Virus shows just how work has changed

Regional Australia may benefit from working at home

Opinion
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Australia's regions are on the comeback trail, writes Mal Peters.

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For many years farmers have been increasingly concerned with the disparity between rural and city services.

Health, education and other services have all slipped behind our city cousins but maybe that is about to change as 65,000 more people moved to regional Australia from Sydney according to a report released this week by the Regional Australia Institute.

Government spends money where the people are and as regional Australia shrank it was increasingly difficult to get more dollars, but that might be changing because from 2011 to 2016, our two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, lost more residents to regions than they gained - and this was well before COVID-19.

There is seldom a cloud without a silver lining and COVID-19 has thrown up a ripper proving remote employment not only works, but actually increases productivity in the process.

It is no longer necessary in many jobs for people to be in cities suffering the daily commute, getting buried under a mountain of debt paying a house off and breathing heavily polluted air.

The experience of dealing with COVID-19 has removed one of the most significant barriers to a substantial population shift in this country, says RAI.

The institute's report, The Big Movers, unpacks population trends around the country, and confirms that regional Australia attracted more people than it lost to capital cities during the last census period.

In the five years to 2016, Sydney lost 64,756 people to regional Australia and Melbourne 21,609.

Between 2011 and 2016, more than 1.2 million people either moved to regional Australia or moved in regional Australia from one location to another.

Australia is an extremely mobile nation, and we have a propensity to change our address at twice the rate of people in most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.

If location is no longer a barrier for employment, it's possible the trend line over the next decade could see an even greater swing to regions.

Understanding the way the population moves around regional Australia is an important step in identifying the reasons people are attracted to some places instead of others.

This understanding can help to shape a population policy for regional communities.

The RAI's report examined in detail four case studies, at Warrnambool, Kempsey, Gympie and Kalgoorlie.

These case studies provide insight for regions into the kinds of people who are moving to regions.

This is powerful market intelligence that helps regions decide what they need to do to prepare and to capitalise on a restless nation ready to make a move.

For too long people have talked about regional population loss with little action.

RAI is now undertaking extensive research so we can further understand and amplify the drivers of this movement toward regional Australia to extend the population settlement even further.

It is the institute's intention to work together with industry, government and regional communities to ensure regionalisation of the workforce.

  • Mal Peters is the Regional Australia Institute chairman.
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