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With the inaugural publication of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development’s publication Progress in Australian Regions: Yearbook 2014, the Department created a regional statistical resource of comprehensive spatial scope to better inform policy and investment decisions. This report, Progress in Australian Regions: State of Regional Australia 2015, uses data from the Yearbook as a launching point from which to explore the economic and social wellbeing of regions and how they have changed over time.

Analysis of the spatial variation of key demographic, economic, social, and infrastructure indicators from the Yearbook and other sources assists in understanding how regions are faring in the national context and in anticipating future challenges. Case studies in each chapter illustrate the way in which particular aspects of change have affected local communities.

Chapter 1 examines aspects of demographic change with a focus on population ageing and its national and regional implications for economic growth, productivity and service delivery. Population ageing is a key long-term issue for Australia and many other developed countries. An older population presents challenges that include the location of age-specific services such as health care and the supply of suitable housing. However, the experience of older people in regions will vary greatly depending on factors such as proximity to services and the income and wealth of the population.

Chapter 2 focuses on several indicators of economic progress including the engagement in work and study of young people, household income and income disparity. House prices are also discussed as they provide an important indication of the regional distribution of wealth and the demand to live in particular areas.

Chapter 3 discusses the regional aspects of structural change which refers to change in the industrial composition of a region. The analysis examines variations in the proportion of people employed in different industries to determine changes to the economy’s structure. Structural change can have an adverse impact on individuals and businesses engaged in declining industries. However, it is also necessary and beneficial for a competitive market economy.

Chapter 4 examines some regional indicators of social progress such as health and safety, community connections and engagement. The analysis focuses in particular on mental health. Access to appropriate mental health services and treatment options are more limited in regional and remote areas. This lack of access can potentially result in poorer outcomes for people in these areas who are affected by mental illness.

The final chapter examines the connection between infrastructure investment, economic growth and social progress. All of these have implications for Australia’s competitiveness and the wellbeing and living standards of all Australians. Australia faces a significant challenge in ensuring that growth in both hard and social infrastructure keeps pace with growth in order to maximise productivity.

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