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With the Australia Day ‘long weekend’ upon us, it is almost time for the annual (and very painful) exchange of beach chairs for desk chairs.
The precise location of these chairs and the employees who occupy them has been the topic of much debate in recent days. Lord Mayors, business peak bodies and even Federal Ministers have called for big and small businesses alike to embrace “COVID Normal”, with the first agenda item a move from the home office back to the CBD.
As Chair of Regional Capitals Australia, an alliance that champions the development of regional cities, I have a strong sense of foreboding at this news. To me, COVID Normal is code for the status quo, a stubborn and powerful force, highly resistant to change.
In light of this, I have a warning for our State and Federal leaders, any calls to rush to reinstate a pre-COVID life should be treated with great caution. As Ronald Reagan so aptly put it, the ‘Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in’.
According to the latest Australian Infrastructure Audit, by 2031, road congestion alone will cost us $53 billion every year. As we stare down the barrel of a historic budget deficit, it’s time to consider if the status quo is something we can continue to afford.
I suspect the real rush to press play on the daily office grind has more to do with ‘save our cities’ than ‘budget repair’. The voices campaigning to solve this issue by way of a mass return to the CBD are the very same who historically have seen loss and decline in our regions with a shrug of the shoulder. Followed by throw-away sentiments that amount to “well, what can we do? People just don’t want to live in regional Australia”.
Well, how wrong have they been? COVID restrictions have been an enabler for some to approach their work-life balance differently.
It is clear the regional rush 2.0 is on. This time there is no gold in the hills but more time with family and friends. This time delivered via the home office that can come with a quarter acre block brought for half of what you would pay in Melbourne. There is also high-speed broadband that supports your every working and personal need.
Annual data by CoreLogic highlights house prices in our regional backyards have risen at a higher rate than in capital cities for the first time in 15 years, in some cases demand is (temporarily at least) outstripping supply. Any regional real estate guide is proof that regional living is everything our city counterparts have only ever dreamt of and now, due to remote working have the opportunity to make it a reality.
Big thriving cities like Melbourne and Sydney are undoubtedly destined to make a comeback. What is less certain is the lasting demand of the regional rush 2.0. To make sure we see the benefits of this for decades to come, Government and business need to empower this change through investment and policy.
People should be offered a choice, where possible, to make a change. As a Mayor of a booming regional city, I am betting where people are empowered to do so, we will continue to see our regions and our nation thrive.
Regional Capitals Australia Chair Cr Kevin Mack, Mayor Albury City Council.
Molly Hurley, Regional Capitals Australia Secretariat
M: 0499 199 795
About Regional Capitals Australia
Regional Capitals Australia (RCA) is a national alliance of local government councils across the nation representing Australia’s regional cities. RCA’s mission is to provide a recognised platform to champion the strategic importance and sustainable development of regional capitals around the nation. To learn more about our work