Transitioning Regional Economies



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32.2.1 Setting the scene


The Commission’s task is challenging, both conceptually and statistically. There is neither a simple nor an agreed way to define and measure a ‘successful transition’ or the ‘adaptive capacity’ of a ‘region’.

The mining investment boom has had significant effects on the Australian economy as a whole (box 2.1), and on many of Australia’s regional economies. For example, regions can be analysed in terms of how investment in the region has been affected, how workers have moved (relocation; flyin, flyout; drivein, driveout) or how exposed the region is to overseas economic conditions. Moreover, regions are interrelated, and the effect of changes in one region can quickly flow on to others.

Geographically, the downturn has not been confined to areas where there are mining operations, such as the Pilbara, Mid West, Goldfields Esperance and Kimberley. While these areas have certainly been affected by the slowdown in activity, other areas of the state with related industries or a significant flyin flyout workforce have also suffered the effects of the downturn. (WALGA, sub. 22, p. 2)


Box 2.1 Impact of the mining investment boom

The mining investment boom provided a major boost to the Australian economy. The boom had a strong initial focus on construction, substantially increasing demand for labour. Investment was largely located in mineralrich regions, but had significant positive flowon effects in major centres.

Mining activity remains, and is likely to remain, well above preboom levels. The socalled ‘downturn’ needs to be placed into this context. Shifting away from the employmentheavy construction phase of the boom to a more ‘normal’ production phase was inevitable. Rather than viewing this change as an economic problem, it should be seen as a natural part of the economic opportunity offered by the investment boom.









The rise and fall of commodity prices, leading to the mining investment boom and its end, have also affected the value of the Australian dollar. In turn, this has influenced the international competitiveness of many of Australia’s industries. For example, the Cairns Regional Council and Advance Cairns (sub. 13) said that the relatively higher exchange rate during the boom negatively affected the region’s tourism industry. Conversely, the Queensland Government (sub. 26, p. 38) noted that a lower exchange rate is likely to benefit many industries. Most, if not all, of Australia’s regions are likely to have been affected by the high exchange rate that accompanied the mining investment boom. That said, there is little doubt that the nation as a whole is better off due to the mining boom, and continues to benefit from the investments in new capacity that occurred during the boom. However, there are a number of ways in which the negative implications of the disruption on the broader economy and regions in particular could have been reduced (as discussed in chapter 5) by a combination of better policy and provision of information.

Regions are also affected by other (predictable and unpredictable) forces, such as changes in policy, advances in technologies and the application of new technologies, natural disasters and drought, closures of major employers, changes in consumer preferences, and changes in international markets. In many cases, these pressures have had a more significant effect on regional performance than the mining investment boom. The Tasmanian Government Minister for State Growth said that:

While Tasmania has not experienced the adverse aftereffects of the decline in the resources boom to the extent of other states and territories, it is experiencing the impacts of other economic transitions in a number of our regional areas. These changes have been triggered by the emergence of new industries as historic industries decline, and the associated workforce implications this brings. Some industrial decline would no doubt stem from the loss of competitiveness experienced in nonmining industries that had to contend with high exchange rates that accompanied the resources boom. (sub. 21, p. 1)

Given the widespread effect of the mining investment boom, and the presence of other short and longterm factors that significantly affect regional performance, the scope of the study has not been limited to the effect of the mining investment boom and all regions have been included in the analysis. Furthermore, the focus is principally on the wellbeing of people in regional communities rather than precise geographical boundaries, as it is people who ultimately matter.


33.Functional economic regions


Regions can be defined in different ways depending on the policy purpose of the analysis. For this study, regions are defined based on the way they function — using functional economic regions (FERs). FERs reflect the fact that there are significant linkages and interdependencies between regions (box 2.2). The design of FERs recognises that people often travel between regions for work or to access services, that businesses trade between regions, and that governments and people interact economically, socially and culturally across geographic areas. The use of FERs as a way of choosing a geographical scale for analysis was also advocated by a number of study participants.3

The FERs developed by the Commission are presented in appendix D, along with an explanation of the methodology used to define them. The use of FERs in this report differs from the definition of regions used in the initial report in response to feedback, including at a technical workshop. It should be noted that the FERs used in this study represent one approach to defining regions for examining regional transitions and planning. Others, including some State and Territory Governments, have constructed FERs in different ways (appendix D).




Box 2.2 Functional economic regions

A region can be defined on the basis of various attributes, such as labour markets, industry composition, natural resources and local administration. For economic analysis, ‘a region is typically defined as an area that contains a cohesive network of trade and commerce; local commuting for jobs and shopping; common access to services; and association of community activities’ (NSW Government, sub. DR71, p. 11). The use of functional economic regions (FERs) is designed to better reflect these interactions between people across geographic areas. FERs have been created by other organisations in Australia, including the NSW Government (sub. DR71), and the University of Newcastle’s Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE nd).

For this study, FERs were constructed using a multistep process. First, Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2) regions that constituted greater capital city areas within each state or territory were assumed to form their own FER (ABS 2010). Next, within each state and territory, SA2s that had the strongest commuting links were grouped. This aggregation was primarily done using the Intramax method (Masser and Brown 1975; Stimson et al. 2015). Some remaining SA2s that had few commuting flows were grouped with FERs that they shared a border with or to FERs that contained their nearest service centre. A small number of manual adjustments were made. A total of 89 FERs were formed at the end of this process. Further details are provided in appendix D.








34.Understanding regional economic resilience


The capacity of regional communities to adapt and transition from a disruption (box 2.3) and other pressures for change are of increasing interest to policy makers. The idea of ‘economic resilience’ is often invoked in discussions about the transition and development of regions, and is referred to as a desired feature that should be promoted. For example, the WA Department of Regional Development said that:

While targeted to jobs, economic growth and capable people, the Portfolio’s activities and investments also serve to improve economic and social resilience. (sub. 27, p. 4)

The Tasmanian Government Minister for State Growth (sub. 21, p. 3) said that the Tasmanian Government was ‘committed to continuing to support growth and regional resilience’, and Regional Development Victoria (2016a) stated that its programs aim to ‘build prosperous, stronger regional communities’.

Despite strong interest in the notion of economic resilience, there is no consensus about how it should be defined (box 2.3). Resilience is complex and multidimensional, and has been interpreted in different ways across the economic, psychological and evolutionary biological literature. Determining whether a regional community was resilient or adaptive following a disruptive event is not straightforward. In undertaking this study, the Commission has drawn on the relevant literature and applied a framework judged suitable for the analysis, while highlighting its limitations.




Box 2.3 What is economic resilience?

Economic resilience is a term commonly used to discuss how regions respond to disruptions. However, there is a lack of conceptual and theoretical clarity about its meaning (Martin and Sunley 2015, p. 3; Pike, Dawley and Tomaney 2010, p. 16). It has been assigned multiple meanings by various authors. For example, Hill et al. defined it as:

the ability of a region … to recover successfully from shocks to its economy that throw it substantially off its growth path. (2011, p. 2)

On the other hand, Martin and Sunley interpreted it more broadly as:

the capacity … to withstand or recover from market, competitive and environmental shocks to its developmental growth path, if necessary by undergoing adaptive changes to its economic structures and social and institutional arrangements, so as to maintain or restore its previous developmental path, or to transit to a new sustainable path characterised by a fully and more productive use of its physical, human and environmental resources. (2015, p. 13)

These definitions highlight the competing notions of resilience in the economic literature as ranging from ‘bouncing back’ to a preexisting state, to adapting in a way that may require changes to a region’s economic base (Boschma 2015; Hill et al. 2011; Martin and Sunley 2015; Sensier, Bristow and Healy 2016).

Some have questioned the usefulness of the notion of resilience, contending that it does not add anything to existing economic concepts such as regional competitiveness, economic sustainability and path dependence of economic growth (Hanley 2001; Hassink 2010). However, Martin and Sunley (2015, p. 16) suggested that the notion of resilience is useful because it draws attention to how regions respond to specific shocks or disruptions, as opposed to slow, longterm change.

Discussions of economic resilience often use the terms ‘resilience’ and ‘adaptive capacity’ interchangeably. Although these concepts are related, they are not the same thing. Resilience is seen in the outcomes realised by individuals (including workers, business owners and operators, and families). Being resilient might involve, for instance, moving across regions to take up new opportunities. Adaptive capacity, on the other hand, involves the factors that shape whether individuals have the means to take up new opportunities, within and between regions. Measures of adaptive capacity may be associated with, but are not a good predictor of, realised outcomes (resilience) (ABARE–BRS 2010; Alasia et al. 2008; Briguglio et al. 2008; Zaman and Vasile 2014) (figure below).

circumstances include the likelihood and nature of disruptions, options for the region (that is, what is it good at?), and options for workers, businesses and families. adaptive capacity is the ability to respond to changes in circumstances, and resources available to individuals and businesses in the community.

(Continued next page)












Box 2.3 (continued)

Accordingly, assessment of a region’s likely development path and realised economic outcomes should take into account both its adaptive capacity and the circumstances, opportunities and prospects that it faces. As depicted in the figure below, regions that have relatively low adaptive capacity and which are also facing relatively severe and pervasive economic changes are likely to face greater difficulties in making a successful transition (indicated by the darker green shaded area).

this figure represents the two dimensions that need to be considered when assessing a region\'s likely development path and realised outcomes. the horizontal axis indicates adaptive capacity, with adaptive capacity increasing from left to right. the vertical axis shows the nature of change, with severity increasing from bottom to top. between the axes, there is a square with gradated colour from white (bottom right) to dark green (top left). as one moves from the bottom right hand corner to the top left hand corner, adaptive capacity decreases and the nature of the change is more severe, so a region is likely to face greater difficulties in making a successful transition.







An important distinction for this study is between resilience outcomes from pressures for change, and adaptive capacity (Sensier, Bristow and Healy 2016, p. 131) (box 2.3).

Resilience outcomes are observed, and can be measured in terms of indicators such as economic growth, employment, incomes and population.

Adaptive capacity is not directly observable, but can have a material impact on realised outcomes. Adaptive capacity is influenced by many interacting factors, including natural attributes and connectivity to other regions and markets, and only some of these factors can be observed and measured.

The remainder of this chapter sets out the three key elements of the approach that underpins the Commission’s analysis.

Section 2.2 lays the groundwork for analysing the performance of regions over time. This analysis is conducted in chapter 3.

Section 2.3 outlines the approach for developing the single metric of relative adaptive capacity. The results of the metric are discussed in chapter 4 and detailed in appendix E.

Section 2.4 sets out a framework to guide governments in assessing the scope for economic and social development in regions. Chapter 5 discusses the extent to which current and past regional planning and programs align with this framework, and makes recommendations targeted at the capacity of regions to adapt to pressures for change.



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