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20 June, 2021

Local government: leading job recovery in the bush to ensure a lasting regional renaissance

AN influx of people to our regions seeking to take advantage of affordable housing and better lifestyles has underpinned a regional renaissance in 2020-21.

While there are strong grounds for assuming the regional recovery will continue, it cannot be taken for granted and it won't happen without a locally-led job creation strategy.

On Sunday, a national forum will look at how rural and regional councils are successfully delivering jobs and economic leadership to ensure the COIVD-inspired bush renaissance of 2020-21 is enduring and widespread.

Convened by the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), the forum will take the bush’s temperature, examine economic and political trends, and look at further opportunities for councils to partner with state, territory, and federal governments on new job-creating initiatives.

ALGA President Linda Scott said that while the regions have always boasted an enviable lifestyle, the COVID-19 pandemic has sharpened their appeal.

“The pandemic has shown that people can work remotely without any impacts whatever on productivity, and that has helped reverse the long-term trend of young adults moving from regional to metropolitan Australia,” she said.

“Councils are investing heavily in local roads and community infrastructure, and this is creating new jobs for skilled workers and enticing urban professionals to relocate to the regions.

“That demographic shift won’t be sustained unless we continue to build jobs and local economies,” she cautioned.

“All levels of government need to be working together to address the critical issues like a lack of suitable housing options, poor digital connectivity, and transport links.”

Cr Scott said local governments are leading these efforts because they have the clearest understanding of their local communities’ unique requirements.

“Providing them with effective resourcing and partnership opportunities from state and federal governments is the quickest way to clear the way for our regions to thrive,” she said.

Speakers at the forum include Local Government Minister Mark Coulton, journalist and author Gabrielle Chan, and Kim Houghton, the chief economist of the Regional Australian Institute.

Dr Houghton said local government efforts to package regional centres as attractive alternatives to living and working in the capital cities were being hampered by:

· Long-term under-investment in residential housing in regional areas; and

·  Regional planning predicated on low or predictable population growth.

“A lot of regional planning has been done using ‘business-as-usual scenarios,” Dr Houghton said.

“So, many regions haven’t been prepared for the significant uptick in growth that’s been one of the unexpected outcomes of COVID-19.”

However, many regional councils have responded quickly to the crisis, working with developers to open new residential lots, selling land, and contributing to community housing projects via loans.

“Some innovative things are going on in many places because they [the councils] feel like they’ve got to take some leadership,” he said.

To encourage more innovative thinking, Dr Houghton will provide the forum with an overview of the regional housing market based on the RAI’s data.

ALGA is the national voice of local government, representing 537 councils across the country. Its Regional Co-operation and Development Forum will be held at the National Convention Centre Canberra (NCCC) on 20 June.

The Forum is the curtain-raiser for the 27th National General Assembly of Local Government being staged at the NCCC from 21-23 June.

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