The federal government should capitalise the wave of COVID-induced tree-change interest with a comprehensive regionalisation policy, that does more than repeat the tired thinking of relocating city jobs to regional areas, the National Farmers Federation says.
The organisation released a new policy paper, which calls for a list of shovel ready projects that can be funded every time there is a need for a fiscal stimulus and short-term tax incentives to kickstart private investment.
NFF chief executive Tony Mahar said the paper provided a clear pathway for regional development, leveraging Australians' heightened interest in working and living outside urban centres due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Australia stands alone in having almost 65 per cent of its population in big cities, compare that to New Zealand or Canada who only have 30 per cent - this concentration causes major problems," Mr Mahar said.
"To make regionalisation happen, we need to throw the same level of resources for place-based development of regional centres as we do for places like Western Sydney."
Along with addressing the annual $3.8 billion infrastructure shortfall in regional Australia, value adding in the agricultural industry through food and fibre processing can play a vital role in regionalising the nation.
"Australia is without a cotton processing facility, despite Australian cotton being some of the most sought after in the world - the same is almost true for our renowned Merino wool," Mr Mahar said.
"Regional Australia should be the host of a world leading export industry in food and fibre manufacturing. The fact we are not is a missed opportunity."
The report called for regionalisation to be elevated to a National Cabinet issue, so it is regularly discussed by the Prime Minister and the state's premiers. The National Cabinet should also establish 20 place-based regional development precincts.
The NFF recommended a national review of the 7pc discount rate used to assess infrastructure proposals, which often left regional projects devalued and deprioritised.
"We must challenge our bureaucrats whose decision-making processes always relegate transformational regional infrastructure behind infrastructure for our cities," Mr Mahar said.