The conversation the Australian government is shirking - at the people's peril.
An entire generation (and likely the one after) is locked out of the housing market, lest they buy into a 'Pleasantville' plastic 'sleeper suburb,' as many as 70+ kms 'out'.
Public transport and community infrastructure are poor, compounding many of the social issues we tend to see in these areas. And, major arterials suffer at partial capacity, as governments struggle to widen and improve them.
Australians deserve an engaging, creative, open - and dare I say it, sexy - debate on what the future of life and work could be. They deserve to be educated, at scale, in entrepreneurship and small business development. Because, let's face it, small business the skeleton of the Australian economy. And it absolutely will be the future. More and more people are telling me that they don't want to work for an employer. And that they don't want to live in the city. But they don't see what the option(s) are, or could be.
This is unacceptable, and it's not good enough.
To date, I've found the policy and literature on decentralisation to be informative, but pretty bl00dy boring. Research for the Spark Rural! book has been made much for fun by getting out with my (sexy) Mazda 3, "Blue Steel," and chatting to REAL people across regional Victoria: why do you live here, versus the big smoke. Personal history: tell me where you grew up, where your family comes from, why did they come here. And, their human stories: what are the top opportunities and challenges in rural living?
It's been loads of fun. "These people," are human, just like you and I. And they have not been shy in revealing what they actually WANT and NEED for their townships and communities.
Reliable and frequent public transport to Melbourne and larger regional towns.
Reinstated passenger rail from Mildura to Melbourne.
Fast rail to Melbourne. Like, A LOT, A LOT faster.
Regional airports opened for commercial passenger flight.
Improved shopping and entertainment facilities.
Ease of access to medical specialists, in particular GP's, psychiatrists and psychologists.
Equal distribution of government funding for infrastructure projects.
Interestingly, just one person mentioned faster Internet. Australia has not had a REAL, nor CREATIVE discourse on job creation in regional Australia since the 1970s.
Most decentralisation efforts of the past have failed. Our national identity has been built around the beach, so I can understand why people are remiss to venture inland. There's also the issue of water. And the geography of Australian cities post European settlement has been largely "fixed" since 1860. Does this mean the problem is too big and that we turn our focus elsewhere?
We can deflect our attention, or we can start a conversation. We can take action, even if it's small to start.
We can continue to develop Melbourne and Sydney with even higher density living and more sprawl (destroying prime agricultural land and wetlands in the process). Or, we can start to consider how we might assist people to explore alternative ways of living and earning an income, in a way that facilitates quality of life, joy and meaning. Heck, we ALL deserve to live well.
Over the coming year, the case I intend to build, is that the future of work, jobs and population growth in regional Australia can occur through
1. The creation of jobs through high growth small business, and,
2. Self-owned micro-business.
I believe this to be the case because developments in technology and infrastructure are now available to assist small business owners and entrepreneurs access markets outside their township, region or country. Further, organisational models are shifting, with a greater percentages of workers now falling into the casual, telecommuting, project or gig economies.
Although the Internet can be dodgy in regional Victoria, every single business owner I've met is getting on with it. One 75 year old gentleman in Longwood runs his gemstone business WITHOUT the Internet OR a mobile phone. If that's not adaptation, I don't know what is. Many people, like me, use their mobile phone when the NBN or ADSL fails. It's not ideal, but things get done. Granted, larger businesses and organisations require more sophisticated infrastructure. So I concede that connectivity is a problem. There are lots of problems and many reasons why we shouldn't try.
But problems shouldn't stop us. They should propel and push us to work together and be better.
After all, this is life we're talking about. Mine - and yours.