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Budget must respond to regions’ growing population

08 May 2024

The Regional Australia Institute (RAI) is calling on the Federal Government to maintain its focus on developing and supporting the regions, by prioritising long-term investment in the planning, infrastructure and services needed to support growing communities.

New data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows the estimated resident population of regional Australia reached 9.78 million in June 2023, an increase of more than 6% since 2018.

RAI CEO Liz Ritchie said people living in regional Australia now made up nearly 40% of the national population and investment and planning in services, supports and infrastructure must reflect this. 

“Regional Australia is growing at a rate that hasn’t been seen for decades. It is undergoing not only a significant demographic change but will also be at the centre of an unprecedent economic evolution, as the nation’s transition to net zero emissions unfolds. Whilst regional communities have matured in recent years, the supports needed to assist them have not,” Ms Ritchie said.

“Housing stocks are under immense pressure in many communities, 3.7 million regional Australians still live in a childcare desert, and too many regional residents struggle to access a GP.

“It is why the RAI has developed the Regionalisation Ambition – a 10-year, 20-goal framework for regional Australia, to better plan for and invest in the growth of regional Australia. We know it will take a coalition of people to shift the dials on those goals, but government plays a critical role. 

“Developing a National Population and Settlement Plan would help to enable analysis of high-growth scenarios and their implications for planning, industry growth, and infrastructure and service provision. It would provide a cohesive plan for not only regional Australia’s future, but the nation as a whole.”

The Institute has welcomed the Federal Government’s commitment to several regionally focused initiatives in the past year, including the establishment of a Regional Investment Framework, the restoration of the ‘State of the Regions’ report, the development of a Regional Jobs and Skills Roadmap and a dedicated regional migration strategy. 

Ms Ritchie said the RAI is pleased to continue partnering with the Government on big policy initiatives, but a coordinated approach to ensure investment, population and migration, infrastructure, jobs and skills, and housing policies worked in unison was needed.

“Many of the Government’s plans for our nation’s future rely upon regional Australia doing the heavy lifting. If we don’t start planning for the impacts of this pipeline, we foresee major shortages, undersupply and dissatisfaction amongst our regional communities, with little to no legacy at the end. We need a system in place that speaks to the hearts and minds of regional Australians,” Ms Ritchie said. 

“The Future Made in Australia Act, another worthy policy initiative, has the potential to direct and deepen regional Australia’s role as the engine room of the nation’s renewable energy effort and play a key part of Australia’s manufacturing renaissance, but this will backfire if staff cannot be found, and they have nowhere to call home. Australians want to live in our regions and they continue to vote with their feet, why aren’t we planning for this future?” 

Ahead of the Federal Budget on 14 May 2024, see the RAI’s Pre Budget Submission here

For media enquiries contact:

Regional Australia Institute 
Melinda Hayter
Ph: 0498 373 300
E: [email protected]