Time to start seriously planning for a bigger and better regional Australia
Australia faces important choices in the next few years if we want to continue our quarter century of economic success. How we manage the growth in our population and changes to our economy will determine whether we continue to thrive. The future of our regions will be shaped by this.
Firstly, it’s clear to me that serious growth in our network of regional cities is crucial if regions are going thrive in an Australia forecast to hit 50 million people by the 2050’s.
While the potential of these regions will be an important reason for their growth, the need to manage the density, cost and congestion in our largest cities will drive this change. If regions are also growing rapidly as the nation’s population grows, pressure in our largest cities will be manageable and we can shape both our big cities and regions into remaining the best places to live in the world.
We need to get in front of this so it is important that our network of cities begin to plan and engage their communities. Regional cities whose populations are approaching the 100,000 mark should begin to look at how they succeed as places where 300,000 people live. Our largest regional cities like Newcastle, Wollongong, Canberra and Geelong should consider growth that leaves them approaching the size of Adelaide and Perth today by the middle of the century.
This will bring serious new opportunity not just to these cities, but also to the regions they are part of. Surrounding towns will also grow and develop, just as we have seen regions around our major cities. Job markets will become more diverse with more high paying jobs as well as bigger and better education and health facilities. More firms with globally significant operations will locate in these places drawing talent from Australia and around the world.
To ensure the future of our regions we also need to bring the next generation to our rural communities. This is about helping the next generation of entrepreneurs into the assets that drive these economies, while at the same time helping another wave of immigrants to connect with rural opportunity and drive renewal in our towns.
New initiatives like Cultivate Farms are helping a new generation get into agriculture. Locally led migration strategies have also been proven by leading communities such as Nhill, Hamilton and Dalwallinu. The models for how to do this have been created, now it’s a matter of investing nationally to achieve scale and impact.
At the same time as we facilitate the next wave of regional Australians to join our communities, some regions will need to successfully deal with major economic changes. The shut-down of coal fired power stations and rise of new regional energy powerhouses through renewables and industrial investment is one economic change that will reshape many regions dramatically.
The Hunter where I hail from is one area looking at serious change beginning with the shut-down of Liddell Power Station in the next few years. There is an enormous industrial development opportunity here if we can transition energy supply and the workforce in these places while attracting new investment. Early partnerships between energy companies, local communities, governments and international investors will be crucial to securing the future for these places.
Keep in mind that the Hunter has done this before with BHP and that Australia generally has a record of significant success in these types of changes, particularly compared to the UK and USA. In fact, this renewal is already happening in Whyalla and the Spencer Gulf region of South Australia and other regions will follow.
Taken together, this assessment leads me to conclude that we need to start seriously planning for a bigger and better regional Australia.
This is my final public contribution as CEO of the Regional Australia Institute and it’s been a great privilege to help build this organisation from scratch. The RAI is one of very few national institutions that works exclusively and independently for the benefit of regional communities.
I have been continually inspired by what I have seen people in our communities creating. It leaves me bullish about our future despite the inevitably great changes that are to come.