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CLAIR Forum 2017: Regional Activation

27 June 2017

On 22 February,  Japan Local Government Centre Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) Sydney and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Institute for Public Policy and Governance (IPPG) in cooperation with Junee Shire hosted the 2017 CLAIR Forum. This year’s theme was regional activation, which is an important issue in both Australia and Japan. 

We invited IPPG Director, Professor Roberta Ryan to act as a facilitator for the forum and IPPG Professor Lee Pugalis and Mr Matthew Holt, Visitor Economy Officer at City of Wagga Wagga as guest speakers.

CLAIR Assistant Directors, Toshiya Komatsu, Motohiro Suzuki, Yu Kawamura, Rina Okamoto and Nanako Shimada delivered presentations focusing on their local government’s approach to regional activation. Workshops were also conducted with the attendees.

The forum began with a welcome message from Masahisa Yoshimi, the Deputy Director at CLAIR. After that, Prof Roberta Ryan and Cr Robin Asmus, Councillor of Junee Shire, addressed the audience. Before the first session, Mr Yoshimi made introductory remarks and explained the Japanese local government system and issues which Japanese local governments are currently facing.

Session 1

The first session was delivered by Prof Lee Pugalis, Mr Toshiya Komatsu and Mr Motohiro Suzuki.

Prof Pugalis provided a broad overview of the theme of regional activation in terms of how the dual notions of ‘regions’ and ‘activation’ are understood in different geographical, social and international contexts. Australia is promoting the use of ‘City Deals’ in urban areas to accelerate infrastructure development and population growth, but Professor Pugalis’ research highlights how deal-making is just as applicable in other contexts, such as places experiencing population decline. Therefore, ‘Rural’ or ‘Regional Deals’ are advocated to complement the metropolitan-focused ‘City Deals’.

Mr Komatsu who has been despatched from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government explained the cooperation between local governments by citing the example of Tokyo and Yubari. After Yubari city suffered a financial collapse with a debt equivalent to 700 million Australia Dollars, Tokyo declared its support to Yubari. With Tokyo’s support came new local initiatives and fresh direction and now Yubari City has paid off more than one-third of its debt.

Mr Suzuki presented on “Local Revitalisation Officers” who work within a grassroots programme structure in response to the issues relating to Japan’s aging society and population concentration. This programme invites young people from urban areas to move to the countryside as local government staff members. This is part of a national policy to reactivate regional areas via decentralisation. He also introduced two case studies in Hokkaido.

Session 2

The second session was delivered by Mr Matthew Holt, Mr Yu Kawamura, Ms Rina Okamoto and Ms Nanako Shimada. 

Mr Holt from Wagga Wagga City Council explained the Evocities programme which was launched in 2010. Through the implementation of Evocities, Wagga Wagga and other regional cities are raising awareness about the existence of regional cities in NSW through marketing in metropolitan areas. Evocities aims to educate Sydney residents about the existence of regional cities and the benefits of regional city living.

Mr Kawamura who has been dispatched from Rokunohe town, a local government of Aomori Prefecture, introduced three relocation support services including free health care for young children, support for young people renting and financial assistance to partially cover the costs associated with buying a new house. In conclusion, he commented on the achievements of these polices.

Ms Okamoto talked about local governments collaborating with universities. She introduced major population issues, approaches to combat decreasing population, and provided some examples of activities where her town works together with universities.

Ms Shimada talked about the Hometown Tax System, which is a unique donation system for Japanese local governments. It was introduced in 2008 by the Ministry of Internal Affairs as one measure for regional activation and to improve regional disparities. Through this system, people can not only help support their hometown, but also get both tax credits and gifts in return from local governments. She explained that although there are some concerns regarding ethics and transparency, the total number of donations has gradually increased since 2008 and donations have been used effectively for regional activation including rebuilding efforts after the big earthquake in 2011.

After each session, we exchanged opinions on each theme with participants and Prof Roberta Ryan from UTS summed up the discussion.

We thank all speakers and participants for making this year’s forum a great success.

Presentations from the 2017 CLAIR Forum are available below.

Masahisa Yoshimi - Introductory remarks

Toshiya Komatsu - Local government cooperation

Motohiro Suzuki - Local revitalisation

Yu Kawamura - How local governments in Japan attract young couples and families to their regions

Rina Okamoto - Collaborating with Universities

Nanako Shimada - Hometown tax and regional activation