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Empowering regions to thrive

December 21 2022

As 2022 draws to a close, it provides a special time for reflection on the achievements of the year that’s been.

During the past year (now that we’re travelling), we’ve had the opportunity to visit many different parts of regional Australia and what a privilege that is. It’s been wonderful to continue to connect with regional communities and bring our work to life through a local lens.

The RAI’s Annual Report 2021-22 shares the significant work of the Institute during the past 12 months. In the words of RAI Chair, Christian Zahra, 2022 has been one of the most ‘consequential’ for the RAI. Amidst the dynamism of a federal election campaign, a resulting change of Government; unprecedented natural disasters and the ongoing pandemic, the RAI has continued to deliver on our purpose: to empower regions to thrive.

Undoubtedly, the most significant milestone was the launch of the Regionalisation Ambition 2032 – A Framework to Rebalance the Nation. The decadal plan includes 20 bold targets for our regions. Informed by the findings of 11 years of research, the Framework is the Institute’s north star and makes the case for a different, whole-of-system approach to regional strategy, policy and investment. The framework is brought to life by a strong ecosystem and by RAI’s members who have made pledges to take action to achieve the Ambition’s goals. Next year, we will continue to build upon this critical work.

Equally, the RAI’s research this year on regional housing has provided much needed information and understanding on an issue that sadly is not going away anytime soon. As the Building the Good Life Series reports showcased, regional housing approvals and construction did not keep pace with population growth up to 2020. Given the unprecedented movement to the regions, disrupted supply chains and labour shortages, meeting the demands of Australians wanting to make the move has been challenging. But we are pleased that the new Government have created the Housing Accord and we will continue to advocate on behalf of our regional communities to fast track solutions.

The Regional Movers Index powered by the Commonwealth Bank has proven to be an invaluable tool for our followers and policy makers alike. Consistently, the larger regional centres are also receiving the largest net migration but interestingly some of our smaller inland regions are experiencing high percentage growth. So, despite conjecture of whether the move to more trend will continue, we are still seeing mobility at 15% above pre-pandemic levels and it's our view this will continue.

Regional job vacancies tipped 94,000 last month. We welcomed the National Jobs and Skills Summit and the refocused prioritisation of investment is very much needed and we will continue to collaborate across governments to support the range of policy solutions required to abate these shortages either through migration, local learning systems, attraction and retention strategies.

Despite, the ongoing challenges of COVID, the RAI’s Regions Rising Series went ahead both in person and through webinars. It was great to be back in Bendigo and Toowoomba for state-based events and Canberra for RAI’s flagship National Summit. We look forward to continuing the series in 2023!

As we have seen again and again this year, Australian regional communities are no strangers to disruption and challenges. Through the Leading Australian Resilient Communities (LARC) program, we have loved the opportunity to join the team at ARLF to work with regional leaders and build knowledge, capacity and action at a local level. Next year, this continues, with one-day Future Forums and five-day intensive leadership workshops in Wide Bay Burnett and Southern NT. Click here to register/apply for a scholarship. Register for Yorke/Mid North South Australia and for Western Australia.

It gives me great pride to see another Horizons – International Engagement and Leadership Program completed with an outstanding winner – congratulations to Tina Irish from the Lismore City Council with her proposal for a Centre for Flood Excellence. This marks two years since the program was launched in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Advancing the work of the RAI is a massive team effort, so I’d like to provide my heartfelt thanks to our team, the RAI Board, our members, partners and the thousands of supporters who collectively work to build a brighter future for rural and regional Australia.

From all of us at the RAI, we wish you and your loved ones a happy and safe festive season. We already know 2023 is going to be another big year for the RAI – we are looking forward to working with you as we strive to rebalance the nation!

Season’s Greetings to one and all.

Liz Ritchie - CEO