Regions rise to resolve urban growing pains

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen the Federal Government working to create a national framework with the States to better balance Australia’s population growth across capital cities and regions – with the hope of alleviating congestion issues in our major capital cities.

This is a process that will be very challenging for all involved, as some places need more people, while others feel they are already overcrowded.

As co-CEO of the Regional Australia Institute (RAI), this is an area we are eagerly watching – but more importantly, it’s an area we want to help governments find solutions for as our population grows.

Last year, Australia reached the 25 million mark, which was two decades earlier than predicted. A plan for managing future growth is needed, and it needs to be robust and well thought out.

Regional Australia has a huge part play in the managing this growth, as Australian residents and new migrants can find great quality of life and work in regional Australia.  It is important to know that we are not starting from scratch.

Last year, Australia reached the 25 million mark, which was two decades earlier than predicted.

People are "voting with their feet" about where they want to live, and many are already choosing to move to regional Australia. In the five years to 2016, more than 400,000 Australians moved from our capital cities and set up a life in our regions.

So who is moving to regional Australia? Our latest RAI research has shown that those Australians most likely to move from a capital city to the regions are between 30-39 and 60-69 years old. This is fantastic for our regions, because these groups represent a workforce that can bring a range of skills and experience to regional communities, and a pool of new consumers for our regional businesses.

We’re often told that the best paying jobs are in our cities. But we know that it’s really only the inner-city jobs that this relates to.

When you delve into the figures, you can see that people living in outer suburban areas only have slightly higher income levels than surrounding regions. But their homes are more expensive and the time they spend in the car to get to and from work is a lot longer. So, are they better off?

Over the next 40 years, projections show us that most population growth is expected to occur in capital city outer suburbs, rather than in the inner cities.

On current projections outer suburban Melbourne, Sydney and Perth will see their populations more than double and Brisbane will triple. Again, I ask the question, will they be better off?

Shortly, the RAI will be unveiling its latest paper, A National Population Plan for Regional Australians. We will be providing this work to both sides of government and briefing them on solutions for solving our city congestion crisis – through a greater role for regional Australia.

We need to see a better balance of our population growth that reduces the pressures on our cities and benefits regional communities. It can be done, and we’re keen to have a national conversation about the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Many people have moved from capital cities to regions in recent years, and many more are thinking seriously about doing it.  

There are over 42,000 vacancies currently in regional Australia – including many high skill and wage jobs. Getting these jobs filled will rely on people being confident that the region they are moving to has great services and community infrastructure, and a bright future. These are things we can influence if we choose to do so.

In just a few weeks’ time, the RAI is hosting its inaugural Regions Rising event in Canberra on 4-5 April. The topic of Australia’s growing population is one of the key themes on the agenda.

We’re inviting regional leaders, government representatives, academics, business leaders and economists to make sure they have a seat at the table when we discuss this issue, and a plan that includes regional Australia.

If you have a passion for regional Australia, there is a seat for you as well.

Regional Australia has a big role to play in the country’s population plan moving forward.

To ensure you can be part of this, please go online and secure your ticket at Regions Rising Canberra 2019. For more information, please go to regionsrising.regionalaustralia.org.au

Dr Kim Houghton is co-CEO of the Regional Australia Institute (RAI)