Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2012-2013 Week 1 Hansard (29 November) . . Page.. 305..
Questions without notice
MS PORTER: My question is to the Chief Minister. You recently took on the new portfolios of higher education and regional development. Can you explain why you saw the need to create these portfolios?
MS GALLAGHER: I thank Ms Porter for the question and for her interest in the matters of regional development and higher education. This again was a decision that I took around some priorities for the next four years across the ACT. I am very strongly of the view that we need to focus on the role of higher education across our economy and across the community, and indeed build up the regional capacity we have as the major service centre of a very large population.
Collectively, at June 2011, the ACT and surrounding south-east New South Wales had an estimated population of 600,000, which is around eight per cent of the combined New South Wales and ACT population. The ACT represents about 60 per cent of the total Australian capital region and over the past decade the population of this region has grown by about 75,000 people. So you can see from those figures that it is incredibly important that we understand our role in the region, that we look for the benefits that can flow to Canberra from being the regional centre, and that we also look at ways to collaborate with our regional partners, including the New South Wales government, the local councils, and including those important councils that are within one hour of the ACT.
We have taken some decisions around that. We signed the New South Wales-ACT memorandum of understanding for regional collaboration with Premier O'Farrell. This will in time—it is only early days; it has been 12 months—commit both governments to a regional approach, in a sense a borderless approach across a number of areas. The most obvious area and perhaps the most developed area is in terms of delivery of our health services, but also importantly looking at economic opportunities, looking at our land use planning and infrastructure, and also looking at the role we play in terms of providing education to numbers of students coming from around the region.
We have also become a full member of the South-East Regional Organisation of Councils, affectionately known as SEROC, which includes the 12 local governments surrounding the ACT. We have never been a member of this organisation before, and I think it is important that the ACT is at the table talking with those mayors around the issues that are challenges for them and also examining opportunities that can come from working together.
In terms of creating a portfolio for higher education, this is a unique development in the ACT. I must say that I have had some very strong feedback from the vice-chancellors about how pleased they are to have higher education recognised. This will be, and increasingly will need to be, a major growth area for our economy. It has the potential to contribute on a number of fronts, not just in terms of allowing our