On a recent drive holiday enjoying the wonders of Tasmania, I saw ample evidence of the post-COVID realities that are holding back our national recovery, especially in vital sectors like tourism and hospitality.
At most places we visited, the local businesses were struggling to attract staff, particularly those qualified or experienced.
And if that was not challenge enough, 30 per cent price jumps for units or houses, compounded by an absolute scarcity of rental properties, exacerbated the difficulties in attracting people.
It's a story that is repeated in many other parts of the country, making the acute shortage of housing to be a constraint to development and a growing source of inequality.
Property analyst CoreLogic reports that in the year to last April house prices increased in 25 of the largest non-capital city regions, with those closest to the capital cities experiencing the biggest jumps in price and turnover.
Over the past year, houses in Toowoomba, for example, sold on average in under two weeks.
A key question now is how this will play into the near economic future.
ABS shows that of Australia's 15 million jobs, over 400,000 remain unfilled and workplace retrenchment, at just 1.5pc, is the lowest since 1972.
Filling the job vacancies means in many cases attracting people to places lacking accommodation.
Effectively addressing the under-investment in regional housing stock especially will need close coordination and collaboration between the three levels of government and the private sector.
Consideration of the housing crisis by national cabinet last week was timely and hopefully generates a national approach to the different regional and urban problems.
Looking beyond COVID, war and flood impacts, a longer-term view with everything relevant on the table is essential: industry and manufacturing policies improving supply chains, freeing up local land banks, forming cooperative public-private development models, selling off existing government housing to fund new replacements, tax incentives for investment and employment - to name a few.
Importantly, as the Regional Australia Institute has said, there needs to be an alternative to the existing planning regimes that expect little or no population growth in regional areas and accordingly deliver none.
Ultimately, the best regional futures are those where there are local growing communities, where people can live, work, and play locally or regionally.
But without the basic building block of decent affordable housing, further community development is thwarted and with it the opportunity for a truly resilient regional Australia.
- John Cole OAM, Institute for Resilient Regions
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