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January 16, 2013

It will come as no surprise to the millions of Australians who choose not to live in a capital city that some regional cities offer a better lifestyle for families.

The research by Suncorp Bank which compared Australia’s largest cities on a range of key indicators shows Melbourne and Sydney are left for dead by regional centres such as Launceston, Toowoomba, Albury-Wodonga and Bundaberg.

Personally, I would rank all regional areas above our major cities when it comes to family friendly living but that’s a topic for another day.

While the top 30 listing will provoke plenty of spirited debate among regional city Mayors, it’s also an opportunity for all regional Australians to capitalise on a ‘good news’ story to counter the doom and gloom which normally features in the metropolitan news cycle.

These days, we normally only read about regional Australia when it’s six foot under water; surrounded by bushfires; or farming families are being driven from the land after years of drought.

In an era when time-poor parents in the big cities are juggling jobs with child raising responsibilities on congested roads and visiting parks where they dare not walk alone after dark, we have a positive story to tell in regional Australia.

Our story is about quality of life and a better work-life balance. It’s the natural beauty; the access to quality health and education services in larger regional centres; the lower levels of crime; and housing affordability.

It’s about reconnecting with a community and feeling as though you are an important part of life through volunteering. It’s also about professional opportunities which are often dismissed by city dwellers who haven’t taken the time to consider the career fast track which is on offer.

As a former journalist, I was amazed by the diversity of career experiences that I enjoyed at regional newspapers when my colleagues in the city were still stuck on mundane tasks.

Young health professionals working in a regional environment will be exposed to more challenging roles than their counterparts in the city and it’s the same with police, teachers and local government staff.

There is so much diversity, responsibility and opportunities for rapid promotion in regional centres that it is staggering to believe we have a skills shortage in many professions.

As regional Australians, we need to get better at selling the message that we are open for business and welcoming to newcomers from all walks of life.

But governments need to lift their game too.

We need the Federal Government to commission a Regional Australia White Paper to build the case for further strategic investment in critical infrastructure and key services to drive growth in regional areas.

Our cities are congested and adding a few more lanes on freeways won’t solve the problem when many regional centres could double in size with little, if any, impact on the quality of life enjoyed by residents.

Various governments have toyed with the idea of decentralisation, but we need to get serious about relocating public service organisations which have no need to be anchored to city locations. A White Paper could recommend which departments should be moved out.

A Regional Australia White Paper could also consider incentives for private enterprise to expand into regional locations and the need for decent policies to help regional students achieve their full potential by improving the system of student income support.

Most importantly, when we send our kids away for university or further vocational training, we need a better system of bringing them back after they’ve graduated to build better regional centres in the future.

The Suncorp Bank Family Friendly City Index is a good conversation-starter but we need a real commitment to build better regional centres in the future.

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