonga Cricket Academy.”
Expected to open next year, the North East Regional Cricket Hub and Community Centre, is a $1.3 million partnership between the Victorian Government, Cricket Victoria, Cricket NSW, Cricket Australia, AlburyCity and Wodonga City Council that will see the construction of a four wicket indoor centre, with unisex change rooms and administration space for Cricket Victoria and Cricket Albury Wodonga.
“I don’t care if a big company comes to Wodonga because they still employ people from Albury and vice versa and that’s a different attitude we’ve got now where as when I first got into council six years ago it was us against them.”
The state border adds a layer of complexity not present in other regional partnerships.
Mayor Mack explains, “ There are so many anomalies when you live in a border community that get in the way of good economic productivity let alone common sense – there’s different drivers licences, different L plate and P plates, the builders and plumbers all need different licences in each state, taxis in Wodonga can’t pick up a fare in Albury, it goes on and on.
“I think one of the biggest challenges will be the anomalies. It’s one of the many things we’re choosing to address in this initiative…under the business simplification plans that we’ve got, I think we can overcome those [anomalies].”
City of Wodonga Mayor, Anna Speedie agrees that one advantage of the current plan is the groundswell of community support.
“During the 13 years since I became councillor the two cities, particularly Wodonga, have matured.
“Both cities experienced feedback in their community plans asking us to work closer together and be more cooperative.
“We have addressed that with Two Cities One Community.
“When we put our two community plans side by side they were the same in many ways, the same ideals, they saw the same opportunities.”
She advocates that together the cities can make better use of their assets and their purchasing power.
Recently the two cities’ Aquatic and Leisure Centre management project went out as a joint tender attracting interest that would not have existed if either City had gone out alone.
The successful tender from Aligned Leisure, a subsidiary of the Richmond Football Club, will save Wodonga $150,000, save Albury $50,000 and provide the option for membership to be used across all joint facilities in both towns.
“Its not just about money, community benefits need to be tangible.”
Mayor Speedie said that the test would come when in combination the Cities ask for Victorian money to be spent on a joint project in NSW.
“That’s when the rubber will hit the road,” she said, “time will tell, but so far they [State Governments] have been receptive.
“The Federal Government is over the moon, we’ve been talking about a Regional City Deal, that’s been in for some time.”
The two cities are also working on some strategic plan items that will make better use of the region’s greatest combined asset, the Murray River, for example Gateway Island, Victorian land that abuts NSW along the river.
Mayor Speedie advises other councils to have the conversation, “It’s not about empire building, the cities are stretched but the regions are ready.”
Cooperation is catching
In July the Mayors and Executive management of the Shire of Wentworth, NSW, Mildura, Victoria and Renmark Paringa, South Australia met to resurrect their TriState Local Government Group, which had not met since the 1980s.
Renmark Paringa Mayor, Neil Martinson, was present at the original meetings in his former capacity as CEO of the Paringa Shire Council.
The original alliance fizzled out but 30 years on Wentworth Council approached its neighbours to see if there was any interest in reviving the idea.
Mayor Martinson points out that circumstances here are not the same as for Albury and Wodonga.
While cross border anomalies affect licences and regulations, Renmark lies 146 km from Mildura and Wentworth is a further 25 km.
However the Sturt Highway and the River Murray, two big-ticket items, connect all three Shires.
“Jointly the Riverland-Sunrasia has a population in excess of 100,000, we want to test the waters to see if that proposition has greater interest for State Governments than separately, do we have a stronger voice if we join together?”
Mayor Martinson hopes the combined power of the TriState alliance will encourage development and help to obtain funding for common projects.