Let's not sleepwalk into regional decay

Opinion: Let's not sleepwalk into regional decay

Opinion
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Many of our rural and regional areas struggle to sustain the populations they need to maintain businesses and services.

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Robbie Sefton says we have a shot at making everywhere more liveable, not just a few hotspots in regional Australia.

Robbie Sefton says we have a shot at making everywhere more liveable, not just a few hotspots in regional Australia.

Our tiers of government have helped give Australians some of the world's best living standards.

But sometimes the arbitrary boundaries we draw to define government areas get in the way of common sense.

Exhibit A: the Murray-Darling Basin.

Siloed thinking is also proving unhelpful as we grapple with where to put all our people.

An Infrastructure Australia report recently warned that if Australia continues on its current approach of squeezing more and more people into our capitals, the productivity and social costs of congestion will shoot up into the tens of billions.

Meanwhile, many of our rural and regional areas struggle to sustain the populations they need to maintain businesses and services.

Fortunately, there seems to be recognition that simplistic, localised approaches to population growth are failing.

As Planning Institute of Australia CEO David Williams puts it: "...population growth and infrastructure investment are not an end in themselves, they are tools to shape more liveable and sustainable cities and regions".

The Planning Institute is asking that the Commonwealth and state governments develop a National Settlement Strategy that takes cues from OECD countries who have developed urban planning strategies to "increase liveability, enhance economic development, alleviate inequality, deliver better infrastructure and create world-class places".

Rather than just have these aspirations for urban areas, the Planning Institute's national strategy would be tasked with achieving these aims across the nation. This is an initiative that we in the regions need to get behind.

Too often we see our country towns chasing population growth for its own sake, without a strategy for sustaining growth and prosperity. And not all population growth is the same.

Growth built purely on people seeking a lower cost of living is not going to yield the same sustainable results as growth driven by those drawn to business opportunities.

This approach might additionally give us a better framework for water planning, and how we think about the relationship between population and water security.

The water crisis faced by some of our country centres has illuminated how essential water is not just in the short term, but to provide the confidence necessary for long-term investment.

David Williams is urging Australia not to sleepwalk its way towards becoming a nation of three megacities. Nor should we sleepwalk towards regional decay.

If we look beyond the self-imposed boundaries we have built for ourselves, we have a shot at making everywhere more liveable, not just a few hotspots.

  • Robbie Sefton has a dual investment in rural Australia as a farmer, producing wool, meat and grains, and as managing director of Seftons.
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