The panel at the Future Northern Rivers event at SCU included Demographics Group managing director Bernard Salt, Brookfarm co-founder Pamela Brook, Engagement Southern Cross University vice president Ben Roche, Lismore Council general manager Shelley Oldham and Southern Cross University student Max Den Exter.
The panel at the Future Northern Rivers event at SCU included Demographics Group managing director Bernard Salt, Brookfarm co-founder Pamela Brook, Engagement Southern Cross University vice president Ben Roche, Lismore Council general manager Shelley Oldham and Southern Cross University student Max Den Exter. Marc Stapelberg

WRAP: Future Northern Rivers panellists share their vision

HOW do you envision the Northern Rivers to be in 20, 30, 50 years?

The Future NNSW series examines the challenges ahead for our region, the population demography and their associated requirements, including the importance of creating opportunities and jobs for our youth via all levels of education and innovative business leadership.

It explores the options for addressing them and reveals innovative and achievable ideas for transforming our region over the next 25 years.

Our Future NNSW series is a prime opportunity to look forward and create the best outcomes for our diverse region.

Along with demographer Bernard Salt, The Northern Star's Future Northern Rivers event welcomed five panellists at an event at SCU. We asked them what they thought were the key actionable takeaway points from the campaign:


Mr Den Exter said as a young student, he thought it was important for a youth perspective to be shared with key stakeholders

"Not to mention the focus the event gave to young people, letting us share our perspective on issues and the reasons why our demographic is missing,” he said”.

"The top issues for young people in the Northern Rivers are social critical mass, employment, environment and transport. There is definitely a need for further discussion on these issues.

"A group more broadly representative, to sit alongside the key decision makers, of the Northern Rivers Joint Organisation is needed, to ensure marginalised groups have a voice and a say in the future of our unique region including those voices of youthful optimism.”

Lismore City Council General Manager - SHELLEY OLDHAM

Ms Oldham said her main takeaway point was "greater collaboration within the region with industry and other levels of government”.

She noted worthwhile Future agendas as agri-business, which she said was a "key underpinning of regional development”, and a making country "cool again” but focussing on the social economy for youth to retain them within the regions.

"It would be great to keep talking about regional connectivity, the role of education and government investment in the region,” she sais.

"The NRJO is a state-based body that connects only with the state. To grow and expand this region requires industry and Federal Government involvement. A governance body that comprises all of these elements and considers the agility that comes with industry involvement may be better.

"Lismore City Council is working with the Federal Government to open the dialogue about economic development. This should continue and incorporate the type of governance outlined above.”


Mr Roche said the Northern Rivers needed to "become a learning community” and referenced our changing demography and economy demand it.

He said how we as a region embrace our future will depend on how we position learning as a key foundation in it, and said how we learn and mobilise the knowledge that exists in our region, was a key to our future development.

"The demographics of our region reflect an increasing concentration of people with significant personal and professional experience. There is 45 per cent plus with greater than 50 years lived experience, 15 per cent with more than 70 years experience,” Mr Roche said.

"Our economy is providing new opportunities for work that demands different skills, mindsets and experiences.

"We need to enable new enterprise formation and expansion. We are the Region of microbusiness formation and the home of the small to medium enterprise. We need to grow the volume of enterprise activity in ways that grows industries that are not directly dependent on government funding.

"We need resilient enterprises that also embody the values and character of our Region. We are the home of co-operatives and member-owned business. We need to provide opportunities to further grow our entrepreneurial spirit and culture, for young and old to consider how they may pursue their enterprise idea so as to make a career as opposed to just chasing a career.”

He said looking beyond local politics was a means to get here.

"We are a Region of villages and valleys, but we often compete against each other for external funding and support. We need to think like a region, and focus on those initiatives that have the potential to really lift the entire region up. But we also need to go beyond a singular expectation that our local councils can respond to all these expectations of delivery. We need an expanded regional governance body that traverses sectors and stakeholders with the capacity and acumen to mobilise sustainable regional development. It needs to be beyond politics, yet work closely with those that have been elected as representatives of their local area. G21 alliance is an example of how this could operate.

"We need to back ourselves, each other and be more confident of our place in the world. The region has some phenomenal assets - a University with world class research calibre; businesses exporting to the world with intellectual property unparalleled; a hospital network that is growing through strong funding commitments; a vibrant creative sector and critically - we have natural assets that attract visitors, sustain locals, and are the basis for our deep connection with this country as told by our Traditional Custodians. We need to back each other, and by doing that, we can talk each other up - our region up - and start generating a sense of confidence and pride that we don't need to leave for opportunity, but instead better connect to unlock it.”


Mrs Brook said there was a need for immediate collaboration projects, and to put in practice more collaboration with Industry and Government bodies.

"Dialogue should be taken on by multiple existing bodies that should then come together as a group,” she said.

"There should be equal representation by Industry and involve the education centres (universities), and all the key bodies in the area should put it as an agenda point for discussion - eg.. Northern Rivers Foods, Destination Tweed etc.”

She said a "ground up approach” was required to get there.