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EDITORIAL: Population shift at the crossroads

We will watch closely during the next couple of years how governments approach a rare opportunity to promote regional growth.

There has been plenty of dialogue about how oppressive metropolitan experiences and adaptive workplace behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic might spur new interest in regional living.

The idea is that many people might be looking to change their lot after clearly seeing advantages in a shift that might not have been so obvious before the pandemic. 

It follows a belief that everything that has happened in the past year might help stimulate a broader spread of opportunities for Australia to develop while addressing some of the major issues of metropolitan centres choking under population pressure.

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But to believe this can happen naturally without dedicated and profound government guidance and support, perhaps like the spontaneous Victorian goldrush, is little more than pie-in-the-sky theorising.

We know from our own experiences that people who have long settled into and are either comfortable with or simply know a way of life, can be hard to shift, regardless of how tough the circumstances or prospects.

The appeal of rural and regional lifestyle has only so much weight and the reality is that when the pandemic passes, people will need serious incentives to make that much talked-
about tree change.

The primary stimulant governing what people do and where they live comes firmly from the hip pocket – and how much disposable income a lifestyle allows.

When it comes to driving major change in how and where people want to live, the cost and convenience of living will ultimately be the deciding factors.

The pandemic might have slightly opened the door, providing a sliver of a view to the curious in our big cities, but it will take dedicated and driven schemes centred on decentralisation for us to see anything profound.

It’s okay for a political party to philosophically promote the idea, but when in government they must put their money where their mouth is and drive the concept through far-reaching policy.

If political forces seriously want more people to make the big shift to the country – and that means going beyond provincial outposts – they will also need to back the move with significant investment. 

Incentives around the cost of living and developing business and industry, be it taxation relief, subsidisation of utility or transport costs or other creative consumer-cost-based stimulating packages, will all be necessary to break open that crack the pandemic has made in the seal.

A weighty stimulant policy package that gets people to start considering a shift only needs to be in place for a relatively short time or strategically targeted at particular sectors.

Getting people to initially settle in the regions represents the biggest challenge. Getting them to stay is the next.

Our next regional ‘goldrush’ can’t happen unless there is enough willpower to not only allow it to happen, but to make it happen.

The entire October 7, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!