Contemporary Australian local government faces several daunting problems, not least escalating financial un-sustainability and local infrastructure depletion. The main response of the various state and territory governments has taken the form of a series structural reform programs, with a strong emphasis on forced amalgamation. However, widespread dissatisfaction with the consequences of these compulsory consolidation programs has led to a search for alternative policy solutions based largely on shared services and various types of regional co-operation between local councils. This paper seeks to place proposed ‘regional’ solutions to contemporary problems in historical perspective by providing a comparative account of three distinct federal government initiatives of ‘region-directed’ policy in the post-World Two era: the ‘nation-building’ of the 1940s; the ‘paternalism’ of the 1970s; and ‘self-sufficiency’ of the 1990s. We argue that, not withstanding the complex relationship between historical circumstances and changing state-federal relations, important lessons for current local government policy making can be learnt from a critical assessment of these episodes of federal intervention at the regional level.