Liz Ritchie’s Address on Regionalisation at the Regions Rising National Summit
17 March 2021
Regions Rising National Summit
Growing Regional Australia – Shaping the Good Life is the theme of this years Summit and today I hope it will be another positive step to driving the kind of transformation our nation needs.
This transformation is called “Regionalisation”.
Regionalisation is fast becoming Australia’s newest buzzword. But what does it mean?
Regionalisation is a vision for an Australia that is more balanced, more equitable, more sustainable and more prosperous. It is an Australia where our regions have the infrastructure, the services, the investment, and the people that they need to grow and thrive and take their rightful place in Australia’s story. It’s a vision for our future as a nation and as a society.
The time is right to act, to start serious work toward realising that vision. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a profound shift in our thinking and in our desire to live our best lives. You will have seen the news about tree-changers and sea-changers and we know that there has been a huge surge in interest in regional living. We are ready to harness that interest as a way to achieving Regionalisation. We have the opportunity before us to make history by embracing the regional renaissance that has emerged from the crisis that was COVID.
Just as the pandemic was a one in 100 year event, if we enact Regionalisation it will also be the onset of a one in 100 year transformation for our nation.
It’s no secret that by and large, Australia remains metro-centric in its thinking and policy approaches, and certainly in its population distribution. At Federation, one-third of Australia’s population lived in the cities. By mid-last century, that was 40% and by 2016 two-thirds of all Australians lived in cities. This is out of step with other OECD nations globally.
We are well on the way to becoming a nation of crowded mega-cities, with under-resourced regions, rendering the future of Australia’s small and mid-size towns almost unsustainable. We want to use the momentum building around regional Australia to change that trajectory and to move toward an Australia where regions have the same opportunities to be vibrant and thriving. So let’s learn from the past, and reinvent a new future!
Achieving Regionalisation requires critical thinking and all of us here today must explore the post-pandemic approaches to regional development, to planning, to place-making and to the sustainable economic development of our towns and cities. We need to help reshape the policy debate and ensure we have the evidence, the data, the insights and the new narrative to meet this challenge.
For ten years, the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) has been striving to ensure that regions take their rightful place in the Australian story and we know that we are now on the cusp of seeing great change in our nation. So, what will it take?
We think that there are three initial elements that we must have to move toward Regionalisation.
Firstly, a bold vision. We are striving for a different Australia, and Australia that leaves no one behind, that is more equitable but embracing the best of modern opportunities and living.
Secondly, the courage to change. Regionalisation will mean that we have to think differently, and do things differently. We want to move away from the tired but familiar binary of country vs city, and create real change. We need bipartisan support to recognise the need to change and to support this vision wholeheartedly.
And thirdly, it will take innumerable beating hearts. At the RAI we are poised to lead this transformation, but we need your courage, your conviction and your action to see change happen. We need to work with all levels of government, with regional stakeholders, with corporate Australia and with communities around the country, both in regions and in cities. Only then can we achieve lasting impact.
In practical terms, Regionalisation calls for a focus on rebalancing population to the regions, and a corresponding increase in services, infrastructure and investment. And the will to tackle some of the hard issues which disproportionately affect our regions, such as natural disasters, skills shortages, housing, infrastructure and communications challenges, to name a few.
So where to begin?
Firstly, here at the RAI, we have established deep connections and relationships with government at all levels and this will expand even further as we build our resources.
Secondly, whilst we are already deeply engaged with regional stakeholders, through our Regional Activator’s Alliance, our consulting and activation projects and through forums such as the Regions Rising Series, we can and do act as a voice for regional Australia. Sessions like tomorrow’s Policy Hack is an opportunity for you to propose innovative solutions to some of the challenges regional Australia faces.
Thirdly, we have built industry engagement with corporate Australia who is also committed to Regionalisation. The Regional Australia Council 2031 (RAC2031), a group comprising of some of Australia’s most influential corporations, was established as a collective corporate voice to prioritise regional Australia.
The RAC2031 members are examining ways to support regions through employment policies, decentralisation, regional hubs, procurement, supply chains and other mechanisms which will have significant impact for our nation.
The RAI and the members of the RAC2031 want to lead the way for other metro-based employers and businesses to follow suit.
We are creating a Regional Employer of Choice citation which will recognize those businesses which support regional Australia through their workplace and procurement policies. We believe this will be a game changer in terms of shifting corporate policy and the overall workplace narrative surrounding flexible and remote work.
We want to see all organisations promoting the notion of “all roles flex”. Let’s consider the power of shifting humans over headquarters – we know that people will drive prosperity and innovation so let’s support this move.
We also want to harness the shift in workplace thinking which has been triggered by COVID. It has generated a sudden and dramatic change in the very construct of work and has challenged entrenched views.
Working flexibly has proven to provide higher levels of productivity and wellbeing and is actually a good option for many employees and employers. We believe that for the first time in history we can truly create a national employment market where location is no barrier. Where we can work where we live, and live where we love.
As well as population shift, we need to ensure that every town in regional Australia can maximise its liveability. That the regional way of life does not mean missing out on the best schooling or compromising on health or community services, or indeed arts and culture.
To support towns in reaching their potential, tomorrow the RAI will launch a Liveability Toolkit. It’s designed to help regional leaders to develop a tailored action plan to improve their town’s liveability…But more on that tomorrow.
This Summit is an important marker in our vision for Regionalisation. Over the next several months, we will be consulting widely across Australia to refine our vision and create an ambitious but pragmatic strategy to achieve it. We are ready to lead on this important work and look forward to working with interested organisation and partners.
Finally, I’m so thrilled to see so many people here from around the country and to have the opportunity to learn and connect with you today and tomorrow.
The Regions truly are Rising and all of you here are change-makers striving for a more balanced, more equitable, more sustainable and more prosperous nation. Regionalisation is our vision, a vision that benefits all Australians.