Quarter acre block dreaming? Shorten and Joyce need regional plan (Chair’s Op-Ed)

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Opinion Piece – RCA Chair Mayor Shane Van Styn

The latest Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey proves once again the great Australian dream of home ownership is slipping further out of reach for many Aussies living in the country’s four biggest capital cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

Still dreaming of a quarter acre block? Hope lies in Australia’s regional capital cities.

With room to move and glorious bush or coastal aspects – lower house prices are coupled with other great benefits like a ‘ten-minute city’ feel (read no traffic), makes these cities quick and easy (read no stress) to access jobs, schools and shopping.

Factors like these are no doubt why Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce last week remarked that people should consider a regional city if home ownership feels aspirational.

Joyce’s comments were quickly greeted by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten with statistics about high unemployment rates in regional cities.

Both leaders are of course right to point out these issues. Regional capital cities largely have better housing affordability and the unemployment rate is generally higher – approximately 2 percentage points above the major metros.

For regional job creation to occur, business investment in cities outside the big four needs a rethink. All cities that work are enormous economic assets and play a vital role in building a strong economy. As the nation’s $53 billion congestion bill spirals out of control, it is clear Australian businesses also needs a new a solution that moves past the capital city thinking that historically has been engrained in our national leadership.

The alliance of 30 regional cities known as Regional Capitals Australia (RCA) – of which I am Chair – know that for our cities to be an investment priority for business they must also be an investment priority for government. Our cities need to be:

1. Connected: with high speed broadband, telecommunications, roads, rail, ports and airports;

2. Liveable: with regional access to tertiary education, health, sporting facilities, arts and cultural centres and active CBDs.

Investments in our cities will undoubtedly ease the squeeze on the major metros as people and business look for a liveable and investable alternative. This investment will also create a level playing field for the average Aussie who has already made the move.

That’s why in 2017, RCA’s focus will be on working with all parties and independents to acknowledge the role of regional capitals in new policy being developed: The Smart Cities – Regional City Deals and the Australian Government’s pending regional development policy.

It really is time to put the great Aussie dream of home ownership back on the agenda, by creating strong regional capital cities that are clearly the alternative and also giving those living in regional Australia a fair go.