RACE TO REGIONS

Infrastructure and services aren't glamorous but they are vital to keep regional Australia growing

Transport infrastructure remains a significant issue for regional Australia. Source: Gemma Purves
Transport infrastructure remains a significant issue for regional Australia. Source: Gemma Purves

Infrastructure isn't particularly sexy. Musicians may rhapsodise about being on the road but it's rare to hear someone wax lyrical about the quality of the tarmac they're travelling on.

That said, good infrastructure often goes hand in hand with good services. Both of which ensure a certain standard of living for our cities, towns and townships.

Whatever the issue your community faces when it comes to infrastructure and services it's likely exacerbated by Australia's tyranny of distance and challenging geography.

It's easy to call out problems faced by regional areas but the further away from the coast the more marked they tend to be.

Meanwhile closer to the coast the issues around housing are stark, with Byron Bay Hinterland particularly hard hit with the influx of new residents over the past year. It's the same over on the west coast, where the latest data showing the housing shortage is critical, with the number of available rental properties down 30% year on year.

It's no easier on the Apple Isle, with Tasmanian house prices and a shortage of rentals having been an issue since well before COVID.

So what can be done? Well the sight of new suburbs springing up on the outskirts of town, is one that seems reminiscent of any of the capital cities. Goulburn isn't the only regional city to have seen a massive building boom over the past year, to the extent that there is currently no land available for sale.

But is it enough? When Matt and Jason Purvis moved from Sydney's inner west to the Hunter Valley they moved from a small one-bedroom workers cottage with courtyard to 5 acres and a house with enough space for each of them to have a home office. Unfortunately they also discovered that in order to make working from home feasible they'd also require two internet connections.

Jason seems to thinks it's a small price to pay, along with the lack of mobile phone coverage, in order to not have to set up with a laptop on his knee in a small courtyard as he was in Sydney.

At least they've got the NBN. For others who rely on a decent connection to keep their business going it's more of a struggle.

Connectivity isn't just vital for those working from home or running businesses in regional areas, it can also provide much needed access to telehealth services. In fact, one of the upsides of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the rapid adoption of online and remote medical services.

It's certainly got the government talking with a committee being set up to review regional services to ensure they're fit for purpose. This is on top of the announcement in the Federal budget in May of a $10bn infrastructure fund.

For some communities it's been a case of taking the power into their own hands, literally. As the various tiers of government bicker over new power generation, communities are applying the philosophy that saw community banks, post offices and other service hubs spring up across the country to generate their own power.

Community power groups identify their needs, and explore ways to provide affordable and renewable energy to those that want it. It's not just community groups. For people living on remote, offgrid properties, renewable energy can provide energy security instead of relying on diesel being trucked in to run the generator.

It's also just smart business. The residents of Wagga, Horsham and Townsville are just as eager to access the various government rebates and discounts for installing solar power on their own homes as their capital city counterparts.

Choice can remain an issue outside of the capital cities with the debate over schooling and jockeying to get your kid into the school of your choice seeming farcical. As Jane Thompson who lives up in the Byron Bay Hinterland says, your kids go to the local school. Not just because it's the only school, but how else are you going to get to know everyone and become part of the community?

If there's one thing that is certain, every region has it's own unique set of needs to ensure its community continues to thrive and provide the services and infrastructure necessary to call regional Australia home.

This story Infrastructure isn't sexy (but it is vital) first appeared on The Canberra Times.