'No jobs in the bush' myth busted but housing critical
Fancy a life by the sea on the NSW north coast, near the sandy white shores of South Australia's Yorke Peninsula or on the vast plains of the Wimmera in rural Victoria?
These are some of Australia's picturesque regions crying out for workers, at a time when one in five city-dwellers are looking to escape to the country.
But whether newcomers and skilled workers will be able to find housing, child care and health services is another question.
Regional Australia Institute think tank chief executive Liz Ritchie on Wednesday issued a call for the nation to shift its focus to the growing regions, where the job market is booming, but vacancies are hard to fill.
The institute's new report Regional Jobs 2022: The Big Skills Challenge warns the bush could fall further behind as the supply of workers, particularly medical professionals and carers, fails to keep up with an enduring surge in demand.
"The global pandemic allowed us to reflect on our lives and our society - how we work and where we live," Ms Ritchie said, launching the report at the National Press Club in Canberra.
"Demand for regional living is at record highs, but as a country we are not prepared."
Ms Ritchie said the report blew up the myth there were no jobs in the country.
It showed December regional vacancies grew three times faster than the metropolitan rate and increased by 97 per cent compared to five years ago.
The jobs in highest demand were medical professionals, nurses, clerks, call centre staff, receptionists, carers and auto and engineering trade workers.
The greatest barriers to filling those jobs were the chronic lack of access to housing, child care, quality education and health care, Ms Ritchie said.
"The current state of regional Australia is a result of generations of geographical bias and misunderstanding," she said.
"Regional issues have not been prioritised in the minds of those who have the power to change the future."
The report showed some consistent skills gaps were emerging including in outback Queensland, where 2022 job vacancies were 25 per cent higher year-on-year while unemployment was more than 10 per cent.
Some solutions were emerging, Ms Ritchie said, such as the development of a rural generalist pathway to attract doctors to the bush and partnerships between local councils, developers and financiers to build new houses.
But she called on all levels of government, premiers, chief executives and community leaders to commit to a prosperous future for country areas.
"Regional Australia needs to be treated as the significant part of our population and economy that it is," Ms Ritchie said.
"Most importantly, we must understand that it is in our national interest for our regions to thrive."