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Regional Australia: the beginning of our nation’s tomorrow

The Federal Budget is so much more than a carefully scripted speech on one night of the year. It’s the instrument that helps guide Australia over the 12 months, and in some situations, the years to come.  It is a hugely powerful document, that wields the ability to seriously influence the future of individuals, organisations, and communities. It is only in the weeks after a budget, when one has had time to read, digest, and understand, that clear pictures start to emerge about what it is telling us about the future.

It is very evident that the Federal Government is steadfast in its commitment to decarbonise Australia. It is evident state governments feel the same, with the energy transition also a key feature in budgets handed down in Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory in recent weeks. The shift towards net zero emissions will radically change many aspects of life in our country.  More so in regional Australia, where new energy projects are being developed and built; and petrol, diesel and gas consumption are daily occurrences. Whilst there are immense challenges this transition will bring, there are also immense opportunities.

The budget’s signature $23 billion Future Made in Australia package speaks to the government’s aspirations to be a renewable energy superpower.  The $1.7 billion Innovation Fund to develop new energy technologies has the scope to place regional Australia at its epicentre. Funding for the Energy Industry Jobs Plan, the expansion of the New Energy Apprenticeship Program and Regional Workforce Transition Plan speak to the skilled workforce that will be required in the decades to come. As does the almost $56 million the government has set aside over four years for the Building Women’s Careers program for training in the clean energy and construction sectors.

These programs and funding packages all have the ability to tremendously impact regional Australia, but what is missing in the Future Made in Australia package, is the regional context. The government has repeatedly called out regional Australia’s role in our nation’s transition. While it has provided funding for specific renewable energy projects in regional Australia, the budget papers are lacking detail about how other initiatives wrapped up in the transition will be implemented and supported in the regions. The future will be made in regional Australia, but it cannot and will not happen without adequate and appropriate fiscal backing, and a clear strategy.

It is why the RAI remains steadfast in its support for a National Population and Settlement Plan. Regional Australia is growing and is now made up of almost 10 million people. This wasn’t what previous population forecasts predicted, and many of the issues affecting regional communities at the moment, are because we simply weren’t prepared.  As we enter a new economic era in Australia dominated by renewable energy, we have an opportunity to learn from the past. Shouldn’t we plan for and develop a legacy document that will ensure we are better prepared for what is to come?

Speaking of things to come, we know the government is listening. Funding in the budget to help unlock new residential land, the aforementioned money for developing skilled workers, and support for the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector all speaks to recent research and recommendations provided by the Regional Australia Institute (RAI). That recognition of the work we do at the RAI – investigation and analysis to help drive policy solutions for the betterment of regional communities and lives - is immensely satisfying to see. 

However, until we see funding tranches developed and implemented that speak to the unique circumstances involving housing, skill development and childcare in regional Australia, I fear the pressure points that currently hinder our regions and our nation’s growth won’t dissipate. And I’m not alone. 

This week in Canberra, the Access for Every Child Coalition, a group of more than 50 organisations across Australia calling for universal ECEC for every child across the country, was launched.  Co-ordinated by independent, not-for-profit, advocacy organisation The Parenthood, this Coalition shows there is a growing alliance of individuals and groups who all see the worth in regional specific support for vital services. 

Budget night may well be over for another year, but that evening marked the beginning of our nation’s tomorrow. Now is when the real work starts, to take those lines of information in the budget papers and to work with government to ensure they deliver on the aspirations behind their conception. This budget has the capability to deliver a future made in regional Australia.  Let’s ensure it does.  

Liz Ritchie, RAI CEO. 

Katanning – the little town that’s carving its own path on the journey to net zero

Katanning Energy in south-west WA is a community-focussed organisation with a vision to see residents and businesses supported by a reliable, clean and cheap renewable electricity supply through a combination of site specific and commercial scale solar, wind and battery solutions.

Rates, roads, rubbish and real estate – meet the regional South Australian council tackling its ‘dismal’ rental market head on

Council Chief Executive Anne Champness recounts a story of a local professional recently being forced to live in a tent during winter due to the lack of rentals in the local government area’s biggest community, Bordertown. Ms Champness herself was one of 48 applications for a property back in 2018 – long before many people had started to talk about housing in regional Australia.

The regional Australia advantage when it comes to the transition

Net zero. Whether you love it, are wary of it, or ambivalent to it, it’s here. Both in Australia and across the globe, the transition to low-carbon economies is underway. This transformation from a fossil-fuel driven world, to one of renewables, is unlike anything most of us have seen in our lifetime and it will affect each and every one of us.