OPINION

How regional areas can be change makers in a post-COVID world

WAY FORWARD: Regional areas can provide choice, leading the way to create a truly national employment market.
WAY FORWARD: Regional areas can provide choice, leading the way to create a truly national employment market.

This year has been one like no other. No matter where you live or work in regional Australia, the impact of the COVID-19 has been far reaching.

This pandemic has created immense tragedy, as it has triggered not only a health crisis but an economic one as well.

However, as we look to the future, there are several key transitions that we might be thankful for when considering major reform to help transform our regions.

Firstly, businesses and employees around the country have moved into gear to adapt and adopt new ways of working.

The upshot of this is that we have mobilised and challenged entrenched views about how we should work.

Now, as a society, we can be truly focused and committed to achieving better outcomes.

And this isn't simply encouraging businesses to decentralise, but empowering employers to give their staff a choice about where they want to live and work. Let's decentralise people.

Secondly, given a choice to embrace regional living, people have the option to choose a healthier and more balanced lifestyle that is more affordable.

Millennials are the first generation to really miss the boat in terms of homeownership, with over 60 per cent relying on rental housing.

However, recent reports from real estate giants support the increased interest in consumers looking to leave the capital city behind. This is not a surprise to us at the Regional Australia Institute.

And finally, small to medium-size businesses are fighting for their survival.

But they have been challenged to innovate and create new sources of income.

Our evidence shows that many are using technology to pivot their business.

In doing so, this is offering more choice to consumers.

The increasing growth of online retail shouldn't mean regions miss out.

In fact, it puts us on a more level playing field where location no longer matters.

Programs such as "Buy from the Bush" are proof that quality products are everywhere.

Consumers are becoming more conscious about where they spend their money and supporting local businesses makes sense. At the RAI, we've been proposing a rethink that supercharges our regions.

As the only OECD nation that has almost two-thirds of our population living in five major capital cities, it's time to make a change.

We need to ask: is this the type of future we want to support?

As an organisation, we bust myths, and the latest myth is a game-changer.

The age-old notion that people are leaving the regions in droves is unfounded.

Over the period of the last census, Australia's regions attracted 65,000 more people than they lost to the major cities.

People are choosing regional Australia.

While this is great news for regional Australia, it's also great news for our political leaders as the cost of urban infrastructure and congestion is unrelenting in our capitals.

Nationally, we know that young people 20-29 years old are the most mobile, but the movement from capital cities to regions peaks in the 30-39 and 60-69 age groups.

This is also a positive trend for regions, as these age groups represent a workforce that can bring a range of skills and experience to regional communities.

But regions still need more people. We need more people to choose to work, live and invest in our towns and cities.

We need to see a true societal shift that ensure regions are the beneficiary. At the RAI, we have a big plan with the aim of accomplishing just that.

Last week, we started to activate that plan with the launch of the Regional Australia Council 2031 (RAC2301) - bringing together 10 of the most influential corporate organisation in the country - the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, Aurizon, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, Commonwealth Bank, Expedia Group, KPMG, NBN Co, Prime Super, Telstra and TransGrid.

By taking a seat at this historic table, we are asking corporate Australia to make regions a priority.

As the inaugural chair of this new council, I ask governments and corporates alike to think differently.

How can we truly optimise our whole nation to embrace our growing population - and create an even playing field for regions?

How can we even the stakes and follow in the footsteps of our global counterparts to create a more sustainable population settlement strategy?

And what can you do to support this societal shift?

When we launched RAC2031, I issued a challenge to corporate Australia.

The next time they advertise a role, think regional.

Be a leader in providing employees with the choice.

Let's be bold and lead the way to create a truly national employment market.

Let's be the change makers that support an already mobile nation.

The technology is here, and it's ready. The question is are we?

Liz Ritchie is chief executive of the Regional Institute of Australia. For more information, visit www.regionalaustralia.org.au

This story How regional areas can be change makers in a post-COVID world first appeared on The Canberra Times.