As a passionate Deni girl and CEO of the Regional Australia Institute, no one is surprised to hear me say that people who make a move to the regions are happier and more productive.
However, you may be surprised next month when I tell our annual Regions Rising Summit that people in our cities will also be better off if we focus on our regions.
With more than 11 years of research under our belt at the RAI, we know that our nation will improve both economically and socially if we deliver on the potential of regional Australia. This is a process we call regionalisation.
Regionalisation is about tackling the challenges of regional Australia head on, in a holistic way; the issues that have held many of our towns and regional cities back for decades.
It's about ensuring business owners can get the staff they need, staff can find houses to live in, businesses can access the technology to operate and grow, our kids can forge careers in the country, and we can also up-skill, we can travel efficiently when we need to, families can access childcare in their town, and bright ideas can not only come from the country but can grow in the country.
Regionalisation not only lifts and strengthens our regions, ensuring equal opportunity among all Australians, it drives the nation's overall prosperity.
It's important because it is the key to Australia changing the population trajectory our country is on, which will impede growth and our wellbeing down the track. Australia has become one of the most urbanised nations in the world, with nearly two-thirds of our population living in capital cities. Over 70 per cent of new population growth happens in our capital cities and 80 percent of new migrants settle in our capitals.
Sydney and Melbourne are on track to be mega cities by 2056 and Brisbane and Perth are close behind. Global research and experience is clear, this is not the best path for the quality of life of Australians nor for the productivity and health of our nation.
To achieve regionalisation, we need to take a unifying, collaborative approach which is why at our Regions Rising Summit we are launching the Regionalisation Ambition 2032 - a framework to Rebalance the Nation. This framework, developed in conjunction with our Regional Activators Alliance, our Regional Australia Council and input from more than 2000 people, identifies five critical pillars to regionalisation success: jobs and skills; liveability; population; productivity and innovation; and sustainability and resilience.
Jobs and skills
Regionalisation isn't just about moving city jobs to the regional areas. It's about filling the jobs and skills in regions that meet the needs of the community.
Right now, we have an unprecedented 86,900 advertised positions in regional Australia, with potentially another 80,000 unadvertised. Not only are our regions facing the same skills shortage as the cities, the problem is heightened in some regions due to lack of housing.
Regionalisation will require targeted workforce strategies to attract new workers and importantly ensure we can also grow from within, ensuring regional Australians have education pathways available locally to forge regional careers. 90 per cent of respondents surveyed by the RAI told us regions don't have the right skills needed to fill the growing number of roles available.
Regionalisation works to ensure liveability standards for regional Australians (access to digital services, health services and housing) are comparable to our cities, so that we not only keep people living in the regions, but we can grow communities in a sustainable way.
We already know people 'want' to live in the regions. One in five city dwellers told us they are considering a move to the regions. In June 2022, net migration to regions is still 30.2 per cent higher than two years prior to Covid-19.
But this desire must be met with practicalities, and this means having long-term strategies for health, public transport, housing and childcare.
Innovation and productivity
We are in the box seat for future industries like a decarbonised economy, agriculture and food production, resources and renewable technology.
Regionalisation is about making sure we have the skills, resources and investment needed to take advantage of the potential productivity gains that will emerge from a more dispersed population. This population will also build on the ingenuity and innovation that already exists in our regional communities to ensure further economic and social uplift.
Sustainability and resilience
Our regions need future-proofing for a changing climate and transitioning economies. In our consultation survey, 74 per cent of people agreed that climate change was a significant challenge for their region.
When natural disasters or major external shocks hit - people and life in the regions are often hit harder. In fact, according to a Deloitte study in 2021, natural disasters cost our nation $38 billion each year and this is expected to rise to $73 billion per year by 2060.
Populations and prosperity in our regions can only survive and thrive if we take targeted and proactive strategies to take greater action to ensure sustainability and resilience are at the centre of our planning.
Regionalisation is about striving for a better, not necessarily equal, balance of people living in the cities versus the regions. We need to focus on keeping young people (15-39 years) here and encourage more than 20 per cent of Australia's new migrant population to start their life in the regions.
Our Regionalisation framework will set aspirations and targets for each of these five pillars, but it's not a set of challenges for regional Australia to solve alone. It is an ambition for what our country could achieve by 2032, and a tool to guide decision making, investment and discussion.
For regionalisation to be truly realised, there needs to be a collective effort, a national movement. For Australia to benefit to from a rebalanced nation, then all Australians need to play their part. We are calling on government at every level, industry, community sector and regional communities alike to "make a pledge" and join our movement to rebalance the nation.
Our Regionalisation Ambition 2032 will be launched at our National Summit in Canberra on September 13. We hope you will join us and be part of the movement to rebalance our nation!
- Liz Ritchie is the chief executive officer of the Regional Australia Institute.