Australia's spatial divide: The power of place in shaping quality of life

Posted May 07, 2024

SGS Economics and Planning CRWIARTICLEIMAGE

The latest SGS Cities and Regions Wellbeing Index highlights a stark reality: where you live profoundly impacts your access to opportunities and overall quality of life.

The SGS Cities and Regions Wellbeing Index (CRWI) is a ground-breaking tool that captures the socio-economic wellbeing of communities across Australia. It demonstrates how people's quality of life is influenced by their location.

The Index moves away from GDP-centric narratives to create a clearer picture of community wellbeing. The CRWI tracks seven economic, social, environmental, and health dimensions for 518 local government areas (LGA). This data captures an invaluable wellbeing snapshot unique to each LGA. The Index's holistic framework makes it a powerful tool for decision-makers wanting to impact communities where it matters most. As lead author of the report and SGS Principal and Partner, Julian Szafraniec, suggests:

We’re at a time in history when traditional measures of growth and success, such as GDP, don’t make sense anymore. You can have a high-paying job, but you may still not be able to afford a home. Business could be booming, and then everything could be stripped away by a major climate event. We need to focus on measuring what matters.

— Julian Szafraniec
Dimensions and indicators of the SGS Cities and Regions Wellbeing Index
SGS Economics and Planning CRWI Diagram
Source: SGS Economics and Planning

This year’s CRWI shows clear spatial divides in socio-economic outcomes for Australian communities. This is especially the case when comparing communities living in capital cities and regional areas. Greater Sydney has eight of the 10 areas with the highest levels of wellbeing. Remote Northern Territory and Queensland are the areas recording the lowest levels of wellbeing, highlighting where governments need to move the needle on equity in Australia.

The greatest wellbeing gap between regional and urban communities is in health outcomes. Many regional communities have shorter life expectancies, and a larger percentage live with multiple chronic health conditions than their capital city counterparts. In New South Wales, a resident of Greater Sydney is expected to live an average of 2.6 years longer than someone living in a regional area.

The Index highlights the extent of the Australian housing crisis. In most states, rental housing in metro areas is less affordable than in regional counterparts—except for Queensland, Tasmania, and Victoria, where rental affordability was comparable across the state.

This year, we have included an additional indicator on gender equality in the Index, specifically on the gender pay and domestic work gaps. The Index shows that a gender pay gap persists at all income levels and in communities that vary considerably in socio-demographic profile. On average, the largest gender pay gaps are in regional Western Australia, followed by Greater Perth and regional Queensland.

On top of this pay gap, the Index shows that women still bear the brunt of unpaid domestic work across all LGAs. This gap has important implications, as a lead author of the report and Senior Associate at SGS, Michelle Tjondro, comments:

This impacts how women progress through their careers relative to men, financial independence over their lifetimes and their ability to recover from and remain resilient to the impacts of divorce and homelessness.

— Michelle Tjondro
SGS Economics and Planning Michelle Tjondro2

This is the first year the CRWI presents the data at the LGA level. This adjustment in focus supports local governments in understanding the needs of their local communities and empowers them to address the pressing issues in their area.

The value of the CRWI lies in its nuance. The Index goes beyond economic measures of state GDP, so that each region of Australia can be appreciated for the diversity of its strengths, and the areas a region needs to address can be identified. It is important to note that the CRWI is not a scorecard for a local area. It is a tool to inform conversation and decision-making about where investment should be directed.

The SGS Cities & Regions Wellbeing Index helps us understand local communities and economies, making it a valuable starting point for federal, state and local strategies, which far too often focus on broad brush or hail-mary solutions.

— Julian Szafraniec
SGS Economics and Planning Julian Szafraniec Editorial BW 5

Rewriting Australia’s wellbeing narrative will undoubtedly take time. Our aim is to deliver robust evidence and analysis that inform conversations and create a brighter future for all Australians. It is not enough to measure and monitor; key data points must be acted on. The CRWI provides a wealth of data for discussion and action.

The important next step is what policymakers, businesses and communities do with the evidence we’ve uncovered. As a nation, we must use these findings to inform how we prioritise investment, budget for socio-economic outcomes and advance equitable community wellbeing.

— Michelle Tjondro

We invite you to explore the report and interactive dashboard. We also welcome your queries to support and apply its principles to your projects or decision-making processes.

Download the report & explore the interactive dashboard

Watch a video on the key findings

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SGS Economics and Planning Michelle Tjondro Square Colour
For further information contact:

Michelle Tjondro

Senior Associate | Executive Director

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SGS Economics and Planning Julian SZAFRANIEC Colour Square
For further information contact:

Julian Szafraniec

National Leader for Data & Spatial Analysis | Principal & Partner I Executive Director

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