There is more to regional Australia than most Australians realise.
The RAI is challenging Australians to review the way they think about regional Australia.
Too often the term ‘regional Australia’ is shorthand for small rural towns, when people talk about regional Australia they usually have one type of community in mind – small, with most people working in agriculture and a long way from any capital city.
While there are many communities like this in regional Australia, most are different. To respond to the needs of our regions, it is essential that we move beyond this one-dimensional view.
So what does regional Australia actually look like? Our latest work – Foundations of Regional Australia – has tackled this question head on. Using demographic, social and economic change data, we’ve defined four different regional types based on the relationships between a region’s key industries, it’s proximity to larger cities and local population size.
Designed to reflect these patterns in regional Australia, and based on the key drivers (explained below) of economic growth and change which influence the entire Australian economy, the four regional types – Regional Cities, Connected Lifestyle Regions, Industry and Service Hubs and Heartland Regions – capture both the diversity and the common challenges faced by regional Australians. Su McCluskey, CEO of the RAI, explains the purpose of categorising these regional types is to provide a reference point to better understand the demographic, social and economic change factors which influence regional Australia.
“For too long, regional Australia has been viewed and governed using a ‘one size fits all’ attitude and approach. Our research provides an understanding of the common elements which distinguish regional Australia into four distinctly different economic communities.
“By identifying these factors and how they are likely to influence regions, we can also determine how successful a region will be in reaching its potential.
“A third of Australians live in regional communities yet regional Australia contributes more than two-thirds of our exports and 32% of GDP. It’s vitally important to understand regional Australia and its diversity so we can develop policy and mechanisms that will enable it to flourish” Su explained.
Each of the regional types are influenced by an enormous amount of factors in many different ways. Economic, social and demographic headwinds all interact and provide unique scenarios.
Using the Foundations of Regional Australiaas a basis for thinking about the regional communities, we can help our regions build a clear picture of their potential. It is up to our regions to play a greater role in shaping outcomes, and we want to help them take control of their futures.
If we can work together to understand where a local community is in the big picture, and how the future might unfold, we can use this knowledge to help regions create change on their own terms.
Demography in Different Types of Regions
- Regional Cities, which have populations of over 50,000 persons. They have diverse economies and the chance to use their size and diversity to shape their own future.
- Connected Lifestyle Regions do not have city population size, but are close to our major metropolitan regions. They will be influenced by their connection with these cities.
- Industry and Service Hubs are regional centres with between 15,000 – 50,000 residents, located further from major metropolitan areas. Their performance is linked to industry outcomes, but their population size means they could be resilient to changes over time.
- Heartland Regions are smaller regional areas that are not close to other major metropolitan or Regional Cities. Industry trends and local ingenuity will shape their future.
Figure 1: Proportion of regional Australians living in each type of regional area
Drivers of Growth
As part of Australia’s national economy, each region has a relationship with the key drivers of economic growth and change influencing the entire Australian economy.
The first, and one of the most important drivers of an areas potential, is its population. The more people who live in an area, the more diverse its local economy is likely to be. Populations of 50, 000 (Regional Cities) or more, have reached the first level of ‘critical mass’ – providing a foundation for a level of economic diversity which supports strength and resilience and the capacity to generate growth from within the region.
The next key driver is industry. The success of a community’s business determines wider economic success. If a community’s businesses are concentrated in particular industries, this can favourably boost their exposure to wider industry trends.
The last driver is proximity – the advantages or challenges linked to a regions location. A small community near a major metropolitan area or Regional City has different opportunities to one which is a long way from any large population base. Proximity to natural resources and significant infrastructure will also shape economic opportunities in many places.
All regions face unique challenges, without a reference point, there is a risk that the tide of demographic, social and economic change can become incomprehensible. The Foundations provide a reference point for considering the future of individual communities and regional Australia as a whole.
“Knowing where a particular region fits into the grand scheme of Australia allows us to better understand their unique pathway to success, after all, Knowledge is power!” Su concluded.
Download a full copy of the report
Read the media release