When Australia's regions thrive our nation is strong

When you hear or read stories about regional Australia in our city media, so often they present a picture of doom and gloom. Most times it's about drought, flood or fire - the disasters that take hold in our regions.

Future in our hands: The successful development of regional Australia depends on all of us promoting the opportunities that exist in our towns and regional cities.

Future in our hands: The successful development of regional Australia depends on all of us promoting the opportunities that exist in our towns and regional cities.

And while these events certainly have a devastating impact, they don't reflect the true story of our regions.

Many parents of country kids have long encouraged them to aspire to a successful career in the city and head to "the big smoke" to get a great education. But what does that say about regional Australia? It shouldn't imply that it offers no future for our children, as the reverse is true.

Regional Australia is extremely diverse and has a wealth of opportunities. Right now we have more than 40,000 jobs available and in many ways its future has never been so bright.

The majority of currently available jobs are medium to high skill, with good wages and future prospects. Young people with solid trade and technical skills, or professional skills in health or education, can pick and choose where they'd next like to live and work in a regional setting.

Last month, the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) held its first and historic Regions Rising National Summit in Canberra, and more than 250 of the country's best and brightest leaders travelled from many of our towns and cities to attend.

From the overwhelming feedback the RAI has received already, our event certainly gave participants the opportunity to listen to many different points of view about regional development and what we can all do to make a real difference for more than 9 million regional Australians.

Many told us that this was the first time they had seen such a broad group of regional stakeholders come together.

While the topics were extremely diverse, a key message certainly rang out at Old Parliament House - and that was the importance of collaboration and the potential that can be reached for regional communities when people come together.

As part of the event, we held four policy hack sessions that allowed participants to share and develop solutions to challenges facing our communities around regional jobs, population, health and place-based policy.

Again, while the topics were varied, several common themes emerged. These themes represent a call to government to build a new approach to regional development policy in Australia.

We all need to work to shift the narrative about regional Australia so that regions are no longer considered areas of deficit, or in opposition to the nation's cities.

We all need to work to shift the narrative about regional Australia so that regions are no longer considered areas of deficit.

There was an overwhelming consensus for locally led strategies to address regional challenges "from the ground up". Regional voters want policy makers to better connect to regions and for policy processes to better involve communities who have substantial influence on their own prosperity.

We know that regions want to "work with" governments - they don't want things "done to" them. Local knowledge and expertise should be included in the policy-making cycle and locally led solutions should be supported, especially in regards to employment, population programs and the delivery of health care.

Forging such a connection would mean that government would better understand how regions work, what their issues are, and why they need different policy approaches to cities.

Encouraging people to work and to stay in regions is also important. We know people are already moving to regions - more than 400,000 between 2011-16.

While people move to regional areas for economic and employment related reasons, we also know that other factors influence these decision too. Child-care, employment opportunities for spouses, and education are just some of the elements critical to ensuring those with the right skills come and stay in the regions.

Over the next few weeks, the RAI will be collating the responses to the policy hack sessions and we will be providing this to the people who joined us in Canberra.

With the federal election just around the corner, we'll also be providing the results to both sides of government to consider as a new way forward.

People will drive prosperity, people will drive jobs growth, people will drive investment and therefore people are the engine for our regional economies.

The successful development of regional Australia depends on all of us promoting the opportunities of our towns and regional cities - by describing them as what they are, places where new innovations, healthy families and successful careers are built.

Dr Kim Houghton co-CEO, Regional Australia Institute.