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Housing and workforce “Achilles’ heel” of regional Ambition progress

13 September 2023

Housing and the shortage of workers are the two targets called out by the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) as hampering the advancement of the regions, following the launch of the first progress report into the landmark Regionalisation Ambition in Canberra today.

A population surge to regional Australia has continued over the past 12 months, with 9.6 million people now calling the regions home, however building approvals have declined and finding staff to fill critical roles has become tougher.

RAI CEO Liz Ritchie said overall meaningful progress was underway to ‘Rebalance the Nation’ but housing and growing the regional workforce need a more laser focus – urgently.
“These two targets are the clear areas of weakness despite the overall strength we are witnessing. It’s the Achilles’ heel of regional Australia,” Ms Ritchie said.

Today, for the first time, policy and decision-makers can track the progress of regional Australia through a collective lens, on the issues most critical to productivity, growth, and sustainability, under the five pillars of the Ambition.

“It provides the evidence of what regional employers across the country have been telling us – that it’s getting harder and harder to fill roles. Also, having the right homes to accommodate new staff is a critical factor and that is why we must look at these issues in unison,” Ms Ritchie said.

In July, more than 90,200 roles were advertised in regional Australia, which was 2.7% higher than a year ago. Annual growth in regional Australia stands in stark contrast to metropolitan Australia, where job advertisements declined by 10%.

The Ambition set a target to reduce recruitment difficulty in regions to below 40%. However, today’s figure stands at 69% - up from 64% just one year ago.

“There are three ways to fill these roles: to see more people moving out of our capitals, educating talent from within and an uptick in international migration to the regions – all targets within the Ambition,” Ms Ritchie said.

While the regional rental vacancy rate has increased from 1% to 1.5% – and is higher than capital cities (1.1%), monthly building approvals in the regions have declined.

Across the country, regional Western Australia recorded the largest drop in average monthly building approvals at 41.1% followed by regional Victoria at 38.4%, with both regional Queensland and New South Wales recording a decrease of around 15%.

“However, as a nation we have moved the dial in the right direction on measures around education, digital inclusion, overseas migration and wellbeing, and today should be seen as a day to acknowledge the accomplishments of the past year,” Ms Ritchie said.

  • The regional population has increased from 9.5 million (2021) to 9.6 million (2022)
  • The Australia Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) score in regions has increased from 67.4 (2021) to 69.8 (2022)
  • The attainment rate for regional students has increased from 69.6% (2020) to 71.4% (2021)
  • Post school qualification completion rate for regional Australians has increased to 58.4%
  • Life satisfaction and wellbeing in regions has improved to a score of 73
  • The number of childcare services in regions has increased by 5.2%
  • Across all domains (except Yr 7 spelling), NAPLAN results have improved for very remote students
  • The proportion of overseas arrivals in regions has increased slightly to 18.5% (up from 17.4%)
  • Regional workforce participation increased to 63.9% (but still lower than capitals)
  • Over half of employment in renewable energy generation was based in regions, growing by more than 60% since 2016.

“The past 12 months haven’t been easy, with rising inflation and interest rates. For regional Australia to have made the gains it has in the last year is commendable. We should celebrate the first steps we’ve taken in this decade-long plan to create a regional Australia that’s more prosperous, inclusive, and balanced,” Ms Ritchie said.

Since 2020, the RAI has called for a National Population Plan that embeds regional Australia’s role in the nation’s growth, through the leadership of the Federal Government.

“We understand this is underway and this is good news. We hope to see a plan that will shape each region’s role in Australia’s future growth and overlays jobs and industries with geographical locations. This plan should enable oversight of both hard, and most importantly, soft infrastructure investments,” Ms Ritchie said.

“All indicators tell us that the regional renaissance is here to stay, with more people than ever before voting with their feet. Our Big Movers 2023 report is evidence that millennials (25-39 years) are leading the charge from the cities.

“Over the last year, a strong coalition of supporters has been established to drive the Ambition and it’s vital that momentum continues, including across government, industry, community, and the not-for-profit sector.

“Regional Australia is a sleeping giant, with the desire to perform. But we need to use the results of this first year progress report to ensure we can unleash its potential.”

The Regionalisation Ambition 2032 Progress Report is being launched today, Wednesday 13 September, at the RAI’s Regions Rising National Summit- Shifting our Gaze in Canberra. Full program here.

The Hon. Catherine King MP, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government will speak at 8:00am on Wednesday 13 September, followed by RAI CEO Liz Ritchie at 8:25am.

The Hon. Peter Dutton MP – Leader of the Opposition will deliver a keynote address at 9:00am on Thursday 14 September.

The National Summit is being livestreamed, a link for media can be provided upon request.

For media enquiries contact:

Regional Australia Institute 
Amanda Barwick
Ph: 0429142232
E: [email protected]