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It's our time: country Australia stares down challenges


The Royal Flying Doctor Service is known for taking to the skies to help isolated Australians in their hour of need.

Nearly a century after the rural aerial medical service was established, the charity is looking at what's happening on the ground.

NSW South Eastern Chair Saranne Cooke said the organisation was expanding its reach to dental and primary care, including the purchase of two GP clinics in Warren and Gilgandra earlier this year.

"We recognise that it's wonderful to be able to pick somebody up in the middle of nowhere when they've had a heart attack and they're on death's door and we fly them to a hospital," Dr Cooke told the Regional Australia Institute national conference in Canberra.

"However, what's the point of that if you played no part in keeping them from having a heart attack in the first place?

"We are trying to work very closely with communities to understand their needs because every community is different."

The charity's work is an example of community-led solutions and local planning, one of the key themes at the institute's annual national summit.

The conference is pushing for a population plan and calling on governments to put a regional lens on policy and planning decisions.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said he often hears from local leaders about the difficulties of collaborating with governments on plans for their communities.

"This acceleration of people moving out to regional areas is something that should be captured, but the planning is just not there," Mr Dutton told the summit on Thursday.

"There's a frustration there between the three levels (of government) and the split responsibility that often ends in the blame game ... which is probably bigger than it's ever been."

The institute this week released a progress report on its policy ambitions for 2032, setting targets for skills, health, infrastructure, housing and general wellbeing.

The housing squeeze and difficulty in filling jobs were the "Achilles' heel" of regional progress, the report found.

While regional rental vacancies increased from one per cent to 1.5 per cent in the last year, building approvals had been declining since mid-2021.

The review also showed the rate of recruitment difficulty increased from 64 per cent to 69 per cent between 2022 and 2023, which was higher than in metropolitan areas.

"Does this mean that we should accept the status quo? Does this mean we bury our heads and hope, one day someone else will solve this?," the institute's chief executive Liz Ritchie said.

"No and no - it means it's our time, and it's our opportunity to solve it together."