Federal Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Minister Alan Tudge recently announced a revised population plan for Australia. One of its key pillars is to encourage new arrivals to move to regional Australia, rather than settling in our crowded cities.
The plan seeks to put in place some incentives, including new regional visas, with the aim of supporting regional growth through migration.
There's no doubt that increased migration to regional Australia can be beneficial to rural and regional centres, both economically and in terms of revitalising a community and its population.
But what are the key factors which will make such migration successful and sustainable?
The Regional Australia Institute has been researching this question and considers that there are seven "steps to settlement success" which can be put in place at the local level to make regional migration a win-win for all involved.
One: Encourage each local government area to develop a strategic vision through community consultation.
What does the community want the town or region to look like in five, 10 and 20 years from now? What skills and population numbers will it take to achieve the vision? Including migration into a broader economic and social plan at a local level will ensure that there is thinking about how many people a particular region needs and is able to support given existing and planned facilities and services.
Two: Recognise the important role of the local community.
Particularly in smaller rural and regional communities, ensure that locals have information about new arrivals, have the opportunity to ask questions or voice concerns, and can plan opportunities to welcome new arrivals into their clubs, schools and events.
Three: Recognise that new arrivals will need some support settling in.
Ideally, over time a migrant will become a valuable part of the fabric of the community and will stay in regional Australia. We consider this is more sustainable for regional areas than people coming and going frequently.
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The importance of the initial welcome in instilling a sense of belonging cannot be overstated. Australians are known to be friendly, outgoing and hospitable, particularly those from the country, and this is where they can directly contribute to making regional migration a success. However, there should be recognition at the federal level as well that some level of settlement services is needed for any new arrival.
Four: Employment is critical for migration to be sustainable.
Regional employers need to ensure that they maintain a cohesive team while including new arrivals and may need additional tools and support to be able to do so successfully. Such support would not just be about navigating the visa system, but also on successfully attracting and retaining migrants in their workforce.
Five: Housing availability is an important factor to consider alongside employment.
Frequently, a regional town may have job vacancies, but there is no housing. We consider there must be more deliberation, both nationally and locally, about incentivising residential development in regional Australia.
Six: Community and social cohesion is a critical factor for regional migration to be successful, sustainable and ultimately beneficial for all involved.
Beyond the initial welcome, what can be done to ensure that new arrivals take part in community activities and make new friendships?
We don't want to live in communities that are divided or fragmented, that is not good for anyone. So what steps are needed to ensure that new arrivals can mix in?
Seven: Culture and customs should be celebrated.
Australians are not homogenous, and it is our diversity which makes this such a wonderful and unique place. Learning about others' cultures, both by locals and new arrivals, should be supported.
The population plan is exciting and will potentially breathe new life into regional Australia. The Regional Australia Institute hopes that working through the seven steps outlined will mean that it is a win-win for everybody.
- Shyla Vohra is migration director of the Regional Australia Institute.