• John McDonnell

Regions rising conference: Michael McCormack promotes life in the bush

The Regional Australia Institute held its ‘Regions Rising’ conference in Canberra on Wednesday and Thursday. The theme was the attraction of living in the regions. The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, delivered the opening address.

He introduced the theme of the conference ‘Move to More’. The aim is to promote awareness of the advantages of living in the bush. The RAI has identified that one in five people living in the cities want a tree change. Move to More is a multi-million dollar campaign to persuade people of the advantages of living n the bush.


Michael McCormack opened by saying there is money to be made in regional Australia. There are opportunities everywhere. The RAI has identified 54,000 jobs needing to be filled in regional Australia. These jobs range from truck drivers to doctors and lawyers.


Coronavirus has shown that people can have a safe life in regional Australia. In the September quarter, more than 700,000 people have moved to the bush. The largest proportion of evacuees have come from Melbourne immediately after the long lockdown. Saul Eslake made the point that this was due to the fact that Victoria was the most authoritarian state in Australia and the measures the government applied during the lockdown.


The advent of Zoom has transformed work in the regions, so it is possible for professionals to live and work in the regions. The ‘Move to More’ campaign has been a major effort involving regional organisations and councils. Regionalisation is something Australia needs. The economic recovery will be built on it, among other things. There has been a regional renaissance as a result of the pandemic.

Mr McCormack was followed by Liz Ritchie, the CEO of Regions Rising, who pointed out that in 2016, 70% of Australians lived in cities. This process needs to be reversed for the sustainable development of the nation. This requires a bold vision, courage and popular support. Regional organisations should shift to local procurement. Corporations should be encouraged to procure more services from the regions.


Governments can encourage regionalisation by providing the same level of services to the bush that they provide to the cities.

Former deputy prime minister, Mark Vaile, claimed that many things had changed over the last 20 years, particularly technology. Communications are better in the bush now, as is transport and even things like childcare. This has provided a platform for regionalisation.


Saul Eslake told the conference that the rising cost of housing represents a disincentive to movement to the country. However, employment is higher than it was prior to the pandemic. There is likely to be labour shortage in dwelling construction because of the demand for housing.


There are opportunities for regional industries and food production in the regions, but this is not resulting in a rise in business confidence. This is a consequence of the arbitrary border closures and lockdowns.


The regions tend to be an older demographic than in the cities and consequently fewer of them work. They also tend to work less, and productivity is lower. In order to improve this situation, the opportunities for education need to be improved to both train and attract high skilled workers to the regions.

Saul Eslake introduced a touch of reality into what had been a rosy hued discussion until he intervened. There is no doubt that regions are on the rise but the road ahead is likely to be bumpy.