Housing has been identified as the biggest infrastructure problem across regional Australia.
A shortage of all forms of housing, public and private, has only been made worse by the rush to the regions by city dwellers during the pandemic.
This was one of many challenges in growing the regions identified in a major report from Infrastructure Australia on Regional Strengths and Infrastructure Gaps.
The report represents more than a year's work as researchers travelled across Australia to find out an area's strengths and their infrastructure gaps.
Infrastructure Australia is an independent advisor to all levels of government and industry with a brief of helping guide infrastructure investment and reform.
The report provides evidence for increased investment in the regions.
It identified a "top five" in clear challenges in the regions - housing, water security, telecommunications, further education and training plus also public transport.
Housing was clearly the major problem across most of the regions.
"Availability, diversity and affordability of housing is needed to meet the growing and changing demands of regional Australian communities," the report found.
"Local stakeholders across regional Australia highlighted a lack of appropriate housing as being a major constraint in attracting and retaining skilled workers to the regions, many of which are already experiencing skills shortages.
"Poor housing availability, diversity and affordability in the regions is inhibiting capacity for population and economic growth."
The population shifts brings pressure to deliver infrastructure services on par with the cities.
A net 43,000 Australians moved to regional areas from capital cities in 2020, compared with 18,900 the year before.
This was the highest net inflow to the regions on record, with regional Queensland having the biggest net inflow of all the states, followed by regional areas of Victoria and New South Wales.
The trend continued last year as well, the report found.
"Stakeholders noted that these impacts have brought about or exacerbated demand for improved telecommunications, housing, tourism and road infrastructure," the report found.
These new residents and the increase of domestic tourism due to the pandemic has also increased pressure on telecommunications infrastructure.
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"The need for reliable and high-speed telecommunications connectivity to access employment and services was raised frequently in consultations," the report found.
"Broadband and mobile connectivity is an enduring concern across many communities and increasingly crucial to the economic and social wellbeing of regional Australia, particularly through the pandemic with increasing reliance on digital connectivity for access to essential services and products."
Water security was seen as crucial to "meet fundamental residential and commercial requirements" and was seen as vital to the productivity of the traditional 'engine' industries of regional Australia, including agriculture, mining and manufacturing, as well as emerging industries.
Skill shortages were often identified in the regions.
"Access to further education and skills training, aligned to a region's existing employment opportunities and industry growth profile, is critical to enabling economic growth and attracting and growing local skills particularly in critical service sectors."
Public transport was shown to be almost non-existent in many of the regions.
"Capacity, connectivity and quality of public transport infrastructure within and between our regions is essential to access services, employment, education and economic opportunities."
One issue which was further down the list of "problems" was aged care.
"Older Australians play a significant role for Australia's regions as they can inject significant capital into the local economy," the report found.
"However, older Australians are struggling to age in place as access to specialised healthcare, geriatric care and accessible community infrastructure and streetscapes are limited in the regions.
"As a result, many older Australians are forced to relocate closer to their children who are often in metropolitan areas or to a service centre where they can find additional support."
The report said there was a need identified to provide a greater variety of aged care options in regional Australia.
The report has now been made public for comment.
"By identifying and spotlighting priority challenges and opportunities in each region, Infrastructure Australia hopes to encourage governments, industry and the community to collaborate and identify, develop and submit proposals to address these gaps with all levels of government.
"Planning for solutions may be through reform initiatives or further consideration of proposals for physical infrastructure investments."
People can comment on the report through Infrastructure Australia.
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