Regional cities beware – fast rail might lead to disadvantaged dormitories, not booming economies



Many commuters already travel from regional cities to work in capital cities like Melbourne so what impacts will fast rail have?
Alpha/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Todd Denham, RMIT University and Jago Dodson, RMIT University

Governments are looking to fast rail services to regional cities to relieve population pressures in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The federal government is funding nine business cases for such schemes. But what economic effect might these fast links have on the regional cities?

The current fast rail schemes seem oriented at relieving population pressures in the major cities rather than a productive regional economic purpose. The minister for population, cities and urban infrastructure recently stated:

… the National Faster Rail Agency begins operating from today [July 1]. The new Agency will oversee the government’s 20-year fast rail agenda, which will connect satellite regional cities to our big capitals. This will allow people to reside in regional centres with its [sic] cheaper housing and regional lifestyle but still access easily and daily the major employment centres.




Read more:
We can halve train travel times between our cities by moving to faster rail


The argument seems built on a pitch to city workers priced out of metropolitan housing markets. It treats regional towns as remote dormitories for metropolitan workers rather than as regional cities that serve as service hubs and employment centres. But will subsidising metropolitan workers to live in cheaper regional towns have a positive economic effect on those towns?

An unequal relationship

Concern is growing among international observers that fast rail connections between two cities benefit the larger of the pair. Professor Michael Storper observed:

One of the biggest mistakes we’ve made was being naïve about connectivity – give infrastructure and it spreads. Well, often it concentrates. The high-speed train network in France, guess what it did. It advantaged Paris.

While Paris is seen as benefiting the most from the national fast rail TGV service, the regional cities of Lyon and Lille have strengthened their economic positions. The Lyon and Lille fast rail stations form the hub of their respective regional transport networks and have attracted new commercial activity. They also sit at intersections of major European fast rail networks.

It’s a pattern that cannot be easily achieved for Australia’s regional cities due to our widely dispersed settlements. So what does this mean for our regional cities?

Improving transport infrastructure doesn’t just improve regional business access to metropolitan markets. It decrease the costs of trade in both directions. And large cities are typically more productive economically. This is because they offer more specialised goods and services and can leverage the agglomeration effects of shared high-quality labour markets and infrastructure, plus a concentration of skills and knowledge.




Read more:
Our big cities are engines of inequality, so how do we fix that?


Reduced travel times can mean regional businesses become less efficient than metropolitan competitors that can offer a wider range of specialist goods and services. This may lead to regional business closures, employment losses and wage decline. Unless a regional city is able to develop a specialised set of high-skill, high-wage industries that complement or outcompete the metropolis it risks being economically disadvantaged by faster rail.

New regional demand arising from commuter population growth might counter the loss of higher-order regional jobs due to improved transport links. But that will largely be in lower-value retail and personal service sectors. The result will still be a net economic gain for the metropolis.




Read more:
The growing skills gap between jobs in Australian cities and the regions


An influx of commuters earning metropolitan wages might also inflate regional housing markets. This would disadvantage lower-paid regional workers. The beneficiaries of this scenario are likely to be local rentiers, such as landholders and developers who can profit from land-price inflation.

This interest group will likely vocally promote regional fast rail. But sustainable economic prosperity for regional cities requires more than population-driven land speculation.




Read more:
A housing affordability crisis in regional Australia? Yes, and here’s why


The example of Geelong

The most advanced of the current Australian proposals is the Geelong-Melbourne route. It has received federal and state funding for planning with an estimated total cost of at least A$10 billion. But planners need to ask how this spending will provide a net economic benefit, and how the benefits will be distributed.

Growth in commuter population and the services this attracts may be seem like a resolution to metropolitan population problems, but could further concentrate higher-paid jobs in Melbourne. Faster commutes mean Melbourne-based firms will have a greater pick of Geelong-based workers, thus consolidating metropolitan competitive advantage. Fast rail thus risks placing Geelong at a competitive disadvantage, with jobs and workers being exported to Melbourne.

Meanwhile the pressure of housing another 145,000 residents in the next 20 years already falls on Geelong, a city of 280,000 people. The strain on infrastructure and services is proportionately greater than would be the case in Melbourne, which has nearly 5 million residents.




Read more:
This is how regional rail can help ease our big cities’ commuter crush


What can policymakers do about this?

To resolve this conundrum, thought must be given to what specialised high-value jobs will be attracted to regional cities to accompany fast rail investments, so these cities remain competitive and productive, regionally, nationally and internationally. This might include policies such as relocating public agencies, regional targeting of university-based research and development spending, boosting services such as schools and hospitals, and providing incentives for innovative private companies to relocate to regional towns.

Policymakers should also consider positioning regional cities as rail network hubs in their own right. An example would be connecting Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo by rail, along with better linkages to national and international airports.

We don’t yet know for sure what the effects of fast rail on regional cities will be. But the impact of this infrastructure needs to be assessed very carefully lest it turns Australia’s regional cities into dependent population dormitories rather than regional dynamos, at vast public expense.The Conversation

Todd Denham, PhD Candidate, School of Global, Urban & Social Studies, RMIT University and Jago Dodson, Professor of Urban Policy and Director, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Dog whistles, regional visas and wage theft – immigration policy is again an election issue


Jock Collins, University of Technology Sydney

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


Immigration policy will be a major issue in the 2019 federal election. We know this because immigration has featured significantly at every Australian election since the 2001 “children overboard” election.

David Marr and Marian Wilkinson argued in their 2003 book, Dark Victory, that willingness to play the race card in relation to boat people was a decisive factor in John Howard’s election victory. For Tony Abbott, “Stop the boats” was a major campaign theme when the Coalition won back government in the 2013 election. The current prime minister, Scott Morrison, rose to prominence as Abbott’s unyielding immigration minister who stopped the boats.




Read more:
Australian politics explainer: the MV Tampa and the transformation of asylum-seeker policy


While the events of Christchurch may have cramped the opportunity for the Coalition to run hard on fear, promising to be tough on borders and tough on (Muslim) terrorism, the dog-whistle politics on the issue of refugees and asylum seekers will be there for those wanting to hear it.

For Labor these policy issues have been difficult. It was Kevin Rudd who as PM declared that those arriving by boat would never be settled in Australia, irrespective of the validity of their claims for protection under the UN Refugee Convention. Labor supported efforts to get children out of detention on Manus Island, but doesn’t want to give the conservatives too much space to convincingly advance a “Labor weak on border security” line.

Humanitarian intake is growing

The Coalition governments of Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison have in fact increased Australia’s annual humanitarian intake significantly. The number has risen from just over 13,750 to more than 18,000 – though the government has not loudly broadcast this fact.

In addition, Abbott in 2015 announced a one-off intake of 12,000 Syrian conflict refugees. Most of them arrived in 2017, effectively doubling the annual refugee intake in that year.

Australia – and the refugees – coped well, demonstrating the nation’s capacity to significantly increase refugee intakes. Our research with newly arrived Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugee families suggests they are settling well in Australia, receiving a warm welcome from locals in the cities and regional centres. Employment and family reunification are their key worries.




Read more:
Refugees are integrating just fine in regional Australia


Labor’s shadow immigration minister, Shayne Neumann, has flagged a new temporary sponsored visa for the parents of migrants. Unlike the current visa, it does not have a cap and it might assist refugees to get their parents to Australia.

Labor has announced it will increase the annual humanitarian intake of refugees to 27,000 by 2025. It will also abolish Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). These visas provide boat arrivals who are found to be refugees the right to stay for only three years with work and study rights and access to Centrelink payments. As Labor argues, this places them “in a permanent state of limbo”.

The Coalition parties have not announced their policy intentions in relation to humanitarian intakes or the rights of asylum seekers, including those who arrived by boat.

At a time when Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton scans the horizon for new boat arrivals, record number of asylum seekers are arriving by plane under tourist visas. In 2013-14, there were 18,718 asylum applications, including 9,072 boat arrivals. This had increased to 27,931 asylum applications, with no boat arrivals, by 2017-18.


Department of Home Affairs

Each year the Australia government sets the permanent immigration targets. Until recently this was set at 190,00. In practice just 162,000 immigrants have been admitted over the past year or so.

A token cut and 2 new visas

In this context Prime Minister Morrison’s announcement that the permanent immigration target will be cut to 160,000 is really no change in immigration policy. There is nothing to see here if you dismiss the need to be loudly anti-immigration in the current populist political climate.




Read more:
Government’s population plan is more about maximising ‘win-wins’ than cutting numbers


The announcement is linked to congestion-busting in the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne. It is accompanied by the introduction of two new visa pathways – the Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) Visa and the Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) Visa – for skilled migrants to live and work in regional areas for five years.

These visas offer the carrot of permanent residency at the end of three years to attract new immigrants to regional Australia. In addition, the budget announced that scholarships to the tune of $94 million over four years would be available to domestic and international students who study there.




Read more:
Settling migrants in regional areas will need more than a visa to succeed


Temporary migrants exploited

Most immigration policy debates centre on permanent immigration intakes, particularly of humanitarian immigrants and asylum seekers. Yet annual temporary migrant intakes – international students, working holidaymakers and temporary skilled workers – are three times greater than the permanent intake. Over 800,000 temporary migrants were in Australia in June 2018.

One key policy issue is the exploitation of temporary migrant workers. The Turnbull government abolished the 457 temporary skilled migration visa because of increasing reports of abuse and exploitation by employers.

One recent survey of 4,332 temporary migrant workers found “increasing evidence of widespread exploitation of temporary migrant workers, including wage theft”. Half of all temporary migrant workers may be underpaid. About one in three international students and backpackers earned $12 an hour or less – about half the minimum wage.

This issue goes not just to the ethics of maintaining a temporary migration program largely premised on migrant worker exploitation. It also resonates with Labor’s campaign for a living wage and the restoration of penalty rates for workers in response to the low rate of real wage growth in Australia, which constrains consumer demand.




Read more:
Ultra low wage growth isn’t accidental. It is the intended outcome of government policies


The 2019-20 federal budget allocated extra funding to the Fair Work Ombudsman to bolster enforcement action against employers who exploit vulnerable workers and announced the National Labour Hire Registration Scheme to target rogue operators in the labour hire industry. However, the research suggests wage theft is widespread in the small business sector, a key target for tax relief in the budget. It is an area of immigration policy that requires considerably more resources and punch.The Conversation

Jock Collins, Professor of Social Economics, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Slimmed-down migration program has regional focus


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has announced a reduced annual cap on migration of 160,000 for each of the next four years, as well as measures to stream a greater proportion of migrants to regional areas and boost the skilled component to these places.

The overhaul of the program comes after pressure from various quarters including conservative Liberals for immigration to be lowered, and the government talking up the need for “congestion busting”.

The government said cutting the migration cap by 15 per cent would reduce the maximum intake by a cumulative 120,000 over four years.

But the migration cap, although it is 30,000 lower than the present cap, in fact broadly reflects the actual current level of intake.

Last year permanent migration fell to its lowest level in a decade as a result of visa and other tightening.

Two new regional visas will be introduced for skilled workers, requiring them to live and work in regional areas for three years before being eligible to access permanent residency.

Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional and Skilled Work Regional visa holders will be given priority processing and will have access to a larger pool of eligible jobs.

Some 23,000 places will be set aside for regional skilled visas – this is a rise from 8,534 in 2017-18. This 8,534 represented only 7.7% of the total 111,000 skilled migrants; their visas required them to live and work in regional areas only for two years before being able to apply for permanent residency. The 23,000 will be 21% of the skilled intake.

There will also be new tertiary scholarships for Australian and international students to study in the regions – these will be worth $15,000 and go to more than 1000 local and foreign students annually.

International students studying at regional universities will be given access to an extra year in Australia on a post-study work visa.

The government says the new migration program increases the focus on skills, with the number of Employer Sponsored skilled places rising from 35,528 in 2017-18 to 39,000 in 2019-20. The family stream of the program hasn’t changed with 47,732 places available in 2019-20. The squeeze on the cap comes in the form of a reduction in the independent skilled category.

The program’s composition will be kept at about 70 per cent in the skilled stream and 30 per cent in the family stream.

The reduction in the migration ceiling will have no impact on the budget.

Scott Morrison said the government’s plan “manages population growth by adopting well targeted, responsible, and sustainable immigration policies”.

Morrison said migrants “are an invaluable part of Australia’s economic and social fabric. Our economic strength is supported by a successful migration program that brings skilled people of working age”.

He warned against those who wanted to run scare campaigns as a result of the announcements, saying they would be taking Australians for mugs.

Better targeting the intake would address skills shortages and benefit the whole economy, he said. “It will take pressure off in those cities that are straining, while supporting the cities and towns that are keen to have stronger growth”.

Morrison said managing population growth was not just about the migration intake, but also about infrastructure, city and regional deals, congestion busting projects, removing traffic bottlenecks, funding essential services, and providing key skills to regional to rural areas.

“Our plan marks a turning point in the way population is treated across government, with a move to greater collaboration, transparency and longer term planning. It is a comprehensive plan that engages and partners with our states and territories and local governments.”

Morrison said he wanted Australians to “spend less time in traffic and more time with their families”.

“Meanwhile I know we have rural and regional communities that have plans and opportunities to grow their shires, who are looking for more people to come and settle in their districts to fill jobs, inject more life into their towns, and shore up the important education and health services for the future they rely on.”

Bill Shorten played down the change in the migration cap, saying it was a 1% reduction from the 162,000 actual intake of last year. “That’s fine – I’ll always be guided by the experts”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Regional Australia is calling the shots now more than ever



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Regional Australia is no longer a desolate place when it comes to parliamentary representation.
from shutterstock.com

Andrew Beer, University of South Australia

Governments change priorities all the time. Some argue governments will focus on developing regional areas at one point in time and then refocus on major cities at another.

Our research shows that there are cycles in how much priority governments attach to regional issues. But these fluctuations are overshadowed by a larger, long-term trend towards greater involvement with regional communities.

Our findings show that regional Australia matters more today than it has at any other time since the 1940s.

Cycles of regional commitment

Inattention to particular constituencies can be costly. Victoria’s Kennett government lost office in 1999, when regional communities such as Ballarat and Bendigo became disillusioned with what they saw as a Melbourne-centric government.

This was a time when governments in other states, and nationally, were paying more attention to regional voters, with the Howard Coalition government nervously watching One Nation as a growing political force. In Queensland, the pressure was more acute, with a few regionally focused conservative politicians claiming seats in parliament.




Read more:
How big ideas for regional Australia were given short shrift


Appointing a minister with regional responsibilities is one clear marker of intent in the government of the day. John Sharp, the Howard government’s first minister for transport and regional development, released a budget statement with 19 major investments in regional areas. These included money for drought assistance, rural roads, and counselling and support services for young people and families.

Sharp said:

The Coalition government has not simply sat idly as regional Australia continued to suffer from neglect.

There are now six ministers and one parliamentary secretary for regional development in Australian parliaments. Bridget McKenzie (federal), Michael McCormack (federal), Tim Whetstone (South Australia), Jaclyn Symes (Victoria), John Barilaro (New South Wales), Alannah MacTiernan (Western Australia) and Mark Shelton (Tasmania) are the most recent expression of a trend that started almost 30 years ago.

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Our research

We examined all state and Australian government gazettes from 1939 to 2015 to find out how many “regional” ministers were in place over time. Our criteria were for the term “regional” to be in the title and for the representative to have responsibilities associated with improving the well-being of rural and remote communities.

We then used our data to develop an index, in which we gave a score of 1 for each month in the year where an identifiable regional minister held office.

For each jurisdiction the maximum possible score in any year was 12. For Australia, with six states and one federal government, the maximum possible score was 84.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/mK5pe/1/

Our results, in the table above, came as a surprise. It is clear that political engagement with the regions has grown rapidly since the late 1980s.

Previous research has suggested the 1940-1960s period was one of strong governmental commitment to the regions. This was reflected in announcements on the need to “decentralise” the population.

But our data suggest the notion of a “golden era” of regional policy and government support prior to the 1970s is misplaced.

Nation-wide policies in support of agriculture, mining or infrastructure development supported regional communities. But the well-being of these places was not the primary goal.

From 1972 to 1975, the Whitlam government was committed to addressing inequalities associated with where people live. This brought fresh enthusiasm for regional portfolios in state governments, but that tide quickly waned as the political climate changed.




Read more:
Election 2016: how well are the major parties meeting the needs of rural and regional Australia?


Australian governments did not begin to appoint regional ministers as a matter of course until the late 1980s. This was a period linked to the end of old-fashioned, class-based politics and the rise of our more complex political landscape.

The trend has continued since and the presence of the six regional ministers and one parliamentary secretary in the halls of political power means there has never been a better time for regions to lobby governments.

There are now more ministers than ever before ready, able and willing to receive delegations and advocate for country towns, rural industries and remote Australia.
This means regional leaders have an opportunity to be heard in the run-up to the NSW and federal elections. The challenge is to determine the key messages and how they should be delivered.The Conversation

Andrew Beer, Dean, Research and Innovation, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Refugees are integrating just fine in regional Australia


Jock Collins, University of Technology Sydney and Carol Reid, Western Sydney University

As the Australian population surpassed the 25 million mark last week, another immigration debate emerged over the burden newcomers are placing on Melbourne and Sydney in terms of congestion and rising home prices.

With government data showing 87% of skilled migrants settled in either of the two cities in the past year, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Minister Alan Tudge made an urgent appeal to redirect new arrivals to regional Australia instead.

New research being released publicly on Tuesday suggests Tudge is spot-on in his argument that regional Australia can take more permanent immigrants, including refugees. But the research also shows he’s wrong on another contention – that newly arrived refugees don’t want to learn English and that integration is not likely due to migrants living in a “language and cultural bubble”.

According to our survey of 155 newly arrived adult refugees and 59 children from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who settled in Queensland (in suburban Brisbane and in regional Logan and Toowoomba), those who settled in Toowoomba have had the easiest time integrating and feeling a part of their local communities.

A warm welcome in the country

Funded by the Australian Research Council, the findings are the first to emerge from a three-year study of settlement outcomes of recently arrived refugees in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

While nearly all of the refugees surveyed in Brisbane and Logan were Christians – a consequence of the Turnbull government’s decision to take mainly Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq, Toowoomba has also settled a large number of Yazidi refugees from Iraq, who follow their own religion, and a smaller number of Muslim refugees from Afghanistan.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

One key issue related to immigrant and refugee settlement in regional and rural Australia relates to the warmth of the welcome. The stereotypes of the Australian bush being “redneck” would suggest new immigrants would find settlement difficult outside large metropolitan centres.

An earlier research project on immigrants living in regional Australia a decade ago, however, dispelled this myth, with 80% of respondents reporting a warm welcome.

Our new research confirmed this finding, with 68% of the refugees surveyed in Queensland overall – and 81% in Toowoomba – reporting it was “very easy” or “easy” to make friends in Australia.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

This is also a better result than what researchers found in the larger, national survey of refugee resettlement in Australia, “Building a New Life in Australia”, which has been conducted since 2013. It’s referred to in the graph as “BNLA”.

Another indication of the “warmth of the welcome” in regional Australia is the finding that about half of the immigrants in Queensland – and 60% in Toowoomba – found it “very easy” or “easy” to talk to their Australian neighbours, a similar result to the BNLA. When we revisit these families in 2019 and 2020, we expect the numbers will even be higher.

The exception here were the immigrants who moved to Logan, who reported a lower level of ease talking with neighbours. Previous research has found a complex array of factors creates a different experience for refugees in Logan, which was one of the most disadvantaged municipalities in Australia in 2016.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

A desire to learn English

Being able to communicate with neighbours and other people is high on the list of critical needs of the immigrants we interviewed.

Since most of these refugees had arrived in the past 12 months, a key challenge was improving their English language skills. Most wanted more opportunities for conversational English and workplace English to assist in gaining employment. But for many, this was a Catch-22. The new arrivals needed to keep applying for jobs and attend English classes, but couldn’t do both at the same time.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

The adult refugees we surveyed were unanimously thankful to the Australian government and people for giving them and their families the opportunity for a new life. They desperately want to give back and contribute to their new country. But most had not yet found a job in Queensland.

This is of course a national problem, as the BNLA survey shows. But in our research, we found those in regional Toowoomba fared worse than those in Brisbane. Most of the Toowoomba residents expressed a desire to stay in the community, though, and would happily do so if they could find a job.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

Good place to raise children

Despite these early difficulties learning English and finding employment, an overwhelming majority of new refugees in Queensland (86%) reported feeling safe in their neighbourhoods, slightly lower than the national BNLA figure (93%). Again, Toowoomba is the standout: 100% of refugees felt safe living there.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

Overwhelmingly, most respondents also felt the arduous journey from Syria and Iraq had been worth it – 85% of all Queensland respondents believe they’ve found a neighbourhood that’s a good place to bring up children.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

Their children also revealed a strong sense of belonging, despite early feelings of loss and isolation. This is again higher in Toowoomba and lower in Logan – a result partially explained by the proactive nature of the community towards refugees in Toowoomba.


Australian Research Council, Author provided

This welcoming environment has been seen in many acts of kindness by teachers, community workers and church leaders. As one 14-year-old Afghan girl told us:

I was homesick. I was like there’s nowhere to go. We didn’t know many people around, like our own Afghanis. … So, the good thing in my life that happened last year was Ross, the pastor, came to our home and introduced us to church. Though we are not Christians, we still go there. It’s a youth group. So there we found many friends. We got to know more about other Afghanis living in Toowoomba and other cultures.

The ConversationAt a time when the integration of immigrant communities is being questioned, this study shows new arrivals to regional areas are actually doing well, and those in communities that welcome them may have the best support of all.

Jock Collins, Professor of Social Economics, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney and Carol Reid, Professor, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why big projects like the Adani coal mine won’t transform regional Queensland


John Cole, University of Southern Queensland

Queensland election campaigns often focus on big projects for the regions, such as for roads, power plants and mines. But research suggests that mega projects, such as in gas and coal, have not transformed skills or improved employment prospects in regional Queensland.

Take away the temporary booms from construction and other short-term jobs, and employment growth overall is no better than before the global financial crisis. Certainly Queensland’s regions are no more resilient. Instead of these mega projects, what’s needed are new sources of economic value in knowledge, services, and technology.


Read more: Here’s 49 small communities innovating as well as the big cities


Between 2010 and 2013 investment in coal mining surged 400% in the Bowen Basin. Further south, in the Surat Basin and at Gladstone, four international consortia spent more than A$70 billion fast-tracking a coal seam and liquid natural gas industry.

These projects fell far short of generating new skills and enduring businesses in the regions. Continuing dependence on resources and agriculture also creates its own vulnerabilities, as both are challenged by market and investment volatility, and increased climate risk.

Overall the focus on mega projects has weakened social and economic resilience in communities across Queensland. Resilience refers to the capacity of regional communities to handle risks and manage change. Resilient regions deepen and diversify their economies.

Megaproject sugar highs

Annual construction spending in the resources sector peaked at A$36.6 billion in Queensland in 2013-14, and has dropped by 70% since. Unemployment has doubled in Queensland’s northern, central and outback regions.

The impact is seen in Townsville, Rockhampton, and Gladstone, who are now pitching to become bases for “Fly In Fly Out” workers. Rather than drive their own local economic development, these cities are punting on the next big mining project.

Gladstone is already the pin-up of the construction boom-bust development model. The port city boasts a highly trained workforce in alumina and aluminium processing, cement, liquid natural gas and chemical manufacturing. Still, it waits on the next big mining construction boom.


Read more: If Queenslanders vote on economic issues the Labor government is looking good


What regional Queensland really needs is politicians to abandon short-term economic fixes, in favour of a sustainable long term vision. Policies would have greater impact if they focused on skills and enterprise training. Stronger regional collaboration to broker opportunities for smart businesses is essential.

Just north of Brisbane, Moreton Regional Council is showing the way by transforming a former industrial site into a university campus. Tertiary education will come to the fast growing region along with a research and technology park, creating the jobs of the future.

Regional Queensland can also learn from the European Commission’s “smart specialisation” structural assistance programs that help regions build knowledge-based competitive industries through strategic public funding and support for research and development etc.

By 2020, smart specialisation in Europe is expected to deliver 15,000 new products to market, 140,000 new startups and 350,000 new jobs.

Integral to the European strategy is strong collaboration between the research and university sectors, and regional industries. Strong cooperation between levels of government is key to the success. The industries are as varied as cheese manufacturing in Spain, new transport systems in Finland, and materials manufacturing in France.

The Europeans have found that changing business culture and boosting entrepreneurship are just as important to creating opportunity as large infrastructure projects.

What Queensland should do

Queensland should rethink its big projects for a big country approach. Regional jobs that depend on project investment without generating local income are not sustainable. Small business and community must be restored to centre stage in development strategy.

Small and medium businesses collectively account for more than 99% of all business in Queensland, and three times as many people work in the state’s A$20 billion manufacturing sector (169,000) as work directly in the resources sector (48,000).

But small and medium businesses lack the profile of the “big end of town”, and the large resources companies have been effective at selling the narrative that they are central to the A$300 billion Queensland economy.


Read more: Bust the regional city myths and look beyond the ‘big 5’ for a $378b return


The priority for developing Queensland’s regions should be investment that generates small business growth, local income, new skills and communities. Particular emphasis has to be given to attracting and retaining talented people.

The state government can best help regional Queensland by heeding the Productivity Commission’s call to help regional Australia adapt and exploit the opportunities of ever present change. This requires greater local initiative, making the most of competitive strengths, and training people to better engage with the world.

The global services sector is a $US47 trillion industry. For regional Queensland to tap into this sector will require skills in fields as diverse as big data, biotechnology, genetics, robotics, communications, and digital manufacturing.

A good start has been made in the Advance Queensland Regional Innovation Programs which have challenged regions to think outside the box, collaborate, and come up with their own strategies. It complements the federal government’s Building Better Regions Fund.

The ConversationThis approach challenges the current politically dominated top down model of regional development. It’s a vision for regional Queensland that extends beyond resources, agriculture, tourism and construction to the people themselves.

John Cole, Executive Director, Institute for Resilient Regions, University of Southern Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

This is how regional rail can help ease our big cities’ commuter crush



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Rail investments have brought Ballarat, Geelong and other regional centres closer in travel time to Melbourne than many outer suburbs.
Tony & Wayne/flickr, CC BY-NC

Michael Buxton, RMIT University

In Sydney and Melbourne, the squeeze is on. Population is booming; house prices are still rising; roads and trains are congested. Australian governments generally have ignored the benefits of relating metropolitan and regional planning.

However, some state governments are now investigating more integrated sectoral and spatial planning strategies, initially through shifting public sector jobs to regional centres.

In particular, improved regional rail connections do work. Already rail investments have brought Ballarat, Geelong and other regional centres closer in travel time to Melbourne than many outer suburbs, and this trend will continue.


Further reading: Commuters help regions tap into city-driven growth


Sydney has similar opportunities with regional rail connections, but has not yet exercised them. Rail services to and from Gosford, Newcastle and Wollongong have improved little over recent decades.

Rail bypasses clogged arteries

For decades, policymakers’ preferred solution to congestion has been adding and widening freeways. But promises of faster travel times and freer movement have been illusory. New roads and freeway lanes induce more traffic and will provide short-lived solutions in our biggest cities.


Further reading: Traffic congestion: is there a miracle cure? (Hint: it’s not roads)


These cities are the main drivers of Australia’s national economy, attracting advanced business service professionals and knowledge providers.

Access to high-value jobs, transport arteries that function well, and better-managed population growth will become critically important to urban economies as these cities move towards populations of 8 million people.

In Sydney and Melbourne, critics are claiming that major new road projects such as WestConnex and the Western Distributor will increase central city traffic congestion, particularly for work-related journeys.


Further reading: Modelling for major road projects is at odds with driver behaviour


Victoria proves regional rail works

Contrast that with the success of regional rail development. Victoria has invested several billion dollars in a series of projects. These have raised maximum regional train speeds to provincial cities to 160kph, increased reliability, provided new and much faster trains and transformed frequency.

Victoria’s investment in regional rail has quadrupled train services and almost halved travel time between Ballarat and Melbourne.
Hugh Llewelyn/flickr, CC BY-SA

The 119km peak-hour trip from Ballarat to Melbourne before these investments took two hours, with four trains a day on offer. Today 22 daily trains operate in each direction between Melbourne and Ballarat. Boarding the 4.33pm from Southern Cross delivers passengers to Ballarat 65 minutes later.

From Geelong, the transformation has been even greater. The recently completed Regional Rail Link runs 55 daily trains each way. The project was the first to be approved by Infrastructure Australia, backed by A$3.8 billion in state and Commonwealth funding.

Patronage boom calls for more work

These upgrades, however, have become victims of their own success. Some lines have recorded a 300% increase in patronage. Similar increases are projected for the next decade.

Remarkably, within two years of opening, patronage growth has already reached capacity on the inner part of the Regional Rail Link (which segregates metropolitan from country trains for travel to and from central Melbourne). There is little or no capacity for extra trains to be run in peak times.

Trains are becoming ever more crowded. Long-distance commuters have valued their ability to work, read or sleep on these trains, especially during their homeward journeys. They must now compete for seats with others from rapidly expanding western suburbs, which are yet to gain their own suburban train services.

A short-term fix would create longer trains of eight carriages instead of six. A medium-term fix would electrify and provide separate services to the part of the Geelong line that serves the new dormitory suburbs.

These changes need to be complemented by more frequent and better co-ordinated feeder bus services to stations. In addition, easily accessed large commuter carparks need to be built on vacant land on the Melbourne side of the major regional centres.

In the longer term, the answer lies in providing more multiple tracks to fully segregate suburban and regional trains in suburban areas. Providing robust double-line railways in each corridor will prevent the cascade effect that occurs when trains delay each other on single lines.

The completion of level-crossing removals will also allow higher operating speeds and safer operations. Trains will be able to move progressively to maximum speeds of 200kph where feasible rather than 160kph.

Regional cities must avoid past mistakes

These rail investments will further promote population growth in regional cities. Already, regionally developed services, more affordable housing stock and less frantic lifestyles are acting as attractors.

It is essential to integrate the planning of major regional transport projects with spatial planning to avoid the undesirable results of fragmented policy.

Some regional centres are repeating the worst mistakes of metropolitan low-density urban sprawl by expanding on greenfield sites far from town centres. Modelling of Victorian regional towns has shown that they contain in-fill opportunities to at least double existing populations and provide a range of affordable housing options.

To maintain liveability for expected high population growth, heavy rail investment is vital. Carefully targeted regional rail investment can shrink distance, provide access to more jobs and better lifestyles, and contribute to wider housing choices.

This investment is a critical requirement for continued prosperity in Australia’s largest urban centres.


This article was co-authored by Bill Russell of the Rail Futures Institute, Melbourne.

The ConversationFind out more about what Victoria can do to overcome the commuter crush at Railway Remedies: Cutting the Crush on Geelong Trains, hosted by the RMIT Centre for Urban Research (CUR) and Deakin University at the Percy Baxter Theatre, Deakin Geelong campus, on Wednesday, August 9.

Michael Buxton, Professor of Environment and Planning, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Migrants are stopping regional areas from shrinking



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International migrants are key contributors to the unskilled workforce.
World Bank/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Emily Longstaff, Australian National University

Population growth has profound impacts on Australian life, and sorting myths from facts can be difficult. This article is part of our series, Is Australia Full?, which aims to help inform a wide-ranging and often emotive debate.


Rather than being an unsettling force, international migrants are helping to provide stability to the regional Australian communities they settle in. A considerable number of new arrivals are also younger and have the potential to build families and work in these communities.

Research with the Regional Australia Institute, examining the latest 2016 Census data, found 151 regional local government areas were helping to offset declining population in regional areas by attracting international migrants.

We can see that, for many small towns, the overseas-born are the only source of population growth. A majority of these places rely on primary industry for economic viability. Although predominantly rural, these places are not in the most remote parts of Australia.

Growth of Australian-born and overseas-born population, 2011-16


Regional Australia Institute, Author provided

Of the 550 local government areas we reviewed, 175 regional areas increased their population, while 246 did not; 151 increased their overseas-born and decreased their Australian-born population. Only 20 areas increased in Australian-born population and decreased in overseas-born population.

We also found that 128 regional areas increased both Australian-born and overseas-born population. Another 116 regional areas decreased in both Australian-born and overseas-born population.

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Darwin is one example of where international migration has helped counter population decline. At the 2011 Census, Darwin had 45,442 people recorded as born in Australia and 19,455 born elsewhere. By 2016, the number of Australian-born locals had reduced to 44,953 and the number of overseas-born had increased to 24,961.

Without this increase in overseas-born residents, the Darwin population would have decreased. The local economy would likely have suffered as a result.

The problem of shrinking regional towns

Ever since the influx of immigrants following the second world war, the settlement of international migrants has been overwhelmingly focused on large metropolitan centres. This has been especially evident for recently arrived immigrants and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Migrants perceive metropolitan areas as presenting a higher likelihood of finding compatriots and better access to employment, as well as education and health services. Large cities have therefore been considered the most appealing settlement locations, with Sydney and Melbourne the most popular.

If settlement of international migrants had been proportional to the overall population distribution in Australia, an additional 125,000 migrants would have settled in regional Australia between 2006 and 2011.

In a concerted effort to promote the social and economic viability of regional communities, in 2004 the federal government started a campaign to increase migrant settlement throughout different areas of the country.

Regional settlement of migrants has since been encouraged across levels of government as a “win-win scenario” for new arrivals and host communities alike.

What international migrants bring

In the past decade, there has been a particular focus on secondary migration to regional areas. That is, relocating international arrivals from metropolitan areas to regional ones.

Proactive community-business partnerships and local government initiatives have propelled this process. For example, in the Victorian town of Nhill, the local arm of the poultry production company Luv-a-Duck worked with settlement service provider AMES Australia to help more than 160 Karen refugees find work in the area between 2010 and 2015.

In another town, Dalwallinu in Western Australia, the population was in decline and local infrastructure was deemed underused. In response, the local council has worked closely with residents since 2010 to attract skilled migrants.

Notwithstanding the challenges involved in attraction and retention, international migrants remain a vital asset for building regional economies and communities. They help stem skilled labour shortages in these areas – for example, by filling much-needed doctor and nursing positions.

International migrants are also key contributors to the unskilled workforce, often filling positions that domestic workers are unwilling to take on. For example, abattoirs and poultry plants are important businesses in regional Australia. Many would be unable to operate without international migrants, as many local residents do not consider this kind of work “acceptable employment”.

As a consequence of the various efforts to spread the settlement of overseas arrivals, the number of international migrants living and working in non-metropolitan Australia has increased. Between 2006 and 2011, 187,000 international migrants settled outside the major capital cities.

Still, regional areas have remained underrepresented as a settlement location. Despite regional Australia being home to about one-third of the population, less than one-fifth of all new arrivals between 2006 and 2011 settled in a regional area.

For regional areas to make the most of the many advantages migrants have to offer, there needs to be more focused policy that encourages and assists regional settlement across the country. This policy needs to be informed by the work in a growing number of regional communities (like Nhill and Dalwallinu) that already draw on international migration to combat population loss and persistent labour shortages. By encouraging more international migrants to call regional Australia “home”, we can start focusing on ensuring regional prosperity for the long term.


The ConversationYou can read other articles in the Is Australia Full? series here.

Emily Longstaff, PhD Candidate (Sociology), Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bust the regional city myths and look beyond the ‘big 5’ for a $378b return



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Geelong’s relatively high creative industries score, coupled with a robust rate of business entries, provides a solid foundation for steady growth.
paulrommer from www.shutterstock.com

Leonie Pearson, University of Canberra

Investing in regional cities’ economic performance makes good sense. Contrary to popular opinion, new research out today shows regional cities generate national economic growth and jobs at the same rate as big metropolitan cities. They are worthy of economic investment in their own right – not just on social and equity grounds.

However, for regional cities to capture their potential A$378 billion output to 2031, immediate action is needed. Success will see regional cities in 2031 produce twice as much as all the new economy industries produce in today’s metropolitan cities.

Drawing on lessons from the UK, the collaborative work by the Regional Australia Institute and the UK Centre for Cities spotlights criteria and data all Australian cities can use to help get themselves investment-ready.

Build on individual strengths

The Regional Australia Institute’s latest work confirms that city population size does not determine economic performance. There is no significant statistical difference between the economic performance of Australia’s big five metro cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide) and its 31 regional cities in historical output, productivity and participation rates.

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So, regional cities are as well positioned to create investment returns as their big five metro cousins. The same rules apply – investment that builds on existing city strengths and capabilities will produce returns.

No two cities have the same strengths and capabilities. However, regional cities do fall into four economic performance groups – gaining, expanding, slipping, and slow and steady. This helps define the investment focus they might require.

For example, the report finds Fraser Coast (Hervey Bay), Sunshine Coast-Noosa and Gold Coast are gaining cities. Their progress is fuelled by high population growth rates (around 2.7% annually from 2001 to 2013). But stimulating local businesses will deliver big job growth opportunities.

Rapid population growth is driving the Gold Coast economy, making it a ‘gaining’ city.
Pawel Papis from www.shutterstock.com

Similarly, the expanding cities of Cairns, Central Coast and Toowoomba are forecast to have annual output growth of 3.2% to 3.9% until 2031, building on strong foundations of business entries. But they need to create more high-income jobs.

Geelong and Ballarat have low annual population growth rates of around 1.2% to 1.5%. They are classified as slow and steady cities. But their relatively high creative industries scores, coupled with robust rates of business entries, means they have great foundations for growth. They need to stimulate local businesses to deliver city growth.

Get ready to deal

Regional cities remain great places to live. They often score more highly than larger cities on measures of wellbeing and social connection.

But if there’s no shared vision, or local leaders can’t get along well enough to back a shared set of priorities, or debate is dominated by opinion in spite of evidence, local politics may win the day. Negotiations to secure substantial city investment will then likely fail.

The federal government’s Smart Cities Plan has identified City Deals as the vehicle for investment in regional cities.

This collaborative, cross-portfolio, cross-jurisdictional investment mechanism needs all players working together (federal, state and local government), along with community, university and private sector partners. This leaves no place for dominant single interests at the table.

Clearly, the most organised regional cities ready to deal are those capable of getting collaborative regional leadership and strategic planning.

For example, the G21 region in Victoria (including Greater Geelong, Queenscliffe, Surf Coast, Colac Otway and Golden Plains) has well-established credentials in this area. This has enabled the region to move quickly on City Deal negotiations.

Moving past talk to be investment-ready

There’s $378 billion on the table, but Australia’s capacity to harness it will depend on achieving two key goals.

  • First, shifting the entrenched view that the smart money invests only in our big metro cities. This is wrong. Regional cities are just as well positioned to create investment returns as the big five metro centres.

  • Second, regions need to get “investment-ready” for success. This means they need to be able to collaborate well enough to develop an informed set of shared priorities for investment, supported by evidence and linked to a clear growth strategy that builds on existing economic strengths and capabilities. They need to demonstrate their capacity to deliver.

While there has been much conjecture on the relevance and appropriateness of City Deals in Australia, it is mainly focused on big cities. But both big and small cities drive our national growth.


The ConversationYou can explore the data and compare the 31 regional cities using the RAI’s interactive data visualisation tool.

Leonie Pearson, Adjunct Associate, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Egypt: Regional Intervention or Coup?


The links below are to articles reporting on developments both within and without Egypt, concerning the current crisis in that country and the persecution of Christians.

For more visit:
http://www.wnd.com/2013/08/saudis-credited-for-egyptian-coup/
http://www.wnd.com/2013/08/muslim-brotherhood-taking-anger-out-on-christians/
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/world/middleeast/official-urges-restraint-by-military-in-egypt.html