Regional Australia: the nation’s best kept secret

Fiona Nash is a former federal cabinet minister and deputy leader of the National Party. She is also strategic adviser for regional development at Charles Sturt University. Here she talks about what we know is true – that regional Australia is where it’s at!

People often underestimate the immense contribution the regions make to the nation’s economy.

One third of Australia’s population lives outside of the cities. Regional Australia is responsible for around 67 per cent of our exports, and 45 per cent of domestic tourism.

I suspect if you carried out a poll today in our metropolitan cities people would believe all of regional Australia is in drought – but it isn’t. It’s a classic example of Australian city-dwellers only ever hearing bad news about the regions, because disaster is all that cuts through on the six o’clock news.

Every day when city people wake up, they should thank regional Australia for delivering their way of life.

It’s the economic success stories of regional Australia that are often overlooked. While many parts of Australia are battling through drought, in many regional areas communities are thriving. I raise this point not to diminish the gravity of drought, but to highlight that our city-dwellers sometimes fail to see the whole picture.

In my previous role as a federal minister, I examined over a six-month period regional stories across the two major metropolitan newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne. In Melbourne, I found 80 per cent of stories about regional areas were negative, 15 per cent neutral and only 5 per cent positive. While in Sydney, 75 per cent were negative and 25 per cent positive.

It’s no wonder city people fail to understand the reality of the regions when they are provided with a consistently negative narrative.  But it is time to re-think the way we view regional Australia, recognise it for the economic powerhouse it truly is and the untapped opportunity it presents for businesses and individuals.

Of course, not everyone can live in regional Australia, nor do they want to. But the regions should be top of mind for savvy people as the best place to live, work and invest.

In recent years, an increasing number of young people are returning to regional communities: I’m labelling this the “go-home factor”. In 2017 more people moved from Sydney to the regions than from the regions to Sydney, creating huge investment opportunities. Despite our metropolitan media rarely showing an accurate picture of regional areas, Australians are waking up to the fact regional lifestyles are often better for families, work/life balance and as a consequence, dealing with stress.

Some facts about the regions may surprise many. For example, the majority of regional communities have much lower unemployment rate than the national average. Also, regional universities make a huge contribution to the economy. Charles Sturt University, the largest regional university, generates $619 million in gross regional product across the northern, central and southern regions.

Regionally-based businesses are a huge untapped market for astute businesspeople looking for areas in which to invest. And regional media news, whether it’s TV, radio or newspaper, generally have much higher ratings and penetration than the capital cities and statewide media. On television, local news such as WIN TV often out rate the national news bulletins. And local radio and community newspapers tend to be more widely consumed and trusted than national media. Free local newspapers delivered to every door and paid for by advertising are still alive and well in regional Australia. The Nine Network has created local regional news bureaux and bulletins in recent years as it recognises the opportunities of regional media markets. As a TV executive said to me in a meeting, “local news is king”.

Regional Australia is still the nation’s best-kept secret. The regions feed the cities, they clothe the cities, they power the cities with electricity and gas. Every day when city people wake up they should thank regional Australia for delivering their way of life.

Regional Australia is the land of opportunity – and if city people were to have a look, many would wind up investing, working and living there.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

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Contact us to find out more about studying in regional Australia at Charles Sturt University.