Regions want a say as push to the bush gathers pace

An exodus from capital cities to regional Australia is more than just a ā€œflash in the panā€ trend.

The Regional Australia Instituteā€™s chief executive Liz Ritchie says it is instead permanently changing the face of the nation, with migration from the major cities tripling in recent years.

ā€œThese are significant numbers and it provides the evidence that this is a major societal shift,ā€ Ms Ritchie told AAP.

ā€œPeople are voting with their feet.ā€

But job recruitment and access to housing in the country are barriers to prosperous growth, according to the instituteā€™s report card on its regionalisation ambitions released on Wednesday morning.

The think tank last year published a plan with targets to boost liveability, housing, jobs and innovation to ensure 11 million people could live well in the regions by 2032.

Its one-year progress report showed that while regional rental vacancies increased from one per cent to 1.5 per cent in the last year, building approvals had been declining since mid-2021.

The instituteā€™s plan also included a target to reduce job recruitment difficulty below 40 per cent.

But, according to data from Jobs and Skills Australia, the rate increased from 64 per cent to 69 per cent between 2022 and 2023, which was higher than in metropolitan areas.

Ms Ritchie said those challenges demonstrated the need for a regional lens in all government policies.

ā€œSo many of the decision-making tables donā€™t have regional people on them,ā€ she said.

ā€œThat is a huge opportunity for for all governments at all levels ā€“ you will have a blind spot if you donā€™t have a regional voice at the table.ā€

Some communities were finding solutions themselves, such as councils in Victoria and South Australia building short-term accommodation to house essential workers.

There was incremental progress across several key areas including the regional population, which increased from 9.5 million to 9.6 million in one year.

Small improvements were also recorded in school attainment rates, digital accessibility, jobs in the renewable energy sector and a general sense of wellbeing.

ā€œEven in the face of all of the adversity and inequity, regional Australians continue to report higher levels of wellbeing,ā€ Ms Ritchie said.

ā€œIt speaks to the human endeavour and their spirit.ā€

The institute will look to the years ahead at its national summit in Canberra on Wednesday and Thursday, which features speakers across politics, health, technology, telecommunications and education.

Regional Development Ministers Catherine King and Kristy McBain are due to address delegates on Wednesday, while Opposition Leader Peter Dutton will speak on Thursday.


Stephanie Gardiner
(Australian Associated Press)


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