It's time to capitalise on our restless nation

Research suggests Millennials highly value housing affordability and lifestyle when choosing where to live - and regional Australia offers both of these in abundance. Photo: Shutterstock
Research suggests Millennials highly value housing affordability and lifestyle when choosing where to live - and regional Australia offers both of these in abundance. Photo: Shutterstock

The experience of dealing with COVID-19 has removed one of the most significant barriers to a substantial population shift in this country.

The notion of how we work has been upended, and we've fast-tracked a decade into the future of work.

We hope this change will see population growth continue in regions, as The Big Movers report recently uncovered.

As a country, we are an extremely mobile nation, and we have a propensity to change our address at twice the rate of people in most OECD countries.

If location is no longer a barrier for employment, it's possible we could see an even greater swing to regions - and this is the Regional Australia Institute's (RAI's) ambition.

The RAI's latest myth-busting report unpacks population trends around the country and confirms that regional Australia attracted more people than it lost to capital cities during the last Census.

A total of 65,204 more people.

In the five years to 2016, Sydney saw a net loss of 64,756 people to regional Australia, Melbourne 21,609 and Adelaide recorded a small net loss of around 1000 residents.

Brisbane bucked the trend with a net gain of 15,597 people.

Between 2011 and 2016, more than 1.2 million people either moved to regional Australia or moved around regional Australia from one location to another.

While this report highlights a positive trend for regional Australia, the trend is certainly not new.

For the decade 2006-2016 approximately 135,000 more people moved from capital cities to the regions than the other way around.

One of the key findings uncovered in the research was that most people who left a city for a move to the regions stayed in their respective state.

Regional NSW drew the most people from capitals with a total of 159,328 moving between 2011 and 2016.

Understanding the way the population moves around regional Australia is an important first step in identifying the reasons people are attracted to some places instead of others.

This understanding can help to shape a population policy for regional communities.

The Big Movers also looks at the mobility of Millennials (20-35-year-olds).

It found that while 178,961 Millennials moved to capital cities from regional Australia, more than 200,000 moved between regions. Sydney also saw a net outflow of Millennials.

The top three regional destinations for Millennials to move to during the last Census period, based on absolute numbers, were the Gold Coast (24,714), Newcastle (13,619) and Sunshine Coast (13,359).

Greater Geelong, Cairns, Toowoomba, Ballarat, Maitland, Greater Bendigo and Lake Macquarie were also popular.

If we flip this to look at popular places based on the inflow as a percentage of the total population, different Local Government Areas come to the fore.

Ashburton WA (16.5 per cent), East Pilbara WA (13.7 per cent), and Roxby Downs SA (11.7 per cent) all attracted Millennials in high proportions of their total populations.

Bass Coast Vic, Port Hedland WA, Karratha WA, and the Northern Territory also attracted over 10 per cent of their populations as Millennials in the five years to 2016.

Many of these locations are mining communities, and they are likely attracting a particular millennial cohort looking to advance their income-earning capacities and careers.

We also found research to suggest Millennials highly value housing affordability and lifestyle when choosing where to live - and regional Australia offers both of these in abundance.

The policy questions that emerge from this report raise the need for a greater understanding of this mobility and how to amplify this movement towards regional Australia.

Now is the time for the government to intervene in our current population projections to strategically develop and extend the population settlement even further to supercharge the regions.

This will take collaboration with industry, government and regional communities to ensure the regionalisation of our nation.

For regional cities and communities alike, now is the time to get ready, to start planning to understand your strengths and weaknesses to be desirable.

Australians are voting with their feet, but people move for different reasons, so it's time to be informed and focused.

The case studies within the report provide insight for regions into the kinds of people who are moving.

This is powerful market intelligence which helps regions decide what they need to do to prepare and to capitalise on a restless nation which is ready to make a move.

  • Liz Ritchie is CEO of the Regional Australia Institute.
This story It's time to capitalise on our restless nation first appeared on The Canberra Times.