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The year of capturing and cultivating our regional capability

30 January 2024


I like to start each year goal setting and dreaming about what’s possible and to date this manifestation of ideas, innovation and aspiration has stood us in good stead. Here at the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) our aspirations are backed by evidence, data and insights and our dream, shared with thousands of Australians, is to ‘rebalance the nation’. It’s a big dream and some might say a bold one, but it’s equally worthy and necessary if we consider the current economic, social and environmental context.

If we are to be successful as a nation and on the world stage, we must reimagine our future and the role that our diverse regional communities need to take. We must think big and strive for a new future. We need to demand more, we need to raise our voices to ensure that decision-makers understand that not only has the pendulum swung towards a life outside of the bright city lights, but our future will depend more and more on our ability to transition to a new frontier. No amount of spin or metro centric rhetoric can change this fact.

This year will be critical for our regions.  They’re maturing and entering a new era in Australian history. The societal shift – that started well over a decade ago – is seeing more people choose a life in regional Australia. This is a fact that has been driving the changing social values we are witnessing. We can’t go backwards; we don’t want to. We want to look forward and build a nation that is more inclusive, one that closes the inequity and builds on the strength of human capacity and their desire to live a healthier and happier life. Quite frankly, who could blame them for wanting this.

2024 marks ‘year two’ of the  Regionalisation Ambition. The groundwork has now been set, and this is the year where the rubber hits the road. All governments, be they local, state or federal, need to paint a clear vision for how they intend to respond. What are the levers that they have at their disposal to collectively unite and take this once in a generation opportunity with both hands?

The roadmap is clear, and the 20 interlinked targets within the Regionalisation Ambition provide a blueprint to deliver greater prosperity to all Australians. But this is not easy work, there is no silver bullet, these are BIG, wicked, and entrenched challenges, that will require a bi-partisan and whole of nation approach.

The targets, such as reducing recruitment difficulty in the regions, and boosting the post school qualification rates of regional young people, are not simple to solve. If they were, they’d have been solved already, which is why we need a coalition of willing players – government, business, industry and community working together.

One of the biggest, most wicked issues right now is housing. It was the topic most people spoke to me about last year, which is why RAI will be starting 2024 with a laser focus on this issue.

Next week, at Old Parliament House in Canberra, the RAI, Real Estate Institute of Australia and Master Builders Australia will host the National Regional Housing Summit. Supported by our National Regional Housing Summit Sponsor, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, this event aims to capture the attention of the nation’s decision-makers when it comes to this critically important topic and the specific issues pertinent to regions.

The Regionalisation Ambition’s target in this space is to see rental vacancies in regional areas increase to above 3% and to ensure annual building approvals keep pace with population growth. In September 2023, vacancy rates dropped to 1.2% and monthly building approvals in regions have been decreasing since 2021.

Housing is not the sole responsibility of one authority or agency, so turning the dial on these measures is going to take a concerted, collaborative effort.

It’s an issue that’s at the forefront of federal and state governments, with the National Housing Accord and Housing Australia Future Fund set to focus investment in this area this year, but perhaps what isn’t so evident is the diversity of markets that exist across regional Australia.  Want a home loan in Queanbeyan?  There are dozens of lenders who you could talk to. If you’re in Quilpie though, you’re facing an uphill battle.  This variance will be a key focus of the Housing Summit  as it shows that a policy for ‘regional Australia’ as a whole won’t work.

What is needed are bespoke programs and solutions that can be adapted to the market in question.  And it’s important we have those conversations now, ahead of state, territory and local elections.

The impetus to act on housing is further fueled by the ongoing cost of living pressure. Many people are looking to the regions to ease that pressure, and for good reason.

New analysis by the RAI has found whilst the median value of dwellings has increased in both metropolitan and regional Australia, the regions are still significantly more affordable. Add to that, further data which shows median wages in some regional areas are often on-par or more, than in many metropolitan areas.  I’ll have more to say on both of these datasets very soon, but this empirical evidence demonstrates why housing needs to be a focus in 2024.

The National Regional Housing Summit is set to kick off what’s expected to be the RAI’s biggest year to date. In March, we’ll head over to South Australia for the first event in our 2024 Regions Rising program. 

Register now


If the regions haven’t been on your agenda to date, I’ve got a feeling they will feature prominently this year. Join with us in 2024 to ensure that regional capability is captured and cultivated to its fullest potential.

Liz Ritchie – CEO