Restricting migration to regional areas is not a proper solution to rising congestion in our major cities.
Federal Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population Alan Tudge has proposed geographic or specialised regional visas as the answer to decreasing rising congestion in Australia’s capital cities, specifically Sydney and Melbourne.
Under the government’s soon-to-bereleased population policy, migrants would be forced to live outside Sydney, Melbourne and southeast Queensland for up to five years.
Mr Tudge said the Australian population was growing by the size of Canberra every year with net overseas migration accounting for 60 per cent of Australia’s overall population growth and around 75 per cent of that in Sydney, Melbourne and southeast Queensland.
However, while the intention was good, the policy was not.
The overall goal is to reduce pressure on the major cities, but this is not the way to do it.
What this policy will achieve is, in theory, a ‘quick win’ which will not really work.
You cannot just say they can’t reside there.
You still want migration, so you need to provide positive measures to encourage people to live in areas outside of our major capital cities.
It has been proven that people move to places where there are jobs and people are happy to move interstate to get them.
This was clearly demonstrated in Western Australia and Queensland during the mining boom when their populations swelled - as did house prices. (In fact, a RiskWise analysis shows at one stage houses in Perth and Brisbane were higher than Melbourne.)
Interestingly, overseas migration has fallen by 9 per cent since changes to visa requirements came into force in April 2017 and this has slowed the population growth rate to 1.6 per cent.
The government’s focus should be on a combination of economic activity and housing affordability.
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This can be done through strong government investments that will attract people to other areas, not force them to move to areas where they don't have suitable work.
And it’s extremely important that the work is 'suitable' given ‘skilled migration’ is a key pillar of a successful migration strategy.
For example, a large number of migrants in the IT sector may struggle to find jobs outside the major employment hubs so there is no incentive for them to migrate to Australia and to live in regional areas.
The introduction of a ‘national plan of settlement’ by the government was a step in the right direction.
The Building Up & Moving Out report tabled recently focuses on population, employment, the economy of cities and regions, socially and environmentally sustainable development and connectivity between the cities and the regions with an emphasis on housing affordability.
It recommends the Australian Government develop a framework for the development of cities and regions outside the major metropolitan centres, undertake the development of transport networks which allow for fast transit between cities and regions, ensure urban and regional infrastructure is developed and appoint a Minister for Cities and National Settlement.
The plan would not only encourage people into regional areas, it was a good visionary solution for housing affordability by creating less demand in the major cities.
Queensland is already doing it by way of a $15 billion infrastructure boom in the southeast over the next few years as well as the Advance Queensland Business Development Fund focusing on the growth of innovative businesses and emerging industries.
And in NSW, the Government’s 20-year vision, to promote regional development and job creation, will unlock the potential in the region by providing the infrastructure, the services and the support it needs to thrive.
In the Northern Territory, families that move into ‘high priority jobs’ will receive more than $15,000 over five years as part of its population strategy.
These are the sorts of initiatives that other regions in Australia need to institute to draw the population away from the major centres.