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Experts talk economics of modern regional towns

Four people
Professor (Accounting) John Sands, Dr Karen Malam, Dr Gregory Jones (Lecturer (Accounting)) and Mr Geoff Frost.
The world has changed a great deal over the last century, as have towns and regions in Australia. But why have some grown and others declined?

That was the topic of a public seminar at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in Toowoomba on Friday (February 12).

The School of Commerce-hosted event brought together USQ staff, students and representatives from local government and businesses to hear from presenters Mr Geoff Frost and Dr Karen Malam from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) in the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.

Discussion centred on the BITRE’s The Evolution of Australian Towns report, an economic analysis of change in Australian settlement patterns roughly over a century (1911 to 2006).

Dr Malam said the report investigated how Australia’s settlement pattern evolved, with towns subject to significant economic, social and technological change.

“Three settlement shifts – the decline of many inland towns, the rise of regional centres and the drift to the coast – are familiar to many people,” Dr Malam said.

“We can see the shifts have occurred right across Australia because of some powerful underlying forces.”

Her presentation provided insights for towns to consider where they fit in larger regions.

“Some of the key issues to consider include transport systems, relative amenity, the labour market, industry structure, goods and services provision and investment,” Dr Malam said.

“In the report, Toowoomba and its surrounding area are presented as a case study.

“Toowoomba provides a good illustration of these forces in action, rising to become a major service centre through its competitive advantages.”

Professor John Sands (Accounting) said the seminar was a great success.

“Through examining our history, we gain greater insight into contemporary opportunities and issues,” he said.

“For example, Toowoomba is in the process of dealing with the challenges and opportunities that new infrastructure such as airports, the Second Range Crossing, the expansion of existing industries with infrastructure and increased demand for services and amenities.

“Also, technology will continue to have an ever evolving impact on community. Like the invention and mass production of the automobile, the application of newer technology (such as telecommunications and the internet) will continue to revolutionise society.

“This presentation provided a platform to explore the long-term impact of advancing technology and the flexibility of this advancing technology on changes in residential choice location, transportation needs, retail, industry, amenity, and investment markets on regional towns.”

To read the report, visit https://bitre.gov.au/publications/2014/report_136.aspx.